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  • Personal Filing System retention

    This weekend my wife and I plan on attacking our personal filing system. This is probably the last part of the GTD system that I need to get into place. I've read the GTD book and the free whitepaper on filing from DavidCo so I think I'm good on the "how", but I would like some input on the "what".

    I apologize if this isn't a good forum for this, but I wanted to get some input into the types of things that organized people are keeping and what they are filing with "Captain Can". I can't imagine a better place to find organized people than this forum.

    Prior to me getting married I kept very little, but it was not organized. My wife kept quite a bit, but it was more organized. Now we have a lot of unorganized stuff. For example, she would keep all of the utility bills and then at the end of the year archive them to a box labled with the year and put into storage. After I sent the check in for the bill I tossed the rest knowing I could always ask the company to produce my past statements.

    Here are some things I know we will be keeping:

    1. Instruction manuals and warranties for eletronic items, appliances, toys, etc.
    2. Investment papers, transaction confirmations, etc.
    3. Paycheck stubs
    4. Anything dealing with our checking, savings accounts and credit cards.
    5. Legal papers on the house, etc.
    6. Most recent Insurance Policy statements.

    So what I would like to know is opinions on the following items:

    1. Utility bills.
    2. Medical papers (not medical records, but like bills from the Dr office that aren't part of the papers to send in for FlexPlan benefits).
    3. Prospectus stuff that we get from all our investments.
    4. How do you archive? What do you toss and what do you put into an archive storage? Where do you keep your archive?
    5. I keep all very important papers (paystubs, tax information, social security info, etc.) in a safe. Is it a bad thing that these are not in the general filing system? I definately feel more secure with them locked up in a 200 lb safe that's bolted my basement floor.

    I'd also appreciate any stories or insights into what others are keeping in their personal filing systems, or how you have them organized.

    Thanks,

    M. Wood

  • #2
    just had to comment

    I don't know the answers regarding these items, but think it is a great thing when a couple composed of people with two different approaches can work together on this kind of thing. Maybe you two can outline how you are making that work! I can already see that you are trying to think through and make explicit the guidelines for keeping and tossing, and considering options for storage. Good luck and keep us posted!

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Mikewo View Post
      1. Utility bills.
      2. Medical papers (not medical records, but like bills from the Dr office that aren't part of the papers to send in for FlexPlan benefits).
      3. Prospectus stuff that we get from all our investments.
      4. How do you archive? What do you toss and what do you put into an archive storage? Where do you keep your archive?
      5. I keep all very important papers (paystubs, tax information, social security info, etc.) in a safe. Is it a bad thing that these are not in the general filing system? I definately feel more secure with them locked up in a 200 lb safe that's bolted my basement floor.

      I'd also appreciate any stories or insights into what others are keeping in their personal filing systems, or how you have them organized.
      Hi Mike, I too think it's cool that you're doing it together. Waytago.

      Okay, on to the meat of the matter. Answers as follows, corresponding to your numbers.

      1. Depends on you: do you run a business from home? If so, you'll need to keep them for X years, where X is something like 7 (mandated by the Tax Department, so check with them). If not, don't keep 'em past a year, unless you think you'll like to look at them in your frail dotage. I keep mine for a year in with my expenses (12 folders, one per month), then archive (because I do run a business from home).

      2. Bills: hmmm. You probably don't need to keep them at all, once they're paid. You'll have a record of the payment on your bank statement, and you can't claim tax on them (unlike utilities).

      3. Prospectus stuff: I'd say ditch it. Companies churn out reams of that stuff, and you can always get one if you ever need it. If you're concerned, keep the minutes of the annual meeting or whatever, but junk the advertising. Trust me, they'll send more.

