Do you have a filing system? Or more of a piling system?
If you have ADHD, just thinking of filing your papers away in a filing cabinet can fill you with dread.
There are 4 Very Good Reasons to Have a Filing System.
1) Peace of Mind
Knowing exactly where your important documents are gives you peace of mind and a sense of comfort and security. No more intense panics when you need to find your birth certificate or tax documents. Lots of people with ADHD love excitement and so the idea of ‘peace of mind’ might not be a compelling reason for you. However, hunting all night for a piece of paper is stressful. It is better to know where your papers are and organize a fun adventure for some positive excitement instead.
2) Saves Time.
You can find a letter or piece of information within minutes rather than hours when you have a filing system. ADHDers often say, ‘Yes but I know exactly where everything is in my piles’ and that might be true. Most of the time. However, it only takes someone to accidently trip over or move one of your piles, and your super power is lost.
3) You Look Organized
People respect you more if you look organized. I know it doesn’t seem fair, but it’s true. If your desk at work is packed with papers and your co-worker has a clear desk, guess who your boss thinks is more competent? It doesn’t mean they are, but that is how people perceive an organized space verses a disorganized space.
4) You Are Able to Focus and Concentrate
When you are surrounded by piles of paper, it is hard to focus and concentrate on important tasks. You might not think they affect you, but they do. Keep the projects that you are currently working on (max 5) in color coded folders. Then file the rest of your papers away.
Why is it Difficult to Have a Filing System When You Have ADHD?
It is hard to feel motivated to do tasks that are boring and mundane when you have ADHD. Filing isn’t interesting or stimulating. It is a task that fits into the ‘I know I need to do it some day’ but it is very easy to procrastinate or dash off to do something more exciting.
Some ADHDers fear filing systems because they worry that if something is out of sight they forget about it. If this describes you, it is a good idea to keep your current projects in full sight. But, you don’t need to see your home insurance document every day to remember you are insured. Documents like this can live safely in a file.
The 2 big challenges of having a filing cabinet when you have ADHD are
setting up and maintaining it.
How To Set up Your Filing System
The key to having a successful filing cabinet system is to keep it logical and intuitive for YOU. Not anyone else. You don’t need to create elaborate systems or even alphabetize it. You just need to know where the logical place for you is. So, if I said ‘car’ you would know where all your car information is.
Wondering What Categories to Have in Your Filing Cabinet?
You could do an internet search and get a list of common filing cabinet categories. However, what you really need are categories that make sense for your life. Here is a quick way to find out what these are.
Find a clear space on your floor, then grab one of your paper piles and start to group similar pieces of paper together. For example, group all of your banking papers together, all of your pet information. Each group gets its own hanging file in your filing cabinet.
If a group starts to get too big, that is a sign to divide it into two categories. For example, a health category could be divided into ‘family doctor’ and ‘dentist’ or into Health 2015 and Health 2016.
Once you have your categories, label your hanging files. I use a label machine. I am not a naturally organized person so being organized takes lots of effort. Having a few tools like a label maker makes organizing more fun for me. Plus the labels are easy to read and ‘official’ looking. For some reason this motivates me to put paper in the right hanging folder much more than if they were in my hand writing.
Once you have set up your filing cabinet, be sure to use it!
If you have a piece of paper in your hand, file it straight away rather than popping it on your desk and saying ‘I will do it later’. It will only take seconds. In contrast, if you leave it, that 1 piece of paper will become 100 and your filing task will take a few hours.
Often filing systems become graveyards for old information. If your filing cabinet gets full, or the files no longer reflect your life, you stop using it. Then you revert back to your piles. Remember, you don’t need to keep everything forever. Even tax documents can be thrown out after 7 years. Only keep what you need.
I purge my filing cabinet every year after I have filed my taxes. Linking cabinet spring cleaning to another activity is a good idea particularly one that is set in stone, like taxes, because it acts as a reminder. Purging doesn’t take long. Just take out everything you no longer need and shred it.
Because organizing paper is unlikely to ever become something you really love to do, try to minimize the amount of paper that comes into your home. Sign up for online banking and get digital copies of your bills whenever possible.
What type of filing system do you have?
PS. The filing cabinet in the photos are from a Banksy exhibit I went to in Rome.