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Discrete filing systems?

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  • Discrete filing systems?

    I realised just now that in GTD, David distinguishes general reference filing from discrete filing:

    We're concerned here mostly with general reference filing- as distinct from discrete filing systems devoted to contracts, financial information, or other categories of data that deserve their own place and indexing.
    I haven't been able to figure out from the book if David discusses these discrete filing systems elsewhere. Apparently not. Therefore, I am a bit confused if I can put client projects related stuff into the general reference system. Any thoughts? When David says 'specialized filing systems' is he referring to to conceptual or physical systems?
    Last edited by ramdak; 12-14-2006, 09:52 AM. Reason: clarifying the post

  • #2
    I don't really get David on this

    because I don't think he provides an algorithm for making decisions about how to create a system. Instead he just gives a generic recommendation that will basically work for everyone and then gives you permission to make exceptions.

    You might want to think about these factors .

    Who will have access to what subjects? You may want to be able to lock certain categories up like tax returns, client lists, employee evaluations, etc.

    Are there any areas that you will be in and out of very frequently?

    Do any of the materials that warrant fire proof storage? These are expensive, so you probably wouldn't use this for the warrantee on the shredder.

    Might any subjects be moved to another room or storge area at some point? Because financial papers beyond a certain number of years often are put in a more remote area some people file by year and it is easier of they are together by year to remove them.

    But also think about where where you are in the process. In the early stages you want to make outting like with like and finding folders you alrady made as easy a possible. Also, if processing mounds and mounds of papers, it might be easiest on your brain if you are only working A to Z without any sub-categories or hierarchies or separate areas. And, you may not know just how large certain subjects will be. So in the intial stages I would vote for A to Z, totally flat (no heirachies). Once you have all the backlog and all the exisitng in one system, then see how it works for a few weeks, then subdivide if needed.

    Also, think about how you want to categorize and this may tell you. You might want to have a some files for Temporary Services but anybody hired as a temp might be in employee records. You need to think about what you want to optimize. Some stuff is worth putting in more than one place (make copies). So,metimes you just need a "blind" folder that tells you to look somewhere else. There is always a trade-off, you decide and choose, but keep it simple, with clear rules, something you could teach to an 8th grader.


    • #3
      Great question! Here's an example from my home; perhaps it will be useful.

      I have two filing cabinets in my bedroom. These are my generic filing system -- lots of alphabetized folders.

      I also head up a role-playing game group. We meet at each others' homes. I put all my RPG paperwork (character sheets, notes, etc.) in a bag that sits on top of one filing cabinet. I think that would fit David's use of the term "discrete filing system." It's not kept with my general files, but it's definitely a separate filing system for a specific type of information.


      • #4
        Also, consider the size of a category...

        One tip David did give (I believe it's in GTD Fast, but don't quote me) is to spin things off based on size. He suggested that if you have more than half a file-drawer of files on a single topic or related topics to give that whole topic it's own drawer. (I maybe be off on the exact portion of a drawer, but I'm pretty sure it was a half.) He gives the example of gardening--he has several folders for it in his general-reference, but his wife has a whole seperate dedicated gardening drawer.

        In my own life, I've used that as my guide; I have two discrete-topic systems (one for a non-profit that I've done a variety of board-level and executive volunteer work for, and one for college-related materials, as I'm a full-time student; each takes up about 3/4 of a drawer), and everything else goes in one A-Z systme in its own locking file cabinet.


        • #5
          Re the general reference files vs the discrete files system. In many offices and professions you will find both systems existing side by side. And DA is talking about physical filing systems, though his comment also holds true for PC based systems.

          A classic example is a Doctor's office. The discrete files are the individual medical files and usually have those funny colored tags down the side (alpha/numeric) plus reside in a compactor type file unit. A single file contain all the medial information related to that individual (i.e. is discrete to that individual) . For other information (e.g. medical lit. on an illness that affects many people) the doctor will have a general reference file cabinet (i.e. the reference relates to many).

          So to bring it back to a regular office, contracts with vendors may and most likely should be stored in a discrete file system. However, the project material that supports those contracts can be filed in a general reference system. After all, what is important from the legal and accounting departments viewpoint is the contract ... it drives the process. Though those in marketing and sales will argue it's the other way around!

          If you stop and think about it there are many physical and PC systems that exist as discrete systems (i.e. payroll, contacts, litigation files, p.c. license files to name but a few).

          As a guide, if the file is a specific file type which reoccurs across different projects and needs to be retrieved (on a regular basses) then it most likely should be in a discrete file system.


          • #6
            Thanks, everyone for the detailed and thoughtful responses. I am still trying to digest them and will likely post again if I need a further clarification.