View Full Version : Noguchi Filing System
10-07-2005, 10:53 AM
A friend sent me this link, and I haven't found a thread about it here. It's an unconventional filing system based on the premise that filing by name and category is entirely ineffective and the only parameter that matters is how recently a file was used. Tools are one shelf, A4 envelopes, a pen and colored tape. As files are nudged toward the lesser used side of the shelf they are either on tap for being discarded or else ready for "holy" status -- meaning they are important enough to be saved in deep storage.
I'll say this: I HATE file folders and filing cabinets. I do not know why -- it's a visceral thing. So the Noguchi system struck me, if nothing else (yet) as pretty.
Comments and opinions?
10-07-2005, 01:15 PM
I have been using a variant of this for recently accessed files. I keep recently accessed files on my desk in a wire-staircase mail holder, newest in front, so you can see the file tabs like a choir on risers. Every evening last thing, I "age" the files, moving everything up (and as necessary at other times). When files fall off the back, they get filed in my file cabinet. And quite often, the file I need is in arm's reach.
10-07-2005, 01:21 PM
Maybe it would work for some people, or in some situations. I would find it difficult to search through a dozen scattered envelopes for material pertaining to one client.
Then, too, this system seems to rely overmuch on memory (according to Noguchi, we are more likely to remember when we filed something than where we filed it). A big reason to use GTD is to unburden our memories!
10-07-2005, 02:03 PM
I dislike filing paper, too. So I'd be glad to find another way, but I don't see how this is any better than my current way.
I keep frequently-used papers handy, and I know right where they are. Putting them all in envelopes on a shelf would make using them less convenient, not more.
So when I need to access something from a file, it usually has been awhile since I put it there. It's more natural for me to think of what I want to look for, not when I last used it. For example, I just had to retrieve a vehicle title. I would not have known whether I filed it 2 years ago, 3 years ago. . .But I just went to the "Vehicles" folder and found it in there. If you do have to retrieve something filed awhile ago, and I often do, then you'll be stuck reading envelope after envelope after envelope looking for it. In that case, I'd be no better off than looking through everything sitting in piles.
Plus, with Noguchi's system, I wouldn't save any filing work up front. It would be just as much work to stick papers into envelopes, label them, and stick them on a shelf as to stick papers into folders, label them, and stick them in a cabinet.
Alas, the best way I know to ease filing is to ask "Am I really ever gonna retrieve this?" and if the answer is No, send it straight to the circular file.
10-07-2005, 04:34 PM
I'm really glad to have the chance to read the article--would never have found it myself, and it's always possible that there might be a useful little tweak waiting to be discovered.
I can see this system being of use for magazines and other miscellaneous paperwork, newspaper clippings, and even some reference materials, where it could help me decide what needs to be thrown away, rather than go to the trouble of filing it. A way of sorting the useful from the things I'm never going to get around to using. And corraling the pile to a limited space on a particular shelf. I can see that this might help a researcher or writer. But for his passport? And other documents? If you don't need your birth certificate for years and years you still wouldn't want it buried away somewhere.
And even for miscellaneous reading materials it would just be another way of postponing the ultimate decision of whether to toss it. But on the onther hand it would be a helpful intermediate step if you just can't decide to get rid of it. It's similar to the idea that if you haven't worn a shirt for a year, you should get rid of it.
For client files it would never work for me.
But it's definitely an interesting concept, and illustrates the conundrum that filing is, apparently all over the world. And the guy wouldn't have gone to the trouble of developing this system if he didn't find the process of filing so onerous. One more reason to appreciate DA's process--it makes the task more manageable for a lot of people.
10-08-2005, 10:40 AM
I'm fascinated by it, but have yet to be in touch with anyone who's actually tried it.
I'm still new to GTD, and almost there, as far as adopting it. I can see NFS being incorporated -- I'll share my thoughts on how later, if anyone is interested -- but I'm not willing, yet, to take the plunge.
