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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Get in disciplined mode when cleaning out old files

By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

One year is ending, another starting. It's the perfect time to throw stuff out. Yes, it's time to clear off your desk and clean out your files.

Or at least it's finally time for me to clean out the piles I have stacked all over my office. I figure if I write a column about cleaning up, I'll force myself to get rid of the junk I've accumulated all year.

So let's clean up together. First, let's get our equipment ready:

1. Two trash cans. One for trash; one for recyclable paper. As you pick up each piece of paper, make a decision about what you're going to do with it then and there.

2. A shredder. I get dozens of pre-approved credit card offers and documents containing confidential information. Shred, shred, shred.

3. Small Post-It notes and a pen. For those documents you're going to keep, put a Post-It with the name of the file. Go through a whole stack this way and then make the files all at once.

4. Scissors and stapler or a scanner. Sometimes you only want one article from a newspaper or magazine. Clip what you want and toss the rest. Scanning eliminates paper altogether.

5. An address database. Time to deal with that stack of old business cards. Decide which names are important and enter them into an address database.

6. Computer backup system. Clean up your hard drive, too. Transfer old files to CDs, ZIP drives, and/or an online backup system. In any case, backing up is a good habit to get into regularly. Then defragment your hard drive.

7. File folders and file drawers. Ideally, have at least one file drawer in easy reach from your desk.

8. Label maker. Files look cool with printed labels.

The next step is to figure out what stuff you absolutely must keep. E-mail your bookkeeper, accountant, attorney, payroll service, spouse or other significant entity in your life to find out what they recommend you keep. Follow their advice. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Financial documents. Tax returns or any tax filings, bank statements, bookkeeping records, etc.

2. Legal documents. Contracts, business licenses, county tax papers, critical correspondence with suppliers or customers and anything that might involve a legal action on which the statute of limitation has not run out. Some legal papers, such as your company's incorporation documents, you should hold on to for as long as you're in business.

3. Personnel records. Payroll records, job applications, insurance documents, performance reviews and anything else that might be necessary in an emergency, or if an employee ever has their wages garnished, or if you later face a lawsuit.

4. Bids. You naturally hold on to supplier's bids until the work is finished, but it's also useful to retain even losing bids for the past year or two to keep track of pricing.

5. My columns. Hey, some things are obviously worth saving.

Rhonda Abrams is the author of "The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies."