I am a genius and I invented a new filing system

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The problem with physical inboxes is that they don’t DO anything except collect everything I need to look at and deal with. They are a stall. I still have to look at every bill or piece of mail in them at least one more time, touch it, and decide what to do with it. The inbox becomes its own sort of stress. (See figure 1.)

My inbox fills up as it gathers all my “to dos” from throughout the house — event insurance bills to pay, checks to deposit into three different accounts, doodles I don’t want to lose, invitations I need to respond to…I think there’s a Chuck Klosterman book I’ve assigned myself to read for “work” sitting near the top now.

When it comes time to take things from the inbox to the wall files — to put them away, basically — the task is daunting. All these things go to different places and some of them need to be acted upon ohgodwhatisthisidon’teven-

So I added a step to the process, and adding a step to the process made it all sooooo much simpler and so much less intimidating. Some of you won’t get it, I know. But some of you are going to think I’m the smartest person on earth, like my roommate did.

I made a filing system on my wall.

There’s not much up there in this photo, but this way I can gather things into easy-to-handle groups — first by business (home? Market Day? Cat Rocketship, artist?), then by type of document (bill? Press hit to file? Paycheck?) and action needed (file? Pay?), then by deadline date. I can also quickly create a temporary file (“Scan,” above!) and prevent myself from accumulating piles of paper on my desks.

Now, instead of looking at each document and then looking at each file folder — because I can’t keep them all in my head! — and doing a lot of running around, I pre-file. And I like it so much better and feel so very smart.

Comments on I am a genius and I invented a new filing system

  1. If I had an office wall I would probably be all over this. I can’t look at a pile of anything and mentally file it – not even my money which is why I have FOUR separate bank accounts.

    Oh! But I just realized I can use this for Things My Husband Needs To Deal With. Those things get piled up on the computer desk and shifted around for weeks until they’re a big mess. I can totally appropriate this on a smaller scale. Yay!

    You ARE very smart!

  2. I sort of do the same thing with the piles of things that need to be dealt with. I pick up the whole stack and go through it, separating it into broad categories: “bills”, “healthcare/health insurance stuff”, “pet/vet stuff”, “random bits” seem to be the most common categories. So then I have 4 smaller piles. I go through each one of those and divide it into “stuff that needs action” like filing or paying, and “stuff I can shred”. For the random bits pile, it’s “stuff to find a home for” and “I’ve realized this is junk and I’ll get rid of it”. Then I take care of the action piles and file the other piles. So similar to your system, but not on the wall. Depending on how long I’ve let it pile up it sometimes takes up my whole dining room table with a giant flowchart-style layout, but it works. Lately though I’m trying to avoid the entire issue by dealing with papers as they arrive or are created, instead of letting them sit around.

  3. I do this with clothespins and strings along the wall held up by small 3M command hooks.

    If you love the idea but want it to be a bit, well, prettier, try using ribbon or yarn in rows with colored clothespins or binder clips. It works nicely.

  4. Now, I have to ask – what do WIP and WOAC mean? I’m acronym illiterate and curious…

    My system is to leave out bills and needs urgent action paperwork on the desk and have a list of to dos there too. Then I can file away non-bill paperwork into my vertical file called pending (invitations, coupons, applications). I also have a vertical “pending” file called “to file” and “to shred.”

    My main problem is receipts. I sort of let them age a while in the “to file” folder and once a month or so go through and hopefully enough of them have become obsolete (yes, I’m keeping the item and no I don’t need the receipt for warranty) or obvious that I need to save them for long term purposes to know what to do with them…

    • Ha! WIP = Work in Progress. WOAC is an acronym for one of my projects.

      Receipts are a good thing to hang on to. I’d recommend scanning — or snapping a photo with your cell — if nothing else.

  5. I need to do this in the kitchen to sort through incoming mail. At first, we had a “bills”, “keep”, “junk” pile on our kitchen table, which turned into “Junk” and “not junk” and then “stuff, including books, broken toys, mail we may or may not need to keep or pay or whatever”.

  6. I have a system like this at work. When I have too many tasks to juggle in my head, I write each one down on a post-it and put it up on my cabinet above my desk. I can move them around and put them in order of importance or put the easiest and quickest jobs first. As I get each one done, I take it down and toss it, which provides me a nice sense of accomplishment.

  7. I’ve got two inboxes at work: Deal With It Now and Deal With It Later. It took some time, but typically the ‘deal with it now’ is empty, and deal with it later just has the random miscellanea that accommodates in an office (phone numbers, insurance policies, extra notepads, etc).

    My home mail/office/crap though? I’m going to have two inboxes there as well: “Whatever” and “More Whatever”. Then in three months I’ll dump everything in the trash. It might work. 😉

  8. Oh my goodness… The second I saw the picture of the on the wall filing system… I looked at the corkboard behind my monitor and laughed. I thought I was a crazy person for doing this myself, but it just works! It keeps things organized, without being hidden away where I’ll forget about them until doomsday. Thanks for making me feel a bit more sane about my systems!

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