The Truth About Piles and Your Productivity

I was in a client’s office recently as they were getting ready for a meeting.

They were looking for a document. (Actually, they were frantically looking for a piece of paper.)

I asked if could help.

As they moved piles around their desk, they replied, “No… I put it right here. I know where it is.”

Apparently not.

Five minutes later, they gave up looking for the document and headed off to a meeting (late!) without their reference materials.

Piles Are Not Organization

People tell me all the time that their messy desk is organized.

“I know where everything is!”

“It works this way.”

“This is my system.”

The truth is… people pile things up because they don’t have a way to organize their work.

“Piles are not organization.

They are a procrastinator’s excuse to avoid organizing.”

Piles don’t let you find your work.

They aren’t an efficient way to store your important things.

In fact, piles are slow.

Ditch the Piles

The next time you are looking for something that is buried in your piles, think twice about adding to the problem.

Here are just a few tips to help you avoid the piles:

  • Put It Away Now! – The next time you are “piling” things up, ask yourself how much longer it would take to put things away right. It may take a couple extra minutes now, but will save you even more time and effort in the future.
  • Have a System – Many people create piles because they do not have a system for organizing their stuff. Whether it is papers at work or supplies at home, invest in the filing or organization tools you need to put things in order. A filing cabinet or shelving system can make all the difference.
  • Clean Your Desk Regularly – One way to keep the piles in check is to have a regular clean-up session. I clean up my desk and surrounding workspace every Friday before I depart the office. Not only does it keep things in check, but it sets me up for a clean start to the next week.
  • Throw It Out – I am a big believer in disposing of things that you will not need again. “If in doubt, throw it out!” More likely than not, you will not need that paper again. Or that random item. Trash it, donate it, or give it to someone who can use it.
  • Go Paperless – Paper is always one of the main things than people pile. However, it is easier than ever to go paperless. Eliminate paper bills and opt for e-bills. Scan or take pictures of documents. File your e-documents via Evernote or Dropbox.

Piles Are Slow

Piles are not organization.

They are not part of an organizing solution.

Take a few minutes today to address the piles in your life.

Question: Are piles part of your organization system? What are your best tips to avoid piling things up?

26 thoughts on “The Truth About Piles and Your Productivity

  1. Unfortunately piles are my norm.  I try not to, but they are.  But only the stuff I need handy is in piles nearby. Other stuff is safely filed away. 

  2. This was a great tip. It got me motivated to clear off my desk which has several piles on it. I have a filing system that I don’t utilize enough, and I do not throw away enough useless paper I will never reference. Thanks for kicking me into gear!

  3. Craig,

    Great post! I completely agree with you on the importance of staying organized and not having piles. When I was growing up, my mom always told me that I should put my things away right away. “Whrn you come inside, hang up your jacket. When you change your clothes, put the old ones away right then”. By doing that, you always stay organized and you don’t have to clean up a mess later. It is jut as easy to put something where it belongs as it is to drop it on a pile. Thanks for the post!

  4. I don’t want piles but I still somehow end up with them.  I don’t ever claim that they are the way I organize, though.  They are definitely a sign that all is NOT right with my world.  But I can’t seem to get a handle on it.  I did get some drawers that I organized with different categories of stuff that ends up on my desk.  They’ve helped a lot.  The piles are much less.  Guess I just need to keep tweaking.  I’m definitely getting better.

    And I absolutely HATE digging through piles to find things.  HATE IT!

  5. THANK YOU! Finally someone who agrees with me that piles are not organization. 

  6. +1 to the regular clean-up session. I tend to not worry about it while I’m in the middle of an intense project, but I absolutely need to do it after I’m done. And maintaining a clean desk allows you to go a few days without organizing things, since you’ll have more space to temporarily pile things around.

  7. Great post Craig!

    I used to be a ‘PILES’ guy; now I’m a ‘FILES’ guy. 

    Manila file folders and my PC-connected Brother label maker (PT-18R if you’re interested) are two of my best friends.  It only takes a minute to create a classy-looking file folder.  And finding what I need in file drawer is WAY faster than shuffling through a big stack of paper. 

    “A place for everything and everything in its place.”  Ba-zinga!

    1. Good stuff. 

      I used to be a files guy… but now I am going more and more paperless.

      As you point out… it’s about putting it all in its place. 🙂

    2. Good stuff. 

      I used to be a files guy… but now I am going more and more paperless.

      As you point out… it’s about putting it all in its place. 🙂

  8. Great advice, Craig! We see the piles a lot in our productivity coaching sessions. A good filing system, (one that matches your electronic filing system is even better), will save time and energy spent looking for that little note that you left.

    Thanks for sharing the tips!

  9. Honestly, I don’t agree.  I’m right-brained, and piles, frankly, work better for me.  I spent years of frustration trying to do “files” because that’s what everyone said was key to organization, and I lost more things because of it.  That file cabinet was a black hole where files went spinning into a vortex never to be seen again.

    I do okay with long-term stuff or stuff I don’t need too often.  Those can go into the file cabinet.  Anything I need that I’m working on — it’s in a pile.  And contrary to the example above, if you walked up and asked me about something in the pile, I would be able to find it in less than a minute.

  10. Piles cloud my thought process. I have all the projects I am working on in files, in a file organizer on my desk. I am fortunate to work on projects so they are easy to file. Good like to all my “pile management” friends. I can’t do it.

  11. Some great suggestions, but please don’t judge pile makers as inefficient.
    I have a visual memory and a chaotic and distractable brain, and find the energy, time and focus needed to create and maintain files are difficult to find when overloaded and stressed. I also get stressed trying to work out which file I put something on: Correspondence, Client, Project etc. I end up wanting to make copies for all of them to keep all the information findable wherever I look.

    University (Oxford?) experiments have showed that on average, taking into account the overhead in establishing and maintaining files, piling can be more efficient (but possibly not more effective if you need to find things quickly, reliably).

    I’m here to learn to be more effective, and think my piles will work better if I take your advice to throw out (minimise the pile size), file the appropriate materials, and use soft copies (with good tools like “The Brain” to link them to multiple relevant search terms). I appreciate the enthusiasm and encouragement to do better.

  12. I got myself a doxie paper scanner, which is my first big step toward paper organization. It’s a portable scanner that can upload straight to evernote, so I’ll finally have a universal record of all the random bits of paper I obtain over the course of a day. It should also be a nice way to save any special things from family, like greeting cards for example.

  13. Honestly, sometimes piles are an unfortunate necessity… I refuse to clean that d*mn house if, the first time he needs something that has been put away, he gives me five seconds to think about where I would have put it when I cleaned, thirty more to try and dig it out of the designated area for things like it, and then curses like I am purposely screwing with him, calls me an idiot and a moron for putting it away in the first place, then destroys all semblance of organization and order I wrangled the place into, because he’s way too f*cking impatient to; Stop, let me have more a an instant to think -cuz if it’s something I saw him using on a still-open project I probably put it in the “current events pile” which I haven’t actually put anything in it away yet- and wait for me to grab it. Or he could at least put stuff away after dammit! But yeah, after 10 years of this I refuse to clean unless he does first. So piles are all we have.

Comments are closed.