It's summer time, so I'm in the midst of several re/organizing ventures. When I moved last summer, to both a new house and a new office, I thought I'd sort through my files at that time. But then reality kicked in, and it was easier to simply pack them up and throw them back in the filing cabinet when the move was done. I had so much else to sort through that I never got around to the mega purge I'd planned in my mind. So now, this is the time.
One of the organizational areas that I actually feel really good about is my paper filing system. I'm not always great about putting folders back in the drawers, but I know where they should go and can easily find things (provided that I put them back in the drawer). But I haven't substantially changed it since graduate school, and I figured it was time to weed out some things and possibly alter some filing categories. For instance, "Dissertation Files" (as separate from "General Subjects") which then became "Book Files," can now be weeded out or folded into my general reference drawer as appropriate. And there's a lot of stuff that I used to keep paper copies of that I no longer need to because it's readily available digitally -- I'd rather save PDFs for journal articles, for instance, than paper copies.
I use plain manila folders, third-tab cut, but I don't worry about which tab comes next in the drawer. No hanging folders -- they take up space and would confound my system. Color folders sometimes seem appealing, but I would have difficulty assigning colors to particular categories and then worrying about running out, etc. (And having just random colors would not work, at all.) I occasionally will pick up a blue or red folder from work to use for Things That Must Be Mailed Today or some such hot folder. But I'd never file the bulk of my work in colors.
I'm sticking with my basic system, which is subdivided into the big categories of Professional and Personal, with a few subcategories within each, and A-Z filed within those. David Allen advocates one single A-Z file, but that's not how my mind works. If I need my glasses prescription, I know to look in the Personal/Health section. And my research files have to be divided into several categories (by type of material, and by project). It's all just a question of figuring out how you plan to use your files. But I've rarely met academics who didn't already have pretty good filing systems in place (whether or not they actually put the papers away). How can you get through a dissertation without one? If you feel you need a tune-up, Julie Morganstern has good advice on files, and so does Allen.
But I finally gave in and bought a label maker (an inexpensive Dymo Letratag), per David Allen's instructions. That's my incentive for working on this overhaul, to see nicely labeled folders fillling my cabinet. And he's right. Your folders really do look better with a clear printed label on them. Your ideas look better. And, for the moment at least, it makes filing seem more fun.