In David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, he recommends using a label maker. Allen says:
Typeset labels change the nature of your files and your relationship to them. Labeled files feel comfortable on a boardroom table; everyone can identify them; you can easily see what they are from a distance and in your briefcase; and when you open your file drawers, you get to see what looks almost like a printed index of your files in alphabetical order. It makes it fun to open the drawer to find or insert things. (100)
Now, when I first read that page in 2001, I didn’t quite believe him, even though I was someone who enjoyed reading productivity and organizational books and was interested in improving my own systems. After all, I had a well-organized filing system already in place. I labeled my files by printing the file name on the folder tab in black pen. It was simple, I always had the tools right at hand, and I didn’t see why I needed to change anything.
In addition, some of Allen’s word choices here sounded too corporate for my self-image as an academic: I don’t work in boardrooms, I don’t have other people using my files, and I don’t carry a briefcase. And quite frankly, I don’t look for “fun” in my filing cabinet.
But time passed, I kept seeing people rave about label makers, including Merlin Mann of 43 Folders, and I decided to give one a try. That was several years ago, and I’m still wildly enthusiastic about it.
Quite simply: David Allen was right.
First off, label makers have come a long way from the raised white letters on plastic tapes that the old Dymo machines made. Today’s label makers have keypads and print ink onto paper or plastic labels in different colors. Depending on the model you use, you can select fonts, font styles, and a range of special characters.
I use the Dymo LetraTag label maker, which is not too expensive and it’s easy to find tape cartridges for it at office stores and drugstores. Allen and Mann recommend label makers by Brother. Both brands (and others) offer various options. Whichever you choose, selecting a simple handheld device that lets you print one label at a time (rather than printing sheets of multiple labels from your computer) greatly improves workflow productivity. It’s nice to be able to quickly label just one folder, rather than waiting until you have ten to label.
Why do I love my label maker?
- It does make your files seem more official somehow. It takes only about 30 seconds to pull the label maker out of the drawer, key in the label text, print, and stick the label onto the folder. Once that’s done, I know I’ve really decided upon the subcategory or topic that the folder represents in my file drawer. Since I use physical folders to represent specific stages in my current projects, seeing those stages “in print” helps make them real.
- It makes it easier to find things. Because my eye is used to quickly skimming over printed text, I can more easily skim through a drawer of file tabs when they are printed rather than written in my handwriting.
- I label all sorts of other things too. I use the label maker around my home to label AC adapters and cords; flash drives; storage containers in the closet and kitchen; luggage tags; tools or other items that are designated for a particular person or room; and notebook binders, CD holders, and anything else that could benefit from a clearly printed label.
Once you start using a label maker, you do wonder how you ever lived without it. I won’t quite say that opening my filing cabinet is “fun” -- but being able to find things when I look for them does save me time and frustration.
How about you?
Do you use a label maker? why or why not? let us know in the comments!
[image of Dymo LetraTag from Dymo website]