Originally from Matt Baier’s Organizing Works Newsletter, June 2007

Focus On Filing, Part 3: The Finer Points

For want of a Nail the Shoe was lost; for want of a Shoe the Horse was lost; and for want of a Horse the Rider was lost; being overtaken and slain by the Enemy, all for want of Care about a Horse-shoe Nail.  ~Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack, June 1758

As you can see from this month’s quote, details DO matter.  This is as true for user-friendly filing as it is for horseback riding.  Perhaps saying details matter seems to contradict my February attack on perfectionism, but it doesn’t.  The point is to observe the important details that prevent you from getting slowed by all the fussy aesthetic details that don’t.  What follows is a list of helpful filing details, to be used in conjunction with the filing guidelines from my last two newsletters.  Any one of these details may save an important document from being lost in much the same way that a simple horse-shoe nail would prevent the rider from being lost.


1. Always place the most recent file in the front of the folder, to keep your files in chronological order.

2. Place tabs on the FRONT of the hanging folders.  This increases the likelihood that they will be seen and not blocked by other folders.

3. Keep all category labels on the left side.  The consistency helps the quick recognition.

4. Don’t let anything prevent you from making a new folder when you need it.   This includes the need for excessive color coding, which can just be distracting.  Just use manila folders because they will always be available.  Also, if you don’t have time for the label maker (see featured product), just write it in pencil.  “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”  If you have the time later, by all means make a clear label.

5. Write file names as far on the top of the folder’s tab as possible so they stand the best chance of being seen.  Don’t write blue on blue for the same reason.

6. Avoid the words “OLD” and “NEW.”  Replace them with 2006 or 2007 or whatever the appropriate years may be.  New material will always change to old material, but 2007 will always be 2007.

7. Get rid of mail envelopes and their useless inserts.  Unfold the statements, or other useful contents, and file them flat.  This can double the space of a file.

8. Use the Folder Lines.  At the bottom of every manila folder you will see 3 lines.  When a file gets thick, fold along the line that is closest to the contents’ thickness.  This creates a flat bottom, which accomplishes two things.  First, it allows the contents to drop down, leaving the tab clear for maximum visibility. Second, the flat bottom helps prevent the heavier files from slouching within the category files.

9. Avoid paperclips for 3 reasons:

1) They fatten the file.

2) They pick up unwanted papers.

3) They twist papers to obscure the tabs.

10. Let Retrieval be your guide for filing.  When in doubt over the question “Where do I file this?” the right answer is ultimately “File it where you will THINK to retrieve it.”  I like to file by category because I find it reduces the odds of misfiling, but if you are convinced that you will find something easier by associating it with a letter in the alphabet, then that is what you should do.

Product of the month:  Brother RPT-1280 Label maker

This product is very much in keeping with this month’s theme of details that matter.  Not only does the label maker give you a consistent clear label, it is laminated to provide two advantages.  First, on plastic tabs you needn’t bother with the insert.  Simply apply the label to the front of it and the lamination will offer the same protection as if it was inside the plastic tab.  Second, on manila tabs the laminated label offers strength, so that its legibility lasts longer.  You don’t have to wait until you print out a full sheet of labels from your computer or worry if you need to correct one or add just one more.

I have yet to meet the person who loves to file.  In the here and now it contributes almost nothing to our enjoyment, but if done poorly or not at all, the results can make us far more miserable.  By filing your important papers regularly and by taking the few extra seconds to file them right, however, you can find hours and lose stress.