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How to organize project folders?

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  • How to organize project folders?

    Hello!

    I've flirted with GTD before, but only read the book recently - and loved it!

    I'm still struggling with a few concepts and implementing things, though.
    I've had stuff in project folders before, they are what David Allen calls 'blobs' though - pretty much a catchall for everything related to a project (or goal/area of interest).

    I have A LOT of very diverse interests and projects, and have recently started dividing stuff in the folders into 'active', 'later', 'someday/maybe', and 'reference material' (which may also be someday/maybe) - eg notes from books/printed articles from internet. Some things are also ongoing, some may take a few years or decades to keep up with, research and track, while they're not always 'active' or they're on the backburner.

    Some are seasonal/weather related, like learning to garden (am a newbie) or be self-sufficient-ish, food preservation etc (newbie here too ). I can get excited and very much into something (coming up with a lot of NAs in between), and then get interested in something completely different and put the rest on backburner. And then return to previous interests, something Barbara Sher calls 'scanners'.

    There's things like music/songwriting, writing and eco stuff, maybe starting up a biz and/or NGO and maybe living on a farm etc. (Of course these are all 'things to research' too..) Many are not just 'maybe/someday' or 'later' projects, but basically ongoing. They can be active for a while and then get back to 'later', so easy transport/swappability of files/NAs/project support info between 'active' and 'maybe' would be needed.

    Also, while 'live on a farm' or 'have bees' is a wish/maybe/later project, 'research living on a farm' or having bees is a current project (and not just NA, as it consists of many different sub-projects and is ongoing!). It seems silly to have these in separate folders though.

    I feel like I would have to be 10 people to do it all, but hope to manage by careful organization and time management...

    I am not sure what would be the best way to organize my projects. What are 'best practices'?

    Do you keep active/later/maybe subprojects in one folder/binder, while strictly visually separated with dividers or in sub-folders? Or is it better to have separate folders for 'active' and other projects/sub-projects? Or separate folders for all categories (for each project? That would be A LOT of folders though, hm?)

    Also, how do you diferentiate between 'project support' and 'reference material'? (eg when it comes to How to's or article printouts with helpful info..?) Or is it important only that you find things when you need them and categories are not so important?

    When a folder starts overflowing, do you start a separate folder for bigger sub-projects or for distinguishing 'active'/'maybe'/'later' projects...?

    I'm paper-based (one master binder with weekly and yearly calendar), with lots of paper and some files on computer too. Portability (at least of the more important/active projects) would be a plus, though at the time isn't necessary for all projects or reference material.

    Any thoughts or ideas or first-hand experiences would be most welcome!
    Last edited by Layla; 09-24-2009, 09:29 AM.

  • #2
    I don't separate out reference material from project folders in my filing system. It's all A-Z filed.

    When a folder gets too big I do see if it can be subdivided. Too big for me is 1 inch thick or so but I have at least one folder that is over 5 inches thick and it can't be subdivided at all.

    I do have a place in the drawer that has my tickler file for a few hot project folders but I keep it down to just a few that I am working on every single day. Right now the project support folders that are there include the Grazing Maps folder and the Estate Planning folder. All others are in my main filing system.

    Some of my folders contain a mix of someday/maybe and active stuff (Knitting Projects for example) but they are small enough that it's easy to find the piece I need and the active part is usually one or 2 pages that I put near the front.

    Don't be afraid of lots of folders. I found that the more I had the easier it was to manage. I started out with folders for areas of focus but that got too big so quickly broke it down a lot. If you can get to them quickly enough it doesn't matter if you mix active projects and reference material in one place.
    Last edited by Oogiem; 09-24-2009, 09:33 AM. Reason: hit post before done oops

    Comment


    • #3
      Thank you so much for answering!

      I adore your sheep (took a look at your blogs but didn't dare to comment yet! ) and admire your dedication to the farm and all!!

      So basically it depends on the size of the folder/stuff in it and easy accessibility?
      (I admit some of my folders are too big and scare me! So not sure how to divide them up - into subprojects that in turn again have a mix of active and maybe/later components or...?)

      Yes, I'm afraid of too many folders, lol!
      What about just having separate sub-folders in a folder or on a dedicated shelf, in logical sense?

      Maybe I'm resisting cause I have a small hanging-file cabinet where I'm rarely tempted to look, and prefer more colorful files on shelves.
      Do you have hanging files or portable 'can't-lose-anything-even-if-brought everywhere' files?

      I am afraid of losing things in an A-Z system, as I may forget what I filed where.. Do you keep lists of filed stuff, and where? (In the 'umbrella' project folder or..?)
      So far I kept music-related stuff together, writing-related together, etc. Of course I could label it so they'd stay together, hm.

