If you’ve been reading my updates about interning for Fuel, you may have noticed that one of the things I’ve been doing is reorganising quite a lot of organisational material, both on paper and in e-archives. (And if you haven’t – why? Don’t worry, you can find them all here!) This post is about organising paperwork and filing, and I’ll tell you more about e-archives next week, so stay tuned for that.
In my first week or two at Fuel, the Head of Programme, Emilie told me: “The sign of a good producer is that they have a good filing system.” I’ve quoted that already in my posts about the internship, but I think it’s worth repeating. Obviously, I don’t think, and I’m absolutely certain Emilie didn’t mean that the only thing which one needs to be a good producer is an ability to file things well (aka. good organisational skills). I think it’s more like what one can say of journalists; that to be a good journalist “the most important thing is to be able to meet deadlines”… Actually, probably, to be a good journalist, the “most important thing” is to be able to write a good article. But even if you write the best articles in the world, you still won’t be a good journalist unless those articles are written by the deadline. Likewise with producing and filing. Your filing skills are not the first point on your job description, but if you don’t have the ability to be meticulously organised (or at least try to be so, and learn to be so) you will struggle immensely.
The aim of a filing system, perhaps obviously, is so that you can go back to any individual document about any production (its budget, fundraising applications, contracts…) and find it easily and quickly, and so that anyone can do the same, with a minimum of necessary information about what they are looking for.
My biggest conclusion from going through the filing system at Fuel, and all of it’s advantages, and disadvantages, is that it doesn’t matter what your system is, so long as it is clear from the offset, and it is consistent. What I mean by this is that there is no perfect filing system, but as long as you use a system which anyone can work out quickly, then you’ve got something which works. There is a huge variety of options for how filing can work, which I have worked through quickly here, and what I would suggest is going through, deciding on something which sounds simple and effective in the relatively long term (because reorganising a filing system if/when it stops working for you takes a very long time!) and then doing that and sticking to it unless it really doesn’t work for you.
The first thing to chose is the actual storage equipment, which you need to chose from a combination of factors which are personal. The most important is space. Do you have shelf space or floor space? How much of each is available? In 5/10 years, will you be in the same place? If yes, how much will you have used up/have left to expand into as your company adds to the work it has done? What will look most professional and organised to a potential client/collaborator if they walk into your workspace?
You can chose to put documents in filing cabinets, which have the advantage of not immediately showing someone coming in how much/little work you have done before, where files on shelves either overflow or leave large empty spaces. You can chose to put things on shelves, where you can see everything from one place (and don’t have to bend over to open drawers). You can chose to keep things in ringbinders, or lever-arch files, or box files…
Personally, I think I would prefer shelves, so that I can access everything, and box files, so that I don’t struggle to fit them neatly onto shelves when one end of the file is narrower or wider than the other. But it would depend on my as-yet-theoretical office space, so I will make that decision in future.
The next thing to chose is how you organise the large sectioning (be it in ringbinders, lever-arch files, box files or filing cabinet drawers…).
You can chose to file projects by artist, or by date, or by production (each of which have advantages and disadvantages) but as long as all your files are the same (e.g. all tell you the artist and the production on the label and are in date order, or all tell you the production and the date and are in alphabetical order by project or…) then you or whoever walks into your office can find the file for X show, by Y artist on Z date, assuming you tell them either “Can you get me the file for X?” if you’ve filed by production title, or “Can you get me the file for Y’s X?”, if you’ve filed by artist etc. This will mostly depend on personal preference – do you want to be able to see a chronology of work, with all recent productions together? Do you want to be able to find all of a single artist’s work in one place? Do you want the simplest solution in terms of searching for an individual production?
For what it’s worth, I think I personally would file productions by production title (because you’re most likely to retain/ask about a production, and therefore a stranger, who doesn’t know who the show was by, or when it was, can find it) with labels showing the date and artist.
The last thing to think about is the organisation inside each section. This is where I think people will vary. Things which might be sub-sections include: Funding Applications, Budget, Venue Contracts, Artist Contracts, Invoices, Bank Statements, Marketing, Box Office Reports, Evalution… You can choose to divide it only with what is relevant to that particular production (e.g. for a production which only had one venue and one performer, it might be simpler to only have a single sub-section for “Contracts”, rather than one for each of “Venue Contracts” and “Artist Contracts”) or you might want to have a list of all relevant things to all shows, and if individual dividers in a particular show aren’t filled, leave it in and empty. There is also the question of what order you would want these sub-sections in – the order in which the process tends to work (which is slightly different for every production, so won’t be perfect)? Alphabetical?
Personally, I will use a master list of sub-sections (including a final “Misc.”, just in case!), because I think that is more systematic and efficient, and I will have them in the order in which the process tends to work, (as listed above, although as I said, it’s imperfect – for e.g. you need a budget for an application for funding, but the budget can’t be final until you’ve hear back from funding applications…), because I feel like that enables me to feel like I’m working through a project as I go.
That’s all for this week, thanks as always for reading! I hope you enjoyed this, and found it useful; feel free to like the post if you did, to let me know, and I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments! What style of filing do you think would suit you best? Have I missed anything important in the process of setting up your own filing system? I’ll see you on Friday for an update about last week at Fuel, and I’ll be continuing on this theme next Monday with some thoughts about the counterpart to this – e-filing.