Stack, don’t file!

Papers are one of the scourges of the modern office. Even mine tends to take over, if I’m not very careful. So how do you deal with those endless piles of paper piling up on your desks, especially if filing isn’t one of your strong suits? There ARE solutions, including some that don’t even include the presentation! So how do you do it if you can’t deal with the presentation or are afraid that everything you present will be forgotten?


First, set aside a couple of hours during which you are unlikely to be interrupted. Then group all of your stacks together, if not all in one stack, at least all in one area of ​​the room. Now go through all your papers and decide if they belong to:

– Papers you haven’t touched yet

– Documents you need to do something about (such as an invitation with an RSVP, or an article you want to read, a letter you need to reply to, etc.)

– Papers that you no longer need, but need or want to keep because they have legal value or you know that you will need to use them again.

– Throwaway papers Don’t read the whole document, just enough to know what to do about it. If this is a problem, a solution I have used with a client is a pager that is set to sound every 20 seconds or so. It’s a good reminder, and we rarely need more than 20 seconds to know where a document belongs.

Even if you never get past this point, you now know where to look for this invitation, or this document you read 3 years ago that has the information you need. It may take you a while to find it, but at least you will find it.


Now, in a second step, stack again! Once you’ve finished sorting, go back to the papers you need to do something with and go through the stack again, creating small stacks that correspond to a category. They can be organized by project, action type, due date, topic, or any other way that makes sense to you. At this point, the stacks in front of you should be much smaller and more numerous.


Now is the time to archive. You can file your documents in a special file cabinet for your active work or, if you can’t part with your piles, you can visually scatter them on your desk, dresser, filing cabinets, etc. The key is to ARRANGE THEM and make sure they don’t overlap. The latter is easy to solve: place your stacks in trays, baskets, boxes, magazine files—things that will keep them in place and instantly make your desk look neater, even if it’s littered with stacks.

Organizing your stacks is a bit more complicated. Here are some examples of stack organization. Choose the one that appeals to you the most:

– The Labels: Label your stacks with one of those folding labels used to put the names of panelists at a conference, or, more simply, any kind of construction paper folded in two, and label both sides. If you choose to play with construction paper, you can even color-code your stacks, making it quicker to find what you’re looking for.

– The Positioning: This is a system where all the papers related to the calls to be made are placed next to the telephone; things to enter into the computer next to the computer, etc. You can also have all your projects lined up on your desk, the first one to work on that day to your left, the second one to the side, etc.

– Lists: In addition to your stacks, keep an up-to-date list of your content. This way, you’ll know exactly what’s on the stack and only have to look at the lists to know where to look. Even better, the lower the document is in your list, the higher it is in the stack.

Now you have a filing system, or rather a search system!

At this point, the only unfinished pile left is the one containing the papers you want or need to keep, but don’t need to act on. The system that still makes the most sense is that of a filing cabinet, with classic suspension files and manila folders. However, if you don’t see yourself opening those drawers, you can use Steps 2 and 3 above to do your long-term filing as well. The only drawback is that you will need a lot of horizontal space, such as shelving. You’ll also need to make sure that the elements that indicate what’s in your stacks (labels, lists) are upright and in an easy-to-read place.

Good luck on your way to a pile filing system that works for you!

Copyright 2006 Karin Vibe Rheymer Stewart

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