The pile cabinet - what do you think?

esgaNovember 29, 2005

After reading through the discussion in the Elizabeth's paper thread, and following some links from the site Gloria posted, I am tempted to try out the "pile cabinet" system at I am a confirmed piler - the only thing files really work for are stuff that is just dead - like tax returns.

I googled it to see what's been written about it and found out the idea came from a favorite writer of mine. It's a small investment - $37, with a money back guarantee.

The idea is you can write a serial number on each piece of paper, add this to the index using the software, and both andd and retrieve in less than 30 seconds.


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I don't know, it seems like a lot of extra work.

add a serial number, then stop what you're doing and go write it in an index (which would mean stopping to decide what category I should file it under, which would stop me dead right there), look up the index, go find the paper w/ the serial number ( and hope I didn't move it in the meantime).

In my life, it would be just another chore to feel crummy about not doing.

I think I'd rather just have a stack that's all "travel article" next to the one that's all "FIL's estate" next to the one that's all "household phone calls I need to make." And either get them out to work on, or put them in the box/basket bcs I'm done.

One basic principle of organizing that I love is "make it easy to put it away, even if it means getting it out is a bit harder."

Just putting the paper on the stack, or in the box/basket, would be a snap. If I want that paper again, I'd have to thumb through exactly one stack, which I know from experience I'm more than willing to do.

This system makes "putting it away" a complicated chore!

But if you think it would work, give it a shot. I just think it's distracting you from a system you've already identified as: "working, with one small drawback."

It seems it might be more useful for background research of stuff you might use again--info that could be useful in several different stories you're writing, or something else that will last longer than the next 3 months.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 1:52PM
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Oops! I missed that this is Elisabeth P w/ an S!

And so my comment
I just think it's distracting you from a system you've already identified as: "working, with one small drawback."
does not apply.

But all my other impressions remain the same.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 2:14PM
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Elisabeth with an S-- you might enjoy the post below -- which I found this summer when I didn't have quite the handle on my problem and before I found this forum.

I too agree that the extra step in pilecabinet might be too much. I've had my computer life changed by the MAC X spotlight function, which is essentially a google of your own hard drive. I can find anything in seconds. It is amazing. So I am willing to be more primitive about my hard copies. My dead files are in control-- its my daily work papers that are a problem and indexing them wouldn't help me. But whatever works.....

Here is a link that might be useful: Horizontal organization

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 8:24PM
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Thanks for that link, E/z.

I originally thought the pile cabinet would be furniture designed for piles - like the link Talley Sue put in one of her posts, but more so. Once I started thinking about document boxes on shelves, I realized that none of my bookcases is likely to be very useful.

The "after" picture on the pile cabinet website shows very few papers in the system, whereas I have hundreds. For example, I have appliance and gadget and tool manuals theoretically separated into folders - I originally though, 1 for the kitchen & laundry, 1 for computer and PDA, 1 for outdoor tools, 1 for entertainment equipment. (for one thing, there are too many to go into one folder). But I have a lot of "things," like humidifiers and air purifiers, that don't fit neatly into any category. And anyway, it was too many categories and sometimes I can't remember what is where. So maybe an indexed box would actually work for this stuff.

Current projects should be easy, except some of them get big and start to have different aspects, some of which actually need piles or boxes of their own. The trouble with piles is that they are so easy to smoosh and disorganize (and especially when there are active young cats. When I was doing my dissertation, I had to laugh at the idea of computerized randomizers - all I had to do was pile notecards in stack on the floor and wait for the cats to come through a few times).

Anyway, I started using the spare document boxes yesterday at work, and my desk looks better already.

Interestingly, magazine files, which are sort of vertical versions of boxes, do not work that well for me. There truly is something about horizontal vs. vertical going on here.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 11:49AM
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pile notecards in stack on the floor and wait for the cats to come through a few times

THAT is randomizing! I have a cat who can "rowdify" w/ the best of them; I wanted to name her Rowdify.

Randomizer would be a great cat name, LOL!

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 1:15PM
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Interesting E/s that you consider all those manuals as part of your current work. I think of that as almost dead storage -- I can easily file those manuals (I didn't even have trouble labelling the outside of the files with the contents) and even put them in vertical files. (Files cabinets are in laundry room.) But my work I need to shuffle everyday -- no file works and those magazine boxes drive me nuts. Unless the contents are rigid the stuff is all over the place.

