Keep Your Files Looking Neat

Why tri-cut folders simply won’t do.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #86

Listener Brehe writes:

I chose hanging file folders because I loved how the little plastic tabs can be moved to any position. A drawer full of hanging files forming neat little diagonal rows makes my heart sing with feelings of joy and accomplishment (I spent my childhood on a farm, seeing neat orderly rows of crops from horizon to horizon. It had a permanent effect on my psyche).

When I add and remove files, the OCD part of me is annoyed by where the tabs randomly end up. Sometimes five folders in a row all have the same tab position (thus hiding the four tabs in back). Is there a quick and dirty tip that makes manila folders look as neat as corn rows.

I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I saw a picture of a farm once, so I share your concern about tri-cut manila folders not looking like neat rows of corn. I used the tri-cut folders for years. Like you, I added and removed folders until the out-of-order tabs drove me nuts! (I am not obsessive about filing. I am not obsessive about filing. Repeat 18.5 times.)

You don’t even have to add and remove folders permanently. Your file drawers can be a picture-perfect image of neatly diagonalized labels, and you’ll still suffer if you ever pull a few folders out to take with you to a client. Can you imagine pulling out two left-tab folders and a right-tab folder? Shudder You would have to pull out a center-tab folder to put between them just to restore my feeling of balance, and it’s just not allowed to carry around a folder you aren’t going to use.

Use Straight Cut Folders

My life changed when I came to my current job, however. The administrative assistant in my area used “straight cut” folders. These odd creatures have a single, long tab that goes all the way across. At first, I thought they had made some tragic mistake at the folder factory. But no, that one tab was on purpose.

It happened slowly. I asked for a folder and she nonchalantly tossed one in my direction. And at that moment, it began to infiltrate my soul.

Because the one tab goes all the way across, you see, it means you have a lot of room to write. If you use the tips in my original filing episode (there’s a link in this episode’s transcript on the Quick and Dirty Tips website) and create files in a hierarchy, you have lots of writing room. There’s room for useful titles like, “World Domination, Zombie Army scenario, Zombie slime cleanup logistics.”

Not only do you have writing room, but you can rearrange, add, and subtract files with impunity. If you have a file called, “Kids, childhood artwork,” and “Kids, yearly report cards,” you can easily insert “Kids, therapy bills caused by” right between those two and your file will look just as neat as when you began.

While it’s true that our platonically ideal tri-cut system makes it easier to read the labels on the file folders, with the straight-cut folders, you can just riffle through with your finger to see the labels. In practice, it’s much easier than trying to riffle through a drawer with poorly distributed tri-cut folders.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.