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Filing Systems: The five components to success, part 1

Posted by TAB on

This blog series highlights the components of a successful physical filing system. In part one we’ll introduce the concept of a complete filing system and take a look at the first three components, including storage equipment, containers and coding. Later, in part 2, we’ll look at the final two components which are file management tools and implementation.

Filing is much more than a collection of folders and labels. To be able to recognize your records management program as a benefit that keeps you efficient and saves you money, you need a complete filing system that supports the entire lifecycle of a record.

Download our guide to learn how to organize your filing system »

Lifecycle of a Record

Before we get any further, let’s define what the ‘Lifecycle of a Record’ is. A records “lifecycle” refers to the stages it goes through from creation to destruction. There are various depictions of this lifecycle but generally they all include the following:

Creation. General practice states that once there are at least five documents pertaining to one “item”, it’s time to create an individual record for it.
Usage. Refers to the organization and set-up of a system. Should be done so that it complements the way the information will be used.
Maintenance. Handling the transfer of information. This phase includes activities such as filing, retrieving, use, duplication, printing, and dissemination.
Retention. Active or inactive, a schedule should be in place to control what to do with a record.
Preservation. If the long-term future of the record does not warrant being destroyed, it should be preserved in a manner that will maintain the integrity.
Final Disposition/Destruction. There should be proper procedures in place to “destroy” critical documents and duplicates. This may include straight-cut shredding, cross-cut shredding or pulping.

Now that your familiar with the different stages of a records lifecycle, it’s time to discuss the five components that make-up a complete filing system so you can properly manage those records.


1.0 Storage Equipment

The proper storage equipment can help you speed filing and retrieval time, increase operational efficiency, improve space utilization and reduce storage costs.

Where possible, utilize equipment that can support end (or side) tab filing.
— In comparison to a traditional top tab folder, an end tab folder combined with open shelving, dramatically decreases the amount of space needed.
— The combination of improved labeling and high-density storage makes end tab folders better suited where frequent file retrieval is necessary.
— End tab filing supplies are offered in a variety of materials, sizes and weights and are easily customizable.

Choose storage equipment based on location, file volume and how often files need to be accessed.
Cabinets. An ideal solution where accessibility, space and security are issues. Space usage improved by up to 82% compared to traditional filing equipment.
Shelving. Designed for high-density filing environments that require immediate access to a large number of files within a limited space. Space usage improved by up to 140% compared to traditional filing equipment.
High-density mobile shelving. Mobile systems maximize space utilization by eliminating aisles and compacting several storage cabinets or shelving units into a much smaller amount of space. Ideal for a centralized filing environment, mobile systems are available in many options depending on volume, retrieval frequency and security. Space usage improved by up to 339% compared to traditional filing equipment.

2.0 Containers

Container is just a fancy word for folders and/or pockets. They serve three basic purposes, house and identify documents, support and protect documents and organize information for quick and easy retrieval.

File folders also come in a variety of types. The three basic types are side tab (preferred for the reasons listed above), top tab and 2 tab. They  are manufactured in a variety of sizes and paper stocks:

— Manila. The most popular choice for a majority of folder applications. Manila folders are smooth and resist tearing.
— Colored. Great for quick identification. Color speeds filing and retrieval time in any system.
— Pressboard. Most durable material in the industry. Available in three grades (type 1 colored pressboard, type II green/grey pressboard and type III low-density pressboard).
— Expansion. Allows you to store multiple records within the same container.

Many records managers prefer custom file folders. These specialized folders are designed to meet your exact filing standards and employee needs. There is no limit to what can be done to a custom folder.

3.0 Coding

Coding includes labeling, organizing and file sequencing and is the process which helps you identify where your records are and how to find them quickly.

Labeling. The first color-coded labeling file system was launched by TAB and allowed people to find their information 40% faster than typical filing systems. Whether your files are categorized alphabetically, numerically, or alphanumerically, color-coded filing systems allow for a foolproof organization of files. Depending on your specific needs, there are three main types of labels available, hand-wrapped, factory-printed and software generated strip labels software.

Organizing. Records should be organized using a functional classification scheme. The more logical and intuitive the classification system is, the easier it is to find what you need. Start by placing records into groups or categories. These categories are then broken down into subcategories, and a standard set of naming conventions and file codes are developed to describe these structures. This might sound like a daunting task, but we already have resources available to help you get started. Download our six simple tips for file classification guide or read part 1 and part 2 of our blog on the topic.

File Sequencing. Each color-coding system has a numerical limit. Specifically, each system can only support a certain number of files before collapsing. In the case of an alphabetical color-coding system, there are only a certain number of combinations one can create from 26 letters as part of a three-bar alpha system.

Here is a summary of each major filing systems’ capacity:
— Alpha = 1,000-2,500 folders in a system
— Alpha Numeric = 1,500-20,000 folders in a system
— Numeric = 10,000-80,000 folders in a system
— Terminal digit = 40,000-100,000+ folders in a system

Now that you’ve seen for yourself that filing is much more than a collection of folders and labels, stay tuned for part 2, where we will discuss file management tools and implementation.

Next steps

Check out our guide: Six simple tips for file classification
Download our catalog to see what we have to offer
Have questions? Reach out to a filing expert
— Stay tuned for part 2…

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