Last week I was on annual leave and as I’m sure you can imagine on my first day back in the office I was confronted with a shed load of emails and a pile of paperwork **cough junk cough** that was left on my desk. Before I could even begin to tackle the work I had to get through I needed to get everything in a sensible and efficient order. I think most of us can be overwhelmed at times when it comes to how much paperwork, emails and letters we deal with on a daily basis, it is even more difficult when we have been away from the office for a few days. So how do we create effective filing systems for Executive Assistants?

I find the best way to tackle the ever-increasing piles of stuff is to have a good filing system in place so that, as my mum used to say, there is a ‘place for everything and everything is in its place’! Here are my top tips for filing systems for Executive Assistants.

Filing systems for Executive Assistants

I have five different types of filing systems that I use every day. They are:

  1. A company-wide online file sharing programme for all essential documents that can be accessed by other members of staff (for me this is just my Directors)
  2. A set of permanent manila wallets that I keep in my in-tray
  3. A collection of plastic wallets for current project work
  4. My email filing system
  5. A ‘bring up’ folder for each Director

Here is a little more detail on each system and how I use them to keep myself organised!

Online file sharing

I think most companies have a cloud based file sharing programme in place, if not the alternative is a network drive where all of the staff save their documents. Either way my advice would be to follow a consistent approach to keeping your documents so that if there is ever a problem and someone needs to access your work, they will be able to find it quickly. I always keep my documents in the following format Type of document / year.month.day / Employee surname, Employee first name. Your company should have guidelines in place that show you how and where to save your work, if not this would be a vital project that you could initiate, you would undoubtedly be adding value to your company.

Manila wallets

I have a few manila wallets that I keep in my in-tray and use them for filing various things. They all have a different function and are:

  • ‘To Do’ file: I keep all of my paperwork that I need to action at some point in this file, it can be anything from scanning, photocopying or filing elsewhere. This file contains non-urgent work only. I try to empty it at least once a week.
  • ‘Pending’ file: This file contains paperwork that I need to deal with but requires information from a third-party (for example a letter that has to be posted but I am waiting for a cheque from the finance team to send with the letter). Again, I try to check this every few days and chase colleagues for any overdue details.
  • ‘Director Information’ file: I have one file on each of my directors that contains live information for them that I might need access to or that I am working on at that time. For example, the file could contain the director’s travel itineraries, expense receipts or any paperwork that is their everyday administrative work. Again, I try to clear this once a week.
  • ‘Rainy day reading’ file: I collect and file any interesting articles or magazine clips etc. in this file. It doesn’t get opened very often though!

Project files

All of my project files are plastic wallets that I can close shut (for example Snopake’s Polyfile ID). I put a sticky label on the front so that I know which file corresponds with which project. Along with my to-do list, I keep these wallets in front of me so that I have all of my paperwork in one place and can see what I am working on that day. For instance, at the moment I have files on projects such as Wimbledon ticket allocation, share transfers and the HR Intranet Update. Eventually, these documents will be scanned and filed online, but I find it helpful to have the paperwork on my desk while they are live projects. I make sure I lock these files away at the end of each day as they can contain confidential information.

 Email filing

I think the way people structure their email files can be quite a personal thing! I like to keep it relatively simple, but I also want to keep every single email. I know this is controversial, and most email gurus would say delete your emails after a certain amount of time, but, and as an assistant, it is a big but, I get asked the most random things so many times a day that I am always referring back to emails that can be years old. So for me, I like to keep them filed away, just in case! Here is a little diagram of my email file structure.

 Filing systems for Executive Assistants

As you can see, I like to keep the filing system simple and straightforward, mainly because I’m so used to working with the structure and I sort of know where everything is anyway. Also, I find the search and sorting functions on Outlook are great, so I don’t file things too specifically because I can already sort the emails within each file by name, subject or date received. One little tip though – I do put ‘Associate’ in front of each of my director’s names so that they are at the beginning of my file structure, it just saves time.

Bring up folder

I’ve discussed the ‘bring up’ folder a few times before on this blog but thought I would go into slightly more detail here as I do find this folder to be the most important filing system I use. My bring-up folder is a big expanding folder box in which I have put 31 dividers for every day of the month and then dividers for every month of the year. I put all of the information my Director needs for each meeting or general documents they require for that day in between each divider. At the end of every day, I give them the following day’s paperwork in a clear plastic wallet with a printed copy of their diary for the day on top. I number each meeting, and the papers are also numbered and placed in order depending on what meeting they relate to. It is one of my favourite tools as it means my manager has everything they need for that day and are well prepared. As I go through their emails, I can print off the essential bits and bobs and add it to the bring up folder for whenever they need to see the paperwork again and then I can get on with my work rather than trying to remember everything.

So that is all of the filing systems I use, do you have more or less? It would be interesting to know because I think with this part of our job we all probably do something different and it is what works best for us.

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