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Organizing Files

For the following poll, feel free to interpret "research project" as "large project of any sort involving organizing lots of files".

Also, forgive me the egregious typo in the questions which, thanks to copy/paste, appears twice. Embarrassing.

Poll #1180169 Organizing Files

How do your organize a current/active research project?

File folders on my desk
In a filing cabinet
File folders in a paper sorter/mail sorter
In a binder
In a box
Scan in all paper (if any) and organize it all electronically
Tidy pile
Messy pile
Other (to be explained in comments)

How do your organize a non-current/inactive research project?

File folders on my desk
In a filing cabinet
In a paper sorter/mail sorter
In a binder
In a box
Scan in all paper (if any) and organize it all electronically
Tidy pile
Messy pile
Other (to be explained in comments)

How did you figure out what filing method works for you?

In my case, it took me years of experimentation to find out that I really do think best in small, managed piles for active projects, and the best way to store these is in a paper sorter, and that that's okay. (Midway through graduate school, I finally realized this.) My current one is falling apart. The case was robust, but the cardboard wasn't strong enough to support so much weight at that height. Thus it is that I'm considering how to fix or replace it right now, and why the whole problem of paper organization is on my mind. The small cardboard ones (no more than about three shelves high) can be remarkably robust. I may replace it with bookshelves with lots of extra shelves. This, however, is rather tempting.

For inactive projects, I can put it all away in binders for easy reference. The binders fit in nicely on bookshelves - whenever there's enough space spare!



( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 30th, 2008 09:51 am (UTC)
I don't think my systems are very formal or consistent, but basically with current projects it is all about grabbability (if I may coin a word!). Piles of key articles within easy reach, which I can pick up to check something or pursue a thought when it occurs to me, are what it's all about. I used to make quite a lot of use of ring-binders for my own (hand-written) notes, too, but nowadays I tend to take my notes on computer, and organise them into folders there instead.
Apr. 30th, 2008 09:54 am (UTC)
These days I find most of the documentation on a project is electronic so the amount of paper needing to be organised is quite small.
Apr. 30th, 2008 10:00 am (UTC)
for current projects: sometimes several piles, which there has been some attempt to separate by general subcategory within the project, and which started out as realtively tidiy until the cat walked over them/ I needed something from the bottom of the pile/ I bumped the pile...

also, if it's actually a research project it is likely to consist of more electronic files than paper. These will be saved on my computer in folders which have had some attempt to categorize them applied, with varying degrees of success. OF course, the folder of newly downloaded or started files will often turn into a slush heap itself, and then I will end up starting a second one (whilst intending to get around to classifiying the first one, but never getting farther than moving or making copies of files I know I need again into yet another foolder with a name that somehow is intended to suggest why the files are important to me...

oh dear. organization is just *not* something I am a natural at...
Apr. 30th, 2008 10:26 am (UTC)
Fortunately almost everything I do is electronic. The amount of actual paper I need is really minimal.
Apr. 30th, 2008 11:25 am (UTC)
I'm having a real problem with this, because taking notes on computer doesn't really seem to do it for me. I seem to need that action of writing to get things to stay in my head. So about half my notes are in my computer, and about half are on paper in pocket folders. And then, when I'm done, I usually put them in binders. I'm thinking of getting a work study for next year to scan everything into folders, though.

Really, I want to get a mac so I can use that new note-taking and organizing program that all the cool kids are using ...
Apr. 30th, 2008 06:13 pm (UTC)
I find writing things down helps lots too.

What is that note-taking and organizing program? I am curious, and not a cool kid, I guess.
Apr. 30th, 2008 02:05 pm (UTC)
I have always been a separate-folders-in-a-neat-space person with work stuff. And I enjoy filing... On the other hand, fiction write me is a real slob -- folders, multiple notebooks, scraps of paper.... and all in heaps on teh desk, sigh.
Apr. 30th, 2008 05:25 pm (UTC)
Interesting how your different brains function organizationally.
Apr. 30th, 2008 02:20 pm (UTC)
I'm very computer/laptop-dependent. For current, past, and ongoing projects, I rely mainly on notes files saved to very stringently organized folders on my computer, which get routinely backed up and duplicated. Projects have "notes" folders in which I store comments on and quotes from articles/chapters of interest, all organized in topically named subfolders, an "Articles Read" folder, an "Articles to Read" folder. I also like the searchability of my electronic files: google desktop can search within both pdfs and my Word-document files, making it much easier to turn up that useful quote I remember vaguely as being in an article associated with project X.

I've done the paper files thing exclusively in the past, and still do have some articles for ongoing projects on paper, but I switched over to the computer as the dominant organizational structure and archive when I a) got my laptop, and b) realized how much easier it was to keep myself organized that way (no more taking files out of the cabinet and forgetting to put them back, no more forgetting which articles I have, or having the article at home when I need it on campus). It's much easier for me to keep the computer organized as I go, and easier to maintain this, than it was to maintain paper files.

