Why “Misc.” is a Four-Letter Word, or “How to Name Your Files”

When I was in seminary, I had a job working as an office assistant to a brilliant but absent-minded professor.  One of the major tasks I undertook was revamping his filing system.  Do you know how many files labeled “Misc.” or “Miscellaneous” I found?  At least a dozen!  That number is indicative of how dysfunctional the filing system was.  I figured out eventually that the root of the problem with the entire filing system was the question my dear professor was asking himself as he stood there, dumbfounded, in front of the filing cabinets…

“Where can I put this paper?”
Naming a file “Misc.” is a tempting (and common) choice when we have papers we don’t know what to do with.  We know they need to be filed…but where?  The solution?  Ask a different question…

“Where will I look for this paper?”
Our brains are wired in such a way that we actually have different neuropaths for where to “put” and where to “find.”  Since filing systems are only functional when we can find what we want when we want it, it’s best to file according to where you will think to look for a particular paper.  In other words, put the paper where you will look for it.

Just like naming your file system categories, there is no wrong way to name the individual files (except to name any of them “Miscelaneous!”).  The “right” file name is the one that pops into your brain when you ask yourself, “Where will I look for this paper?”

One of our colleagues, Judith Kohlberg, has come up with a list of unconventional file names.  If something like one of these suggestions is what pops into your brain when you think about where you will look for a particular piece of paper, then that’s a good name for a file!

  • Things My Clients Bug Me For
  • Stuff I Can Never Find When I Need It
  • Good Ideas
  • When I Win the Lottery
  • I Have Got to Call These People
  • Did I Get Paid for These Yet?
  • Bad Ideas
  • The Tax Man
  • Funny Stuff
  • This Makes Me Feel Good
  • Those Were the Days
  • Hostile Correspondence

Personally, my brain does quite work that way, so my file names are more along the lines of account names (“Bank of America Credit Card”), specific objects (“Honda Civic”), and particular interests (“Family History”).  Those are some of the names that come into my mind when I ask myself, “Where will I look for this paper?”

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