Tame Your Paper Piles with Stacking Trays

Behold! I give you the Tower o’ Power, or, nearly all of my current office-related projects right now.

interlocking plastic trays stacked in a tower, with folders, papers, and notebooks assigned to each tray

Stacking trays do two fabulous things:

1) They allow you to turn undifferentiated piles of paper into separate projects.

2) Using vertical storage gives you a lot more desk space.

Label each tray by sticking a file folder on the bottom, and write the name of the project on the tab that sticks out, so you know at a glance which tray holds a given project. Here’s a picture of what I mean:

overhead view of two file folders labeled with the name of the project stored in the given tray

My file folders are colored, because it’s easier for me to remember colors. The colors are not in a particular order: I just learn by association. “Oh, yeah, that green one, that’s where my writing stuff is.”

So, what’s in my stacking tray? I’ve created both project trays and supply trays in mine.

Here’s the rundown:

  • Supply of scratch pads and blank notebooks
  • a couple of trays for planning - one for long-term planning, one for my daily work log notebook and weekly plan
  • frequently used forms and checklists (some for work, some for home)
  • bill paying
  • taxes
  • travel
  • work-related trays for various events and publications we’re working on

You could also use stacking trays to corral papers related to:

  • upcoming events
  • bureaucratic admin like FAFSA forms, tax preparation
  • planning a move
  • a home-improvement project (hey, all those sample chips have to go somewhere…)
  • child-care or elder-care related admin
  • an Adventure Tray with brochures for interesting things to do where you live
  • post-surgery instructions
  • checklists
  • vacation planning
  • holiday planning

A caveat about stacking trays: your Tower o’ Power should be reserved for papers you’re frequently using.

File cabinets are better for long-term or someday-maybe reference files.

Your stacking tray is for whatever current papers you’re always trying to find. If you hear yourself saying, “oh for crying out loud, WHERE are those tickets….?” — this might be something that needs a dedicated stacking tray.

A stacking tray allows you to put active papers somewhere where they are easy to label and even easier to find — and put away, again — whenever you need them.

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