The downside is that I'm tremendously dependent upon a working, portable computer for my work. If my laptop breaks, or even if I just forget its power cord at home (I actually bought a second to leave in my university carrel/office), work can grind to a quick halt.

Edited at 2008-04-30 02:21 pm (UTC)
Apr. 30th, 2008 02:55 pm (UTC)
My apartment is testament to my messy pile tendencies; my file cabinet exists, but needs organizing. I'm still figuring out what works for me as I think this one is rubbish. ;)
Apr. 30th, 2008 04:09 pm (UTC)
Oh, hon, you don't wanna know.

(i.e., finished a PhD without a filing system)

Apr. 30th, 2008 05:26 pm (UTC)
Poor you! Is organization still a work in progress for you?
Apr. 30th, 2008 08:26 pm (UTC)
:-D I just think being ADD shows in my organizational tactics. It's less (comedy aside) that I lack organization than that everything needs to be out where I can see it--or I lose track.

I have recently found todoist.com to be a really good way of organizing tasks. And I have also learned the hard way that I can't do tons of paper like some people can. I keep a lot of articles summarized on index cards or in a couple of livejournals, actually.
Apr. 30th, 2008 04:29 pm (UTC)
I have all of my photocopied articles/chapters (for inactive and active projects) in binders. Any other assorted papers from inactive projects go in the filing cabinet or in plastic folders that can be stuck on a shelf or in a box with the binders. Assorted papers from active projects go in a plastic folder on top of my desk (it has a built in space for file folders) or, if I'm using them at the moment, they're in a pile on top of the books on the bookshelf closest to my desk.

I started using the binders around the time I was writing my MA thesis .. I'm not sure how I came upon the idea. It just made sense.
Apr. 30th, 2008 04:50 pm (UTC)
Hmm. Which part of your current one has died? Is it the little shelves or the back / sides / middle support?
Apr. 30th, 2008 04:54 pm (UTC)
All the little shelves. They're made of cardboard and not well enough. The verticals collapsed. The back/sides/middle are still in good shape. One of the options we're considering is replacing the cardboard shelflets with plywood. Neither of us have attempted that much craftmanship in wood before, so I don't know that it will actually happen.
Apr. 30th, 2008 04:57 pm (UTC)
If they look like they'd be easy to replace, maybe you could just replace them with better card? How are they stuck in?

(Although, that wood one is lovely.... I think if I had a lot of paper to juggle, I'd be tempted!)
Apr. 30th, 2008 05:05 pm (UTC)

The cardboard is doubled up for reinforcement, but it's not the strongest cardboard out there. It was resting in the grooves down the side, with the middle sections all interlaced for stability. There are also grooves underneath the top. The cardboard is rather thin compared to the grooves however - presumably to make it easier to assemble. In retrospect, I wish I'd wedged in all the layers and glued it all together. It might have lasted longer, although I was really piling on the paper.

Making it again out of cardboard would be fiddly, but feasible. I don't think the pre-cut insert is available separately, although I could ask.

(Usually most of the shelves would be full, but I needed articles from the bottom shelf yesterday, so had to remove all the ones above it to get them out, since, post-collapse, the piles are all resting on each other.
Apr. 30th, 2008 05:13 pm (UTC)
Ouch, I see what you mean!

It shouldn't be *too* difficult to make new shelves, though - surely you'd just need a rectangle that's x by y?
Apr. 30th, 2008 05:24 pm (UTC)
They aren't just rectangles. They have slots halfway through them where they intersect the verticals, just as the verticals have slots halfway through them for each of the horizontals. So doable, but fiddle. The shelves might be salvageable, actually; it's the verticals which are completely done in at the bottom.
Apr. 30th, 2008 04:57 pm (UTC)
Years of trying things out in a work environment after college. I found that academic type work and my professional project type work didn't take the same organizational systems well.

My work is all in IT with highly technical projects and I've found that I need to have that separation between active and non-active stuff.

Paper as it comes in, lands in a pile on my desk, gets sorted out into project folders. The project folders live on my desk if they're active in a neat pile. I think a desktop hanging file that has like, 5 slots would work well for me, but it's not something I've invested in to-date.

In my filing cabinet, when I had an office-building type job, I had a section for active projects and the folders for those projects lived in that section when not on my desk. Notes from meetings, printed meeting agendas and documentation collected from the 'client' went in those folders. I kept all notes chronological. Carried a notebook with me to meetings with easy-rip paper and pulled the sheets out once a week to file into the folder.

The rest of my filing cabinet was divided up into 'archived' projects, HR stuff, other 'general' work foo. When a project closed, I moved the folder into the 'archive', clearly labeled.

In some cases, I also made project binders with tabs for meeting notes, requirements, project plans etc.

