Lets' talk about Files, Folder and Feelings
March 25, 2008 4:18 AM   Subscribe

What is the best low maintainance way of organising my papers for school? With some constraints: I want to carry everything I need to school in my bag, I do not have text books, and I do not want to spend any time organising things.

Let me explain clearly - I carry a PC to school, and all my textbooks and learning material is on the PC. I also have individual sheets of paper in a folder, with each subject having sheets of paper with extra stuff, and some subjects require one to write in class.

At the moment, I use a single big folder, separated into subjects. When a subject has some paper material, I simply slot it in. The end of the file is filled with blank paper, so I can take out some and write on them. This system is quite good for me, because there is very little maintainance needed. As soon as a new sheet of paper comes in, I stick it in the folder in the right subject.

But what are the problems?

1. Some papers belong together and don't stay together. For example, I may receive 5 sheets with a circuit diagram. I will need to work with these diagrams at different times, make notes on them. It would be great if I could have something like a subfolder for each of those papers. Practically, what happens is that after a few weeks, the papers are just randomly inserted in the correct subject, but no longer sorted out. Just putting a bunch of transparent plastic folders inside does not work, because the subdivisions can be very small - like just 2 sheets, to up to 20 sheets. So it makes the folder very thick to have so much plastic inside it

2. Sometimes I receive way too many papers than realistically fit in my folder. So I need to separate, leading to disorganised fragments on my shelf. I don't like this, because I sometimes forget to take the correct file.

3. It's not neat.

The core problem is that each subject within the folder gets disorganised. That's what I'm trying to avoid.

(I am not good at telling myself to do things like reviewing once a week. So this does not work, I'm trying to find a system where things can be put in a file right away and they stay there. But at the same time, not make this folder too bulky.)

Anyone have some clever system I have not already considered and discarded? Thanks!
posted by markovich to Education (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have a tiny stapler (but that takes regular sized staples) that I find useful. You can use separate folders for each subject, or for even each sub-subject? Get a couple packs of multi colored file folders, assign a color to each class, label each folder as necessary, and then staple papers in there when you get them. (or paper clips or binder clips or get a three hole punch and then bind them somehow)
posted by gjc at 4:38 AM on March 25, 2008

How about something as simple as a separate folder for each subject? It may still get disorganized, but I'm not sure there's a way to avoid this that meets your requirements, because it sounds like you want to be very organized but not spend any time on it.

For the several sheets of paper belonging to a single project, you could use paper clips for smaller amounts of paper, and binder clips for larger amounts.

If you wants to stay with the one folder idea, you could get an expandable file folder with built-in separators.
posted by aheckler at 4:51 AM on March 25, 2008

I use binders for this purpose. Right now I have 2-3 subjects per binder, and you can use post-it tabs, or thick paper dividers with tabs to separate the sections. If your papers all fit in a single folder, they'll probably fit in a single binder. One complication is that you'll need to carry a hole punch, or remember to punch them later.
posted by fermezporte at 4:53 AM on March 25, 2008

So, not everything fits in the folder and you don't want to spend time organising stuff? This is a little difficult, however, how about these alternatives:

For the combination stuff, how about sheet protectors? They take up very little space.

What if you thought of your folder as a vehicle, and you scanned whatever you were going to keep onto your pc into the correct directory as soon as you got home, and dumped the original. With the right tools (stylus, acrobat notes) you can still write on these documents. Encourage your lecturers to provide an electronic copy instead to save on paper and copying time on your class bulletin board.

A bigger folder? Two subject folders - perhaps your timetable would accomodate a Monday-Tuesday folder and a Wed-Fri folder (if you are lucky enough to have your courses on one day each, sort of thing).

If you could make everything fit, perhaps you could use post-it notes or flags, that peep out the edge of your page, with maybe with words like "circuit diagram on them", or use green tags for things that you need to review pre-exam, or a different colour for each subject.

(My personal system is a real-life folder for each subject, and a directory for each subject on my computer. When I find articles for assignments, I save them in a separate overarching university directory because I sometimes refer to them more than once for different courses. However, I study via distance education. I don't have to take my stuff anywhere, and it's good. )
posted by b33j at 5:04 AM on March 25, 2008

You can also get big plastic accordion folders with dividers for each subject (and sub-subject). Big accordion + tiny stapler seems like it would handle the problem.
posted by craven_morhead at 5:19 AM on March 25, 2008

I would get an accordian file, and then always put new papers at the back of each subject's file. Then things that belong together should stay together, and not get all mixy-mixy.
posted by that girl at 5:26 AM on March 25, 2008

I think that binders were made to solve this kind of problem. Levenger's Circa notebooks (the basic notebook isn't that expensive) are great, because you can easily move things around or remove them if you need to, but also very easy to file in order and have them stay in that order. It will take an extra few seconds to punch your new documents, but you won't have to think about the order ever again. They have a portable punch that you could even carry around. There is a more affordable system that uses the same ideas and punches (Rollabind), too.
posted by theredpen at 5:26 AM on March 25, 2008

I settled on one the one-folder-per-course strategy, myself, with my own tiny innovation being to write the days of the week for each class in the far corner of each folder's tab (M, T, W, R, or F; M & R; W & F; etc.).

