Purpose and Organization

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Jeri Dansky of The Unclutterer offers some clear thinking about the right way to organize, by using the example of personal papers:

[S]ometimes it's worth spending more time on a filing system than other times. Some papers get accessed frequently, and others (such as insurance policies) are not needed that often -- but when you do need them, the situation is critical. With those items it makes sense to spend time creating a well thought out filing system that lets you put your hands on the right papers almost immediately.

But other papers might be much less critical. For example, you may need to keep certain papers for legal reasons, but you don't expect to ever have to access them -- and if you do, the need won't be all that time-sensitive. In that situation, you may want a much less detailed filing system, because it's not worth the time to do anything elaborate. For example, a big collection of related papers (such as receipts for a given year) could just go into a Bankers Box. As long as the box was properly labeled, you could always find any papers you might need, in the off chance you do have to find any of them. [bold added]
I remember -- back before having children caused me to learn how to prioritize better -- kicking myself on more than one occasion for incompletely implementing various attempts to better organize things like papers and computer files. As it turns out, what I ended up doing was close to this, since I ended up solving my most acute problems in those cases, and telling myself (wrongly) that I'd get to the rest later.

I'm not patting myself on the back here so much as heaving a mild sigh of relief at the realization that I can -- in a more useful sense than shoehorning everything into the same system -- truly return to these unfinished tasks. I can assess what, if anything, I need to do for whatever didn't get my earlier attention, and either change something or actively decide that what I have already will suffice.

For example, when I first envisioned creating a "personal knowledge base," I imagined that this might entail completing a major restructuring of my electronic files, which I'd started (but never quite finished) nearly a decade before. It turns out that hyperlinks within Emacs org files can accomplish much of what I had wanted to do by reorganizing the files. So I'd recently considered the idea of "declaring partial bankruptcy" on the revisited file reorganization. I'd just reorganize some files and use hyperlinks to fill in any organizational gaps. This article helps me see that this idea is pretty much on the right track.

-- CAV


1-1-16: Corrected a typo. 


Anonymous said...

Gus Van Horn wrote:

how to prioritize beater -- kicking myself on more than one occasion...

Beatings and Kickings - now that's organizational motivation!

Reminds me of a sign that would appear on the bulletin board at a Fortune 500 subsidiary about how the floggings would continue until employee morale improved.

(I know it was a typo but I just 'could not' resist.)

c. andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


Hah! You swooped in at the last possible moment to win "Most Creative Gentle Correction of 2015."

Well done, and thanks.