Administration – fight the pile

Administration – not the most fascinating of subjects, but an important part of any business (or household for that matter). Never fear, I won’t inundate you with 101 things you can do to streamline your admin, just a few of the ways to keep it under control.

Note I didn’t say so you can spend more time on more important matters. Maintaining your admin is the same as putting oil in your engine – it’s vital for the smooth running of your business and is neglected to its detriment. The result, sooner or later, will be varying degrees of chaos. If I applied myself, I could probably come up with equivalents to Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell, but I’ll spare both you and myself.

Pockets – one of the simplest things is ensuring you keep paperwork in a safe place if you haven’t got the time to process or file it immediately. Invest in a number of pockets, preferably the large plastic envelopes that you can shut with a popper or a folder that is closed with an elastic to ensure nothing falls out. Label them appropriately (receipts, to do, to be filed, etc) and pop things in as soon as you decide they need to be put on one side. Don’t just pile the paperwork up thinking I’ll do it in a minute. That’s the first step to chaos. If you’ve got the folders – which should be in an easy to grab place – just quickly pop the papers/receipts in the relevant pocket. However, do NOT regard them as the filing. They are simply halfway houses and the paperwork should not remain in those pockets for longer than a week. (Obviously, it’s different for project pockets where paperwork for a particular, ongoing project is kept.)

Filing – my motto is that filing is there to serve you, not the other way round. So create names and categories that make sense to you. There is no point in having tidily filed everything away if you can’t flipping find it when you need it. One key – always have a miscellaneous file, but NEVER allow it to contain more than 10 items. If there are more than that (and I’m being generous here), it’s time to create a new file for some of the occupants!

Networking – when you come back from an event, you will have the inevitable business cards. Don’t just plonk them on your desk with the intention to process them later. Either you won’t get around to it at all or by the time you do, you will have forgotten who So & So was. Take a few minutes to sit down and note the context in which you met each person and what you discussed on the back of the cards. If particularly pertinent to your business, put them into your online contacts as well so they’ll be all the easier to find.

Desk – I know it’s said by everyone all the time, but it’s true and it’s important: KEEP YOUR DESK TIDY. No matter whether you feel you know where everything is on your messy, pile-filled desk, it is not conducive to productivity. Use the folders and use in-trays to keep the piles OFF your desk. At the end of the day, tidy things away. Quickly go through the papers in your to do folder or tray and do the same thing at the start of the day. That way, they are uppermost in your mind.

To do lists – these only work . . . let me repeat that . . . these ONLY work if you create realistic to do lists. Make sure the entries are clearly written (and I don’t mean your handwriting); if necessary, sub-divide them. Some items (perhaps for a particular client or project) may require several actions; so put them as separate entries. This means you won’t forget important steps and it also means you can cross things off as you go which (if you’re anything like me) will give you a sense of accomplishment and make you feel GOOD.

Okay, if you’re still with me, here’s the last one.

Brought forward file – ever heard of it? It’s amazing how many secretaries haven’t actually heard of them, something that boggles my mind every time. Brought forward files can either be in one of your filing drawers (preferably in your desk) or an accordion filing box with the days of the month (1 to 31).

Put paperwork for appointments, events, tax returns, VAT declarations, etc, etc in the relevant date pocket. Every day (preferably, depending on how crazy busy you are, several times a day) have a quick look through the next 7 days. The dates can apply to multiple months. Simply put your papers in a plastic envelope with its own label (e.g. 2 April 2016) and pop it into the “2” pocket. It will keep those papers from getting mislaid and you can easily put your hand on them when you need them. Put reminders in your calendar as extra insurance.

Well, that’s it. I hope these hints will help you stay sane in the wonderful world of administration. If you have any queries or would like to chat about anything, please let me know.

Joanne de Vries


T:   07905 722 438






  • Jo Dix Reply

    Thanks for a great blog, Joanne. I have to confess to having a new filing system every week – largely as I can never remember what I labelled anything from the week before! And miscellaneous is definitely more than 10 items, possibly 3 or 4 files… I will try to implement your ideas and see how it goes.

    • Joanne de Vries Reply

      Good luck! Happy to help if needed 🙂

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