      4. Archiving: things used in tax (personal or business) need to be kept for the required number of years (different for me than for you). I churn over all my files annually at tax time (end of June here), and archive only those required to keep for tax, financial & legal records, and personal stuff that's important to me. Box it up in an archive box, label it, and stick it on the top shelf in the spare room. In fact, most years' archives consist only of an A4 envelope: that's how little I archive. Active stuff (like user manuals etc) stays in the filing cabinet, because you're still using it.

      5. By all means, lock 'em up in a safe in your basement. Won't hurt, and it makes you feel better. The only rider I'd put on that is if they're papers you use all the time: in that case, it would quickly become a pain bouncing down to get them and put them back.

      My personal filing history: ha. I started filing centuries ago, in one of those accordion files. They're a pain because they're not flexible enough in terms of categories. I went through a few other systems, but I've had this current one for years and it's working pretty well.

      First up, I use three levels (sort of). I have two drawers for files; one holds my tickler file and things I use all the time, the further one holds reference and occasional stuff like manuals. If you have 4 drawers, you might have a drawer each for house-related things, fun, work-related, and tickler etc. Or some other arrangement, but remember it has to be logical for you. And by logical I mean you don't stand there puzzling over which drawer something goes into: clean edges.

      Then, I have stand-up labels for broad categories within a drawer. Things like Marketing, Business Equipment, Ideas, Clients, Car, etc. Then, within those categories, I have folders for each sub-category. So for instance, Car contains folders labelled insurance, service and repairs, contract (when I bought it), road rules (government brochure), license (driver's license stuff), RAA (don't know what you call it in the US. AA, maybe?).

      The upshot is that I can find the broad categories easily (I've got them alphabetically ordered), then I can thumb through the half a dozen or so sub-categories until I find the one I need. Easy peasy.

      I did try for a while using 3 different colours for my folders, but that resulted in a bit of visual weirdness, and I ran out of some colours, so now I stick to one. Purple, in fact. Hey, we have to take our little bits of fun where we can find them, and I like purple. I open the file drawer and feel groovy (ish. Insofar as one can feel groovy about filing).

      Equipment: 2 file drawers (in a groovy horizontal unit), purple manila folders, labels that stand up from the folder edge, labels that stick on the folder surface. No hanging files, no dividers. Simple.

      Sorry about the very looooong post. Hope it helps.

      Comment


      • #4
        Unstuffed/Jamie, thanks for the replies.

        As for how my wife and I are doing this together, well, let's say we are tackling it this weeked. I'll have to tell you later how it worked out. Seriously though it does help to have some guidelines on what should be kept, what should be tossed, etc. Also having a book like GTD or the whitepaper that talks about "how" to file helps because if you can both agree on that then it becomes much more simple. Just like anything in a marriage or relationship, the key is to talk about it and agree on it. Of course, I say all this and I think her last statement to me about it was, "you do most of the filing, so whatever you want to do is fine with me."

        Unstuffed talked about larger categories, such as Car with subcategories like drivers license, insurance, RAA (oh, that's AAA in the states......AA is Alcoholics Anonymous ). I've been wondering about this since GTD seems to frown on such large categories. I think the phrase is alphabetical by topic, project, person or company (I don't have my book with me). I guess it depends on your level of "Topic". It makes sense to me to have a "Utilities" folder and put all of our incoming bills for that year (if we decide to keep them after they are paid). I'd rather have that then have a folder for each utility that are scattered throughout the alphabet. But what about broader topics like "Recreation"?

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Mikewo View Post
          Unstuffed talked about larger categories, such as Car with subcategories like drivers license, insurance, RAA (oh, that's AAA in the states......AA is Alcoholics Anonymous ). I've been wondering about this since GTD seems to frown on such large categories. I think the phrase is alphabetical by topic, project, person or company (I don't have my book with me). I guess it depends on your level of "Topic". It makes sense to me to have a "Utilities" folder and put all of our incoming bills for that year (if we decide to keep them after they are paid). I'd rather have that then have a folder for each utility that are scattered throughout the alphabet. But what about broader topics like "Recreation"?
          Ah, let me clarify: my utilities bills, once paid, are filed in my Expenses folder for that month. So for all my spending which might impact my tax, I've got just 12 folders. It means that I can do my tax and other government reports easily every month or as necessary. Information about utilities contracts (ahhh, the joys of sodding deregulation and privatisation ) I keep in separate folders, one for each utility (eg landline, mobile, electricity, gas, etc) in the more distant drawer. That way I can check what the terms and conditions are by utility.

