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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Paper Doll Makes A Confession...and Reviews PileSmart Products

Regular Paper Doll readers know I write often about the importance of filing, of making sure that you've got a place for all your papers and aren't letting floozies take over your life.

As a professional organizer, and previously in my career as a TV program director (when I was TV Doll), I've always reveled in the joy of creating order from chaos with clearly labeled, standing-at-attention file folders, neatly embraced by sturdy hanging folders. OK, maybe not reveled...but certainly enjoyed. For my own use, a good filing system is as essential to my happiness as George Clooney and Coffee Crisp candy bars.

I'll admit, I've probably maligned the word "pile" a time or two, as a verb and as a noun. After all, when one says "pile", what usually springs to mind? Messy mounds and hapless heaps of mismatched papers, all angled oddly, without rhyme or reason.

I haven't always been a filer. In high school, college and beyond, long before there were colorful and stylish milk crates with rails for hanging folders, manila files didn't fit into my organized world. Instead of files, I had piles.

Of course, I didn't think of them as piles. They were my stacks. Stacks, at least, brought to mind an idea of order. Stacks of mail, towering from widest at the base to tiny picture postcards at the top. Stacks of magazines, with edges flush with the side of the table. Each mini stockpile representing a monument to tidiness. (Remember, always, tidy ≠ organized. Tidy is an aesthetic; organized is functional.)

In my mind, my desk was like the feng shui bagua (explained magnificently by Ann Bingley Gallops), with each stack representing a particular category, only instead of a stack representing the fame and reputation area, I stacked my graduate school letters of recommendation. Later, instead of a stack for wealth and prosperity, I had the programming department's annual budget data. I stacked. C'mon, I piled. And yet, I've never spoken glowingly of piling.

Yes, I admit it, I've been a file snob. Worse, I've been a pile bigot. After all, there's probably not a clear linguistic difference between piles and stacks, and my own background proves that piles don't have to be sloppy. (Whew. It's a relief to get that off my chest.).

And that's why I was excited when I was approached recently and asked if I could be sent "a cool set of products that help people who pile instead of file get organized" for my review*.


That was it, I realized: the germ of why piling gets such a bad rap. Filing looks organized with uniform systems of left, right and center tabs, color-coded manila folders and hanging folders in drawers and file boxes. Even though filing systems are just that, systems, dependent upon a logical naming system that allows us to keep our categories straight, filing has a better press agent. Clothes make the man; snappy folders and file boxes are the tuxedos and ball gowns of the paper world. Historically, there haven't been products for pilers!

Hence, a blog post that admits my past snobbery, and shares options for those who prefer to pile with style.

The Pendaflex PileSmart Organizer Tray has two elements:

1) A clear, angled acrylic tray is the piling equivalent of a desktop file box, but it's not the same old in-box. With a typical in-box, all of the sides are of equal height, requiring you to dig for any document that's not on the very top. Plus, even with a typical in-tray (open on one side only), if you can't spy the exact document you want, you have to reach for the stack, grab up the contents and begin sorting and searching. Without benefit of file folders, they flop, and it's not easy to find what you want.

Conversely, the PileSmart Organizer Tray is open on two sides, enabling you to position the tray lengthwise or widthwise on your desk, depending on your available space and preference; the other two sides have a sort of Art Deco-esque downward angling swoop, to give the tray a little flair.

The base of the PileSmart Organizer Tray is angled so that the back corner (where the two swoopy sides meet) is lower than the opposite rounded corner (where the two open sides meet). This angled floor keeps the papers motionless so that shocks to the desk or vibrations don't cause papers to shift or slide out.

When the products arrived, I wasn't thrilled with the idea of an acrylic tray. First, I feared that it would squeak on the desktop, but Pendaflex has wisely added four smooth rubber "feet" to the base, preventing any fingernails-on-the-chalkboard sounds. I was also concerned that a swift slamming of a cabinet drawer would send the tray sliding, either away or off the desk, which sometimes happens with metal lattice in-trays. However, the rubber feet not only keep the base sturdy and squeak-free, but they strike a nice balance -- you can manually slide the tray smoothly, without excessive friction, but vibrations have no impact. Slam any drawer you want -- the PileSmart Tray stands firm.

2) Six sturdy, 8 1/2" x 11" brightly-colored, translucent plastic dividers make up the other element of the PileSmart Organizer Tray system, and enable you to lift and separate papers neatly. (I somehow imagine I'm the first blogger to compare the PileSmart system to the Playtex Living Bra!)

