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Using Colored Folder Files in My General Filing System

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  • Using Colored Folder Files in My General Filing System

    Dear David:
    You mentioned in your book that you don't recommend using color coding for the file system.
    Now, as I understood that you meant no complicated color coding for the labels.
    I was wondering if you recommend to split my filing system into Business and Personal, then using Green folders for Business, Plain for Personal, Red for Business Projects and Blue for Personal Projects to know that it is a project?
    Or should I just use plain for business and personal then Red folders for projects in both Personal and Business?
    Regards,

  • #2
    Originally posted by ydajani View Post
    Dear David:
    You mentioned in your book that you don't recommend using color coding for the file system.
    Now, as I understood that you meant no complicated color coding for the labels.
    I was wondering if you recommend to split my filing system into Business and Personal, then using Green folders for Business, Plain for Personal, Red for Business Projects and Blue for Personal Projects to know that it is a project?
    Or should I just use plain for business and personal then Red folders for projects in both Personal and Business?
    Regards,
    Splitting between personal and business is your choice. My advice about color coding is--does it help or hinder your productivity? Next time you go to make a file, can you make it in less than 60 seconds, even with your color coding? What happens the day you don't have the right color folder? Does the item go in a "To File" pile? David does suggest clearly separating your Project files from your Reference files. That can be easily be done by putting your project folders in a different rack/drawer/location.

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    • #3
      Anne McGee-Cooper's books such as "Time Management for UnManageable People", or Lee Silber's "Time Management for Creative People", recommend using coloured file folders if it appeals to you to do so. Coloured file folders are one of the things they say work better for "right-brained" people -- people who don't want to always be focussing on logic and words. Shapes and colours stimulate a different part of the brain.

      I like using coloured file folders when I have just one or a small number of folders in a pile or in my backpack. I like to be able to find the folder I'm looking for instantly by just seeing the edge or corner, recognizing it, and grabbing it. The folders also have labels which I can fall back on if I've forgotten what colour something was, used the same colour for more than one thing, etc.

      Finding a folder by reading the labels on several folders is a logical, language-based, step-by-step process that appeals to the left side of the brain. Finding a folder by glancing around and recognizing something which has a certain texture, colour, orientation and location is a right-brained activity. Books such as I mentioned say that if you spend too much time only using left-brained activity you may feel exhausted if that isn't your primary style.

      In my tickle file, I have two months' worth of single-day folders. I use two different neutral-ish colours (whitish and brownish) for two different months, and keep re-using them. This makes it easier to see instantly where one month ends and the next one begins, with less verbal processing of names of months.

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      • #4
        @ydajani

        I would agree with the others here that it is best to be a bit restrictive when it comes to implementing color schemes for your long-term reference material, and for most of the support material. It is simply not worth it (not for me, anyway).

        But there can be exceptions, particularly for short-term or ongoing/unfinished material. @cwoodgold mentions tickler file folders as one example (if you use paper). Another example (particularly if you use a computer app for listing your tasks) might be the paper support material for much of this unfinished stuff, like unpaid bills, unanswered invitations etc, for which I use colored folders to some extent (and list a corresponding task in my app, often as a repeating tickler, for example to pay bills at regular intervals).

        For often-used paper support material for an ongoing project or AoR (plans, budgets, price lists ...), not necessarily tied to any specific currently listed task, I often try to use folders or binders with a different look to make them easy to recognize at a glance. And I use that kind of "visual" approach also for certain kinds of long-term stuff that I know for sure that I will need one day, e.g. originals of important legal documents. I keep those a bit separate from the bulk of my long-term reference material.

        But for the general long-term reference stuff - the kind that might be useful one day if I get curious about my own history or get accused of something - I do not rely on the design or look at all. It is all based on the words I write on the labels. Any differences in color or design are purely incidental. And the same goes for "extended" project support material even in ongoing projects - I often get lots of stuff that I do not think I will need to look at even while I am working on the project, and I treat this in the same way as general "archive" material.

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        • #5
          Some people are visual learners, and I think color coding can be very useful, depending on the individual and the situation. I also agree that it can be over-done and create more overhead than it’s worth. If you keep your personal and business files totally separate, for example, then perhaps color coding is overkill. But if you follow a very simple A-Z alpha filing system for everything, it might be helpful to see two colors at a glance to help sort items. Also, some people have incorporated color-coding so deeply in their system that it can carry through to various parts of their workflow without adding too much if any extra work. (assuming as Kelly warned, that you have the requisite supplies near at hand).

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          • #6
            I think the most important consideration is how does the overhead of colour coding compare to the time to retrieve a file. A good question you should ask yourself is how long is fast enough. If you are already fast enough then there is little to be achieved by tweaking your system.

            Another important consideration is fun. If you enjoy making colour coded files, you might be more motivated to use them properly. I think this is the reason David Allen recommends a labeller. I use a box of labels and a pen so maybe I'm missing out on the fun aspect.

            If you find looking things up alphabetically slow or difficult then it's definitely worth investing time in alternatives.

            I use a more chaotic approach that I discovered by accident. When I was starting out with GTD, the store only had packs of files in assorted colours so that's what I bought. I don't use colour coding but the colours are chosen randomly. It turns out that it helps me locate files quickly. I couldn't tell you the colour of any particular file but when I'm looking for one, the size, colour and approximate location help me to recognise the files I use the most often.

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