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The Pros of Piling Instead of Filing

To file or pile? That may not even be a question for you. You’re a piler, plain and simple.

Yes, many professional organizers claim that piling is counterproductive, but you’ve gotten along fine for years, so why change?

Is piling all that bad?

Why indeed? Especially since piling may not be as flawed as once thought.

"If you want to know who's doing the real work look around, see whose desks are covered with paper and see whose wastebaskets are full... Those are the people doing the knowledge work... Those are the people really getting down to thinking about information, constructing information, planning and that sort of thing,"1 according the book The Myth of the Paperless Office by Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper.

Of course, you will need a method to your madness. Not everything can be left in a single pile on your desk. Try not to fool yourself; a messy melange of papers does not make the kind of productive pile this article advocates.

Do an initial clean off

Take a moment (okay, you might need an hour or two) to look at the stacks of paper on your desk. Go through those piles and decide what you can file. Then do it. If you’re going to pile, only keep piles of current projects on your desk – not every one that you finished since Jimmy Carter occupied the White House.

Piles that make sense

While cleaning off your desk, put information about individual projects in separate piles and then into file folders. Consider using color file folders – so when you are searching through your piles you won’t have to look for single sheets or reports. You can just look for the red, yellow, or blue file folder you’ve assigned to the project.

Set up sorters

Invest in some desktop sorters and establish one compartment for each current project. Then instead of piling everything on your desk, you can separate and pile information in the sorter’s compartment, ultimately making your piles more accessible (and more organized). Plus, you’ll have more room on your desk for spreading out and working. 

As your projects evolve and finish, file what you don’t need and reassign those compartments to new projects.

Letter trays can really help

Don’t let the daily trail of papers bog down your piles. Set up four letter trays so you can deal with each piece of paper as it crosses your desk. This way you’ll be able to pitch some of that paper before it becomes another out of control pile. Label the trays as follows:

To do – for material that requires a response or another kind of action.

To route – for items that need to be passed along to someone else in your department or elsewhere in the company.

To read – for non–priority letters, reports, memos, articles, etc. that you are interested in and want to look at later.

To file – yes, for the items that do not fit into one of your piles. Try not to create too many new piles.

Keep up with your piles

You don’t have to become a filer, but having some organization to your piles should help increase your productivity.

Have a question about filing and piling? Click here to ask organization expert Maria Gracia.


1Quotation printed in The news about paper, BBCNews, SCI/Tech section, November 21, 2001

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