6 Steps to Create an ADHD-Friendly Filing System

Woman filing financial paperwork on living room floor
Hero Images / Getty Images

Creating a filing system that stores your paperwork will make you feel confident that you can find all your important documents quickly and easily. This might seem obvious to someone who doesn’t have ADHD; however, when you are living with ADHD, paper piles, fear, and anxious searching often go hand in hand when you are looking for a particular piece of paper.

Setting up and maintaining a filing system that gives you peace of mind is time well spent. One thing that stops people with ADHD from setting up a filing system is that it can feel overwhelming.

Creating an ADHD-Friendly Filing System 

So here are 6 simple steps for creating an ADHD-friendly filing system.

Pick a filing cabinet that you like. You will be much more likely to use a filing system if you like how the cabinet looks. Pick one that fits in with your home decoration and personality. If you aren’t sure how many drawers you will need, create a practice system using banker's boxes. Put your hanging files in the boxes and test it for 1 or 2 months before investing in a piece of furniture.

Hanging folders. Every filing system needs hanging folders. Have one hanging folder per topic, for example, "Bank statements 2016." The relevant documents can go straight into the hanging folder; they don’t need to go into a separate folder first.

Labels. Label each hanging folder clearly. You could write your labels, print them or use a label maker. If you can’t read the label or forget to label a folder, it is easy to put the documents in the wrong place and then the filing system stops being helpful. What you write on the label is your choice. Do it in a way that makes sense to you so you can find what you are looking for quickly. For example, you might write ‘bank statements,’ the name of the bank or something else that is meaningful to you

Organizing the folders. Having ADHD means your thinking is creative rather than linear, and how you organize your filing cabinet can reflect that. Your filing system doesn’t have to be alphabetically organized! You might decide to group all your finance folders together, all your health folders together or in another way that feels logical to you. 

Use color. Using color in your filing system is a great idea. People with ADHD are very visual, so using brightly colored hanging folders will make your filing system more appealing. If you group similar items together in the same colored folders, it will also help you find things quickly too. For example, you could have all red folders related to financial topics.

Keep the folders streamlined. Don’t overstuff your folders! Oversized folders will make it harder to use the filing system because it will be difficult to add new documents. As a result, you might be tempted to stop using the filing system.  

If your folders are getting big, here is what to do:

  • Shred documents you no longer need. For example: shred credit card bills right after you pay; shred bills, bank statements, paychecks/pay stubs after a year, or when you receive your W-2 statement for that tax year; shred investment records and tax documents after seven years; and shred sales receipts after the life of the warranty, or until you know it won't be needed to return merchandise
  • Divide the subject into smaller topics. For example, instead of putting all your tax files into a single folder labeled ‘Taxes,’ create separate folders for each tax year (e.g., Taxes 2016, Taxes 2015, Taxes 2013) 
  • Only put important papers into the folder. For example, when you receive a bill, put the bill into the folder after paying it, but do not put the envelop it came in as well.

Set up an electronic filing system. The accumulation of paper can become very overwhelming for people with ADHD, so another option is to set up an electronic filing system. You'll need a scanner, computer, and external hard drive to back up files. Scan each document and store it in a folder on your computer labeled for different types of documents (bills, taxes, home improvements, etc.). Adding the month and year at the end of the document name can also help you keep things organized by date; for example Utilitybill_Nov2002.pdf. There are also a variety of apps to help you scan, store, and manage documents right on your smartphone or tablet.

Was this page helpful?