Friday, April 13, 2012

Organizing project: product manuals

Everybody has product manuals for their appliances and gizmos. It gets annoying when you have so many that if you ever have to check them you have to sift through the whole stack to find the one you want. And then, when you find the manual for the dishwasher, you have to find the part that is written in English.

This insanity must stop.

The first thing to do is to go through all your product manuals and remove the parts that are not in English. Lots of times each language will have its own section, so you can just tear those out. On some of my manuals, I actually cut down the middle of the booklet with my heavy-duty scissors and then stapled the edges of the English part, then discarded all the rest.

The second thing to do is look to see if there are any manuals that belong to appliances or devices that you don’t own anymore. You can get rid of those.

The next thing to get rid of is manuals for things you use that are pretty self-explanatory. Do you need a manual for your hair-dryer? No. Do you need a manual for your mouse? Well, that depends on how computer-intimidated you are. (If your mouse is a fancy-dancy thing with 50 million buttons, then you will probably need a manual to learn how to use them, or at least to learn how to install the software drivers for it, but if it is just a normal mouse, most computers seem to recognize them right away without any bother, so you really don’t need a manual for that.) Do you need a manual for your computer keyboard? Again, if it is a normal one, probably not, especially if you are already using it. You probably will never need to look at that manual ever again, so why keep it? Do you need a manual for your toaster? Probably not. Do you need a manual for your blender? Mmmmmm, probably not; it’s pretty self-explanatory. Don’t keep those manuals that insult your intelligence by being obvious.

The next thing to do is sort your manuals. Like goes with like. This can sometimes be tricky because there may be different ways of sorting them. Do you put all the manuals for kitchen items together, or do you put all the manuals for food prep appliances together? The point is to make categories that capture a fair number of manuals, but not so many that it will be agonizing to sift through them all.

If you’re curious about how I sorted our product manuals, had manuals for kitchen appliances and food prep appliances together in one folder. I could have put the manual for our home phone in there too because our phone is in the kitchen, but I also had a manual for my cell phone and a manual for our walkie-talkies, and those are all communication devices, so I made a folder “phone/communication” for them.

The following are other categories I made:

  • Camera/web cam
  • Entertainment—music/video (mp3 players, TVs, DVD players, tablet computers, and any other devices that make music or play video)
  • Organization (PDAs and label makers, etc.)
  • Air/water stuff (humidifiers, HEPA filters, AC units, water headers)
  • Car accessories (after-market radio, GPS, etc.)
  • Bedroom (bed stuff, CPAP machine, clock radio, etc.)
  • Tools—garage/outside (power tools, yard maintenance tools)
  • Computer (hardware)
  • Computer (software)

You may have other categories such as:

  • Sports equipment
  • Craft equipment

If a particular device you have has multiple manuals, then it should probably have its own folder. Our printer has its own folder. Each computer will need its own folder. Network equipment needs its own folder as well (external hard drives, routers, hubs, external backup servers, etc.)

Some people say that the best thing to do with manuals is to scan them all into the computer. Maybe I will do that someday, but I don’t know that I’ve reached that point quite yet. Maybe if the manuals could be downloaded from online I might consider keeping the soft copy rather than the hard copy.

To be honest, we really don’t use our product manuals. The only time we go looking for them is if something isn’t working and we need to find out why and what to do about it. The other time we need them is when we want to learn how to do something with the device that we can’t figure out by ourselves. When the time comes that all that information can be found online, we’ll know that we really don’t need to keep our paper product manuals at all. But until then, organizing the product manuals can make it a lot easier and faster to find them when we need them.

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