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20 Jun

Five ways to sort things

Datum: 2017-06-20 18:10
Semi transparent folder structure on top of two suited hands typing on a laptop

A cen­tral aspect to struc­ture, and per­haps what peo­ple asso­ciate the word struc­ture” with the most, is sort­ing some­thing in some kind of order. Well, the word sort” itself means to orga­nize accord­ing to sort”.

But, how should we sort doc­u­ments and oth­er things so that we quick­ly find them — and eas­i­ly know where to save the new ones?

A quick tip about sort­ing (if you are pressed for time)

Do you just want a quick tip? Here is a short video I made for you.

(There is a more exten­sive arti­cle below.)

My detailed rec­om­men­da­tions on how to sort

Not in a hur­ry? Let me elab­o­rate (and repeat some things from the video above).

We have a great amount of infor­ma­tion, for exam­ple dig­i­tal doc­u­ments and fold­ers, that we do not want just jum­bled up in a mess some­where, but cat­e­go­rized accord­ing to some kind of sys­tem­at­ic struc­ture so that we can find them eas­i­ly, and just as eas­i­ly save away the new doc­u­ments we cre­ate and save. 

We have grown tired of the piles of paper and want to have a clear desk once again, but still want to keep all of the papers — just orga­nized somehow.

So how do you organize?

Richard Saul Wur­man, who amongst oth­er things found­ed the tremen­dous­ly pop­u­lar TED-con­fer­ence in 1984, has been inter­est­ed in how one can orga­nize great amounts of infor­ma­tion in a com­pre­hen­sive and effi­cient way his whole life. He also coined the expres­sion infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture” and in coin­ci­dence with this con­cept he has defined five prin­ci­ples for orga­niz­ing information. 

The five ways to orga­nize infor­ma­tion in are:

  • Alpha­bet­i­cal­ly — sim­ply, in alpha­bet­i­cal order

  • Chrono­log­i­cal­ly — by time; for instance by when the doc­u­ment was cre­at­ed or what year the report concerns

  • Loca­tion — by geo­graph­ic or spa­cial posi­tion; for instance by what sales-dis­trict the spread­sheets with the sta­tis­tics for rev­enue con­cern, or by what coun­try the mar­ket­ing mate­r­i­al is to be used in

  • Mag­ni­tude — some kind of rank­ing; for exam­ple from the low­est price to the high­est, from the short­est nails to the longest

  • Cat­e­go­ry — by type or qual­i­ty; for instance every­thing relat­ed to sales in one place and every­thing relat­ed to pur­chas­es in anoth­er, or con­tracts in one fold­er and pro­to­cols in another

Order, I say!

Accord­ing to Wur­man, we should pri­mar­i­ly strive to have just one lev­el to our struc­ture, sort­ed accord­ing to one of these five ways to orga­nize in. But many times, espe­cial­ly when we are build­ing fold­er struc­tures and the likes, we still need sev­er­al lev­els. When so, we ensure that we sort every lev­el accord­ing to just one of the five prin­ci­ples. If we use sev­er­al ways to orga­nize on the same lev­el, it will undoubt­ed­ly get messy, ambigu­ous and confusing.

Do this

If you want to get a bit more orga­nized, then do the following:

  1. Decide on where or what you want to sort and orga­nize. If you are unsure where to begin, choose what­ev­er came to mind first and do not sec­ond-guess your­self. You will have plen­ty of time to choose dif­fer­ent­ly if need be.
  2. Decide on which of the five ways that is most appro­pri­ate and feels nat­ur­al to sort accord­ing to for this par­tic­u­lar infor­ma­tion. You can prob­a­bly think of more than one way that would fit, so don’t wor­ry too much if you hes­i­tate on which one to choose.
  3. Make a pre­lim­i­nary sketch of how the struc­ture would look using this new way of organizing.
  4. Build and sort. If you should need to, fine-tune and make adjustments.

Every­thing in its right­ful place

Because, if you sort by any one of Wurman’s five prin­ci­ples of order and be care­ful to just apply one prin­ci­ple per lev­el in your struc­ture, your infor­ma­tion struc­ture will be off to a good start. 

You will of course need to refine and per­haps re-sort some things, but if you adhere to Wurman’s mod­el when you sort, you will def­i­nite­ly find what you look for much faster and feel rest assured when sav­ing some­thing new that it will be easy to find lat­er as well.

What method do you use?

Are you a fan of some com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent method or orga­niz­ing prin­ci­ple than what Wur­man sug­gests we use? Tell me!

Want more practical, free tips?

A bearded man wearing black rimmed glasses sits on a sofa, drinking coffee and reading intensely on a laptop that sits on the coffee table before him.

By the way, if you want more tips on how to create good structure at work - here are many ways to get just that.