I am writing today but I wanted to share a conservation we had at lunch the other day which was about filers and pilers. Yes this is what happens when you bring a bunch of OneNote PMs together for lunch we often end up talking about work related issues. Anyhow the filers versus pilers discussion has been going on for a long time and many people on the team though that a person was one or another. I want to dispel that myth.
First let me explain what filers and pilers actually are by using the example of how someone organizes their email. I know many of you get lots of email in a way and managing it is always a challenge and I want you to take a step back and think about your inbox. Do you just have every email over the past few years in your inbox and you have thousands of emails in there. These people are typically pilers, they will just pile all of their information together since that is easier than organizing it. Pilers typically will rely on search to find their information or they don't mind hunting and pecking every once in awhile. Then there are people who organize a lot of their email by dropping emails into separate folders per topic or idea. These people, filers, will file all of their information into the appropriate bucket. Later when they are looking for something they will look in that folder and they will find just what they are looking for.
We think of OneNote users in the same vein and we consider our users in buckets of filers and pilers. When I talk with people who use OneNote it is always interesting to see how many notes they have and how they organize their notebook. Do they have a giant Unfiled Notes section? I know some people who just keep adding to that one section and have hundreds of pages in there. Then there are other users who have a lot of notebooks and they file everything accordingly. I personally always thought that deep down we are all filers, but we are also lazy and we don't want to take the time to file so instead we pile since that is easier. When we have 'free time' we will take our piles and we will file them, at least that is how I often handle things. Interestingly you can tell how on top of things by two measurements: how many pages I have in my unfiled notes (right now only 13 so I am doing well) and how many items I have in my inbox (right now 43) so you can see I am doing really well. A couple of weeks ago this was very different.
So on the team when we talk about features we think about their investment level based on how our users will use the feature. Will this be something that is used by everyone or will only a small percentage of users actually use this feature and therefore how do we balance what we do based on these user scenarios. Search & note tags have always been something we have invested heavily in for those people who pile, we want to help people get to their information later. The organization & navigation (notebooks, section tabs, & page tabs) as well as drag & drop have always been for those people who are filers; we need to help them get their notes in the correct location. I think in some conservations it was thought that OneNote users' habits were a binary switch, they were either a filer or a piler and I think that is wrong.
People are both filers and pilers and who they are depends on in what scenario they are using OneNote. You aren't just a filer or a piler but instead your behaviour is governed by how you are using OneNote. If you are using OneNote by yourself you might be a filer or a piler, this depends on your own personal experience and preference. But when people use OneNote in shared settings (like shared notebooks) they typically are filers. Think about it if you are working with others and you cannot effectively work with them unless you have some filing system or shared notebook that is in order. There needs to be some method to the madness and organization structure for this shared notebook; without this you will have chaos and people will not use the shared notebook.
We have found that as people start to share their notes more and use notebooks with other people they come up with some organizational structure that works well for the task at hand. People will often have sections organized in a particular way, they will use subpages to group related groups of pages and they will continue to use this system for all new notes that are created. In their personal notes they might be a piler but in a shared space it is vital that everyone is a filer and work in this notebook structure. Think about if at your company the filing cabinet didn't have any organization it would be a mess and it would fail to be useful. The fact that there is a system and an organize structure is what makes this work; your own filing cabinet can be a mess (since you know the system) but if you are working with others this just doesn't work.
This post was more of something I wanted to write for the team than just for my blog. We need to not think of people are just filers or pilers but as both. They will use both sets of tools to get their work done in OneNote. In their personal & shared notebooks they will use search, drag & drop, subpages and tags.