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Do you file? Or do you pile?

Giant Pile

Me, I pile.

Here's the strategy of the pile:

% you get a lot of things every day in the interoffice mail, or even real mail.

% much of this you know what to do with.

% some of it you don't know what to do with.

% that's what you pile.

% the pile grows old and after a while you fear to look at what is within it.

% after a while, you throw away the pile.

% the moment you throw the pile away, you need something that was within it.

% Still, you're better off without the pile. The moment the pile is gone, you begin a new pile.


Here is the strategy of those who file.

* Here is an item. I need to file it.

* But... where?

* I'll call Beverly. She will know where to file it.

* Beverly files it.

* Beverly goes to teach school somewhere.

* Nobody understands my filing system.

Go ahead! Which do you prefer??

9 Comments Add Comment

When I pile -- and then need something, I usually know which pile it is in and then it is a matter of how deep to begin looking. Since everything is chronologically piled, it is a pretty simple matter of finding whatever I want.

I'm an executive assistant - my executive piles and I file. I can't stand piles, I don't care how convoluted the file system is (files tagged with "random pieces of paper") "IT" just needs to be in a file and off the desk. A filing system is (strangely) one the (oddest) most intimate things - unique to it's owner or in my case "co-owners". I once took a break from my Executive (relocated to the east, he is on the west) his new assistant called me everyday "Where does this go? Where does that go? I can't find this? Where do I look?" - worse he called me everyday "Where does this go again? I can't find that? What should I do with this?". Long story short we worked out our long distance situation and I am once again filing his piles. On the other hand, my beloved husband is a pile maker - and he takes his job seriously…piles everywhere. I'm not allowed to touch the piles. His system of piles work for him. He needs something, say a small piece of paper with random numbers….he knows the exact longitude and latitude of that particular piece of paper. If I've moved it, say 1 foot from the pile for example - it's a FEMA level catastrophe. I tried creating a file system for him once - long story short and some counseling - we're back to the beginning "don't touch the piles".

I worked with a guy once who had a pile system that seemed to work pretty well. He drew 2 lines on his wall - one about 3" up from his desk top, and the other about 9" up. When the pile got above the 9" line, he threw away the bottom 6". His theory was that if there was something important in the bottom 6", it would come back. Meanwhile, he just concentrated on the most recent stuff on the top of the pile first.

By the way, I have multiple piles no one of which gets tall enough to prune. He was the wise one.

Piles are very useful ways of not wasting time filing away non-critical material. I call it the 'geological system' - the deeper the layers you go, the older the material is. When it gets so large to require carbon-dating, get a box, date it, and put that away. In a few years, after you never look for anything in it, toss the box!

I hope I'm not murdered by the many organizers out there (and I've used a GREAT one in NYC a few times but quickly fell back into the pile habit I love so much). My theory is that everyone has their own system. They work the way they are wired to work.
Part two of my theory is that it's sort of like working out. You can pile or file -- but you have to allot some time to either system.

Now e-mails are another story. I have 1200 and counting in my inbox. Help!

I used to be a filer in my assistant days. Now in management, I pile. Once or twice a year, I can't find my desk, so I shred most everything and rarely miss anything. While shredding, I often find things that are good strategic things to do, if only I had the time, so zzzzzzzzzzzzzzp! Gone. I occassionally have to assure others in the office that my shredder is not working overtime for anything Enron related.

My office is peaceful for about one to two weeks per year.

Come on, friends. Perhaps subconsciously, the reason you pile is to look swamped. Who can add to the woes of someone that buried? It's like Costanza letting out a heavy sigh.

And it's self-fulfilling. Eventually you become so disorganized, you spend most of your time looking for things. Then you really ARE busy.

I am a full time piler, and recreational filer. I mostly pile, and often compare my desk to the Lost City of Troy. When I work a project, and I finish, and I don't have time to clean up, I place open Manilla folders on top to separate the files. Eventually, like today, I get slow, so I use that time (i.e., recreational), to file everything away or throw it out. Today I am 95% filed, and 5% piled. It does feel good. In fact, the best part about piling, is the feeling of today, when my desk is almost clean :)

I rather file, because you can still find the thing that you kept for so long. The worst thing can happen is that you waste time filing it, after all we are always trying to waste some time at work (I am writting this in the office.