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Why FILE is a four-letter word

photo: flickr/curiousyellow

I hate to file.

It’s not that I reject the whole concept of filing, it’s just that filing never seems important enough to float to the top of my to-do list. That’s probably why I have stacks of paper everywhere.

Now, don’t misunderstand: I do have paper files. It’s just that I don’t make the time to maintain them. So, if I filed it long, long ago, and it’s recorded in my Paper Tiger filing software, I can retrieve it in a matter of minutes. But since I don’t devote time to routine maintenance of my paper files, most things simply sit around in a collection of boxes and bins. I know they’re there—somewhere—but I can’t put my finger on them when I want them, so it’s not a good way to work.

Living a paperless life is going to change all that.

I’ve come to the realization that I am not a librarian. It’s not my job to sort and classify my information. As long as I can use a simple search function to call up the information I need, wherever and whenever I need it, I no longer have a need for filing. Search trumps filing every time.*

And since I no longer need to file my stuff in order to keep it in an organized manner, I also get to skip the tedious process of deciding which pieces of paper are worth keeping. Digital scans take such little space, and storage just keeps getting cheaper and cheaper. So, that whole routine of evaluating every piece of paper that passes through my hands no longer applies.

Just scan it, and forget it.

If it ends up belonging to the 80% of the files I will never need to reference again, so be it. At least I haven’t invested precious hours in deciding whether to keep it or toss it, classifying it with file folder labels or tags, or trying to cram it in an already overstuffed file cabinet.

It simply exists, ready to serve me in the future, if and when I want to refer to it again.

It’s a beautiful thing.
* Well, almost every time. I still maintain paper copies of signed legal documents, like contracts, but that applies to a very small number of the papers that I handle.

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  • William

    I'm new to scanning solutions and I'd like to hear more about how you're able to scan and search without filing. What scanning software do you use? Does the software automatically “file” for you? Would be interesting to see a blog post just on your software setup and how you store, search, and view scanned files.

    Also, do you still plan on using Paper Tiger with your new setup? What happens after you achieve your paperless life?

  • denisereynolds

    William, stay tuned. I'll be posting soon with the answers to your questions and more details on the software I use to store, view, and file my digital collection. Hint: it's cross platform, Mac and PC, allowing you to capture something in one place and then access it from another–even with your cell phone.

    Yes, I will continue to use Paper Tiger for the very few paper files I need to retain for legal purposes. Since my file folders will be so small in number, I probably won't even need it, but I have the software already and it's worked well for me over the years to keep track of what's in which file. Their system labels files with a number (Reference 1, Reference 2, etc.) instead of a name (Birth Certificate, Will, etc.) so you don't have to keep relabeling file folders as you change the contents. I like that.

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