Then we got SharePoint and I started to do a lot more electronic-only and got caught in this weird state with half of my materials online and half printed out in a binder or folder. I was still trying to sort out if I wanted to go all electronic or stay in the paper world when I quit that job.

In my current job, since I work at home, I don't have any real office furniture. I have a desk and some folding tables for my computer equipment and that's it.

So right now, projects as they close get dumped onto a flash drive for electronic materials and cross-stored on the company's project site and the rest of my paper gets dumped in a box here in my office 'cos I don't have a filing cabinet and can't afford to buy one. Ideally, I'd have some shelves with 8.5x11 paper sorting boxes and other boxes to hold some of my office equipment/supplies and a filing cabinet with hanging files to store stuff.

One advantage to having a virtual office, is that most of my stuff /is/ all electronic now. Almost everything gets scanned or is distributed electronically in the first place. So my filing system is my series of folders backed up onto drive.
Apr. 30th, 2008 05:25 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this out. I enjoyed reading it.
Apr. 30th, 2008 06:29 pm (UTC)
Note: most of my projects are not research projects, but I tend to think on paper quite a bit and end up writing things down not so much to refer to them later as to clarify my own thoughts.

At the moment I am storing paper for active (as in, "I intend to work on this in the next week") projects in clear plastic (ugh but nothing else is clear and card is much heavier) folders. The front page is always my 'plan' of what needs doing, with things done already crossed off, so I can flip through my projects and see my next actions quickly for making to-do lists two or three times a week.

These live in a harder elasticated folder in my backpack, with the exception of projects I only need to refer to when practising, which live in my music case. I don't do a lot of work at my desk at home, and at Trinity the only space that is always mine is my locker, which isn't an ideal place to work, and I do sometimes find I'll work on things quite well in other locations if the mood takes me and I have the right materials, so my backpack seems to be the most sensible place for things.

Inactive-but-will-be-needed-sometime projects live in my locker at Trinty if they are Trinty-related, and, um, I haven't set something up at home yet. Archival projects live in paper files in a box, which really ought to become a filing cabinet at some point but won't for a while yet due to space issues.

Maybe-Someday Project ideas get written down, one to a sheet of paper, in a ring binder. Eventually there will be better sorting of this binder according to subject relevance; for example right now there are 7 or 8 project pages that are sewing-related, several that are lists of various things (music to buy, recordings to listen to, things to sell on eBay), some directly-related-to-current-academic-work projects and some that are more tangentially related. I've stopped carrying this binder with me and need to refine my system of putting projects into it, because at the moment I don't write things down right away and this results in ideas knocking around in my head when I don't need them to.

Another thing I'm trying to incorporate is a seasonal chores list, but that's more about organising actions than organising paper.
May. 1st, 2008 02:40 am (UTC)
My "other" for active projects:

I use post-its on a chart (essentially two columns, one "what I have to do" and the other "what I did" with a line in the middle for "in progress") to divide tasks into components. I've managed to get a cleaner desk by storing things in a sorter and in file cabinets. I deal with the terror of forgetting that I'm working on something-- the out of sight out of mind trap-- by writing each item's location on the relevant post-it.

This only applies to the office. Home consists of messy, disorganized files, alas.
May. 1st, 2008 03:26 am (UTC)

I purchased a couple of leathered manuscript boxes at Barnes & Noble some years back -- I keep one at home and one in my office. They are generally just deep enough for current-project. I have often considered buying more (stacking or perhaps just going horizontal), but generally I scan all inactive project documents, and I only focus on one major project at a time.

I also bought my boss one, and, later, my wife.

-- Sven
May. 1st, 2008 07:53 pm (UTC)
I have a mixed system. I combine messy piles, with a filing cabinet and files in a folder, plus I don't print out computer files (on-line journal articles). The filing cabinet tends to be mostly non-current files. I augment the filing cabinet (where I've alphabetized the articles I have) by having all the articles in it on a simple database. It's sort of a hierarchical system, the ones I need most urgently go in my back pack, the less urgent but still in use fairly often go in a pile in my apartment and then the ones I don't expect to need ready access to go to my filing cabinet. Also, there are lots of things I don't file (or don't actually organize in the files). In principle I would refile everything after I used it and I would file the other stuff, but...
May. 2nd, 2008 11:53 am (UTC)
I tend to have messy piles all over the house and also big boxes in which these messy piles are dumped into. This is for all stuff, not just current projects. However for crafting I have a lot of A4 boxes for card and paper, baskets for envelopes, buckets for stamps and ink pads and shelves which have all these on as well as tiny boxes with embellishments in. Everything is clearly labeled and (usually!) put away properly. For any large bits like guillotines and paper folders I use big wire basket drawers. It seems to work, except I generally have to move most boxes to get what I need from the bottom one - such is life! If you search for craft storage you may come across some other storage solutions that might work for you.
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )