The power of the pile

I have an orderly mind but a disorderly desk. In this, I think, I am not alone. There are those, to be sure, whose desks are neat and tidy, pens and pencils standing upright in a cup like good little soldiers, perhaps an in-box holding one or two pieces of paper. This, however, is not my desk. My desk has piles.

The pile system of information management is the easiest – and in its way the most elegant – system ever developed. Sure, files and file folders are handy, but they require gobs of time. For the devoted, there are little labels that can be applied to the folder tabs, color-coded for quick visual categorization; there are various types of files themselves, some with expanding bottoms for particularly hefty records; and of course, there is the writing of information on the tabs themselves, where good penmanship counts!

The power of the pile, on the other hand, is its simplicity. Virtually every scrap of paper that ends up on my desk makes it way onto the pile. Hour by hour, day by day the pile grows. Stacked with notes, reports, printed receipts, printed emails, and junk mail, when it begins to obscure the bottom edge of my desktop LCD screen I go through it and throw most of it away. Time, it seems, is the great destroyer of information’s value, and lucky for us that’s true, or we’d all be hoarders.

When I need to find something I know just where it is. Everything I need is in the pile, and it will take me just a moment or two to find it please hold on…ah ha! There it is, just where I left it. In the pile!

Some say my pile is chaos, but I strongly disagree. Chaos is the random arrival of physical scraps of information, not my storage of it. This information arrives constantly from various widely disbursed locations and myriad sources known and unknown. The power of the pile overcomes this information entropy and things come to rest and find stability. My pile actually manifests order arising out of chaos!

Others see complete disorder. I see a reflection of pure mind. Our minds are not file cabinets despite whatever claptrap you have been led to believe. Our minds are an infinite information scrap pile containing the entire universe. All and everything we receive is added to mind’s pile, ready for retrieval. Does it take a moment, sometimes, to locate information? Of course it does – that’s the way piles are meant to work! Recent information is near the top and easy to find. Less recent – but nonetheless vital information – can be located at deeper levels. It’s there; we can find it. This may take a moment – practice patience.

It’s always interesting how much of my desk pile is worth keeping: under 5%! As I periodically make my way down the stack, scrap after scrap is tossed into the recycling bin. It pays to be ruthless when working with a pile; I’ve thrown away some very fine doodles!

Now I will admit, from time to time, I’ve been too ruthless and felt regret at losing a phone number or little notation. But overall, my pile works just fine. Perhaps this column will end up in yours.