Instead of an (eventually overflowing) accordion with all of your notes and handouts, you only need to grab the appropriate folders based on the day of the week. If you only have two or three classes per day, these folders may even fit nicely in your laptop bag.

To keep things tidy, I just got a simple desktop hanging file rack like this one for my desk at home.
posted by onshi at 5:49 AM on March 25, 2008

I had this exact - EXACT - same problem: multiple subjects, each with sub-subjects, getting lost all the time.

I got around it with:

1) not bringing the entire binder to class
2) but instead bringing a few plastic sheet protectors, as in b33j's suggestion above
3) writing the date/place/time I receive something in a corner of the page
4) sticking everything for one subject/class/lesson/whatever into its own sheet protector
4) putting the sheet protectors into the big binder at home at the end of the day as I see fit

Your papers stay nice and unstapled, there's no risk of loss as I find static electricity seems to keep them in place, everything is reorganizable/reorderable, the date/time/place reference allows you to sort them out should they become disorganized somehow (this actually really helped me after my apartment was burglarized!), and your papers simply last longer thanks to the wonder of the sheet protectors. You say it's not a feasible solution because the binder would become over-stuffed, but if you didn't have to tote the binder to class, that wouldn't really matter.

Good luck!
posted by mdonley at 5:56 AM on March 25, 2008

I keep all my loose papers in one zippered pouch. I keep a handful of paperclips in there. When I accumulate enough papers on one topic that it becomes annoying (4 sheets or so), I take a half sheet of scrap paper, fold it over the whole stack on the long edge, and stick a paperclip on it. Then I write "tuesday presentation" or whatever on the scrap paper. I keep paperclipped stacks in the zippered pouch like this so they essentially are like tabbed file folders. I can read what they are without having to pull them all out.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:12 AM on March 25, 2008

When I had one class that had a lot of papers, I spent some time at the beginning of the semester thinking about exactly what different types of paper I'd have. I realized that it fell into distinct categories: worksheets I'd need to fill out (this was a language class), reference handouts, my own writing that I needed to hand in, homework that had been returned, class notes. I took an accordion folder and labeled each section with one of these uses. Then papers got stuck in the back of the appropriate section; this took almost no time on a day-to-day basis. I'd just pull the accordion out at the beginning of class and stuff papers into it at the end of the lesson. Because reference materials were segregated from the much-more-plentiful class notes/homework, they were easy to find.

When I was doing a lot of math for my thesis, I had a different organization. I worked with a three-ring binder. On the inside of the front cover I attached a notepad of lined, three-hole paper. (I put the cardboard backing of the notepad into the pocket in the front of the binder, and used binder clips to hold it fully in place.) Each day I'd write the date at the top of the page and numbers (1 for the first page, etc.) This didn't require any thinking. At the end of the day, I'd put the pages (which were probably in reverse order now) into a section at the very front of the binder, call it "current".

The binder had two other sections: "Archive" and "Reference". When I had a result that I knew I'd want to come back to, I made sure it was written out neatly (rewriting and adding headers if necessary), and put those pages into "Reference". Every few days I'd move everything from "Current" into "Archive", just in chronological order. Benefits: I had a complete history of my work in "Archive"; I didn't need to spend any time thinking about organization as I was doing my actual work; moving things into "Archive" only took a few seconds and didn't require thinking either; and the reference material was neatly accessible and set apart from everything else.

It took me 5 years to come up with this system, and now I gladly share it with the world! :-)


Basic principles from both of these: dead easy to follow on a day-to-day basis, requiring no thinking. Periodic maintenance also dead easy, requiring no thinking. Reference materials segregated for easy access.
posted by wyzewoman at 8:08 AM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh! My other innovation was to carry in my backpack a plastic folder which was used only for things I intended to recycle. It's amazing how many papers you're handed that you know you'll never want to see again, but you still stick in your backpack for want of a better place to put 'em right at that moment.
posted by wyzewoman at 8:10 AM on March 25, 2008

Last point: put a date on every piece of paper you create or receive. Make a habit of it. This is what allows you to do chronological organization with no thinking.
posted by wyzewoman at 8:11 AM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

At risk of sounding like a broken record... Tablet PC, a scanner, and OneNote. I've gotten rid of all class related papers since switching. If I need to reference multiple items, I print out a page. Any notes on paper are added to the tablet, if it isn't with me, which is almost never. You can take notes in OneNote while recording class lectures. I'm a grad student now, so no more classes for me, but I use a tablet now and wish that I had access to something like it when I was an undergrad. There are a couple tablet PC sites out there geared towards students, so check em out.
posted by neuroking at 4:13 PM on March 25, 2008

You could do what I've seen on 43 Folders ... get a PDF scanner and scan everything into your computer.
posted by WCityMike at 6:39 PM on March 25, 2008

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