weedAlmost everyone in the world either owns or has access to a computer or maybe several. People being people, they generally allow the number of files in their systems to grow organically.  That is, they create files of many types and many topics, then just drop them into the computer’s main memory.  Eventually they get enough files that they create a folder and move some of the files into it.  When the collection of files in the main directory or this secondary folder grows big enough again to be annoying they create more folders and move more files.  The problem with this is that it becomes more and more difficult to find anything in all the other files while at the same time becoming more difficult to fix the problem.  Think about this, if a person creates an average of one (1) file a day that is 365 files a year.  If you are a heavy computer user or just keep lots of files (like pictures) you could have many more than that.  How are you going to find one particular file out of the 1,000+ files in memory?  If you have let your foldering system grow organically then it is probably not systematically organized to allow you to easily find any specific file.  This is like a garden where the plants were added randomly and then let to go to weed.  The flower you want is there, hidden in the weeds.  Maybe you even planted the garden with a specific pattern but that is no longer visible due to the weeds in the garden.  What can you do?

Unlike the garden just ripping out the weeds will probably not work with your computer. Actually, a good cleaning once in a while is probably a good thing and would probably increase your computers responsiveness but most people do not like to mass delete files.  So back to the question – If we are going to hoard our files how do we make sure we can find them afterward?  The answer is to set up a good filing system before you start adding files and to design it to allow for growth and expansion in both expected and unexpected areas.  That is the easy part.  The hard part is…sticking to the plan and “fanatically” placing files in the correct folder as the files are created rather than moving them after.  It also helps if you adopt a file name convention or format and use it as files are created.  For instance if you start every file name with the date created in YYMMDD format all the files in every folder will automatically sort by oldest to newest by date created.  It does not matter what the standard format is, just that you have one and stick to it.

In the windows environment the files will automatically default into one of four libraries – Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos. Each of these libraries will need its own filing system but they do not need to be the same in each library.  Be creative and design a system that works for you.  You’re the one using it so you are the only person that needs to approve it.

For the moment, let’s concentrate on the Document Library. You need to think about how you plan to use the computer. First question – are you the only user?  If not then create separate folders for each anticipated user (Mom, Dad, Child, etc.).  Any files a person creates goes into their folder and if a new person is added, just set up a new folder set for them.  Admittedly the vast majority are a one person per computer situation but with everyone linking their computers together in an autoshare format this may not be such a bad idea anyway.

Second question – will this computer be used by you for both work and personal usage?  If yes then split your folder again by creating two new folders – WORK & PERSONAL.

For this example let’s go to the PERSONAL folder. Now we need to think about how our life is organized.  For example, I am heavily involved in two different professional organizations.  In my personal folder is a sub-folder for each of organization 1 and 2.  It does not matter who the organizations are or how many.  Just create a folder for each one.  The important thing is that I have now isolated all files relating to each organization into a specific area away from all other non-related files.  I can hear one question in your mind now – If these are professional organizations shouldn’t they be in the work folder?  The answer is that it does not matter.  I choose to put them in my PERSONAL folder because my involvement in these organizations transcends my work so I consider them personal not work.  You NEED to set it up however you want in order to make it easier for YOU to use the system.

Similarly, what other information nodes would make sense in your life? Create a folder for each one of them.  In my case, I also write for magazines and other outlets so I have a separate folder for ARTICLES.  All my writing is in that folder with a separate folder for each outlet and within them separate folders for each article written or in progress.  Within these folders are the files with all my research, drafts and final articles plus any other information related to that specific article.  If information or research is applicable to more than one article I duplicate it into each folder.  Again, it is your choice whether you want to duplicate files for the sake of the filing system.  I have tried a couple of different setups but this is the one that works for me.  You need to find what works for you.

Going back to my Organization 1 folder – Within that I have a number of subfolders. One of those is named BOD (Board of Directors) and within that is a series of folders for each directorate.  Mostly this is because, over the years, I have held most of the positions, but also because it is an easy way to sort files sent to me by other board members.  Within each of these separate positional files I have different subfolders that make sense within that specific position.  For example, the Presidents folder is subfoldered by year but none of the others are.  Each of them has a different set of subfolders depending on how each directorate is organized.

I am not going to go any further on the example because I think you probably have the idea by now. Just a couple of additional points:

  • Did I know what files would be in these folders when I set it up? Of course not but they seemed like a pretty good bet based on what files I had from earlier computers.
  • Have I had to add new folders to the basic setup? Absolutely. Both major folder nodes and many subfolders over the years. Life changes and our computer usage does as well. Any foldering system is a living system just like the garden I mentioned earlier. Sometimes you have to prune the garden, sometimes you have to add to the garden and sometimes you have to move things in the garden. With a proper foldering system it is easy to find files and delete or move them in groups rather than individually.
  • Doesn’t it take a long time to navigate through the foldering systems? Yes it can. What I have done is identify major nodes and set up Shortcuts to each of these nodes on my desktop. For instance, if I need to go to the BOD folders I click on the shortcut for them and it opens a window already In the BOD folder. From there I just click on the actual Directorate folder I want and there I am in just 2 clicks.
  • My desk is the poster child for messy. What make you think I would want to use an extensive foldering system in my computer when I won’t use one for paper files? Most people with messy desks are visual or vertical filers. There is a system there, just not one that anyone else can use. If someone asks a person with a messy desk for a specific paper file the odds are that they can just reach straight into the pile and fish it out first try. Unfortunately this method does NOT translate into electronic files as you cannot control the pile setup if everything is in one folder. This makes a formal system critical if you want to easily find a specific file
  • Can and should this foldering system be applied elsewhere? You can apply this type of setup anywhere, even with paper files but the one place you should really consider applying it is in your email system. If you think people hoard electronic files, take a look at most people’s inbox.

I hope this posting has encouraged you to stop and think about your current system and how it can be improved. The ability to find a file quickly and easily really does cut down on your stress levels.

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