All thoughts and info appreciated.
10-08-2005, 02:35 PM
But for his passport? And other documents? If you don't need your birth certificate for years and years you still wouldn't want it buried away somewhere.
You want to file a reference paper according to what you will think of when you want to retrieve it.
Will that be a date? "Let's see, I need that paper I last saw in May 2004."
I think things like "I need the title for the Mercedes." "I need the manual for the oven." "I need the property tax statement from 2004." Sure would hate to look through every piece of paper I filed in 2004 trying to find the property tax, since I have no idea what month I filed it.
Also, if you start GTD by filing a ton of stuff (like I did), then you will have a ton of stuff all last-accessed at the same time. So you will have to search through just about everything to find what you're looking for.
I use the most-recent-is-probably-most-useful idea by putting the thing I'm filing now in the very front of the folder. So in a conceptual folder "Manuals" the manual I've put in most recently is at the front.
10-10-2005, 03:51 AM
Sorry, folks. But there are better ways for open shelf filing (using colour coded manila end tab folders), e.g. http://www.keysan.com/ksu0017.htm, http://www.keysan.com/ksu2114.htm, or
10-10-2005, 06:29 AM
I use the end-tab folders for my client files, but for reference files that I may or may not ever look at again, this could help.
Rainer, that link is great--I'm using a regular shelving system for my end-tab files but am outgrowing it and need a more efficient system. Am also considering just putting wooden shelves on the wall, but that link to Keysan is great, another option to think about.
By the way, since this is a thread about filing, does anyone know of a solution for storing binders that are no longer current? I like the three-ring binders as long as they are in use. But when they're not being referenced frequently, but you need to keep the material, how do you deal with them? They take up so much space and can't be filed away in a banker's box or in a file cabinet (and the ones with the hanging file tabs still take up too much room--and they're expensive). I'm exploring taking the papers out of the binders and using the 8 1/2 inch center Acco fasteners, but want some sort of stiff cover. I tried some data binders at office supply stores (the Acco/WilsonJones heavy duty sidebound pressboard report covers #27102) but I need tabs in my binders, and the tabs are wider than the covers. Any links?
10-19-2006, 04:29 PM
...whether it is horizontal, stacked up on your desk, the most recent additions on top, ready for you to fumble through and disarrange, or vertical on a shelf or in a drawer.
Now, folks, I really must get back to my horizontal Noguchi piles and get them properly filed.
04-27-2007, 02:59 PM
I would love to read what was posted at:
about the Noguchi filing system but the author has removed it.
If anyone pdf'd it I would love a link.
04-28-2007, 04:18 AM
The owner has blocked access to this information on the Internet Archive, and the link from 43 Folders Wiki leads to this:
I have bid farewell to the beggars and bandits of the Third World who shamelessly steal content for their own use. I recently removed from my website all content that would be of any use to our would-be competitors in countries like China and India. The days of assisting translators locked in the social, political, and economic squalor of rogue economies are over. Enough said.
04-28-2007, 03:51 PM
I never understood what got this guy in such a huff.
04-28-2007, 06:17 PM
If it makes him happy I am an American and am not currently oppressing anyone myself. I would really like to read his translation of the system and would be willing to take a vow of future non-oppression if he would please pm me a copy of it.
Everywhere I look to learn about this system links to the same removed website. My only hope is that someone printed it out and has a copy.
04-28-2007, 07:43 PM
As fallback now that Mr. Lise shut down his site, probably not news to anybody, but if you google "Noguchi filing system "there are a few weblogs that discuss it and some even show photos of how they use the system.
Anyone read "The Perfect Mess" book yet? It discusses the Noguchi filing system.
