Snarky Secretary’s Guide to Filing

Note: This is part of a series that I intend to be ongoing, but will probably forget about and leave neglected after a few entries.  It is partly inspired by Cariad, and is partly in the vein of the Cataloger’s Guide for Artists (which I have helpfully backposted,) and partly serious.  I may add more to this individual post as they come to me, but I may not.  Also, I accept questions.

Filing is one of those secretarial duties that is so ridiculously boring that every secretary avoids doing it*, and the only rule books written about it are typically prescribed as sleep aids for the hopelessly insomniac.  No more!  have put together a list of “rules” to help you tackle that filing nightmare.  Read on!

*No, really. Anyone who tells you they love filing is either lying or a serial killer.

1. Don’t clip the entire contents of the file.  That’s what the FOLDER is for.  If you receive a bunch of papers to be filed in a new file that are clipped together, unclip them and make sure that the aggregation makes sense.  Otherwise, the file just looks silly, and by extension so do you.

2. Use the right sized clip.  Offset clips.  Your best filing friend is binder clips in various sizes including the twee tiny ones.  Files will get a big ‘clip lump’ if you don’t offset clips.  Yes, this seems twitchy and unnecessary, but clips will mangle paper, and lumpy files are a pain.  Just go with it.

3. Don’t clip things that are stapled.  This is to say, if four pages are stapled together, don’t also add a paperclip.  It’s not extra secured, it’s just a waste of paperclips, and makes your file lumpy. 

4. Remove and restaple, or just don’t staple.  This is a personal pet peeve of mine.  You have five pieces of paper stapled together.  You have three more that are also stapled together.  The correct procedure to aggregate these two documents is to remove all existing staples, then taple the new aggregate document.  Staples within staples are annoying, and lumpy, and really just a hallmark of laziness, and/or intellectual inability to operate a staple remover.   You really don’t want people to think you’re too stupid to operate a staple remover.  That’s worse than lumpy files.

5. Decide which way you want things to appear in the file – orientation, order, grouping.  Consider handedness! Lefthanded peple will open or pull contents out in a different drection.  Letting things appear haphazardly in a file?  That’s the opposite of “attention to detail.”  My personal preference is to open the file so that the tab is on the right.  From there, vertical documents should be upright, and horizontal documents should have their headers on the right.  If I reach into a file and pull the documents out, I want them to come out this way, and I am right handed.  This will affect how you hang your files, but also where you staple your horizontal documents. Decide also what order you want the contents to appear in. Some people like chronological, others reverse chronological, you may like alphabetical or page color order. Whatever you choose, BE CONSISTENT. If you must deviate from this chosen order, note it on a tacky note iside the folder cover.

6. For the love of all that is fuzzy and lawful good, don’t file duplicates!  Use a sticky note or a non-photo blue pencil (my favorite) to denote Originals, and write or stamp “copy” on any non-originals.  You can always *make* another copy of the original, you don’t need to keep it.  In fact, you SHOULD, whenever possible, MAKE COPIES FROM THE ORIGINAL.  Slight variations in copies of copies add up, and exponentially compound.  If you’re keeping a multiple because one is clean and another is annotated, write “ANNOTATED” at the top of that version, with a date if there’s more than one, and a name of the annotater (may the fierce be with you, spud,), if there’s more than one of those, too.

6.5 Discard the Chaff.  If you’ve printed a email an the last page is just the confidentiality notice, or your Grouch Marx quote signature, recycle it.  Please?  If you put together a master itinerary, discard the orbitz receipt and hotel confirmation, because you now have this info elsewhere.  You will never need those driving directions again, and on the one in a kajillion chance you do, google isn’t stingy, they will happily give them to you again..  Once you reconcile your receipts to your bank statement, ditch the receipts.  Also, consider a tickler file rather than standard filing for this sort of thing (see 18)

6.75 Don’t print from email.  This is a personal choice, but if you really need a hard copy of this information, copy paste it into a document, remove all the headers, title it something NOT STUPID, and then print it.  The way most people email, and email clients print, is a waste of ink and paper.  If the information really isn’t ephemeral, it’s worth making it readable.

7. File inventories may be necessary.  Starting early makes this 147 bajillion times easier.  At the VERY LEAST keep a searchable list of file names you’ve used.  You may know that you keep your Verizon bills under “M” for “Money Grubbing Bastards,” but not everyone does.  Also, this will keep you from making 14 different files that all contain pieces of a larger puzzle, or worse, filing completely unrelated documents together accidentally.

