Organizing Overwhelming Paper Piles

When I was a young detective in ’72, I worked for a sergeant who had “the perfect filing system.” I had been amazed at how much paper the PD spewed on me as a patrolman and detective, and stunned at the paper tsunami sergeants drowned in. Other sergeants bitched and moaned about it. Not Sergeant S.

Every morning, Sergeant S. went through the pile, sorting cases out from all the other memos, announcements, department orders, complaints, changes to rules and regs, hot sheets, route slips and assorted road kill. He read the title or first line of each one, rarely glancing at the rest of the document. The lower right-hand drawer of his stout wooden desk was a foot deep, and that’s where they went, unsorted. He’d cut a thumb-sized groove about 4″ deep into one side of the drawer. When the sheer weight of its contents made it hard to pull the drawer out, he’d insert thumb and forefinger into the groove and pull out the top 2″ of paper. The rest he put in a cardboard box and took to the incinerator at City Shops. The top 2″ went back into the drawer — end of story.

Sergeant S. had almost 40 years in; at any moment he could’ve got up, walked to Personnel, signed a paper and happily retired. I’m assuming that first, you don’t have that latitude, and second, like so many of your peers, paper piles threaten to suffocate you. Before you reach for the flamethrower, try this:
By John Morrison


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