Super Sort

So here is my next public service piece: how to sort papers quickly and efficiently.

Here’s the scenario: You have a huge stack of papers that needs to be sorted by date or alphabetically or on some other similar system. Where do you start? Some people (maybe even most) get a paper off the top, then take the second one and decide whether that goes in front or behind the first page. Then they pick up a third page and decide whether that goes before or after the first or second page. It’s as tedious to do as it is to read about.

Here’s how I sort things (and I have a lot of experience doing this!):

First, I break down my one large pile into 2-5 piles. When alphabetizing, I often just do two piles: A-L and M-Z. If I’m sorting a pile of bills, I sort them by a January-June pile and a July-December pile.

Recently I had a massive pile of papers to sort at work; they were going into boxes numbered 1-35. So I broke my first sort down by 10’s: a pile for box 1-9, box 10-19, 20-29, and 30-35. When you’re only sorting into 2-5 piles, you can sort through a large pile of papers very quickly (this is especially true if you have the information you need written at the top corner of the page, or highlighted, so your eyes can find it easily).

Once you have your initial sort done, pick up one of your piles and sort it into smaller piles. For alphabetizing, I might sort my A-L pile into A-D, E-F, G-I and J-L. (Note: your piles do not have to be broken down evenly; break them down by whatever seems logical to you, because this is about sorting quickly.)

For my recent project, I picked up pile 1-9 and sorted it into piles 1-5 and 6-9. Then I took pile 1-5 and sorted it into 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Then I took pile 6-9 and sorted it down to individual box numbers.

I just kept doing this–sorting piles down to the smallest common denominator that I wanted. I sorted two full boxes of papers in about two hours.

In summary: Sort your pile into 2-5 smaller piles. Then sort each smaller pile into 2-5 piles. Continue to sort each pile until you have it down to its smallest common denominator, then put your individual piles back together into one mega, fully-sorted pile.


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