Recommended Labelers and File Folders

Post 12 in the series: Recommended Productivity Tools

On Physical Filing

My series on filing is coming up (sorry for the delay). In it I’m going to cover both electronic and physical filing. As a general rule, obviously it makes sense to keep as much as possible electronically and minimize the amount of physical filing that you have to do.

But if you still receive some things made of actual paper that are worth keeping, there is still a need to keep physical files. And so you need to have a decent labeler and some file folders.


David Allen has a great paragraph on why having a decent labeler matters. His words here actually illustrate very well the much broader point I’ve made regarding productivity tools in general — namely, that if you have tools that you enjoy using, you will use them more effectively.

Here’s what he says about labelers (on pages 93 and 100 of Getting Things Done):

The labeler is a surprisingly critical tool in our work. Thousands of executives and professionals and homemakers I have worked with now have their own automatic labelers, and my archives are full of their comments, like, “Incredible–I wouldn’t have believed what a difference it  makes!” The labeler will be used to label your file folders, binder spines, and numerous other things.


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 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.

Perhaps later in this new millennium the brain scientists will give us some esoteric and complex neurological explanation for why labeled files work so effectively. Until then, trust me. Get a labeler. And get your own. To make the whole system work without a hitch, you’ll need to have it at hand all the time, so you can file something whenever you want. And don’t share! If you have something to file and your labeler’s not there, you’ll just stack the material instead of filing it.

I recommend the Brother PT-1750. The reason is: It’s easy to figure out and it works well. Here it is:

There’s just one problem: it appears to have been replaced by a more up to date model, so you can only get it used. The problem with the more up to date model is that it is harder to use. They added some features, and failed to integrate them in a usable way into the interface.

I think its replacement is the Brother PT-1880:

I have this newer version at work because I had to replace my labeler there, and the better earlier model had been discontinued by then.

Label Tape

Along with the labeler, you also need label tape. Get the half inch, black on white tape:

When it comes to label tape or any other supply, remember this principle: Get two. Keep one in use, and the second in with your extra supplies. When the one you are using runs out, grab the one in with the extras and replace it.

In other words: Always keep one extra, and replace it as soon as you use it. That way, you never run out — you’re always one ahead. This same principle works with everything — rock salt (if you have a water softener), furnace filters, everything.

File Folders

Get the third-cut file folders. Third-cut means the tab at the top will be in one of three slots. There is also five-cut, which I don’t recommend because it makes the tabs so small.

The file folders at Office Depot work just fine. Here is an example.

You can get plain ones or colored ones. If you get colored ones, just make sure to have a rhyme and reason to things and keep it simple. I’ll talk more about that in my posts on filing.

Posts in This Series

  1. Recommended Productivity Tools: An Introduction
  2. The Tools You Need to Have (And Where to Keep Them)
  3. Recommended In Boxes
  4. Recommended Capture Journals
  5. Recommended Pens
  6. Recommended Pencils and Paper Pads
  7. Recommended Staplers, Staple Removers, and Tape
  8. Recommended Scissors, Letter Openers, and Post-Its
  9. Recommended Paper Clips and Super Glue
  10. Not Recommended: Desktop Organizer Things
  11. Recommended Chairs and Waste Baskets
  12. Recommended Labelers and File Folders
  13. Recommended File Cabinets and Bookshelves
  • J. Gary Ellison

    I had a nice small Brother labeler (PT-65) in Vanuatu, so I decided to get a labeler while itinerating this year in the States. I ordered what appeared to be a better Brother labeler from Amazon, but it put a full inch (instead of half an inch) of white tape on each side of the title, so I sent it back. I bought another Brother labeler (PT-1830) from Sam’s Club and it does the same thing, so I will have to learn to live with wasting that extra white tape and printing labels that are wider than my file tabs. I sure miss my PT-65!

  • Rob

    I use this labeler. Found it at Walmart.

    The margins on each side don’t waste too much whitespace. It can take AA batteries, but I recommend buying a separate adapter for it because it eats through power like nothing. Adapter sold separately.

    I got this adapter.

    Works great.

  • James Taylor

    Thanks for the wealth of info here! My study is getting organised thanks to my new Brother PT-1290 labeller.

    However, one query:
    Does anyone know if third-cut file folders (as recommended in this post) are available in the UK? I’m struggling to find them anywhere! Both Staples and Viking Direct offer tabbed A4 file folders, but only with the five-cut tabs, which as you mention above, are too small:

    I’ve looked on eBay and nothing there either. If anyone knows of a supplier, I’d be very glad to have the details! Many thanks.

  • Hugh Medal


    Could you comment on using hanging folders? David Allen discourages them in his book (GTD). However, when I try to use the file folders like you recommend above, they fall over in my drawer.


  • Linda Payne

    I would be interested also about your thoughts regarding hanging folders.
    Thank you!

  • Matt

    Linda: I agree with David Allen on hanging file folders: the best thing is to _not_ use them, but just use the third-cut paper folders right in the filing cabinet next to one another.

    However, when you have a file drawer that is designed for hanging files and have no choice but to use that, then I also agree with Allen that the way to do this best is to put in one manilla folder per hanging file. That’s the way I do it with those types of drawers and it works really well (for the constraints).