Here's the excerpt from the book with an interesting twist at the end:
"Yukio Naguchi is a Japanese economist revered in his country not only for his intellectual wattage but also for his work in designing and promoting personal organizing systems, or, as he calls the endeavor, "hyperorganization", intended to maximize the efficiency of office workers. Though Noguchi's schemes haven't received much attention outside of Japan, a translator by the name of William Lise took the trouble to post on his normally obscure Web site what may have been the first English language description of Noguchi's filing system and was stunned to receive some forty thousand visitors to that page in a single three week period in 2005.
The gist of the Noguchi scheme is this: every single incoming document, no matter what it is, is placed in a large envelope, which is then placed on its edge on a shelf, so that all the envelopes line up in a horizontal row like books. New envelopes are inserted on the left side of the row, and any envelope that's taken out is put back on the left. After a while, those envelopes that contain the most recent and most often accessed documents will end up on the left side of the row, while the oldest and least used documents will be on the right. In theory, this makes documents easier to access, since they are automatically prioritized by frequency of use.
If something seems vaguely familiar about the arrangement, perhaps it's this: Turn the row of envelopes so that the envelopes are staced vertically instead of horizontally, place the stack on your desktop, and get rid of the envelopes. Now you've got an ordinary pile of papers of the sort that you'd find on any messy desk, where the most recent and most used items tend to end up at the top. So the next time someone tells you your pile-covered desk is messy, you can point out that it's just hyper-organized."
We all seem open-minded to new ideas, myself included, but personally I'm sticking to GTD and it's filing system considering my recent promotion is thanks in large part to implementing GTD. Thanks DA. GTD works for me but I could see others filing ala Noguchi and still staying withing the GTD fold.
04-29-2007, 02:20 PM
I will buy the book and hopefully give this a try.
I really appreciate your help.
04-29-2007, 06:40 PM
I will buy the book and hopefully give this a try.
Michael, I should tell you (maybe save you some money) that what I excerpted is pretty much all of what the book has on Noguchi. The rest of the book is about "the hidden benefits of disorder". If you see it in a bookstore, see pgs. 156-157. That's pretty much it on his filing system.
Also the topic and book were discussed in a previous post by tominperu - something about mess and GTD I believe was the post's topic. Again nothing relevant to Noguchi there but just as FYI.
all the best
04-29-2007, 07:48 PM
This article might be of interest:
04-30-2007, 04:14 AM
My great-grandfather is said to have kept all his papers in a barrel by his desk. When he wanted to retrieve a particular document, he reached into the barrel, worked his way gently down until he felt the right one, and fished it out.
05-01-2007, 09:53 AM
I have a lot of experience with the Noguchi method in the form of common desk piles and I can tell you that while it is efficient on the front end, it is very lacking in the retrieval of information. In my opinion, it is not a filing system. However, I could see it being workable if the number of documents in it is kept to a dozen or less and it is backed up by a real filing system, similar to one of the above posts with recent files staged in a wire rack.
I think we all use a variation of this method anyway in that we may have several files out of the cabinet at once that we are currently working on and these are somehow staged on our desks or wherever in a manner quite likely to be consistent with the Noguchi method. The big difference here is that I envision a real Noguchi implementation to consist of hundreds of items and in my experience, retrieval can get painful at that volume.
If you closely follow DA's advice on setting up and using an effective A-Z filing system, you will have a system that requires the least amount of time and work to use and will give you good access to your reference material. Except for some very unusual situations, you will not be able to beat this kind of set-up. The only tweak I make to this method (as I have posted in another thread) is to abandon the labeler, since for me it just slows down the process of creating new folders.
05-01-2007, 03:23 PM
Guess maybe this is fate telling me to try the DA approach.
I'll give it a try.
03-22-2010, 09:35 AM
I got one at http://www.rapidofficesupply.com/FurnitureRoomAccessories.html
Is that other site still there?
08-23-2011, 09:11 PM
An easy way I manage my filing system is by keeping the frequently-used papers handy, and I know right where they are. Putting them all in envelopes on a shelf would make using them less convenient, not more.