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Pile Therapy

Here’s advice from some Fortune 500-ers on how to get out from under your unfiled piles and organize your desk.

By Maggie Leyes

Are you a piler? You know what I’m talking about. Your idea of keeping track of information or filing it consists of creating an ever-growing pile of papers on your credenza or desk that resembles the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

If you see yourself in this description, then it’s time to take a lesson from those who help keep Fortune 500 CEOs organized. Office-product manufacturer Pendaflex conducted a survey of the administrative assistants to those high-powered CEOs to find out what tips and tools they use to keep their bosses organized. Here is what they recommend:

Use a tickler file. Use an expandable file or fill a file drawer with 31 file folders, labeled from 1 to 31 for each day of the month. File information under the appropriate day—and then be sure to check that file for what you need to accomplish or follow through on each day.

Use transparent folders. You may not have thought of this (I didn’t know this type of folder existed), but it appears to be a no-brainer: It’s easier to find what you’re looking for when you can see it!

Keep a clean desk. A clean desk is more impressive than a messy one, say these assistants. And think of it from your clients’ point of view: They may wonder if the disorganization on your desk translates into disorganization in your work.

Properly maintain your calendar, files and action lists. Stop with the notes jotted down on a million different sticky notes. If possible, keep track of all your appointments and action items in one centralized electronic calendar that also acts as a to-do list.

Keep piling it on
But it may help all of you pilers to know that there is a way to stay organized so you don’t have to get rid of your horizontal habit. If you are still intent on maintaining your piles, you can now do it intelligently. Read Pendaflex’s free resource guide to organizing your desktop using “good” piling methods (such as keeping four inches between piles), which you can download from its website ( It includes the must-read section “The Seven Sins of Piling.”

For those of you who are ready to convert to the world of vertical filing, you can download the how-to guide on filing, which is a comprehensive look at setting up an office-wide filing system. This latter document might be a good one to pass on to your assistant, or perhaps an intern, who can use it to help overhaul an inadequate filing system where papers seem to get sucked into mysterious
black holes.


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