I want you all to think about a hypothetical situation. For some reason, the government has decided they want to audit your business. They want to see sales reports, payroll, the whole nine yards. There’s just one problem. All these necessary reports are scattered about your home office, strewn haphazardly across multiple areas on multiple computers, or both. You know you have all the reports requested (or you think you do anyway), you just have to find them all first. A process which could conceivably take you hours.

Obviously this is not a good situation to be in, on any level.

So how can you avoid it? Well, the solution is easy, not at all time consuming, and for the most part won’t cost you anything. Keep everything organized from the very beginning. Sound simple? It is. But I’ve personally visited many businesses where their office is a mess of paperwork, computer desktops are covered with poorly named files, and I can’t help but think….why would you do that to yourself?

There’s really no good answer to that question, so don’t. Instead, keep all of your work related documents neat and organized, in a way that can be easily referenced when needed.

For digital documents (which if you’ve been following along with me, should comprise the bulk of your important files),  it’s simplicity itself to just make folders on your work computer to keep everything in. Make one for invoices, one for payroll, in other words, one for every type of document that you’re storing. Then put them all in a master folder labeled with say…the name of your business, or “Work”, whatever feels right to you. When sorting the files themselves, use a uniform naming system so that they’re easy to find within each folder. For example, “David  T. Rosen Invoice October 10-31-2012.” This will allow you to locate which documents you need at a glance, with little to no hunting on your part. Easy as pie (the edible kind, not your Personal Independent Earnings).

The exact same system will work just as well for your physical documents. Now while in my article on the paperless office I wrote in favour of not using a filing cabinet, they do have their uses. For those items that you simply have to have in a physical form, using one for storage and organization is the best way to go. Follow the same scheme as you did organizing your digital files, with actual folders replacing digital ones. Clearly label all of your folders, sort them by type, and put them in chronological or alphabetical order. It can be a pain to get this system set up, but once you do, it’s simplicity itself to maintain.

This sounds like really basic advice, and to be honest, it is. But it’s also something that a huge number of people struggle with. Just remember, while it can be a lot of work to get yourself organized in the first place, staying that way is one of the easiest things in the world. And should a time come where you have to find a large number of your important documents quickly (such as the case of our hypothetical audit), you will definitely thank yourself for it. A little time (and perhaps a small investment) now, will save you a ton of grief in the future. The path to PIE should be paved with cold, hard cash, not mountains of unsorted paperwork.

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