After a while, this felt inefficient, particular since it's relatively slow to flip through the papers. So I tried a kind of bucket sort where I first sorted papers into four piles of lead letter ranges, like [A-F][G-M][N-S][T-Z], and then did an insertion sort on the piles. This seemed to go faster, but it was a bit confusing to remember which letters bounded each pile.
It seemed to me that someone must have thought about this harder that I have and that such a geek could be found on Slashdot. In particular, it seems to me that one could do a somewhat detailed study of hand-sorting algorithms by modifying analyses of computer sorting algorithms, which usually take into account number of comparisons and memory usage etc, taking into account human parameters like difficulty of flipping papers, difficulty of remembering the algorithm, how many papers one can hold easily in a single hand, difficulty of accessing piles as the number grows.
So, any careful analyses out there? Or failing that, any great hand sorting algorithms?"