Adam Smith

Adam's Life Hacks Part Two: The Lean Paper Filing System

January, 2011

“A filing system is absolutely essential.”

–Randy Pausch, Time Management


Unfortunately everyone has to deal with some number of physical papers, CDs, and so on. Enter the personal filing system.

Most filing systems fail out of the gate because they don’t optimize for insert time. Since starting my filing system two years ago I’ve organized 112 documents, and in those two years I’ve probably only retrieved a document five or ten times.

So here’s what I would suggest:

  1. Grab a box, a bunch of document-sized baggies, and a sharpie pen.
  2. Whenever you want to add a document, put it in a new baggy, write an autoincremented number on the front with the sharpie, and throw it in the box. That’s it.
  3. If you like you can keep an index of the documents on your personal wiki. Keep a table with three columns: document number, date added, and a text field description of what’s in the baggie.

For me this method beats the crap out of the traditional filing system with the filing folders, little pieces of plastic, and perforated sheets of labels.

Here’s a sample list of things in my filing system, pasted from the descriptions in my index.

  • Zeo / personal sleep handouts / paper / sleep tracking forms
  • Lenovo x61 recovery DVDs
  • Stock certificate
  • Friend’s memorial service handout (this one for sentimental value)
  • Heavily used pocket/folded maps of Stockholm and Hamburg. (again for sentimental value)
  • 2009 Income Tax binder, federal and state
  • Christmas cards, 2009
  • Etc

Ok, that’s it for now. Please share your own document organization tips in the comments! Thanks!

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