Track Processes with File Folders.

How to use file folders and paper systems to track processes.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #66

Today's topic is using file folders to track complicated processes.

Karen wrote in:

I am a high school English teacher and am drowning in a sea of paperwork. How can I manage incoming and outgoing papers? I get 125 papers in one day--25 papers from five different classes.

First of all, on a personal note, Karen, thank you very much! I am in awe of high school teachers. It was hard enough being a high school student once. I can’t imagine doing it day in and day out. Of course, the job must certainly have great emotional benefits. Our favorite math teacher, Mrs. Schlesinger, was invited to our high school reunion. She was so touched to see where we went in life with her influence that she cried. Or maybe it was seeing where we ended up despite her influence that made her cry.

Either way, getting 125 papers a day would sure make me cry. I would use a couple papers from students I didn’t like as tissues to blow my nose, and then do what I do with any large pile of papers: file, file, file!

“Wait a second,” you’re thinking, “you can’t file the papers! You’re not done with them.” That’s true. I can’t file them in my reference files, but I can file them in my ongoing process files. Just watch.

Use Your Folders to Track Process

You have to do stuff to all those papers. Maybe you read them, grade them, write comments, or feed them to your dog (it’s about time that teachers should be able to use the excuse, “My dog ate your paper”). As you recall from the episode on filing, always file according to how you’ll want to find them. How will you retrieve those files?

You’ll probably be asking yourself one of a couple of questions. “Where are the ungraded papers, so I can grade them?” “Where are the papers I’m done with so I can hand them back?” and “Where are the papers I need to review again?”

These questions actually form a roadmap for the process you take each paper through. You collect it, then you grade it, then you hand it back. Some papers may need to be reviewed again, so you re-review them before handing them back.

Base your organizing around your process. Grab three file folders. Label them, “Papers to be graded,” “Papers to be handed back,” and “Papers to review.” When you collect papers, put them all in the “Papers to be graded” folder. After grading a paper, put it in the “To be handed back” folder or, if you find you need to review it later, in the “Papers to review” folder.

Now at any moment, you know exactly what’s going on with each paper, since it’s always in a folder that tells you what to do with it. When you’re in the mood to work, just grab the “to grade” or “to review” folder and get to work.

Once those folders are empty, your “to hand back” folder will be full and ready to hand back to the students. Since you have three classes whose papers you grade, you might want three sets of folders, one for each class.

This Works for More Than Just Schoolwork

You can use this system to track any process. For example, if you’ve decided to take over the world by animating a zombie army, every zombie recruit has to go through several steps. First, the zombie has to be identified, then, sprinkled with zombie reanimation powder. Once reanimated, the zombie needs to be outfitted with a mind control ray, issued a uniform, and sent out to do your bidding.

Each of those steps is a file folder. The first folder, “Recruits identified,” has an information sheet on every zombie. The second folder is “Recruits re-animated.” Once a recruit has been sprinkled with powder, their information sheet gets moved from the “Identified” to the “Reanimated” folder. The “Reanimated” folder now has a sheet for all the zombies who need mind-control rays and uniforms. Once those are issued, you move the information sheet into a folder labeled, “Active zombie army.” And of course, you have a final folder, “Reclaim for spare parts,” so when an active zombie soldier finally dissolves on the battlefield, you can take appropriate salvage action.

(Who knew building a zombie army would be so complicated? Or that using folders correctly could make it so easy?)

Write Reminder Instructions in Each Folder

When my process is complicated, I use the folders to remember the details. On the inside of the folder, I write a reminder of the next steps for papers in that folder. So inside the “Reanimated” folder, I, er, I mean, someone, would write “Issue ray gun and move to ‘Active zombie army’ folder.”

Next time you have a complicated process, make it easy by breaking it down into steps and creating a file folder for each step. And if you have any particularly troublesome students, just toss their papers into the folder labeled, “To be fed to dog” and at long last, you’ll be able to use that excuse, yourself.

This is Stever Robbins. Email questions to getitdone@quickanddirtytips.com or leave voicemail at 866-WRK-LESS.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!


Teacher with Folder image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.