Old files present an obvious challenge if you want to apply an organised records management system. They often predate your arrival at the organisation, and maybe even your birth! In any case, you’re not familiar with the contents of old files, which makes them harder to categorise and manage. As a result, they may go untouched for years, taking up space and risking a data breach. Here’s a three stage process for breaking the cycle and organising older files.

Organising Old Files: Three Key Steps

old files

Identify the Record Type

First of all, try to identify the broad categories of records you’re dealing with. The old files might be employment records, financial data and invoices, or records of operational decisions. It isn’t necessary or practical to read through every document, of course. Once you’ve identified a few record types from a given period, though, it should become quite easy to tell at a glance what type of record a particular document or folder contains. In other don’t be disheartened if the process seems slow and painful at first. You should pick up speed as you work through the bank of old files.

Order by Year

Once you have the record type identified, you should put records of the same type in chronological order. Usually, it’s obvious what year a file dates from. In the rare cases that it isn’t, look to the documents around it, the formatting, and other patterns to establish a rough date.

This should leave you with an old files collection of employment records ordered by year, invoices ordered by year, and so on. In some cases, you’ll have the space and time to do this ordering exercise along with your categorising. But don’t get worries if you need to do this in stages: ordering old files is a marathon process, not a sprint.

Organise Destruction

Once you have this level of organisation in place, you can start to consider shredding old files. Your document retention policy can inform any decisions about immediate shredding, and what destruction dates you apply. If you don’t already have a retention policy, the link below will help you get started. Remember: unless you really need an old file forever, the end goal of this process is destroying old and irrelevant information. The ‘top line’ categorisation and ordering you’ve done should let you do this with peace of mind.

Handling Old Files: Find Out More

Don’t know where to start with file retention? Start here.

Your File Retention Policy

Get a free flowchart to help you manage files of any age.

Keep, Store, Scan, or Shred? File Management Flowchart