7.5 That said, file things the way you think about them.  There is no hard and fast rule that says that files must be strictly alphabetical, and in larger file aggregations it’s actually undesirable. You keep files on things because they interest you in some way.  If wombats interest you in and of themselves, great, create a wombat file.  If they interest you because they’re from Australia, and you also keep files on dingoes, kangaroos, Paul Hogan and Hugh Jackman FOR THE SAME REASON, make an “Australia” file grouping.  Just don’t get too fine grained about this, otherwise you’ll never find anything.  For instance, “Cute Things” is great, “Things that are cute, fuzzy, have tails and start wtih z” is excessive.

8. Staple documents that will not be marked up further, clip those that will need to be spread out and/or edited.  Also, clip groups of documents together.  This is most sensible in terms of form samples in a file containing a lot of disparate info about the source of the forms.

9. PPT does not number slides.  It’s distracting to have them in the presentation, so when printing them, either handwrite # of ## on the pages, or staple them.  ProTip: If you are the one creating the PPT, put the page numbers in the lower pane speaker notes field, and select the option to print them with the slides.  I will note that I personally find it more than a bit silly to print powerpoint presentations at all, but there are many people out there who do.  Just go with it.

10.  Be willing to cross file, but not to excess.  Anything crossfiled should probably have it’s own folder, too.  E.g., board packets almost always include financials.  Don’t make this the only place that financials appear in your files, and don’t keep board shit in your financial files. 

11. Be VERY circumspect about filing handwritten personal notes.  I’m not talking about the handwritten thank you note Aunt Vera wrote you on a badly designed kitten themed card she got free from the ASPCA, I mean those handwritten notes you write about whatever it is the file’s about while discussing the contents of the file or brainstorming or defining your hedgehog or identifying your strategic plan or whatever.  These lose context VERY QUICKLY.  Better to summarize the notes, adding context to the summary, or make the notes directly in the document in question.

12. Don’t file those crappy plastic spiral things. Take it out, discard the chaff, and clip it together.  Everyone will be happier, and maybe someday people will stop using the freaking things, and I will be happier.  If you need to keep them becaue they are being distributed, A) seriously consider getting a print service to make the same thing look more professional for less money, and B) Store the ready to bind packets and bindings separately, and bind them on demand.  Those fuckers suck.

13. When you file something new, take a minute to review the file.  Make sure that everything in there is supposed to be there, neatly, in your chosen order, etc.  Resettle the contents, too. Yeah, this isn’t always feasible, but it’s like sour milk or dried up pens – if you look at it and know it’s outdated or duplicated, do something about it. Otherwise it makes your filing cabinet smell funny and wastes your time when you really need ink.

14. The original may have to be that way, but there’s no rule that says that you can’t highlight the reason the document is important, the principles’ names, or annotate the file copy with keywords as to the nature of the document.  If you’re squirrelly, use a sticky note.

15. Use the right size folder.  If you regularly file great honking chunky documents, spring for box bottom folders and hanging files.  Also consider whether you’re filing too much information in one place.  If you can find a dividing distinction, make it, and file the parts next to each other in separated folders.

16.  If you use hanging files, don’t use accordion files.  It seems like a reasonable way of keeping things neat, but trust me, this always ends in tears.  Pun intended.

17. When filing newspaper articles, magazine articles, etc, make sure that the date, publication name, volume and issue number appear somewhere.  Two words: requesting reprints.  The (usually) nominal charge for their professionally printed version is worth not giving people crappy copies of your ratty newspaper version.  Also, ALWAYS COPY FROM THE ORIGINAL.

17.5  If you must file the entire publication of a periodical that you do not keep an entire archive of, FLAG THE REASON YOU’RE KEEPING IT.  Tacky tag the pages, highlight the TOC, whatever.  If you only care about the Harvard Buiness Review because of those two articles that one time, you’re not going to want to flip through the issue looking for the reason you have it, and no one else is, either.

Librarian’s note: If you file copy an entire book chapter, make sure the pages are readable, and include a copy of the frontispiece with the copyright information.  You don’t want to make a librarian cry, do you?

18. If you keep a tickler file, that’s great.  Just don’t get misled into thinking that the entire contents of your tickler file needs to be kept for posterity.  Unscentific estimate: 90% of your tickler file is ephemeral, and can be tossed afterwards. Also, pretty much everything in it that you do need to keep should have a home *other* than “July 1999 Calendar Items”

19. Standardize your labels – if you use groupings, note the grouping on LINE ONE of the label, and the file name the next line down.  If you use labels in Word, make a template document for your labels.  And do me a favor – change the vertical alignment to “top”?  Pretty Please?  Vertically-center-aligned labels are an ugly no mother should love.  Also, personal preference, but avoid all caps or small caps fonts.  They look sleek, but are actually kind of hard to read.  And NO NOVELTY FONTS.