That growing pile of paper documents you need to file does more than take up office space. It also sends a loud message, according to Kyla Rozman, a professional organizer with In Order to Succeed in Vancouver.

“The ‘to file’ pile is a danger zone,” Rozman says. “The minute you start a ‘to-file’ pile, it indicates that your filing system is not effective or you don’t know how to use it properly.”

An organized filing process that is easy to maintain lets you find what you need quickly — and determine where a newly generated document should be stored. It also keeps your desk space looking neat, which displays a more professional image to your colleagues and clients.

Rozman shares three tips on developing an efficient filing system:

1. Choose a physical format
There are two main options for storing paper. One is to place it in a standard file folder, which is then stored in a hanging folder in a filing cabinet. The other is to skip the file folder altogether and place documents directly into the hanging folder.

Stick to a hanging folder on its own if you prefer a system that looks neater and more streamlined. These folders last longer than file folders, which become tattered with time, Rozman says.

The caveat is that you have to resolve to attach and label tabs to every folder once you begin using a new one.

File folders can be more convenient if you are likely to travel with documents. Labelling them is easier — you simply write or stick a label directly onto the folder.

2. Label your folders properly
When naming your files, begin by grouping them based on categories, Rozman says.

The first word on any folder should be a broader category such as “marketing,” “client” or “project.” Your second word will be more narrow in topic — whether it be the specific project or client name. Folders will be stored first by category and then alphabetically by the second word.

Rozman offers a useful tip for deciding how to categorize files: Five years from now, what would be the first word that would come to mind regarding this file? “That is the first word that should be on the file.”

3. Conduct weekly maintenance
It feels good to leave your desk tidy at the end of the week. That is why Rozman suggests that you develop a habit of organizing your filing system every Friday. Set time to file any paper that hasn’t found a home that week.

Performing this task in the late morning allows you to follow up on any notes that may have required action, Rozman says, such as calling a client or a centre of influence.

You should also schedule quarterly clean-up times, Rozman says, so you can purge unneeded documents on a regular basis.