      Do you have all projects, including 'active', 'maybe' and 'later' in the A-Z file system? Are they sort of separated, either by name/dot/color-coding?

      Big thanks once again and hope to get this figured out soon!

      Comment


      • #4
        I think I'll just describe my own system and why I've set it up the way I have. It's paper-based too, so that might help. If you want to follow along in the GTD book, the relevant section is pages 155-163.

        First of all, there's the Project List. Here's what GTD has to say about it:
        Projects just need to be on a master list so you can review them regularly enough to ensure that appropriate next actions have been defined for each of them.
        And since people are sometimes confused about what a "list" means in this context:
        Lists can be managed simply in a low-tech way, as pieces of paper kept in a file folder.
        So I've got a folder labeled "Projects". Inside is one sheet of paper for each project (more or less -- I'll talk a bit about my deviations from ultra-pure-GTD a little later on.)

        Only projects that I'm actually working on actively (or want to) go in there. Inactive projects get sent off into Someday/Maybe.

        The project list sees use during the Weekly Review: "Oh yeah, I decided to learn Spanish. What am I doing about that..."

        I've got a second parallel GTD system at home, so technically I have two Projects lists -- the work one in the office, and the personal one at home. That's about all the categorization there is.

        Then there's Project Support Materials. Each active project gets its own folder (again, more or less.) This contains pretty much everything I want to know about the project, with the important exception of Next Actions, which get their own place to live.

        In terms of actually structuring the paper inside one of those Project Support folders, I tend to lean towards the Noguchi Filing System, which is discussed at some length at http://www.davidco.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4560

        So I simply place the newest and most-recently-referenced documents at the front of the folder. That's sufficient for most of my projects.

        Physically, I've got two stand-up folder-holders on my desk. One has the tickler/suspense files. The other holds my folders for Next Actions, Waiting For, Agendas, Projects, Someday/Maybe, and a handful of active projects (which is to say, their Project Support Materials folders.)

        And really, that's about all there is to it.

        In terms of using folders and filing, I think this about says it all:
        You must feel equally comfortable about filing a single piece of paper on a new topic -- even a scribbled note -- in its own file as you would about filing a more formal, larger document.
        I do cheat a bit, as I alluded to earlier. If I've got a fairly short and straightforward project, sometimes I'll have a Next Action sheet for it with the reference material stapled to the back, and the whole wad goes into the Next Action folder. It's not that much of a deviation from GTD -- the book suggests, for example, writing the phone number of the person you need to call beside the items on your Calls list. This is just an extension of that.

        Anyway, it seems to work for me. Hope that helps.



        Cheers,
        Roger

        Comment


        • #5
          It sounds to me like you're trying to use your reference files as reminders of your work. That's considered a bad practice in GTD. Once you mix actionable and non-actionable things together you go numb to them. Keep your reminders on your lists and use the reference files strictly as reference material.

          Here are some best practices for maintaining a useful general reference filing system:
          • Keep your filing cabinets within swivel distance of your inbox and fresh folders and your desktop labeler within reach.

          • Use one A-Z alpha system. Don't create complex nested categories for your files.

          • Use typeset labels. Get a labeler if you don't have one.

          • Be able to create and store a file in < 60 seconds.

          • Avoid hanging file folders if possible. If you must use hangers, create a file in a manilla folder and label it, put the manilla folder in a hanging folder (don't use the plastic tab on the hanging folder), and put the hanging folder in the file system at the appropriate location.

          • Keep drawers < 3/4 full.

          • Purge outdated material yearly.

          • Keep it fun and easy to use.

          • Be willing to make a file for anything, even something simple as your local Chinese takeout menu.


          Investing in quality office furniture and filing cabinets has made a huge difference for me in keeping on the straight and narrow path of GTD. If you don't like the filing cabinets you currently have, invest in some that you will like and use. Get the type that have the slider block in the back to keep your files standing upright.

          You might also want to download and read David Allen's free article on general reference filing from the davidco.com web site.

          Good luck!

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Layla View Post
            So basically it depends on the size of the folder/stuff in it and easy accessibility?

            Yes, I'm afraid of too many folders, lol!
            What about just having separate sub-folders in a folder or on a dedicated shelf, in logical sense?

            Maybe I'm resisting cause I have a small hanging-file cabinet where I'm rarely tempted to look, and prefer more colorful files on shelves.
            Do you have hanging files or portable 'can't-lose-anything-even-if-brought everywhere' files?

