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How do you organize your reference material?

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  • How do you organize your reference material?

    I have a lot of stuff, both work and home, all digital. I can't store it online (so services like Evernote are out of scope). I understand the GTD concepts of using a reference cabinet (akin to file folders on a PC), but I feel like I'm missing some of the benefits of a PC. I can search, although naming conventions come to play. Still, even crude searching via a PC is better than no searching in a file cabinet.

    I have pictures, audio clips, documents, spreadsheets, and other documents I want to put into a reference location. I'm struggling to find a good organization strategy, especially for scenarios like:
    1. I have an estimate for project X. Do I store it under Project X, for when I want all documents related to the project, or estimates when I want to see all estimates. What if I think it was a great estimate and want to use it as a template for others. Do I also store it under templates?
    2. I have an image that I know I will need until the end of a project, then can be deleted. How do I store this without cluttering my reference material? I could make a task but I'm afraid I'll spend too much time managing my system

    I try to leverage search and name files like estimate Project X blah.xls as much as possible so I can search for estimate and get all estimate and Project X and get all projects, but I can't help but think there is a better way. I heavily rely on file names, my folder structure is horrendous, so there is no hope in browsing (as opposed to searching).

    Windows search also doesn't help with "What if I want to view all videos with the words dog and cat but not cow". Maybe I'm just not good at searching.

  • #2
    Ignoring all the tagging in the world, I still prefer an A-Z reference filing system. I do split it slightly (general, house/finances, business 1, business 2, manuals - A-Z within each of those parent folders) as a scrolling a full A-Z bugged me.

    I also have a folder called @Project Support for current support material, with a subfolder for each active project.

    When I reach the end of the project, I clear through that folder, deleting stuff I no longer need, and then filing everything away into the main filing system. The image that can be deleted would get deleted at that stage.

    If I find something I may want to use as a template, I may copy it into a Templates folder and remove the main details (turning it into a real template rather than just a duplicate).

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    • #3
      Originally posted by i'llgtd View Post
      I have pictures, audio clips, documents, spreadsheets, and other documents I want to put into a reference location. I'm struggling to find a good organization strategy, especially for scenarios like:[LIST=1][*]I have an estimate for project X. Do I store it under Project X, for when I want all documents related to the project, or estimates when I want to see all estimates. What if I think it was a great estimate and want to use it as a template for others. Do I also store it under templates?[*]I have an image that I know I will need until the end of a project, then can be deleted. How do I store this without cluttering my reference material? I could make a task but I'm afraid I'll spend too much time managing my system
      That sounds like a PERFECT application for DEVONThink to me. You can either use DT to index your existing folder structure or you can import all your files into DT. Both have benefits and drawbacks. But one feature that would be especially useful for your first item is that you can put replicants of the item in multiple locations. SO the item would be "located" in both the Project X folder and the Templates Folder. If you want to use tagging DT also supports that but I find that tagging systems get cumbersome to manage so I prefer flat files with folders and descriptive filenames.

      For item number 2 you can do searches based on when last viewed or other date functions and clean out stuff that way. Or just have as a final action on all projects (perhaps as part of a standard project template structure?) a "clean up the filing system" If you put the item in the folder for the project then when you finish that project you can easily check the folder and delete any extraneous items you no longer need.

      OTOH consider that with disk space relatively cheap, might it make sense to keep everything anyway as long as its well organized?
      Last edited by Oogiem; 08-11-2012, 07:30 AM. Reason: typos :sigh:

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      • #4
        I do a standardization of file names.

        Always start with date;

        2012-11-08

        What the file is

        elevator mechanical room details 4 levels

        description

        hydraulics ventilation mechanical electrical requirements

        from

        XYZ engineering

        Job#

        04-12

        Here's where you might want to add something for yourself if you want to have the file for long term reference

        reference 999 (might equal forever)
        reference 2025 (might equal a date when the file is no longer of significance)

        Author

        Bill Smith



        So you have a long file name, which is loaded with keywords for an easy future search

        2012-11-08 elevator mechanical room details 4 levels hydraulics ventilation mechanical electrical requirements XYZ engineering 04-12 reference 999 Bill Smith.doc

        You could also place the file in multiple locations. One copy for current projects, one in a reference folder

        so a future file seach might be "reference elevator hydraulics"

        I always use long detailed file names. Where it really helps, is if you are in a company which shares a main frame, and many people are accessing files.

        If you name the file "elevator" what does that tell anyone?

        Typically when I receive outside files they look like this;

        A-205 150712 rev 6 110812.pdf

        That doesn't really tell anyone anything, unless you refer to the original email

        Disk space is plenty, so I save everything

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        • #5
          Like Vbampton, I also use a @Project Support folder, it makes easy to get the document you need for your NA (usually 4-5 keypresses).

          With a slight variation: inside that folder I have created a 00Done2012 folder (the zeroes are so that it shows up the first).

          When a project is completed, I move the whole folder there, because projects usually have follow ups, and that way I can get back what I want from there for my new project and keep moving. That folder, also, is useful for me as an inventory of all the projects I've done, tried, or looked into, so far in the year.

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          • #6
            Honestly, I would schedule yourself a day and fix your file structure. Having a clean structure will probably solve a lot of your problems off the bat, especially if you do the same things over and over. If your structure is

            Hired Jobs > Job Name > jobname_estimate.doc

            then the only thing your brain has to recall is that Job Name Q was the one with the estimate that went wonky/ was great and you'd like to copy/ is the one you need to refer to, and it will be simple to get to the necessary file.

            It sounds like you have a lot of project support material, and that kind of stuff is usually best organized by project. Then, as others have said, if you'd like, you can keep an Active Project and a Done Project folder, but when all your stuff is organized by project all you have to do is move the whole "Job Name" folder into "Done."

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