Is your office inundated with paper clutter? Have you wasted hours trying to find the warranty for your printer or the lease agreement for the company car? If all you’ve managed to accomplish during your frantic search is to send precarious piles of electric bills and bank statements fluttering to the floor, maybe it’s time to give all that paperwork a good spring cleaning!

Spring Cleaning Tips

Consider that you have many kinds of documents filling your file drawers and covering every flat surface in your office. You realize that some of these papers are more important than others. You need to organize them, but where do you begin? As with everything in your small business, you should start with a plan.

First, determine what you need to keep and how long you need to keep it. An internet search can help you with those decisions, but here are some general guidelines. Payoff statements, year-end statements from bank and investment accounts, valid warranties, and personal items such as passports and wills are all examples of documents to tuck away for more or less permanent safekeeping. Other paperwork fits into a hierarchy of retention. Tax records involving a deduction for a bad debt or a loss claim should be kept for at least seven years. Keep receipts for business expenses, medical bills, and tax returns for three to seven years. However, utility bills and monthly statements need only be kept for one year. The same goes for credit card bills and pay stubs.

Next, get all that paper out of sight! Once you have a good idea which documents you plan to keep, you should categorize them and file them in labeled folders – or in a locked safe, if warranted. Choose a filing system that makes sense to you. Organize your files alphabetically or functionally. Use different colored folders or tabs for ease of retrieval. Make it a habit to file daily, or at least weekly, to avoid those unsightly paperwork pileups. You may even want to try an e-filing system, which can be a particularly good solution for a small office!

Finally, properly dispose of whatever you don’t need. Invest in a large capacity cross-cut shredder, and use it every day. Not only will you be able to stem the tide of junk mail, thus freeing up some of that desktop space, but you’ll find it easy to scrap the oldest month’s phone bill as you file the current one.

Start with a plan, figure out what to keep and what to shred, and keep on top of documents as they come in. You’ll keep your file folders from bulging, and you’ll have a much faster paperwork cleanup job next spring!