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If you're tired of always searching for equipment, trying to find the right files in a cabinet, or sorting out different departments' documents, color coding might be the answer to your woes. Our brains are trained to see color much faster than words or even shapes, thanks to primal adaptations. We can quickly find files and items that are color coded, so they're a great step to pulling together an organized filing system.

Here's what you need to know to create an efficient, useful system that incorporates color coding. Before you know it, everyone will be using this system and thanking you for creating it!

Colors should have a purpose

Some people approach color coding with a sense of wild abandon: you have three, five, or even ten different colors you can use, so you want to immediately use them all! Each color should have a definite purpose, however. You can always save colors and incorporate them later, but starting off with an overwhelming number of colors is a sure-fire way to confuse people and lead to even more wrong filing choices.

Think of categories, then assign colors

When you color code equipment or files, think about different major categories before beginning to assign colors. You might have documents that are filed under the category of customer, financials, vendors, or forms. You can assign one color to each category and you will be able to quickly see documents at a glance and file them without looking twice.
Use color to supplement other filing systems

If you already have a system that incorporates filing or storage by department, team, room, floor, or date, you can incorporate color into these filing systems. You might have an alphabetical filing system that you want to assign colors to, for example. If you break down the alphabet and assign a color to each letter – most color coding systems allow you to use enough colors that this is possible – you can create chunks of different colors in what would otherwise be a huge row of files that you would have to pick through to see what stage of the alphabet you have reached.

Contrast different action status labels

Offices tend to think in different action statuses. For instance, if you always have files that are high-priority, regular priority, or “eventual” priority, you can use the simple red-yellow-green color combination, or you could split files into To Do, Pending, and Waiting for Follow-Up categories by color. The same principle applies to labeling different projects – you might choose to label all files related to one project with one color so you can keep them separate from another project you're working on at the same time. This allows you to retrieve files more quickly on demand, which will help with customer relations and service!

Office filing systems will benefit from strategic use of colors. Color coding can turn a confusing and frustrating labeling system into an efficient one with few mistakes and mishaps. Ideally, a filing system should be as intuitive as possible so you can get on with storing or labeling equipment, files, and other items and doing your job instead of searching for lost files or trying to figure out where a file came from in a stack.

Glen Degarnham is a former office manager who still likes to read and write about proper business practices. His articles appear mainly on small business websites. You can find out more about the Dymo 450 LabelWriter by going here.

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