Biz Manual #4 – More on Containers & Categorizing

This post is part of a series that began here. By sharing the daily development of my own business operations manual (BOM) I hope to illustrate how you might approach doing the same in your own business. Please follow along and share what you are doing to document your own systems and the challenges that come up along the way.

While I continue to work on getting my files (re)organized (you should see the beautiful binders now gracing my desk – messy content, but they sure are purty and that makes me feel better), I’d thought I’d share a bit more about containers and categories.

As you probably know by now, I’m rather fond of the strategy of starting with a container.  But that strategy  presumes that you know how you would like to group your stuff (or that you’ve paid attention to how your stuff wants to be grouped).

If the whole idea of making a list of categories to be used as tab dividers in your BOM is overwhelming or confusing or just makes you want to not undertake the project altogether, try this as a starting point instead.

Notice how information naturally aggregates. Chances are you have more than one pile going – what distinguishes them? Ask your stuff how it wants to be organized instead of forcing some external “should” on it.  Never mind that it might not seem logical to someone else – work with not against your natural tendencies.

You don’t have to name the pile – at least not with some official business-y sounding label.  You can put that stuff in a container that is bit more user-friendly and call it whatever quirky name you like. Label it with a doodle, if words don’t come to mind.  Right now, you’re the only one who needs to access the container, so you’re the only one who needs to understand what the name refers to. Oh, and of course you can change your mind later.

Resist the urge to subdivide the pile. You are not a reference librarian and you don’t need to think or work like one. You don’t need to index your stuff to have better access to your stuff.

Less is more.  Keep your containers/categories broad and few until subdividing becomes a working necessity. Pay attention and your stuff will let you know when that is.

Note: this helps with the “overlap trap” when things appear to belong in multiple places. If that’s happening a lot, you may have too many categories. Like attracts like and that stuff probably wants to be together – so let it. Pull back and simplify.

Like any system, your BOM will be easier to maintain if it has the smallest number of working parts. Think of it this way: a work of art is finished not when nothing more can be added, but when nothing else can be taken away.

Keep it simple, sweethearts.

2 Responses to “Biz Manual #4 – More on Containers & Categorizing”

  1. 1 JoVE January 15, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Ahhh but you assume I have piles. I’m a geomorphological layers gal, myself. There are just waves of paper on my desk.

    Good points though. When I did my successful filing thing a couple of years ago, I created a file for each client (and sometimes there is a special project for a client that gets its own subfile) and 2 accounting files — payable & receiveable. I’ve added an accounting file for the GST returns. And a file for general business stuff that doesn’t relate to a particular client. Mostly that works.

  2. 2 Cairene January 16, 2009 at 8:39 am


    I used to work for someone whose desk I characterized as a black hole – no matter what we did, things would truly disappear never to be found again.

    But another fellow I worked for had a desk I described as an archeological site – it was all there, you just had to dig a bit to find what you wanted.

    In the digging, you had a sense of where to start looking and how far down you would probably have to go. Is that true for you? You may not have separate piles, but I suspect you still have some idea of what distinguishes the layers.

    Just thinking out loud here… Does your stuff want to be more chronologically sorted than categorically sorted? Perhaps that’s why determining categories kinda makes your head hurt?

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Third Hand Works

from overwhelmed to ready for anything | organization and time management for people in their "right" minds | administrative guidance for independent creative professionals [more info]



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