          The idea of one level, purely alphabetical, filing is nice in abstract, but I find it requires a smidgeon too much thinking. I prefer the 'like things with like' style of organising. In much the same way that I keep all my eating utensils in one drawer, I keep all my Marketing files in one clump, so I just need to find the "Marketing" sticky-uppy label on the first file, then leaf through the following files (labelled on the front of the files) to see which one I want.

          Doing it my way, I know that, if I need to file a receipt for the fan belt I had to have replaced last week, I need only look for the "Car" sticky-uppy label, and the Service/Repair folder is somewhere between that and the next sticky uppy label.

          Probably a more robust (I have to be sure I put my folders back in the right place!) implementation would be to use the categories as I do, but reduce it to a single level alpha implementation by using the labels cunningly. So you'd have "Car - Service/Repairs" and "Car - Insurance" on the labels. But then, that gives you a whole lotta sticky-uppy labels, which means your search algorithm (forgive me, I'm an ex-geek) is more complicated.

          If it comes to that, maybe I came up with my system partly because of my geek tendencies. I like to streamline things as much as possible, and like many geeks I tweak the system a lot. So I'm essentially doing destruct testing and debugging on my systems and processes, which means I find a lot of things that don't work as well as I'd like them to, and tweak that aspect until it suits me.

          Or maybe I'm just trying to avoid doing real work.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by unstuffed View Post
            2. Bills: hmmm. You probably don't need to keep them at all, once they're paid. You'll have a record of the payment on your bank statement, and you can't claim tax on them (unlike utilities).
            The original question was about medical bills. Unstuffed, from Australia, probably does not realize that medical expenses in the USA can be claimed against tax. Save those medical bills, receipts for prescription medication, invoices for insurance premiums, etc! (See instructions for 1040 Schedule A.)

            Comment


            • #7
              I hate filing

              I hate filing - and if it's too twiddly, I won't do it.

              Don Aslett recommends making it easy to put things away even if that means you have too work a little harder to find things. I've applied that advice to filing.

              Each year I create at least three year-based folders. For this year they are:
              2007 - Regular
              2007 - Special
              2007 - IRS

              Most bill related things I pay, I stick the stubs in 2007 Regular. This includes paystubs, except for the last one of the year. On the rare occasion I ever want to refer to one, I have to dig through a whole folder. However since I rarely ever need to refer to one, it's certainly not worth it to create a bunch of folders. Stuff's more likely to get filed if after paying bills, I can just grab all the stubs and stick them in one folder. Open drawer, open folder, drop in, done.

              2007 Special is where I put anything out of the ordinary or anything I think I may need to refer to: Notes on a call about a service, copy of a letter sent to the phone company, copy of the tax statement I need if I want to take a carload of junk to the dump. Medical receipts can go in this folder, or if they start building up, have a 2007 Medical folder.

              2007 - IRS is where I put anything I expect to need to complete my taxes. This includes the last paystub of the year. This file gets real busy in January. But during the year if I make a cash or check donation, a note or a copy of the check or the letter I got from the charity gets dropped in here. While I'm working on my taxes and when they're complete, this becomes the file folder for my return and attachments. Medical receipts paid for through your flex plan can go here. Or again, you can keep a separate 2007 Medical folder.

              When you're comfortable you won't need to tap into the 2007 Regular folder, just run the contents through your shredder and relabel it for a future year. At the same time, scan through the contents of the 2007 special folder. Anything that still needs to be kept can either stay in the folder or be transferred to a reference folder.

