Filing Heresy: One Box Filing

Posted on January 21, 2009 by
Categories: Organization,Productivity
Estimated reading time: 1 minute, 24 seconds

Wednesdays are simplicity days at SimpleProductivity blog.


Photo by erix!I’m probably going to be called a heretic for this article, but I don’t care. After all, heretic means “one who dissents from accepted belief”, and this is definitely against the accepted belief of a few of the major productivity systems out here. Here it is:

Not everyone can maintain a filing system.

Many people, otherwise competent and some even brilliant, cannot maintain a filing system. It has nothing to do with intelligence or organization or even self-discipline. I’m convinced it’s just the way they are wired.

So what is a filing challenged person to do?

(Get ready for the heresy)

File everything in a single box.

As long as you know where something is, and it is a reasonable amount of information, does it matter if it is in neatly labeled hanging folders? Or in a pile?

I don’t think it matters. So for all those out there who just can’t get the hang of filing, grab a small, empty box. About the size of a box that holds file folders, not one that holds a refrigerator. Throughout the year, toss in the things you need to hang on to for financial and tax reasons: paid bills, tax documents, bills.

At the end of the year, go through it and shred what you can. Then stick it on a shelf with an appropriate label and start a new one.

So my question for those of you who are horrified at this idea is this: the point of filing is to be able to find things again. Is it any different in a single box then in a file drawer?


Photo by erix!


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Comments (18)

 

  1. The One-Box System Minimizes Time Spent Filing [Filing] « 7pounds.net says:

    [...] While this system is completely antithetical to the systems that many of us use, a by-the-year filing system could easily meet the simple filing needs of many people. It’s also an approach that—despite its potential shortcomings—is still Better than Nothing™, which is what most of us attracted to this method are likely to do. Whether you’re horrified or not, sound off in the comments. Filing Heresy: One Box Filing [SimpleProductivity] [...]

  2. The One-Box System Minimizes Time Spent Filing [Filing] | My Blog Channel says:

    [...] While this system is completely antithetical to the systems that many of us use, a by-the-year filing system could easily meet the simple filing needs of many people. It’s also an approach that—despite its potential shortcomings—is still Better than Nothing™, which is what most of us attracted to this method are likely to do. Whether you’re horrified or not, sound off in the comments. Filing Heresy: One Box Filing [SimpleProductivity] [...]

  3. Mark says:

    Hear hear! I am unfileable. At my request, by boss bought me a nice filing cabinet so I could really start to GTD. Once in a while I open it up to stare blankly at my tickler file. Why does my tickler file not tickle me so? I do file an occasional work order in there when I call my vendor to replace a disk drive. Drawer 3 makes a great power cable and other accessories drawer. And I like to keep a box of Kashi Go Lean in the bottom drawer, in case I miss my breakfast. Three cheers for boxes!

  4. I use this method from 4 years and it works like a charm…

  5. Mike C. says:

    Exactly! I’ve been doing this for years with a slight variation. I have cheap metal cabinet from Ikea that has about six small drawers. (Find it here: . I throw receipts in one drawer. Tax stuff in another. And everything else in the third. No digging through files. No alphabetical order. Just three dumping grounds for stuff I might need sometime. At the end of the year, each pile is placed in a separate manila envelope with the year and tossed in a filing box in my storage. Easy as pie. Trust me, it’s the most the average person really needs in terms of a filing system.

  6. Caryn Martinez says:

    I totally agree! You can also perpetuate an even worse heresy: tossing your papers in file folders just as if they were a big, empty box. Then you have a MISUSED FILE CABINET. This really upsets people.

  7. Here is a refinement for those who are uncomfortable with freedom.Use a ring binder. As you add items give them a sequential number. You can use a front sheet as a partial table of contents giving the page number of important pieces of paper

  8. Toenex says:

    This is such a valueable approach. How many of the things you spend time filing do you actually ever need to recover? Spend the time looking not preparing for looking. I apply the same approach to outlook mail. I don’t delete a thing but put it all in one folder, which I archive every year or so. If I need something I let the computer find it.

  9. Saya says:

    Perfect for certain kinds of things…like paid bills and insurance EOBs – you need them if something happens, but otherwise they’re just going to eventually get shredded after a couple of years…

    Another idea for smaller amounts of stuff would be some larger envelopes within that – stuff all your tax stuff into an envelope when you’re done with it and toss it in the box too – then if its the tax material its easy enough to separate out from the rest too…

  10. Rachel R. says:

    Oh, my goodness. There is NO. WAY. this would work for those of us who actually USE our files more than once or twice a year. I would go crazy trying to find things! But if your files are things you don’t really access often, go for it!

  11. chad says:

    I use a box not for filing, but instead of carrying around more than 1 bag is grad school.http://outsideisbetter.typepad.com/outside_is_better_chad_br/2008/09/the-box-method.html

  12. Mr Bob says:

    Been using this method for 20 years. Havent lost any important papers yet !! I always know where everything is “filed”. However, I “clean out” my box 2-3 times a year. Its kind of fun to go back and see some of the stuff I saved. I also maintain what I call “obvious ” files, which is paperwork that most certainly has its proper and final resting place like tax data.

  13. For the Filing Challenged « this mindful life says:

    [...] the Filing Challenged 22 01 2009 Found this gem via Lifehacker.  Having long been defeated by any filing system I’ve tried in the past, [...]

  14. [...] hit an obstinate streak in myself when it comes to productivity systems, as was shown in my Filing Heresy: One Box Filing article. An article from Stepcase Lifehack, “Toward a New Vision of Productivity, Part 3: The [...]

  15. [...] the SimpleProductivity blog has posited the somewhat controversial idea that putting everything in one big box can be [...]

  16. nick.pazoles.com » Blog Archive » Today’s Shopping Spree says:

    [...] more from the couch so it wasn’t a bad buy. I also bought filing box so that I could try this one box filing system I saw on [...]

  17. [...] product called the FileIt box. At the time, I had just written an article about filing heresy (see Filing Heresy: One Box Filing). I thought this product would be worth looking at in this light and [...]

  18. [...] If I can find everything quickly in one pile, do I need to set up file folders? I don’t think so. Filing can be simple. [...]