            I am afraid of losing things in an A-Z system, as I may forget what I filed where.. Do you keep lists of filed stuff, and where? (In the 'umbrella' project folder or..?)
            So far I kept music-related stuff together, writing-related together, etc. Of course I could label it so they'd stay together, hm.

            Do you have all projects, including 'active', 'maybe' and 'later' in the A-Z file system? Are they sort of separated, either by name/dot/color-coding?

            I only sort folders that are just flat too big.

            I have three 4 drawer file cabinets and 1 2 drawer file cabinet. There is now way I could carry all my files with me anywhere. Wen I am working on a project I grab that folder and it's on my desk, otherwise it's in the filing system.

            I can't say that I've ever lost something in A-Z for long. Usually because the first place I went to look for it was wrong. When that happens I re-label the folder when I do find it. I've never had to look more than one extra place in my system for any folder.

            I do not keep lists of what's where except that for the one off papers for next actions I make a not on my next action item that the paper info is in my folder action support.

            Yes all project folders and all reference files are in one A-Z system. with the following 3 exceptions.

            1) All folders related to our Ditch Company are in one section. Within that they are A-Z. This is so I can easily pick up the whole mess and hand it off to the next officer when my term is up.

            2) all folders related to the Sheep registry are in one section for the same reason.

            3) All my genealogical database backup references are in one section. I set up my genealogical files based on a book I have on organizing Genealogical Reference Materials and they are alphabetical by family groups. I didn't want pure genealogical info mixed into general projects and reference.

            I got rid of my separate groups for animals vs plants, personal vs work, financial etc. I used to have file folder labels like

            Financial - Bank Info
            Financial - Vanguard Info

            Now I just have those as Bank Info filed in the B section and Vanguard Info filed in V. Much easier to locate and find and when I have things that cross several area boundaries I no longer have to remember which larger group it goes in.

            Comment


            • #7
              WOW!! Thank you everyone!

              I already put two sub-projects out of the 'fattest' (and scariest) folder, and it actually relieved my mind and gave me ideas to try for one of the sub-projects! So big thanks already!

              I had a good and long hard think about 'If a project deserves to live with you, it deserves its own folder' (lol! Love some of the older threads!!) so I'm probably going to invest in some more folders..

              Trouble is I want to be eco about my choices, and haven't seen such folders locally yet - I wonder if I can get recyclable and recycled A4 colorful pretties such as available in US in letter size? (I'm artsy and visual and like pretty things!)
              Not sure what kind of cabinets are available here, may do something DIY for the cabinets! (and/or the folders, if all else fails!)

              Ellobogrande, I may have used the folders as 'project reminders', it wasn't intentional though. (And it's true, they became fearsome 'blobs'!) Thanks for the tips!

              I like to have them pretty and a bit color-coded, as I remember then what is where more easily and enjoy the whole folder experience more!

              I really like everyone's descriptions of your systems as it's helping me decide what to do with mine! Thanks!

              Roger, it seems I've had a variant of Noguchi in my hanging file cabinet too! Unintentionally as well..
              I like your idea with having a folder for 'Projects' and 'Maybe Projects' - do you keep another list with all projects on one piece of paper separately/in your organizer too?
              And what do you have on that one piece of paper in the 'projects list/folder'? (Do you keep it as it is or change it every week, adding new things, or substituting for a new and current project outline or such?)
              I've read the section in the book, it seems a bit vague and very open, so wasn't quite sure what to do...

              OogieM, I like your systems too and the idea of 'when I have things that cross several area boundaries I no longer have to remember which larger group it goes in'! (Definitely have some of these!)

              Too sleepy to comment more, big thanks again, and do post more if you think of anything! (Pics or places to go look would be welcome too!)
              Last edited by Layla; 09-24-2009, 05:12 PM.

              Comment


              • #8
                I see that others have chimed in with excellent advice, so I'll just reinforce the main points.

                Labelers. Get one, the best you can afford according to your budget. Brother labelers are great. Hint - get label rolls off eBay - it's a lot cheaper that way.

                Subfolders. Ask yourself what subcategories can a broad subject be broken down into. For instance, Gardening. That's such a broad subject. And you've got a thick file. Catalogs? Move these into "Gardening, Catalogs." Information on planting times? Move these into "Gardening, Planting Times." Hints on growing orchids? Maybe that's a new category that in and of itself breaks down into subcategories, such as Orchid Suppliers, Orchid Shows, etc.

                Layla . . . here's a pic:

                Last edited by lolajl; 09-25-2009, 04:02 AM.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by ellobogrande View Post
                  Get the type that have the slider block in the back to keep your files standing upright.

