How to stay organized (without really trying)

Have you heard the news? If you’re not spending a huge portion of your life organizing your stuff, you’re failing as a human being.

We’re inundated with cable-TV shows that purport to save people’s lives by getting them organized; hundreds of books about clearing clutter; whole stores and catalogs dedicated to silly organizing supplies; and infomercials created by professional organizers. Your significant other may even believe that the disorganized life is not worth living. We’re all terrified of losing that one important document—and rightly so. It can be devastating, even just for the 15 minutes it takes to look for it.

Well, don’t believe the hype. You really can be organized, when it comes to your Mac’s files, anyway, and you don’t need to spend every weekend on it.

I’ve been practicing not being organized (while appearing mostly organized) for years now. Some of my favorite tools are Objective Development’s LaunchBar (for not filing my documents), Microsoft’s Entourage and Apple Mail (for not filing e-mail), and freeform databases like Chronos’ StickyBrain and Circus Ponies’ NoteBook (for not filing URLs, or almost anything else). I rarely lose an electronic document. Go ahead, try me.

Those programs help to a certain extent, but they all have their shortcomings—and they should work together somehow. With the release of Mac OS X 10.4, which includes a neat trick called Spotlight, finding that one document, photo, or e-mail— now —is going to get a whole lot easier. As with the many great ideas Apple has reproduced and shined to a high gloss, this time the file-less system may actually catch on. We may have a legitimate way to not be organized.

But will Apple’s “no filing” software actually fly? If the thought of not putting things in their proper folders fills you with dread, you’re probably not alone. Computer users have been using the file folder metaphor for a long time now. And the human brain likes having an organizing principle, a way to categorize the information in our lives. A chaotic mass of files in our Documents folders may scare us, until we’re really up and running with Spotlight, and we stop even needing to look in our Documents folders.

Can you imagine that? I’m willing to try it. How about you?

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