Organization Strategies for the Office
March 4, 2004 10:29 AM   Subscribe

I've got new responsibilities at work, and now I have to [shudder] actually file paper. I'm a visual person, and once I stick stuff in files, I forget about it. But the alternative seems to be piling paper and then watching coworkers gasp in horror when they poke their head in the door. Any tips that work for you? Should I just throw it all away and pretend it got lost? Do I really have to file each piece of paper in 10 seconds or less?
posted by mecran01 to Work & Money (9 answers total)
a lot of people put everything in a "To Be Filed" folder or shelf or something, and then either ignore it, or file once a week or so.
posted by amberglow at 10:35 AM on March 4, 2004

i'm a graphic designer, and over the last few years my job has come to entail a lot more project management than i was initially comfortable with. i had those piles and piles and piles of papers all around me while i was trying to do design work in the midst.

the onslaught of paper piles and stacks made me so tense just looking at it every day that i developed a method of organizing papers with the concept of grouping.

every piece of paper that is related to a project gets piled together. if the total size of the pile is small enough, it gets paperclipped together. if larger, i use those massive clip things. i don't organize each group in any sort of way. whenever a new piece of paper comes around that is related to an existing project, it just gets clipped to the existing pile.

with the breakneck speed usually needed to find information in each of those distinct piles, i find that it's easier to find whatever i'm looking for with grouping since the piles of paper i need to look thru are smaller in scale than my former towers of unsorted stuff. it also makes it easier to gather papers that i might need to take to a meeting.

it took me about a year to habitualy practice the habit of grouping, but once you start it's pretty easy and has made my life so much easier.

it also seems plausable that you could then group larger overarching concepts in various filing drawers to further manage it all if you've got TONS of paper.

sometimes it is difficult when one piece relates to more than one pile. it's not often that it happens but sometimes you've just got to choose a pile for it to be with and forget about it.
posted by nyoki at 11:23 AM on March 4, 2004

I thought that's what interns were for. Nine months of filing gone poof! by the end of June.

No - Seriously - you have to find a way that works for you, but I like wall files or these wire thingies, and then filing in the file cabinet every few months or so. I reward myself for doing the quarterly filing by catching up on This American Life or listening to an audio book.
posted by pomegranate at 12:11 PM on March 4, 2004

I personally let it pile up, and actively enjoy the looks on the faces of people who make the mistake of visiting my half of the office. (I have the incredible luck of being behind a partition, so that I'm one of the few people whose work surface is not visible from the hallway.) Of course, this only works if you are the kind of person who remembers where a given item is in what looks like complete chaos.

An added benefit is that it discourages the night crew from using my workspace.
posted by languagehat at 12:16 PM on March 4, 2004

I mostly just file bills and receipts. Not my favorite activity. I've evolved a three-stage approach.

I went out and bought a little desktop box of drawers. One drawer is for the "to act on" papers. One is for the "to file" papers (which the "to act on" papers go into after I've acted on them, along with other things that I want to keep but don't need to act on).

When the "to file" drawer gets full, I file the contents all at once. I have one of those plastic accordion-file things with appropriate sections, so I can just prop it on my lap or something.

At the end of the year, I staple all the papers in each section together and put them all in a big envelope for that year.
posted by adamrice at 12:53 PM on March 4, 2004

Should I just throw it all away and pretend it got lost?
For a lot of things, this is the way to go - not every piece of paper that comes across your desk needs to be kept for eternity. Like e-mails, many people have trouble getting rid of old pieces of paper.

Do I really have to file each piece of paper in 10 seconds or less?
If you do need to keep it, it is better to file it straight away rather than end up with a huge pile of filing that can end up taking up several hours of your time, meaning you know you are going to get behind on something else if you do it so you never do.

Depending on how much stuff you have to collect, it can be a good idea to use a system of dividing each file in your filing cabinet into years (calendar or financial, whichever suits you best) and then, when the time comes to either archive or clean out your files, you can just take the (for example) folders that are more than 2 years old and archive/toss them. As with filing things straight away, it makes the job of clearing out files much quicker and therefore more likely to be done. An almost anal level of organisation will pay off when it comes to filing.
posted by dg at 2:14 PM on March 4, 2004

Files don't work for me either -- I have to have things visually accessible to remember them, with few exceptions.

Cubbyhole-type filing is supposedly best for visually-oriented people. An organizer with little cubbyholes allows you to see the different items while still organizing them into something less messy than piles.
posted by litlnemo at 6:32 PM on March 4, 2004

It might depend on what sort of documents you're filing. As an academic I use labelled banker's boxes for stuff I know I'm going to need. Everything I file has a good chance of being needed for articles in the future (but I don't know which), so I use a referencing software (Endnote). As I'm entering things into Endnote I put the name on the file into the keywords section. Using other keywords also gives me a fair chance of spotting stuff thats relevant from different boxes. This method does require some discipline.
posted by biffa at 9:01 AM on March 5, 2004

Response by poster: Hey, I'm an academic too! (I keep it a secret)

Thanks for everyone's excellent advice. This entry rolled off the bottom of the screen before I could return to it.
posted by mecran01 at 7:07 AM on March 13, 2004

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