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Frequent Filer: Sorting and Assembling Documents

January 14, 2014

Michael Bugeja, director,
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology


Each January, at the start of another calendar year, I go through desktop file folders and sort the papers in them, shredding some, making PDFs of others, and updating still more.

By desktop, I mean the one you knock on because it is wood. Not the one full of icons on a screen.

In the digital age, it must seem strange to work still with paper—as strange, at least—as it might be for consumers to shop with cash instead of credit cards.

Fact is, confidential files concerning personnel, searches and donors (to name a few) typically arrive as paper documents via campus mail, to be placed in folders. There’s a reason for that. Paper remains the ultimate fire-walled medium. That is why thousands of Target customers now are shopping with paper money instead of plastic. It’s a matter of security.

Most paper, though, accumulates because we print it. Documents arrive as email, text or attachment. We download, print and sort them into a file in a desk or office drawer.

So every January I go through my paper piles in alphabetized manila folders on my desk for easy reach. They are labeled thusly:

• Academic Advising
• Accreditation
• Advisory Council
• Annual Planning Reports
• Benefactors
• Budget
• Curricula & Assessment
• Enrollment Management
• Foundation Reports
• Grants
• Manuscripts
• Meetings
• Personnel
• Promotion and Tenure
• Purchasing
• Retention, Students & Faculty
• Renewal, Contracts
• Salaries, Staff & Instructors

I need these files on a weekly basis. Other, less active files, are in desk drawers and cabinets.

My “frequent” files rest on metal incline sorters on my desk, not only for easy reach, but also for location. (The “search” function for paper is the alphabet, not Google.)

As I go through each file folder, I weed out and shred documents that no longer are needed or that are outdated, such as P&T deadlines and procedures. (It is important to get rid of those because if you base your work on them by accident, the consequences can be huge.) If there is no digital copy of a document, and that document is not sensitive, I may make a PDF with the office printer that sends the attachments directly to my email queue. These are also sorted into folders whose topics match the ones on my desk.

Now I have backups for most documents.

Finally, as I update each folder, I make notes about what must be done and when administratively and then type those details and deadlines into my Outlook calendar as digital reminders.

You may have another “frequent filer” system. That’s perfectly fine, as long as it works for you and accomplishes the key component of administrative success: organization.

We not only administer for organizations; we must organize for administration.

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