Coping in the age of information is a challenge. Every day some incredible amount of new information is added to our store. There is much to know and explore and too much to retain. The trick is to organize that information and have a system to pull that information for review when you need it. In my youth there were dictionaries, encyclopediae and my favorite place, the public library where knowledge was available to anyone mastering the Dewey Decimal System and the card catalog. Back in those days we were dependent on physical documents: books, magazines, newspapers and the like. I used and appreciated the systems that made the information accessible. I highly valued the secretaries, librarians and researchers who developed filing systems and then used them to make the information accessible. But things change.
Today we still have those archaic systems to organize physical documents although they are dwarfed by the amount of cloud based information flooding the universe and made accessible through search engines driven by principles only understood by Google. I am awed by the Internet and the search engines that somehow allow me to find the information I need with a few keystrokes. I can use my computer to find information anywhere in the world. I can print it out, review and edit. I can create documents, spreadsheets and files. I can assemble information from many sources at my desk. It is efficient and convenient. It is what happens next that is my problem. I have never mastered filing.
So long as I keep information close at hand and visible I am in charge. I only have to reach out my hand to find it. For security I leave it on my desk. As time passes, the stacks of paper grow, workspace on my desk shrinks and my wife starts fussing about the clutter in my office. “Clean your desk.” she urges, “Or else I’ll do it.” Ultimately I am forced to comply. File folders disappear into file cabinets. Loose papers get categorized and rearranged into new stacks for filing. I buy some new folders and label, stuff them and put them in drawers. Finally my desk is clear. The papers are out of sight.
My problem is not solved, however, because out of sight is out of mind for me. Once my desk is clear I forget what information I have collected. Even if I remember having the information, I can’t find it because I filing is a mystery to me.
Filing seems simple as an abstract concept. I’ve studied filing and the basic is straightforward. Categorize the document by it’s most important keyword and put it away in a file folder. When I sit down to do it, suddenly it’s not so simple. My mind fumbles. In a reasonable world each document would fit only one category and my mind would instantly select it.. In my world the options are legion. Do I file all the travel information in one big folder? Or should I organize it by country, or region? Do I create a folder for airline loyalty programs, each airline separately, destinations? How do I categorize articles that I intend to read? Do I put all the articles in one big file, separate them by category or by which segment of my life they seem to fit? One category never seems like enough and each time I address the question I reach a different conclusion. By the time everything I is filed away I have lost all hope of knowing what I was thinking for each item. I have to check multiple options.
I don’t organize my folders alphabetically. I start out putting them in order but over time it seems so anal to arrange the folders alphabetically when the contents are so random. I may have duplicate folders with the same name or separate folders with different keywords that have similar items. Similar information from different times may have separate folders with completely different labeling. Finally as my store of folders increases, I add new file drawers to the library. Right now, I have folders in three drawers with no system to help me locate any folder and very little hope that the label on the folder will reflect the contents. It’s hopeless.
Somehow while the information is on my desk, a sixth sense guides me to the right pile. My sixth sense is worthless once I put it in a file folder. I marvel at people who can instantly go to a file and find just what they are looking for. On one level I admire them but I can help thinking that they must be simple minded. I can’t decide if they have incredible powerful analytical skills or limited imagination.
I take full responsibility for the mess. I accept and believe that some people (maybe a majority) are able to manage a filing system. I know that it’s not a lack of intelligence that explains my shortcoming. I just know that coming up with one key word to categorize a document is beyond my ability.
So I am down with filing. I admire and respect the people and systems that manage, store and retrieve the incredible amount of information washing over the world today. Thank heaven there are people out there that can do it. I just know that I am not one of them.