Review of Records Inventory
The first step in reviewing your department's records and the management of those records should be to identify the type of records being maintained, in what form (paper, electronic, etc.) they exist and for how long they're being retained. As this inventory is being taken, identical records that exist in several places should be noted. Once this inventory process is completed, the next step is to determine the importance of the record(s) to the ongoing operation of your department. The process of determining a record's relative importance can result in the decision to limit its retention period or even to eliminate entirely the need for its further retention. (See the section on "Retention Schedules" for more information.)
Organizing your records more efficiently has many benefits and if you're having trouble finding things on a regular basis or often misplace things, the following suggestions are offered:
- Which records do you need most frequently? For those records/files needed on a regular basis, keep them in the most accessible place such as a file cabinet within your desk. If you're in an area where the records are needed by many people, keep them centrally located so everyone has fairly easy access. For those records that you don't need regularly, keep them in a place that is out of the way such as a closet or basement so they don't take up valuable office space and inhibit your ability to locate records needed more regularly.
- Are there types of records that could be grouped together? Sometimes filing compatible records together by function or project works out well for certain individuals or departments. Many people have a file drawer dedicated to types of records such as finance, employee or research files. Within the finance drawer there might be folders such as budget, monthly expenses and statements of account.
- Do more copies of a record or document exist than are really needed? Are the people in your department in the habit of printing off every e-mail they receive whereas keeping them as e-mail may work just as well? Or, what's the worst thing that would happen if the record was destroyed?
Organizing Electronic Records
Many people store records/files on their desktop computer. Organizing these files and keeping them straight can be troublesome but fortunately, computer operating systems are becoming much more proficient at arranging folders and finding files that you can't find. If you prefer not to do a search of the hard drive every time you're looking for a file, the following are a few of the more common options for organizing your computer files:
- If you prefer to keep all of your files for a particular project or function together, then you'll probably want to create a folder for each project or function that you use (i.e. finance, employee, research etc.). Each of these main folders will store all of your records/files regardless of file type such as spreadsheet or word processing. If you're working on the employee files for the day, all of them would be located in one place.
- Create a main folder that has all of your word processing documents, another main folder that has all of your spreadsheets, a third main folder that contains any databases and so on. Within these main folders you would then create sub-folders for each type of record/file such as finance, employee, research, special projects, etc. The main advantage of this system is that it allows you to organize or search for files using a software program such as Word or Excel since these programs look for files that only they use. For example, when you're in Excel and want to open a file, Excel will automatically look only for Excel files (called the "default" setting). Excel has the option of looking for Word files or other types of files but you have to tell it to do so. Using this option may mean that there are finance files in two different main folders on your computers hard drive (budgets in Excel, narratives in Word) but finding files that you haven't used for awhile is quick and efficient.