Keeping your files tidy and accessible is fundamental to running an efficient office. Even if you’re a veteran at organizing documents, it still takes time to plan out a filing strategy, a process for categorizing files and sorting them into a folder structure. It should take a few seconds to find a document rather than a few minutes or even hours.
Whenever you take on a new client and need to create a folder structure for their files, it can take the better part of a day. It’s another form of busywork that can take away time you could be spending focusing on the client and organizing client files.
Getting organized can be easily overlooked in the grand scheme of things, but organizing your digital documents doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, you don’t even have to manually create entire folder structures anymore with the right tools.
There should be a few priorities when it comes to organization systems and the end goal: it should be easy to file, easy to find, and reusable. When you utilize reusable strategies such as templates and consistent naming strategies, you ensure that files are easy to file and easy to find.
eFileCabinet can help you automate your busy work with optical character recognition (OCR) technology. It just takes some upfront setup to create a system that allows files to file themselves. The first component that makes this possible is the Zonal OCR.
Zonal OCR is software that processes files and recognizes the text on physical files that are scanned in as PDFs or uploaded as digital files. Zonal OCR can be programmed to not only recognize text but also what kind of form it’s recorded on.
For example, the program can recognize if the file you’re uploading is a W-2 tax form from the predefined fields it detects. Once it knows this, it recognizes the values contained in the fields can use them to fill out a profile of metadata, which can include names, addresses, income, taxes withheld, and every other field you want to be recorded.
eFileCabinet can help you create the predefined files that you most work with when you first get started, but the software allows you to make your own with drag-and-drop boxes you place over a sample file.
The next step to making documents filing themselves a reality is the use of folder templates in eFileCabinet. A folder template is a pre-made folder structure you can apply to drawers in the eFileCabinet document management system.
Create templates like you would any folder system with subfolders as well as predefined file names you can add to files later. With templates, you don’t just determine the folder structure, but also the security settings such as what users have permission to view and access the folders. You’ll also add profile information to the templates which will help it determine how files are sorted within the folder structure.
For instance, you start with two folders: personal and business. From there, you create subfolders wherein any document could fall.
For the business, you could have subcategories like “admin” for specific administrative documents, “clients” to then subcategorize client work, “finance” for any and all financial information, and any other subcategory that applies to the business at hand.
On the personal end, the folder system you set up can vary greatly. You could start with education, previous employers, and financial folders. Perhaps you have a family and then need to keep a family folder to keep related information in there. Other potential folders include travel, home/property, vehicle, and purchases.
Once you have your templates made, you can apply them to the drawer you create for your new client. You can also mass apply the template to multiple drawers.
When you put Zonal OCR, Profiles and Templates together, you’ve got an organizing system that works seamlessly to automatically sort files you upload into the folder structure you designed, in the exact location you need it in. Zonal OCR has an automated routing feature for documents you process with the software, which makes it so it knows how to sort a document or group of documents after identifying them. You can also set it to create a brand new drawer if the location it needs to sort it in doesn’t already exist.
So if you have a new client that you’ll be anticipating a bunch of different documents from over the course of the tax season, you can get started with just their W-2. After scanning the form into Zonal OCR, it recognizes it as a W-2 and also recognizes that there isn’t a drawer for that client, so it automatically creates the drawer with the client’s name, all with the folder template you designate. The W-2 is sorted into the folder for the tax year, and into the subfolder for income documents, or whichever way you prefer to organize documents.
Tips for organizing client files
1.) Keep the desktop clean & clear.
a.) Avoid cluttering the screen with countless folders and documents. Keep the desktop for a trash bin only, and potentially temporary files that you’re currently working on. Once you finish that project, move it off the desktop.
2.) Keep tabs on how many folders you create
a.) The more folders you have, the more difficult it becomes to find a document you’ve sorted away in its own folder.
b.) As a rule of thumb, only create a new folder if you keep going to save similar files in the same place, only to find that it doesn’t exist yet.
3.) Start and keep to a strategic naming system for files and folders
a.) Say you’re saving a specific tax form. Saving it as “1099” or “W2” isn’t helpful, because you’ll have that file every year for the rest of your life.
i.) Instead, think of how you’ll try to find that document. Perhaps you’ll search by year (2018 W2) or by job/company (Restaurant W2) or by type of document (1099, W2, 1040, etc) and combine each element.
ii.) Despite all of those characteristics making the save file longer, it will ultimately become that much easier to find 2018-W2-Restaurant rather than simply “W2”.
With just a little planning and set up in the beginning, it can shave hours off your day-to-day tasks of creating organizing client drawers and folders.
To read more about how eFileCabinet helps CPAs organize their documents, download our eBook Take Back Your Life.