Organising your filing system

Created: July 30, 2013 at 10:12 AM | Updated: August 26, 2020 | By Community Resource Kit

Good filing systems

For your organisation to function well, it's essential to have an effective and efficient filing system.

Whether records are filed in a computer, in the cloud, on a physical shelf or filed using all of these methods, they have to be readily accessible.

  • Simple - easy to understand and use
  • Compact - a suitable size for the available space
  • Accessible - for all who are authorised to use it 
  • Flexible - have the capacity to change with the changing needs of your organisation
  • Safe - able to keep the records safe and in good condition
  • Classification - grouped in a logical manner for easy file location
  • Secure - able to keep the records secure to fit with the provisions of the Privacy Act 2020 (more on this later).

Start by analysing your filing needs. Some of the questions you could ask include:

  • What are the records?
  • Where should they be filed?
  • Who uses the records?
  • How often are they used?
  • How are they used?
  • How many of each record are filed?
  • Who else has copies of the same record?

Also check if your current filing system shows any of the following symptoms:

  • The information you need is difficult to obtain due to your system or lack of one
  • You are repeatedly having to expand your file system capacity
  • You are maintaining duplicate files of the same information
  • You are filing material to protect the function and not because of information or legal requirements
  • You are using your filing system or equipment for non-records storage
  • Your file folders, filing drawers or shelves are too full for easy access
  • You are not finding the information you require in the first place you look

Your investigation should reveal the strengths and weaknesses of your current record-keeping system.

Filing location

For organisations with a lot of information, there are different ways of physically storing your paper-based records system. Storage can either be in one central place (centralised) or files can be kept in different locations (departmentalised), depending on the nature of the information e.g. accounts, projects, etc. Alternatively, you can use a combination of the two: workers keep files they use a lot in their own offices/rooms, but back-ups and less-used files have a central home. Many organisations store non-essential files off-site.

Checklist for establishing a filing system

To establish your filing system:

  • Make a plan, based on the information you have gathered. Decide how you will classify your files (see Classifications of records).
  • Most organisations file by subject or category.
    • Create broad categories for your records - start by thinking about business functions, making sure these fit your organisational activities.
    • Work downwards from the business functions and create sub-categories - do this consistently, not too detailed or too broad.
  • Document your filing system - create a file locations list of the categories and sub-categories. Where necessary, briefly note the expected content of each file. Having a plain English, brief description of your filing system will help people use it easily.
  • Consult with your colleagues to make sure the proposed system makes sense for others as well.
  • Decide on an appropriate filing system that keeps records in order e.g. file papers in chronological or date order, with the most recent papers on top or at the front.
  • Do you need a simple system for taking records out and/or returning records?
  • Consider how you are going to protect your records from dirt, dust, fire, water, earthquake, humidity, sunlight, intruders, insects, rodents etc, and
  • Make sure that the filing system used for paper records matches your electronic record filing.

Checklist for maintaining your systems:

At least once a year, spend time on maintaining your records and filing systems by:

  • removing out-of-date material (e.g. old newsletters from other organisations) 
  • disposing of any confidential information securely by either shredding documents or using a document disposal company
  • sorting out and filing away historical material 
  • checking that the file categories are still relevant (if necessary, consult a records management professional) 
  • undertaking an audit to ensure that the required information is kept in the expected place.


Next page: Keeping information safe and private

Previous page: Organising your records

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