Procrastinators Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from chronic procrastination.

Sorting your paper piles

As requested :)

The key is to get rid of piles right away instead of sorting into more piles. I buy cheap cardboard self-assembly magazine holders and I take them to consults. I then label them (I have blank laminated labels I stick on with bull-clips and write on them with a white-board marker - you can use a pencil!). I talk to the client about their main categories of files. Sit down and think about them. You'll most likely have something that looks like the following:

1. Personal
1.1 Medical (r)
1.2 Financial
1.2.1 Banking (a) & (r)
1.2.2 Tax (a) & (r)
1.2.3 Bills to pay (a) and then they become (r) when you've done the action
1.2.4 Claims to make (could go under medical?) (a)
1.3 DPets(r)
1.4 Insurance (r)
1.5 Warranties (r)
1.6 Projects
1.6.1 New car? (a)
1.6.2 Renovations? that kinda stuff (a)

2. Business
2.1 Marketing (a)
2.2 Finances (a) & (r)
2.3 Business development (a)
2.4 Research (r)
2.5 Legal (r)
2.6 Client information (r)
2.7 Projects
2.7.1 New logo? (a)
2.7.2 Website (a)

Now think about whether these categories fall under 'action' or 'reference' and label them as such. I have indicated next to each what they could be (I bet that confused you until you got to that sentence!!!). Basically, if you have to do anything, it's an action. If it's just to keep and refer to later, it's reference. Lots of things need one magazine holder for each because some is reference and some is action in the same category (eg, a receipt could be action if you have to enter it into the computer or it could be reference in the tax section, for example).

Now line them all up and start to sift through your piles, sticking each thing in the magazine holder it belongs in. For everything you put in an Action file, make a note on your Master To-Do.

Now, when all your piles are in the magazine holders, make a promise you'll never put any piece of paper anywhere other than it's correct home.

Make an inbox (I have a magazine holder as an Inbox - it doesn't allow me to overflow it!) and everything from that point on goes in it the second it enters your house. Make a time to deal with it every day or week, whatever suits you. I make it part of my 'finish work' routine (most of the time!).

Now, all the stuff that is reference can go in binders on bookshelves or filing cabinets (the magazine holders are just for sorting - temporary). Everything that is an action category gets filed close to you. I use manila folders in a step-file on my desk. So I have all my projects (workshops and website) and my recurring actions - things to mail, bills to pay, things to enter into computer, forms to complete and 'to be filed' (which is only to be used if you are disciplined about regularly emptying it!) all at my fingertips. In a magazine file I have my current client files, and on the other side, my inbox, date stamp, and receipt inbox.

The best part about this system is that you aren't getting a pile and sorting it into more piles, which then get muddled up because you had to leave it halfway through and do something else, then you have to sort them all over again. The magazine files *immediately* give you 1) a home for each piece of paper you have and 2) less space taken up of your horizontal space!

For those of you that are completely inundated & overwhelmed, that's okay. Just take a few pieces of paper of a pile each day and put them in your Inbox. Then process, action and file them in your next scheduled Inbox attack time (should be daily or a few times a week). Babysteps!!!!

Hope this is useful!

Something to think about

Thanks for the suggestions, Milo! They piggyback well with the ideas in the book I'm reading on Chronic Disorganization--leaving piles half-sorted only to have someone else mess them all up again is one of the banes of my existence. I really ~prefer~ to do the sorting, though, to figure out what the categories are. I've just realized 2 things, though--1) why no category has been perfect (because they have both an action and a reference part, usually, and that was creating problems for me), and, 2) naturally, I'm being horribly perfectionistic! You have shown me I can create more than one file for the same topic, Milo, and then all the references to GTD concepts tantalizes me, too, as pro mentioned (the book is on its way). Also, using visible notebooks for filing instead of deep, cavernous, mysterious filing cabinets (out of sight, out of mind) is also a superb idea for me. The Chronic Disorganization book has shown me that I can make my filing categories creative--instead of traditional categories I can make them relate to a theme, or my values, or just the way I feel about them. This sets me free!

personalized filing system

It would never occur to me to follow a book or something external to decide how to organize my filing system. I think that's why it didn't occur to me that Milo's list was a filing system, versus a first sort when going through piles.

How could that ever work? Everyone's life is different.

It ~is~ a personalised system

The post was in answer to my paper situation, and in the example Milo used categories she thought would be relevant to me (and she was right, for the most part). I used to use a system like that, but then I went over to David Allen's alphabetical system which is generally easier for me - I still have sub-sections though.

It's not just about filing though - there are action items too (in theory I put those in my Tickler, and I have a Projects section too, which I think I picked up from David Allen), so instead of hunting through a whole box of stuff to find the piece of paper you want, it's pre-sorted.

Like I said, I've got a system that would work if only I would use it :(

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alphabetized files

I ignored that suggestion from David Allen. My files are organized by category, and I remember where everything is because I use them all the time.

It would take a silly amount of time for me to alphabetize everything, and then I'd never find anything because while I may not remember the label I put on the file, I remember the category and recognize the name when I see it.


I meant to say that these realizations and new ideas mean I don't ~have to~ file into piles anymore! It even means that when I do a room rescue (pile all the clutter into a box and hide it when company comes), I haven't made the situation totally irredeemable. I can file from the box, since I don't have to sort!


That's WAAAAAAY too many categories for me. I'd get dizzy from all that. Here's a repost of my solution from the day thread.

On-going, I have folders for each of my accounts where I file receipts and statements, the GTD folders Action, Waiting For, and Deferred, and another action folder labelled Bills. Everything gets filed. Then when I do my "handle mail and papers" item on the to-do list, I haul out the Bills, Action, Waiting For, and Deferred folders and look through them. The folders with account stuff need to be entered into my money management program - that's a whole other problem.

If I've let a large pile build up (I haven't done this in a while), then I sort through it like this:

1. Trash
2. Bills
3. Action
4. File

Then I handle each pile in this order:

1. File the filing (to get rid of the bulk of the pile).
2. Pay the bills.
3. Handle the action pile.

I'm pretty organized about this stuff - haven't had a big pile in a long time (and I used to have enormous piles). My only problem is the huge backlog of receipt and statements - all neatly sorted - that I haven't entered into my money management program.

filing system

Or maybe this is meant to reflect a person's entire filing system? I create files as needed.

Oh crap - Windows is making me reboot now.

sinking feeling

This is pretty much what I'm doing apart from the actual 'process, action, file' bit :(

I totally got rid of my in-tray at one point so I couldn't overflow it - I put everything in the Tickler instead, but it came back again when I realised I was just putting things on a pile to put in the Tickler! I like the idea of a magazine box for that.

Thanks for posting Milo.

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Oh, dear...


Was hoping I could help you!!!!!

Well I'm going to try the inbox thing

I think I need someone to hold my cyber-hand whilst I just do it.

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2 cute


Thank you!


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(P.S. Go to bed!)