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Purging my A-Z General Reference files

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  • Purging my A-Z General Reference files

    Hey guys. I just thought Iíd start purging my A-Z general reference filing system for the new year. What the best way to do it? Any guidelines and tips?

    I tried browsing the folders earlier, and I was surprised to find some of the things that I filed. I might still look at them in the future, so I couldnít get myself to throw them away. I donít mind keeping them, but I hate that Iím starting forget what are in my reference files.

    My reference files are mostly *might need, might look, probably in the future*. But I realized that the only ones I constantly looked at are project support materials, which are inserted alphabetically along with amorphous reference files, which I realized are poorly titled. Whatís the guideline for titling? Should I separate project support from reference?

    I also file away deferred project support files, even abandoned ones, thinking I would be able to use it for brainstorming similar projects in the future.

    I even filed my car manual and service warranty into a folder labeled car (which is a little too big so itís sticking out, and too thick so itís creasing the folder), since I donít have any other manuals I could place it along with.

    I also recently started using keynote as reference file for some notes. Though I like using keynote, I afraid maintaining soft and hard files at the same time would be confusing in the future.

    Overall it looks bad. I have a feeling Iím doing it all wrong. Any suggestions?

  • #2
    I believe David says filing should fast, fun, and effortless as possible. Your negative feelings about the filing system probably do reflect a real problem of some sort, although most of the specific things you mention don't seem too bad to me.

    One thing to realize is that the general reference files aren't something you have to be looking at all the time--it's okay if the only ones that get looked at much are the "project support" files, because the rest of it is a library of data. It's there if you need it, but it's not an operational tool for planning your next move. 90% of the contacts in my planner are looked up once or twice a year, but I still keep them for when I do need to look those folks up (heck, over 99% of the e-mail addresses stored in my Gmail account aren't even used that often!)

    Originally posted by GTDer88 View Post
    I tried browsing the folders earlier, and I was surprised to find some of the things that I filed. I might still look at them in the future, so I couldnít get myself to throw them away. I donít mind keeping them, but I hate that Iím starting forget what are in my reference files.
    It sounds like there may be thinking still required about these items--possible projects or someday/maybes (or further refinement into something worth filing). If they're truly just reference (and they were labelled appropriately), you should be okay that you forgot you had them. I couldn't tell you half of what's in my "School-Housing" file, but I can tell you more than once I've flipped through it when I needed a phone number for maintenance or to know where something in the complex was, and found a brochure or letter or note I forgot I had that had the critical data on it. Maybe a good question to ask about these item would be, "If I didn't know that I had this, but I started a project for which it would be useful to know about it, would I be able to find it if I browsed my files by topic?" If you're okay with that and they're in a clearly-labelled file, I say keep em!

    Originally posted by GTDer88 View Post
    I even filed my car manual and service warranty into a folder labeled car (which is a little too big so itís sticking out, and too thick so itís creasing the folder), since I donít have any other manuals I could place it along with.
    One thing that helps me keep my files trim is asking if reference files are the best place for something--and the car manual is a perfect example. Service warrantee is an important item, and a "car" file is an ideal place for it. Would the manual be reference, though, or should it live somewhere else? I've always kept my owner's manuals in the actual cars themselves--in the event that I'm not physically @Car, they're likely to be more useful to whoever is (be that family or a mechanic), and I always like to have them with me if something goes wrong when I'm driving (like the "Check Engine" light, which came on earlier this week!). As another example, I have several folders of sheet music and guitar tabs--most of which I keep just for "future reference"--but they reside in a drawer with my other guitar-related supplies, near where I usually practice, because it literally only comes into play when I'm actally using my guitar, and getting up to go to the filing cabinet (which is, admittedly, just across the room) would be too big of a pain. I don't recommend spreading your reference all over your life, but there are certain hardcopy data that are less productive in the filing drawer. If it's something you will routinely or naturally need somewhere else, it may just be cramping and complicating your reference files (if, on the other hand, you would forget it and have to look for it if it lived somewhere else, the files are the place for it. That's what they're there for--easy data retrieval)

    You might also want to consider breaking out your project support (at least for "active" projects, whatever that may mean to you) into it's own drawer/system. David often says that blending non-actionable stuff with actionable stuff causes us to go numb to the whole thing, and that may be causing some anxiety.

    One more general guideline of David's that I love is the idea that there are two rules for purging: "When in doubt, throw it out" and "When in doubt, keep it." Sounds like you may be in the latter camp, which--as long as you have the space and the hardware to do--is absolutely fine.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by maxleibman View Post
      One more general guideline of David's that I love is the idea that there are two rules for purging: "When in doubt, throw it out" and "When in doubt, keep it." Sounds like you may be in the latter camp, which--as long as you have the space and the hardware to do--is absolutely fine.
      I love this too. The majority of stuff in my general reference files never gets looked at, but it's saved my sanity to have it there nevertheless. All that stuff used to be scattered about on any horozontal surface, which a) meant it was difficult (or impossible) to find anything I actually did need or want, and b) meant that everywhere I looked were piles of unprocessed, possibly important, anxiety-inducing stuff. (eek)

      I am mostly the "when in doubt, keep it" type, but I sometimes have bouts of "throw it out" too. It's still ok. If I kept it, it's in my general reference files. If not, I must have tossed it; no need to go scrounging around looking for it, just decide if I care enough to find the info somewhere else. (Usually not!)

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      • #4
        Originally posted by maxleibman View Post

        It sounds like there may be thinking still required about these items--possible projects or someday/maybes (or further refinement into something worth filing). If they're truly just reference (and they were labelled appropriately), you should be okay that you forgot you had them.
        I thought about creating an index for my files, sort of like a table of contents, but realizing that Iíd have to actually look at all the folders I decided otherwise. And besides, the overhead for keeping that index current would be unnecessary burden.

        Originally posted by maxleibman View Post

        One thing that helps me keep my files trim is asking if reference files are the best place for something--and the car manual is a perfect example. Service warrantee is an important item, and a "car" file is an ideal place for it. Would the manual be reference, though, or should it live somewhere else? I've always kept my owner's manuals in the actual cars themselves--in the event that I'm not physically @Car, they're likely to be more useful to whoever is (be that family or a mechanic), and I always like to have them with me if something goes wrong when I'm driving (like the "Check Engine" light, which came on earlier this week!).
        I get the idea.

        Originally posted by maxleibman View Post
        You might also want to consider breaking out your project support (at least for "active" projects, whatever that may mean to you) into it's own drawer/system. David often says that blending non-actionable stuff with actionable stuff causes us to go numb to the whole thing, and that may be causing some anxiety.
        I think I'll do just that. Having to flip and scan through all the other reference files for a single project support file was really a pain. Maybe Iíll gather all the active project supports, use a divider and put them in front of the other files. Thanks!

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by GTDer88 View Post
          I thought about creating an index for my files, sort of like a table of contents, but realizing that Iíd have to actually look at all the folders I decided otherwise. And besides, the overhead for keeping that index current would be unnecessary burden.
          Years ago my wife told me that an old boyfriend of hers kept lists of everything in his apartment: what was under the kitchen sink, what was in every closet. As a forum board member used to say, this struck me as obsessive compulsive.

          I do not have a list of what's under my kitchen sink. But David Allen has taught me the value of lists and I no longer think that my wife's ex-boyfriend was suffering from mental illness.

          For years I have been keeping an index for my files, as GTDer88 describes. I had a boss years ago who had me keep such an index for her files. Once I stopped working for her, I stopped keeping such an index. But once I started to do GTD, I realized that my file folder labels always had too much ambiguity. Even though I purge them annually, I can't keep in my head what's in all those folders. So, I keep an Excel file with the folder name in one column and the folder contents in the next column. I don't go to my Excel file every time I put something in a folder. But I enter into Excel when I put something of a different kind in an existing folder. And I do enter into Excel whenever I add a new folder or remove and existing folder.

          Now I can use Google desktop search to find where stuff is in my system or I can go directly to my Excel file and search with ctrl-F to find that great idea I wrote down last month to convert dross into gold.

          Not to belabor a point but the argument against doing this is that there is too much overhead. It all depends on how many references files you have and how you use them. Pre-GTD I would have agreed that this is not worth the overhead. But I also thought then that it wasn't worth the overhead to label my folders and it certainly was not worth the overhead to create a new folder for a single document. After reading the GTD book, I followed David's system and learned that it was definitely worth the overhead to create and remove files regularly. A year or so later I learned that it took almost no time to add a word or two into an Excel file and this could save me many frantic, stressful minutes of panicked searching.

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          • #6
            What about dating your files? The date created, the date last reviewed/used.

            That way you have a quick, simple way to tell if something is worthwhile keeping or should be discarded. This works on the 80/20 rule. 80% of what you keep (in your reference files) is worthless as you only look/use/need the other 20%. Plus it saves you having to create a separate index that is unlikely to be maintained.

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            • #7
              A suggestion or possibly two

              Originally posted by GTDer88 View Post
              I thought about creating an index for my files, sort of like a table of contents, but realizing that Iíd have to actually look at all the folders I decided otherwise. And besides, the overhead for keeping that index current would be unnecessary burden.
              Yes indeedy. My filing system is a modified A-Z. Note that I don't use hanging files, so if you do YMMV. I have categories A-Z, then any old how within a category.

              So for instance I have a "Car" category, which contains purchase documents, maintenance reports, repairs, and the like, in several folders. The individual folders are all labelled along the front edge, and each category label is a standing label on the first folder of the category.

              This works for me because:
              1) The number of categories is of a respectable size (big enough to make alphabetising useful, small enough that I can easily guess the category something belongs to);
              2) If you're of a mathematical or computing bent, this is much like the golden section search: it gets you to where you want to be with the minimum amount of looking around;
              3) Some categories are themselves organised either alphabetically or according to a logic suited to the category: with banking files, for instance, I tend to hold the account statement files at the front, where I access them frequently, and account condition files, communications etc, at the back.

              Originally posted by GTDer88 View Post
              I think I'll do just that. Having to flip and scan through all the other reference files for a single project support file was really a pain. Maybe Iíll gather all the active project supports, use a divider and put them in front of the other files. Thanks!
              Yes indeedy again. I hold active files (includes my tickler file) in one drawer, reference files elsewhere.

              Remember for both these questions, the main aim of filing is easy retrieval: you store something so you can find it again when you need it. And GTD finesses it further, to say that storing something should be easy as well. That's why I made this variation to the straight A-Z: it accords with the way I think.

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              • #8
                I do put manuals (if they aren't too thick) and brochures and booklets in my files. When we bought new desk chairs and assembled them and they had a few extra screws, I filed the screws along with the support material that came with the chairs. (The screws are in a small baggie.)

                I don't sweat it if some of the files are bulkier -- as long as the stuff is where I can find it when I need it. And in the 9 or so months I've been using them, I've found them to be totally worth the trouble.

                I don't bother with an index. I once spent days setting up a file system that worked off of an index, and won't do that again. Keeping an index (for ME) is the kind of thing that will make me less likely to keep the files going.

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