Did eithe rof you check out the Horizontal link above?

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 5:24PM
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I just checked it now, and found he was saying something I'd been thiinking earlier today, and nearly said, on the other thread. That it's easy to find vertical systems, but horizontal ones are not that available.

And some seemingly horizontal ones are really quite vertical. Not *totally* vertical, but a lot.

Like those stacks of drawers--the stuff is lying horizontally, but the horizontal piles are stacks vertically.

This style is open so you can see the stuff but again the horizontal piles are stacked vertically. I don't know how hard that would be for a horiz. person to cope with.

I love his image of the model railroader. Too bad people visiting your office can't become a vertical element (taking up only vertical room), so you stuff can be horizontal.

I wonder how much of his organizational style (and yours, too, E/z) is VISUAL--the need to SEE stuff.

We had a thread or two on this a while ago, and I got the impression that some people think there's an element of laziness or immaturity to someone's needing to SEE the stuff through the plastic sides, or see a picture instead of the word.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 5:44PM
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Re all the manuals - it's not so much that they are part of my working material, but that I can't successfully file them for fear of not finding them again. My paper problems seems to go way beyond yours, Elizabeth, because once I put something in a file I will probably never get it out again unless the IRS does an audit.

Somewhere in the paper-management literature I've been reading it's pointed out that there are 2 parts to it: storing the papers and accessing them again, and that sometimes things that make it easy to store make it hard to re-access, and vice versa. That was a very helpful insight.

Yes, there are very few systems for pilers that are truly horizontal (I did read the link, thanks!) That's what originally sent me searching for a "pile cabinet." Those stacked open bins that Talley Sue linked to in her last post are, as she observed, a way to contain your piles vertically. I've used systems like that in the past and found them hard to even get things into. Theoretically they should work as temporary mail separators, at least, but I've never been able to stick to them - they are still too closed.

So maybe a few of us need to go into business!

By the way, I joined the 43 folders discussion group at Google groups. There are several interesting threads on paper management, including mine which is still on the first page. See also the one on indirect filing systems, and one even farther back on organizing paper. Most people in this group are trying to live by the book Getting Things Done (GTD), and as you will see, most of them are convinced that piles are wrong, wrong, wrong - though one person says that and then admits that piles are OK if contained.

Also note that most of the poster seem to be men, while this is a highly female forum, probably in part because it's about organizing the home, and women still mostly claim or get stuck with that responsibility.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2005 at 1:06PM
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Re-accessing is a problem. When I re-start a project (and I have a very big one as soon as I get back to work) I know it takes me about three days to re-enter. That might mean handling every file/article/interview/raw notes in the almost dead storage file drawer and shuffling and re-shuffling. Just part of the cost of doing business.

But then I begin to work and the horizontal piles begin and within three days more I've taken over a huge space that I'm guessing (hoping) isn't really more than 18 to 24 inches of linear files but when spread out horizontally...well you get the idea.

One thing I think I have to take into account that Talley Sue has suggested and maybe I should heed. If I did do some retrieving / replacing during the day I wouldn't be too fatigued at night to finish up. One of the things I learned over many years of teaching elem school is that I was lousy at clean up time in my classroom and that sometimes i pushed kids too hard and didn't leave them enough time to clean up. They were tired and I was tired. Clean up was better in the morning. That might be a clue to a different rythmn than I am imagining.

Enough -- I need to/want to go out to get some milk for my new fridge.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2005 at 4:27PM
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OK, you guys are forcing me to look at the way I do piles!!

First, anything I am actively working on remains in a flat pile on a chair or table. If there is a big stack, it goes in a plastic grocery bag to keep all the books and papers together (like a project I'm working on this weekend for church). This is OK for me because the horizontal pile(s) have a definite start and end time (rather than being around forever).

If I'm not actively working on something this week, the pile goes to an out of sight place, like a totebag in the bottom of the closet, until I need it next week or next month. This cuts down on visible clutter.

If I could choose, I would have a house full of built-in cabinets to hide the piles... but our house isn't that big. I would NEVER want a see-thru cabinet. I like my piles hidden.

And I will, for example, keep the books I'm using for the church project with my notes and NOT put them back on the bookshelf until I'm finished (hopefully next week).

Elizabeth---Loved the link on horizontal organization! I also read some of his other essays while I was there.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2005 at 3:19PM
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