Strategies to organizing physical documents – 30 years later and little progress

A few days ago I read a nice Lifehacker postHow Do I Organize My Piles of Paper Into Something Manageable?‘. I find it interesting to read comments and see how are other people approaching this problem:

It’s only 1 of these categories
Action and trash
Action and archive

It [solution] would have involved a match and the "something
manageable" would have been a pile of ash. The management strategy
would have been to brush the ash into a dustpan and dump the dustpan
into a trash can. 

Super Simple 2-Hole Punch Filing System

a) Get an accordion file with 1 pocket. I use a different file for each year.
b) File paper docs, bills into it in the order they are received.
Statements, receipts are kept in the order-of-arrival. That is close
enough. Consumable cash receipts are trashed – never filled.
Bills + receipts for non-trivial items are entered into Quicken (or your
tool of choice). That’s the chief organizing database. There’s a date
for every record.

Get yourself a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500. It makes
short work of huge stacks of paper (something like 30 pages per minute,
both sides), and comes with software to OCR it all. 

I’m a filer myself. I file everything in fascicles and folders in a few categories such as ‘bank stuff’, ‘insurance stuff’, ‘NHS stuff’, etc. Call me crazy, but I even filed all receipts from stores and match them to my bank statement. I don’t do it any more (saving just important receipts for warranties). The three main features of a filing systems need to be:

  • simple (no significant mental effort)
  • efficient (things need to be found when needed)
  • no time consuming

Mine complies with them (after ditching receipts filing ;)). If I can’t decide whether I’ll need the document in the future or not, I just file it. There are always opportunities to bin it later, as I take time and clean my archive a few times a year. I decided not to have more than 3 fascicles and I stick to it. Whatever is of lowest priority gets binned.

I was also surprised at how many people want to go digital. Using software such as Evernote, Quicken, etc. As for myself, I think scanning is not an option. It conflicts with my ‘no time consuming’ principle. Maybe I’ll change my mind in the future. Although I try to go paperless wherever possible (e.g. bank statements).

So! Did something changed in the past 30 years? Not really. We only added digital information besides physical. Is information management any different? Reading again the two well known studies on how people organize their physical information: NOT REALLY. It looks like digital (r)evolution just avoids (physical) information management :).

Happy reading: