Your Guide to an Efficient Filing System

Your Guide to Filing

An efficient filing system has become critical, but still, more often than not, filing systems are acquired without consideration to WHAT is being stored, WHY it’s being stored, WHERE and HOW it’s being stored. You need to ensure resources are not wasted by replacing your filing system just for replacement sake; it may well be that your current filing system will meet your required criteria by adopting different soft folder and indexing formats.

Many filing organisations will recommend replacing your current system with space efficient filing systems without consideration to the filing process.

Filing Facts

The freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act has made a huge impact on the way records are stored.

Certain types of records have to be stored by law for certain periods of time.

The amount of paper and records stored by organisations is increasing every year.

Misplaced or lost records cost many organisations a substantial amount of money through lost time looking for them. Some types of records will also incur an organisation a heavy fine if the record can not be produced on demand.

Clear indexing and identifiable records will speed up the retrieval process for when the file is needed – not when it is too late.

An inefficient filing system will take up more floor space costing the organisation more money through floor space rates.

An efficient filing system will save time, space and money making your organisation run much more effectively, leading to greater success.

Filing Audit

If you want to improve your filing efficiency you need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your current filing system. The questions below are a good list of questions that once answered will outline specific areas that need attention.

The Records

o How are your records stored? (Lever Arch, Foolscap file)

o What is the volume of records in linear meters

o Are there any duplicates or copies? If so what for?


o How effective is your indexing?

o What do you like or dislike about your indexing?

o Is misfiling a common occurrence?

File Storage

o How effective is the storage system?

o What do you like or dislike about it?

o What are the present floor space costs?

Record Access

o How frequently are records retrieved from the system?

o How many people use the filing system?

o Do the records need to be secure?

o Are records returned accurately and on time?

Record Tracking

o Are the records needed for filing Audits?

o How do you keep track of your records?

o Does your tracking system work?

Evaluating your system

The answers to the above should enable you to evaluate:

o Records which are not needed could be archived or destroyed

o Records needing consolidation

o Any indexing improvements

o Effectiveness of the system

Creating an efficient filing system

o Avoid complicated indexing methods

o Avoid handwritten indexes

o Before opening a new record make sure its unique.

o When indexing a record think of the first identifying reference that comes to mind

o Be specific with titles, never use general or miscellaneous.

o Allocate a unique reference ID.

o All correspondence in the file should be dated or marked for reference

o Separate archive from live records

Further details on file creation refer to RMS 1.1 Standard written by the National Archives.

Tracking Records

What happens to your records when they are away from the system?

Case studies show that traditional tracking methods have become inefficient and unreliable An electronic system using a bar codes or RFID tags will improve file tracking.

Locating and Controlling Records must be efficient. Record users should be able to file and retrieve records quickly and efficiently.

Tracking records in a filing system should:

o Assist with accurate retrieval of records

o Ensure access of records to staff authorised to do so

o Assist with record retention periods

o Record a complete history of a record’s movement

If a record is removed from the system, the following information should be documented:

o The record’s index details

o Who retrieved the record

o The date the record was retrieved

o A proposed return date and the actual return date

Conventional Filing Methods Vs End Tab Colour Coded Filing Methods

It has been established by the industry that traditional suspended pocket filing is the most inefficient way of storing documentation. The suspended file pocket, by design, is estimated to waste between 15-20% of valuable storage space within the system. Furthermore, suspended file pockets have a tendency to split and as a result cause misfiling/lost files.

File Indexes in a hand-written or text-printed format can be difficult to read enhancing the opportunity for slow retrieval and misfiling.

Using standard folders, filing/retrieval times are slow and misfiling is a common occurrence purely because another folder hides a records index.

Portrait Lever Arch Files are designed with a fixed centre of between 73-78mm, invariably the folder houses less capacity than the file offers wasting valuable shelf storage space, in addition because of its design, fewer storage levels can be achieved in a standard storage system.

By simply employing a colour coded index system these inherent problems can be overcome.


Disposing of records is an important part of maintaining control of your records. Before a disposal schedule is put into place you must understand all of your legal and regulatory business requirements.

Legal and regulatory requirements including the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Public Records Act 1958 all effect the disposal of records. All have imposed new and more stringent duties on public sector bodies with regards to records disposal.

So what does this mean?

Disposal doesn’t mean destruction. It means any action taken to determine the fate of the record including transfer to an archive system. When it is not possible at any time to determine the disposal of the records they may be scheduled for review at a later date.

Retention usually means the length of time records are kept, sometimes known as disposal schedules. If a disposal schedule is not put into place, the tendency is to store records indefinitely taking up unnecessary space.

Confidential information must be stored securely and disposed of by way of shredding.

For further details on disposal scheduling please refer to Disposal Scheduling (RMS 5.1) Standard written by the National Archives.

Scroll to Top