Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Time Sort (Noguchi) Filing System

In my attempts at organization, I came across what I think is a rather ingenious idea for filing -- at least for files for current projects.

The idea is deceptively simple:

Take a large vertical envelope (I use 10" x 13")

Cut off the top flap (leaving the top open)

The envelope should be about 12" tall now.

Label what you want to file on back, vertically down the left edge of the envelope.

Put today's date under the label.

Put what you want to file in it.

Place it on your desk or on a bookshelf between bookends.

As you create new envelopes, add it to the shelf on the left side. Thus, the last one created will be the furthest left.

As you pull a file for use, replace it on the left side. Thus, the last file you worked with will be on the left.

As you create files, and use them, all your "active files" will stay toward the left of the shelf, and all the inactive files will end up on the right side of the shelf. Occasionally review the right side files to see what needs to be filed away permanently or destroyed, and cull them out.

When you need a file, look for it by starting at the left, and moving through the envelopes until you find it. You will find that you get to your most used files faster and your least used files later. Again, when done with the file, put it back on the left.

The result is a set of files holding information on your active projects, sorted by last used, with the most used files being easier and faster to find. You spend zero time trying to figure out where to file your envelopes (they are always put back on the left) and you spend less time finding the files that you use most often (they are clustered to the left). The files you no longer need are never in the way: you never touch them until you decide to cull the system of dead files.

I have been using this now since November 29th. I currently have about twenty files in the system. I use it to hold files on projects on which I am working, vendors or technologies I am investigating, and curious information that I may have to get back to in the coming weeks. I do not use it for long-term or archival storage -- the old files eventually get there if I need to file them away, and then they are files alphabetically by category in the "normal" way.

The brilliance of the system is in its simplicity. It automatically sorts by need without any thought on my part. It automatically "tells" me which projects are either stale or complete because they move to the right, and which projects are "hot" because they are furthest to the left. It reduces time hunting for files both when filing away, or when searching for files. It removes the need to have "absolute" categorization, since you are not filing or searching by category, you are merely looking for a file left-to-right. It saves space, since all my active files are in one space and not arrayed in stacks on my desk.

As mentioned, the system works best for current projects and activities. This does not replace traditional filing systems, but it does reduce the need to root around in them. The traditional files get touched far less often -- only when moving files from the Time Sort system, or when older information is needed for whatever reason.

One lesson learned when implementing the system was that I occasionally created two files for nearly identical activities. Usually this happened when I hadn't touched the file for a while, and I forgot that I already had a file in place. I fixed that by scanning the file system before making any new files to ensure that I hadn't already made a file for the project, or for a similar task. As projects morph over time, I may rename a file to reflect what it is now, keep the name, or perhaps the project really has branched and a new project (and file) is in order.

Where did this system come from? Apparently, it was created by a Japanese author named Yukio Noguchi. I say "apparently" because Mr. Noguchi's books are written in Japanese, and I can't review the source material. About a year ago, this file system was written up by a number of bloggers who are interested in Time Management. They referred to a web site in which the system was described by a Japanese translator, borrowing liberally from it, to the point where the translator took umbrage and removed the posting. Therefore, the system as described herein may or may not reflect what Noguchi proposed. Because of this, I am calling it the "Time Sort Filing System."

It have found it to be very effective -- let me know what you think!


Lynn O'Connor's Notes said...

I recently made up something very similar. I was looking through some Pendeflex material and found something they said was for "piling." They are the equivalent of your envelopes (i.e. plastic envelopes with and extension on which you write the label --meaning the label is at the end of a retangular plastic envelope. I put my current project materials in these, label them with a labeler (i can peel that off and change the label whenever I wish) and put them into a shelf right in front of me, sideways, with the labeled end sticking out, so I can easily see it, flip through them etc. I have been putting whatever I use last on the right, so my most current material is on the right, and if things get to be old or out of date/unused, they are on the left. But in essence its the time function.

I didn't know there was a method out there using this principle, I thought I made it up myself with the help of pendeflex. You might want to look up their "piling" materials to see if they might be useful in further developing this method


Rik Hemsley said...

This is how my music file system worked, when I used physical media. An album went to the top of the (horizontal) stack when it was played.

dave said...

Now that we have tabbed browsing I often use my browser window as a kind of "Noguchi shelf" -- I suspect many of you do the same. The more recent tabs compile to the right, the older information, and the more commonly used (First windows I open are email and other frequently accessed apps) remains at left. It's not exactly the Noguchi method but it follows the same principle.

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