Favorite Things-Day 3: Binders

Ah, how I love three-ring binders.

They’re cheap. [I find mine at Goodwill.]

They’re portable.

They are browsable – as you look for one thing, you may serendipitously come across another, something it would be good to be reminded of for whatever reason. [JK Rowling keeps her notes loose in boxes and finds great inspiration in stumbling upon forgotten ideas when retrieving something else. If browsing works for her – and it obviously does – it can work for you. And if binders don’t turn out to be your thing, maybe boxes are.]

They are a happy medium between filing in folders in a cabinet – which is just out of sight, out of mind (a disaster for active/working documents) – and piling papers on your desk. In fact, they can sit in a pile on your desk, but it’s much easier to find what you need, even if you don’t get all fancy using dividers and stuff.

But the dividers and stuff can be fun, too. I’m especially fond of those clear sheet-protector pocket thingys to store stuff I don’t want to punch.

If they are view binders you can put nifty stuff in the cover pocket: a pretty picture, an inspirational quotation, a client’s contact information for easy reference. When I worked with clients across the country that I never met face-to-face, I would put a picture of them in the binder covers – it helped the work feel more personal. You can insert some sort of label in the spine, too, if you are so inclined. It is helpful when you need to quickly find one binder in particular and you’ve been so ambitious as to put them all on a shelf.

The one tiny drawback to binders is the moment it takes to punch the holes and properly insert your papers, but this is just a matter of developing good housekeeping habits and for me not such a big deal compared to the payoff (it doesn’t take any longer than putting that piece of paper in a drawer – let’s face it, filing is filing). Complaining about this feels like complaining about having to put a plate in the dishwasher instead of the sink. [I used to be as lazy about this as I was about cleaning the kitchen, but eventually concluded that the resulting mess – and having to clean it up – wasn’t worth it.]

I don’t know why it took me so long to make the switch from file folders. I worked with architects for years and they all used binders for project documents, so I can’t claim old office habits. Maybe it’s the association with school. Grown-ups aren’t supposed to use binders any more than they are allowed to use Pee-Chees? My love-affair with binders rekindled a fondness for another school supply: ruled punched notepaper – you know, with the blue lines? That stuff stays on my clipboard – which functions like a legal pad that I carry with me. That way, any notes can be dropped right into the binder of choice. Fantastic.

Binders on my desk right now:

1a) a binder for my daily calendars and to-dos [part of this system]
1b) another binder with an older set of calendars and to-dos that needs to be purged and the remaining stuff (if anything) merged with the above [maintenance is still required – remember this is a list of favorite things that make that easier, not disappear altogether]

2) a binder for my workshops: schedule, marketing plan and materials, registration info, venue information, content and worksheets, financial info, etc.

3) a client project binder: meeting notes, design samples, working drafts, contract, etc. [Actually, I just finished this project and will now transfer that paperwork to a folder in my archives (which is just a big filing cabinet in my basement). But you could easily leave documents in their binders when you archive them – it just takes more space and you have to acquire more binders instead of reusing them.]

4) binder for my new studio business where I keep research about shows/fairs, retail venues, classes, magazines and press, and other artists. [lots of clear pocket thingys in this one for all the postcards, clippings and the like]

Footnote: If you want things grouped, portable and pile-able, but not punched/bound (wow, sounds violent, doesn’t it?), try using clear file jackets or project folders (my mom swears by these) or clear expanding files (I find these quite handy too). [ The key here is clear. You’re a creative right-brainer, you’re visual, work with it. ]

If you’ve got piles you’ve been meaning to file, but have been putting it off because folders just aren’t workin’ for ya – try binders instead.

* * * * * * * * * *

What are your favorite alternatives to traditional filing?

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