How are all your digital documents and files doing?
Are they scattered about on your computer? Some on the computer desktop, some as attachments in e‑mails, a substantial amount in various locations on your hard drive, and then you have all those flyers in PDF-format which the PR-agency gave you on a USB-stick (where did you put that, by the way?), not to mention the old files from the last computer which you’ve saved on an external hard drive you had in a drawer.
Perhaps you are privileged to work in a larger organization and thereby have some documents on the shared server and some more personal items on the “private” part of the shared server which only you have access to?
And where was that project you are involved in, where you store the project-documents in a virtual “project-space” to which everyone has access?
Or, perhaps you keep all files in one big jumble in “My Documents”?
Piles are at least good for something
Yes, before you know it, everything is piled in several places. Piles don’t have many positive features, but one exception is that they at least are visible. It’s worse with the “pile” of digital documents which you keep in a folder somewhere on your hard drive. It’s not visible until you have it right in front of you.
How much time to you spend looking for something?
If you don’t have a consciously created and carefully thought through structure for all your digital files, they are harder to find once you need them, and the search takes longer than it should have to (not to mention the frustration generated by the constant searching).
Sure, if you happen to have a smart search-tool such as Quicksilver or Launchy (or excellent, built in Spotlight in OS/X), you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for rather easily, but if you for example cannot remember what you named the document, it will take longer to conduct a search than it would if you could take simple, consecutive steps into the folder-structure to the very folder representing the project you are running with that one particular client you are involved with right now.
Risking double versions of documents
The less structure your folder-system has, the greater the risk of you saving a new version of the document in a different location (instead of rewriting the old version), since you can’t remember where you kept the last one, and suddenly you have two versions of the document. What version is the right one?
Is everything really included in the back-up?
If you have files both here and there, it’s also hard to be sure you are taking back-ups of everything you want to make sure you have a safety-copy of. If you have a clear structure to your folders, you can simply click at the top of the folder-tree in your back-up program to create back-ups of everything throughout the tree.
But if you have your files spread out in various places, you need to first locate all the places where you keep files and then tag them to be safety-copied.
Did you delete everything?
The same principle goes for when you no longer wish to keep certain documents, but get rid of them.
Imagine buying a new computer and wanting to empty the old one of all your personal documents. If your files are scattered, it’s a pain to remove them all. If you had kept them in a single tree-structure, you would be able to get the whole tree by the root, so to say, and get rid of everything in one go.
Ok, I think you’ve got the picture now. Perhaps I’m even stating the obvious.
A carefully thought through and conscious structure
Create a carefully thought through and consciously created structure for your digital files and documents. Strive to have as few places as possible to keep them in, that is, as few places as possible in which you would need to look to find what you are looking for.
But, what would the folder-structure itself on your computer or server look like? Create the first level of folders according to for instance one of the following perspectives:
- Subject-areas, for example Economy, Marketing, Strategy, Staff
- Interested Parties, i.e. Clients, Suppliers, Authorities, Media, Project-group A
- Time, for example 2010, 2011, 2012
- Or combinations such as
- Client A
- Client B
- Project A
- Project-group a
- Steering-group a
- Project A
- Client C
What matters is that you (and those you work with, if it concerns some form of shared structure) experience the structure as natural and logical.
- Determine what kind of structure you prefer.
- Create an empty folder wherever you want it. Let this folder represent the root.
- In the new, empty folder, create the subfolders you wish to have in the first level of the tree.
- From all the places you have documents today which you would like to gather in a single place, move files and folders to the tree-structure you just initiated, so that you bit by bit integrate all your locations into one single place.
- Change the settings in any word-processing-programs, spreadsheets, graphics software and any other programs and software you use so that they by default save documents somewhere in your tree-structure (and not where Bill Gates or Steve Jobs’ colleagues assume everyone wants to keep them).
You will be able to keep better track of where you have your material. If the folder-structure is unambiguous and consistent, you will spend less time looking for files, you won’t have to redo things due to not finding the location of the document in question and you will feel certain that your back-up files without exceptions contain all the files you really don’t want to lose.
Clean out without effort
When you move data to this new location, you will find lots of documents and files which you no longer need. Throw them out, or at least file them away somewhere where you don’t see them.
You will get a “fresh start”, as if you had just changed jobs and moved into a new, empty office, filled only with opportunities.
How do you do it?
What does your folder-structure look like?
Share what works for you in a comment below.