Color Coding is Not for Me

I love organizing things—spaces, files, thoughts, data, anything really. It gives me a sense of satisfaction and calm. It makes me happy to bring order and beauty to chaos. I have read numerous books and articles and blog posts about the best way to organize this, that, and all the other things. In all my sifting, sorting, categorizing, and prioritizing, I have learned one very important thing—color coding is not for me.

Like many organized people, I am also very detail-oriented and a bit of a perfectionist, so one of my big challenges is not getting so focused on the details that I lose connection with the bigger picture, like why I needed to organize the files/space/data, in the first place.

When I have created color coded systems I find it difficult to assign the “right” color to the “right” category. Some colors have long-standing associations already—red connotes urgency, green is money or finance (in the U.S. anyway). I don’t like orange in general so I tend to avoid it or, when I have used it, tend to avoid that category. Other colors just don’t feel right with certain categories and some colors I like so much, I just want to use them all over.

There is also the limited number of colors available in file folders, pens, Post-it notes, labels, whatever, so just when you’ve got your system set up and running smoothly, another category is needed and you’re stuck.

Any system needs to be flexible enough to grow and change when conditions do, and it needs to be intuitive enough to require little thought for the user. After all, organizing is supposed to make things flow more smoothly and make your life easier. Basically, systems need to be as simple as possible and only as complex as absolutely necessary. I prefer to skip the color coding in favor of what I call the Sesame Street school of organizing—A-B-C’s and 1-2-3’s. Color coding is just not for me.


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