Anyone can clean up their office,” says Anne McGurty of Strategize and Organize in Denver, “but the key to getting organized is having a process to retrieve things quickly.”

One of McGurty's clients, a two-person remodeling firm, was being consumed by paper. They needed space and boundaries but didn't want to spend more than $1,000. McGurty set them up with The Paper Tiger, a searchable database that mirrors the physical files. Professional organizers offer in-depth help by assessing staff members to check communication patterns and redistribute tasks.

Says Judith Miller, an Orinda, Calif.–based construction business consultant, “A lot of people keep too much for too long. Filing should be divided into immediate, short-term, and long-term.” Miller has a four-part filing method.

#1 File Cabinet
This tax year/Job, vendors, overhead categories
#2 File Cabinet
Short and long-term jobs, payroll, bank statements
#3 File Cabinet
Archive for all of the above
#4 File Cabinet
for catalogues, keep 2 years if space is available

Income and expenses, short-term (your tax year). Job costs, alphabetized vendor files, and categorized overhead files.

Assets and liabilities, immediate and long-term. Property records should be on site when still owned and owed on by you (long-term). Store current bank statements and payroll tax reports and possibly those of the two previous years before moving them off-site. Accounting job binders and catalog sheets are immediate.

A book shelf of accounting and job binders. This houses contracts, change orders, periodic job reports, and job autopsies.

Catalog and materials sheets. These need a certain logic to maintain, such as a Home Tech or Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) number sequence.

Miller's test for organization is whether you can find a subcontractor invoice from a year ago or a FUTA (Federal Unemployment Tax Act) return from two years ago in 15 minutes.

However you organize, ask an attorney how long you should keep legal or tax related files, and map your system. Could a newcomer follow the paper flow if the office manager wasn't there?