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16 Feb

How to organize your digital documents

Datum: 2011-02-16 10:15

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, 20112012
  • Or com­bi­na­tions such as 
    • Econ­o­my
      • 2010
      • 2011
    • Mar­ket­ing
    • Clients

      • Client A
      • Client B
        • Project A
          • Project-group a
          • Steer­ing-group a
      • Client C
    • Strat­e­gy

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.

Do this

  1. Deter­mine what kind of struc­ture you prefer.
  2. Cre­ate an emp­ty fold­er wher­ev­er you want it. Let this fold­er rep­re­sent the root. 
  3. In the new, emp­ty fold­er, cre­ate the sub­fold­ers you wish to have in the first lev­el of the tree.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.