                  Unfortunately, such file cabinets are very, very rare if you want to buy a new one these days. Believe me, I've looked all over the place. Fortunately, there are some good tips in the thread that has "Files" over in the Gears section.

                  Still looking for an used 4 drawer file cabinet that doesn't require me to drive 30+ miles into Virginia to pick it up from a Craigslister (for some reason, the vast majority of used file cabinet for free or sale seem to be located in Northern Virginia) . . .

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Thank you, lolajl!

                    I've looked in the other section, it seems helpful!
                    Probably need to do some more searches and research too..

                    It seems it's not so easy to find 'classic manila' style file/folders in Europe.. I wonder why that is?
                    I'm not even completely sure how they are supposed to look? (Open or closed at the top? With or without elastics? Does this even matter?) Has this been discussed elsewhere, with pics?
                    If I google or search on websites for files and folders, different things pop up..
                    Will do some more reading in the Gears section.. If anyone has any other thoughts or ideas, I'll be happy to hear!

                    Oh, just saw it - thanks for the pic!
                    They look much better than my old files, and nicely colorful too!!

                    I take it 'open top' is easier for filing.. What about those you need to take with you elsewhere? Do you have special files for these, or put them in a special file as you need..?
                    (I don't always work in the same room, or the same location...)
                    Last edited by Layla; 09-25-2009, 04:53 AM.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by lolajl View Post
                      Unfortunately, such file cabinets are very, very rare if you want to buy a new one these days. Believe me, I've looked all over the place. Fortunately, there are some good tips in the thread that has "Files" over in the Gears section.

                      Still looking for an used 4 drawer file cabinet that doesn't require me to drive 30+ miles into Virginia to pick it up from a Craigslister (for some reason, the vast majority of used file cabinet for free or sale seem to be located in Northern Virginia) . . .
                      I had to purchase mine online. They are HON filing cabinets. I don't recall the site where I purchased them, but I'm sure you can find them by doing a little searching.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by ellobogrande View Post
                        They are HON filing cabinets. I don't recall the site where I purchased them, but I'm sure you can find them by doing a little searching.

                        I don't have a lot of money, i.e., no job, so I have to look for used file cabinets on Craigslist. Just need one that is within reasonable driving distance.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          A to Z awful

                          The worst and most terrible thing I did to my filing system was to merge everything into A to Z. It made retrieval very difficult--esp. because financial institutions and organizations seem to change their names faster than I can change them in my mind. And because, It also made for longer runs to search through and more files to "equilibrate" when I outgrew a drawer.

                          My suggestion is to use some generally logical subdivisions and use A to Z within that. Most importantly, you may have some files that you do want to have a lock on

                          Professional:Administrative and forms
                          Professional: Clients and Customers (locked)
                          Professional: topics

                          Household: all A to Z but if it pertains to something we own, the folder is yellow.

                          Maps: USA A to Z by State, Countries A to Z by continent.

                          Family: A to Z (and there are multiple files for the folks I am responsible for like Smith, Joanne--medical, Smith Joanne--legal and will.

                          Financial

                          Good luck--keep t to what works for you--it is not 1 size fits all by any means.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            You can use label prefixes.

                            Originally posted by Jamie Elis View Post
                            The worst and most terrible thing I did to my filing system was to merge everything into A to Z. It made retrieval very difficult--esp. because financial institutions and organizations seem to change their names faster than I can change them in my mind. And because, It also made for longer runs to search through and more files to "equilibrate" when I outgrew a drawer.

                            My suggestion is to use some generally logical subdivisions and use A to Z within that. Most importantly, you may have some files that you do want to have a lock on

                            Professional:Administrative and forms
                            Professional: Clients and Customers (locked)
                            Professional: topics

                            Household: all A to Z but if it pertains to something we own, the folder is yellow.

                            Maps: USA A to Z by State, Countries A to Z by continent.

                            Family: A to Z (and there are multiple files for the folks I am responsible for like Smith, Joanne--medical, Smith Joanne--legal and will.

                            Financial
                            You can achieve it using label prefixes and general A-Z system:

                            Prof:Admin:... or P:A:...
                            Prof:Client:... or P:C:...
                            Prof:Topic:... or P:T:...
                            Household:... or H:...
                            Maps:USA:... or M:U:...
                            Maps:World:... or M:W:...
                            Family:... or Fam:...
                            Fin:...

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Jamie Elis View Post
                              The worst and most terrible thing I did to my filing system was to merge everything into A to Z.
                              Interesting, your system is what I moved from to A-Z. The grouping caused me no end of filing problems to the point I avoided doing it at all.

                              Agreed, 1 size does not fit all.

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