              For owners' manuals etc., I like to set them up in 3-ring binders with sheet protectors.

              I have one for each computer, one for household appliances (including the roof) that stay with the house, one for household appliances that go with me, one for stereo equipment...you get the idea.
              The reason I like to store them in sheet protectors is that I've found that some of the materials provide no reference back to the item itself. If all owner's manuals are put in one big file, which product does this list of repair centers refer to?

              So for each product, I put all the relevant material into one sheet protector. These accommodate odd items, like diskettes and CDs, little booklets, one sheet order lists, etc. Once they're in the sheet protectors, it's very easy to flip through a notebook quickly and find the instruction manual you're looking for. Stick a bunch of empty sheet protectors in the back of each notebook and it's easy to add new stuff. If you buy something that replaces something already in the book, pull the old stuff out, send it on with the item, and use that spot for the new stuff. ("Send it on with the item" could be to the trash, to the garage sale with the item, donated with the item or to your friend or freecycle with the item.)

              I separate them because they won't all fit in one binder. If I have one for an individual computer and I dispose of that computer, I can either hand over the whole notebook, or dump out the contents and have a ready-made notebook for the new computer. I don't have to pick through a lot of stuff and wonder whether or not it goes with that computer. If I move, I don't have to separate manuals for what I'm leaving behind from what I'm taking with me.

              If I find a manual has a page or pages that I refer to often, I copy those pages and put them with the appliance. For example: the chart for the George Foreman grill that shows grilling times for different items, is copied and posted inside the cabinet door over where I use the grill.

              From someone who hates to file, these are things that are continuing to work for me and are tried and true for over twenty years.

              Comment


              • #8
                Great idea!

                I like that idea. And it chimes nicely with the email revolution I had a couple of months ago, when I instituted the regimen that came from Lifehacker (I think. If not that, then 43 Folders). That involves archiving in one big file called 'Archive'.

                Scared the hell out of me at first, but given the searchability of Mail.app, it's well worth it. I still keep a couple of separate categories, like Clients, because I may not remember a client name so much as the sort of work involved, or what suggestions I made for them, or something not easily searchable.

                But it collapsed my several-levels-deep folder hierarchy down to one level and about half a dozen folders (including the smart folders for action stuff). And given the addition of Mail Act-On and Mail Tags (both shareware for the Mac), I can archive whole swathes at a time with two keystrokes, and know that they'll all happily filter into their own folders. Sweet.


                I'll have a look at my paper folders now, see if I can do a similar thing. Hot diggety.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Need an idea for software

                  I need an idea of where/how to store software cd's and relevant documentation. Anyone have any thoughts?

                  I have a HUGE pile that's really starting to bug me!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I store software CDs in a CD binder which I keep with my computer. Relevant documentation goes...well, wherever appropriate, depending on the type. Manuals go on the bookshelf, everything else goes into a big box since I rarely have to access it (and it only takes a few minutes to shuffle through the papers in the box). If I had to be more organized, I'd probably create a physical folder for license keys and other frequently accessed materials.

                    My primary computer is a laptop, and I have relatively little bought software for it, so I keep all its CDs in one small, twelve-sheet CD binder that lives in the laptop's carrying case.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Barb View Post
                      I need an idea of where/how to store software cd's and relevant documentation. Anyone have any thoughts?

                      I have a HUGE pile that's really starting to bug me!
                      I actually split the two because I find I hardly ever need the documentation. Paper stuff goes in my general filing system or the bookshelf and CDs go in an old shoe box in a draw. I've thrown away any plastic boxes and just use plastic envelopes. They are divided by cards marked A to Z. Works fine up to now although I might need a second shoe box soon.

                      I keep backup CDs, document CDs and CD Roms in the same system.
                      Last edited by tominperu; 03-07-2007, 04:02 PM. Reason: addition

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