What does luxury have to do with a paperless office?
More than you think! Today’s luxury is more than fine trappings and high-end labels, luxury is a way of life that beings and ends with your day-to-day activities.
It’s given that since starting in the workforce, our surroundings have changed. Office spaces have become streamlined, shared spaces more popular, and we often work from home or on the road. Organizing workspaces into paperless environments has become normal and quite frankly, expected. Think about it. How often are you asked for a file while out for coffee or sitting in a client’s office? A few clicks later, the file has been delivered.
Unless of course, your files are a digital mess.
Organizing digital files is just as simple as organizing files before you went paperless. The “folder” analogy used with organizing digitals files is the same as the hanging and manila folders you used with physical documents. In fact, it’s a whole lot easier.
Consider the physical paper workflow. You probably got a document in the mail, reviewed it, two-hole-punched it, and then added it to a manila folder, which is then put in a hanging file and stored in your filing cabinet. Or, you simply tossed it into a basket on your desk and boxed it up at the end of the project. A paperless workflow is similar, sans the tossing it in a basket.
Digital environments require, with the advent of digital signatures and email, a few right clicks and a quick save right to your computer. The occasional snail mail may find you scanning before filing in a folder on your computer. That folder is the 2-hole backer, which should be located within a folder for the client (manila folder) that is then stored in a /Client Files folder (the red rope or hanging file) in your filing cabinet (hard drive).
Simple, right? Yes, but improper filing can lead to a host of issues. However, implementing a few tried and true techniques will allow one segment of your life to be relatively effortless.
Instead of a filing cabinet, I have various folders representing my file cabinets. For this discussion, we’ll use /LuxePros. Inside that folder are sub-folders (hanging files) for all my files such as /Collateral for logos, business card templates and other items that brand LuxePros, /Marketing, /Notes and Research, /Memberships, /Insurance, /Website, /Events, and a host of others. Each of these files then has sub-files (manila folders). For instance, in /Client Files I have subfolders that are labeled with a file number and the client’s last name or company name, /#### – Client Name. From there I have more subfolders such as /Documents, /Drafts, /Correspondence, /Financial, and with those further sub-folders. Creating a wonderful tree of amazing organization and easy recall when I need it.
There is just a specific rule that goes with /Documents. No drafts. Nothing goes in /Documents unless it has been finalized and, if appropriate, signed and is in PDF form. No editable files such as Word as they are malleable drafts that may look dissimilar on different computers, and can be easily edited. PDFs are documents and for most intents and purposes, cannot be edited and appear the same on all computers.
I also have an /Archive folder in my /Client Files folder with a subfolder for each year. At the end of each year, I drag inactive files into the archive folder for that year. It helps keep my /Client Files uncluttered and makes for easy search for a client since the name will come up under one search in the Client Files.
New Folder Template
Once I have something that works, I am a firm believer in not recreating it a second time. Under /Templates, I keep a /New Client Folders handy with all the basics for several types of projects along with a host of sub-files (not shown):
I also have templates for all current forms such letterhead, envelopes, tracking spreadsheets, contracts, marketing templates in /New Forms Templates. Keeping these items in one folder rather than in the above client folder template allows me to keep collateral together and easily make identified changes in one spot, giving me assurance, I will be consistent in implementing those changes. Same with the subfolders. As I go along, if I decide it would be handy to have a certain folder, I add it to the templates and then never have to think about it again.
When I begin a new client relationship I make a copy of the folder template and save it to the newly created /#### – Client Name in /Client Files. Then to complete the new client folder, I add copies of the appropriate forms by scrolling through the /New Forms Template and dragging them in.
I use consecutive numbering for my client file numbers. You might use the date the contract was signed or simply rely on the clients’ names. When looking for a client I find the client name to be the most important for searching purposes. The consecutive numbering just helps bring another level of order into my system for sorting purposes.
I also find matter numbers to be quite helpful. This is probably a throw-back from my legal days, but it’s a great habit to get into if you want to know how many jobs you did that were similar in nature. For instance, assigning the series, -10## being assigned to General, -20## for Color Selection, -30## Remodels, etc. and then replacing ## with 01, 02, 03 to represent the number of repeat jobs for that type of work for the client, your files will look something like this:
I know from quickly glancing at the folder tree that I did 2 remodels for the Travis’s, a room addition in 1999 and the kitchen in 2015, selected colors for both the Kitchen and Master Bedroom, in 1998 and 2000, respectively, and then probably just purchased a few items here and there. All without opening a file.
In our law firm, we also use a matter series: -10## Estate Planning, -11## Estate Planning with Trust, -20## Probate, -30## Prenup, -40## Formation, -50## Real Estate, -60## Tax. Each being set up with appropriate subfolders in our /New Client Folders. Keeping all the client’s files neatly categorized and saving the client money since we don’t have to go searching through voluminous paper files.
I also find that document naming is as important as client and matter number creation. I use dates to start filenames beginning with the year first: yyyy.mm.dd Filename and adding DRAFT or EXECUTED as appropriate, yyyy.mm.dd DRAFT Filename. Starting with the year keeps things chronological versus starting with the month helping in recall as to the sequence of events. I prefer to separate the elements of the date with periods to make it easier to read the date when looking at a list of files and saving the hyphens when needed in a document name. DRAFT and EXECUTED in all caps so it visually pops.
With proper folder creation and use, you should be able to easily find documents in client folders. And with a simple search, recalling information for yearly reporting, insurance calculations, as well as similar client examples will be a snap.