I see three distinct advantages to these dividers:

Colors allow for color-coding categories. Whereas filers color-code files, pilers (who tend to be visual creatures) haven't had the benefit of color-coding their stacks and piles. I find the colors on the version I received for review to be reminiscent of Popsicles - blueberry, lemon, cherry, grape, lime...and a darker blue that lacks a frozen-treat parallel. (Pendaflex calls it Royal Blue.)

Label tabs on the tops and sides of the dividers offer more filing choice. The narrow edge of each divider echoes one-third cut folders, with 2 3/4" left, center and right tabbing. The wide edge has six 1 7/8" tabs.

The blank labels on the divider tabs are write-and-erase; however, if you prefer creating your own with your label maker, the default labels can be peeled off neatly without residue. Of course, whether filing or piling, you want your labels to be specific--succinct nouns to make clear what's contained, or action verbs to tell you what to do next.

Sturdiness -- The dividers are made of a hard enough plastic that you can lift any tab (even from one of the lower dividers) and the stacks will rise without any bowing or flopping. As you lift a tab, the stacks will either lean away from you (if you're lifting a front-facing tab) or to your left (as if opening a book) -- in both cases, the dividers and the angled design of the base join forces to keep papers from shuffling, sliding away or wrinkling. It's not just tidy and organized...it's smart!

PileSmart View Folders with Write-On Tabs add additional flexibility to the PileSmart system. Even pilers who aren't fond of the verb file still find themselves needing the protection and portability of the noun file. They need something to hold their like-minded documents together when they take them on the road (or to the conference room).

Enter the PileSmart View Folders with Write-On Tabs. They're flexible poly file folders, suitable for use with traditional hanging folders or this new piling system. They're translucent, like the dividers I referenced above, but because they are thin (even thinner than manila folders), they allow you to easily view the content within. They're one-third cut, and come in a variety of colors -- the set I received are grape (purple), lime-green and blueberry. Six folders and six write-on adhesive labels come in each package.

Pendaflex notes that the textured surface prevents piled files from slipping and have a capacity for 75 sheets of letter-sized paper. Paper Doll lacks the patience to count out 75 sheets, but can confirm that my 124-page August issue of Entrepreneur Magazine fits comfortably, with room to spare.

Unlike traditional file folders, these poly folders have some intriguing twists. Traditional manila folders are closed on only one side--at the bottom fold. These are closed on two (perpendicular) sides, open at the top tabbed end and along the fourth edge. In this way, the PileSmart View Folders fit perfectly with the Organizer Tray system. Additionally, the open (non-tabbed) narrow edge includes a poly tab to close (but not seal) that side, offering further protection from loss or the elements.

As a huge fan of the combined flexibility and protection of poly folders, I can definitely see myself using these. However, I wish they came in a wider variety of colors. I'd love to see some primary colors or pastels.

PileSmart Binder Label Clips round out the triumvirate of Pendaflex's smart piling products. They're alligator clips with a little extra panache--they have labels. To rise above the pitfalls of piling -- letting smaller piles and loose documents get separated from their sister papers -- pilers can clip associated papers and files together.

Plus, the binder clips have built-in write-and-erase labels -- just write on them with a ball-point pen. Because the clip's label piece is designed to extend outward from the clipped pile, you can view at a glance what that stack or pile represents, even when you have a tower of multiple clipped piles.

Unlike the divider and folder labels discussed above, these blank labels are part of the clip. Of course, if you're not a ball-point pen person or prefer a typewritten label, you can still use your label maker and affix a label on the 1 1/2" space.

The PileSmart Binder Label Clips come six to a box, in either 1/4" or expanded 1/2" clips for larger capacity piles, in either of two color sets (red/blue/yellow or lime/grape/Royal Blue).

If you're a piler, or even if you'd like to learn more about how to make the elements of the PileSmart products and system work for you, you can download the Pendaflex PileSmart Guide To Desktop Organization and you might want to follow Beyond Folders on Twitter and Facebook.

As always, whether you pile or file, you'll find that creating a system with dependable labeling and categories will make your paper life more organized.

*In full disclosure, in return for writing this blog post by the end of July, I was offered a $20 Target gift card. Regular readers will find that this post is very much like all of the other product reviews I've done in the past, and the content and opinions are solely my own and have not been directed by any outside source. For those interested, Paper Doll intends to use the gift card to buy Boots #7 Protect and Perfect Beauty Serum, an item I covet at each visit to Target. That's what I call full disclosure.

posted on: 7/30/2010 3:35:43 PM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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Julie Bestry, President of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN, is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker and author. Julie helps overwhelmed individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems.

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