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  • Any advice on organizing digital files?

    I am something of a digital packrat, I tend to keep a lot of things, maybe too much. Which partly explains why my computers are all a mess, files and folders flying around, with very little structure to them.

    One of the main changes GTD has brought about in my life is how I handle paper. My filing system for that works very well. I haven't found much advice on how to handle digital files, however.

    I've been meaning to clean up my "digital archive" for a while now. Does anyone know of some good advice for this process – i.e. for creating a good folder structure, for what to throw away and what to keep, etc. etc.? Or maybe a link to a good webpage that has some?

    (I am on a Mac, and I use GMail, so mail isn't an issue for me. It's all the other stuff –*documents, thesis drafts etc. that bogs me down.)

  • #2
    Bit Literacy by Mark Hurst

    You can try to follow some advice from Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload by Mark Hurst

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    • #3
      Google Desktop & Evernote

      You can spend alot of valuable time purging these files and worrying about how to organise folders etc. If these are reference digital files then try using Google desktop which indexes all the files on your pc (just make sure the file has a good name with appropriate key terms)

      I also use Evernote which has fantanstic search abilities - including text in photos scans etc

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Goldmund View Post
        I am something of a digital packrat, I tend to keep a lot of things, maybe too much. Which partly explains why my computers are all a mess, files and folders flying around, with very little structure to them.
        Can you expand on what kind of files and what size? If they are mostly document, spreadsheets, smaller media files, then Evernote may be exactly what you're looking for. For $5/month you get the ability to upload 500MB/month. So in the course of 2-3 months, you could get quite a bit of information stored into Evernote. This way you have a local copy within the Evernote app and a cloud copy of the data as a back-up.

        Best of both worlds.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Goldmund View Post
          My filing system for that works very well. I haven't found much advice on how to handle digital files, however.
          I'm in the same boat, Mac based, paper filing working, digital files a bit of a mess. What I am doing is creating an A-Z folder structure on my machine in a single folder called General Filing. I am also trying to flatten out my folder structure. My goal is no more than 2 levels deep in the folders.

          Whenever I am really bored I move and sort a few of the electronic files. I also have started re-naming files so the contents are more easily known from looking at the name. For some archive data I've been scanning I have a good naming scheme that is working. Scanned files are in a separate set of folders.

          My data structure looks like this: the ... represent a folder and ....... a nested folder :to represent a file name

          Documents
          General Reference
          ...Clothing Ideas
          :Wardrobe Basics
          ...Equip. - Canon 940is
          :Powershot User Guide
          :Printing Guide
          ...Equip. - iPod Touch
          :iPod Touch User Guide
          ...Equip - Loom 8 Harness Leclerc
          :voyager8s
          ...Fiber Stuff
          :knitting chartorial
          ...Food - Recipes
          :bolillo rolls
          ...Genetics Papers from Harvey Blackburn
          :Molecular Analysis of Sheep
          :History of Sheep Domestication
          ...Knitting Patterns
          ......My Patterns
          :Growler Cozy
          ......Lace patterns
          : Dragon Scales Shawl
          :Chain Mail
          ......Sock Patterns
          :1817 School Socks
          :Gunnister Man
          :1655 socks
          ......Sweater Patterns
          :Basic Black
          Scanned Personal
          : DW Sheep Inspection 2008
          :P Sprint Bill 2010 01

          and so on.

          I keep out in a top level finder window the individual files I reference all the time, my sheep inventory, my list of books owned on paper and on kindle, my Quicken data files for personal and both businesses and so on. Sort of like my working project files next to my tickler file.

          And I am exploring evernote for some files as well.
          Last edited by Oogiem; 04-19-2010, 06:43 AM. Reason: remove smileys that were a result of trying ot show nesting with no indents allowed.

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          • #6
            The beauty I've found with using Evernote is I no longer have to worry about the file/folder structure needed to organize my files. By adding tags to the files you could almost drop notebooks (folder equivalent in Evernote). I know MSFT is supposed to release a version of OneNote that will synchonize as part of Office 2010. I'm interested to see if OneNote will allow syncing on a local server.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by jason.verly View Post
              The beauty I've found with using Evernote is I no longer have to worry about the file/folder structure needed to organize my files. By adding tags to the files you could almost drop notebooks (folder equivalent in Evernote).
              2 things about that. Evernote has a maximum number of notebooks as they feel tagging is the best way to structure stuff.

              But if you are like me and tagging makes absolutely no sense, folders are important.
              That's one reason I don't use Evernote for major digital filing. The other is the security issue with cloud services.

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              • #8
                Prior to stumbling onto GTD, I used DevonThink Pro Office (still do). Now that I've got a better grasp on the GTD concept, it's a great tool in conjunction with GTD.

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                • #9
                  My system has become flatter over time, with fewer branches (folders) and more files per folder. The key for me is sorting the files in reverse date in the folders to the freshest items are at the top.

                  The other key is using quicksilver for keyboard navigation.

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                  • #10
                    On the Desktop

                    I picked up this tip in this forum somewhere along the line, I think. I have created 5 folders that sit on my desktop:

                    0. Inbox
                    1. Actions
                    2. Review
                    3. Current Projects
                    4. Archive

                    I use the inbox to collect email attachments that come in, etc. From there, I can process/clarify by moving things to either Actions or Review or Current Projects (which is a collection of folders for projects I'm working on now). Archive is an A-Z set of folders - like a big digital filing cabinet.

                    Periodically all of these folders require purging if I don't stay on top of them, but at least the digital mess is contained in 5 folders

                    I also use Evernote to store notes and reference items.

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                    • #11
                      Thank you

                      Thanks for all your helpful answers!

                      TesTeq: Looks like an interesting book, I'll consider buying it. In the meantime, are there any good summaries of his advice online? (Or maybe you can give us the elevator pitch on his take on folder structures? )

                      Zagazoo: One can indeed waste a lot of time on organising. I'm wasting quite a bit already, though, when I don't find stuff. Usually that's related to it being on different hard drives, though, so this is a lot about just getting everything in one place. In the process I thought I might as well introduce some structure…

                      I'm not sure that Google desktop is all that much better than the spotlight feature on Macs, though. Is it?

                      Re Evernote: I love it! But so far I only use it for text notes that I create in the app. Would I really want to put all my files into it? Especially considering that you can't really link to things in Evernote?

                      BTW, the files are mostly of the kind you describe, jason.verly.

                      Oogiem: Thanks for sharing your system. I'm curious, though: Why exactly do you want to flatten out your folder structure?

                      photodiva: That sounds like a good system. With GMail, I often just leave email attachments where they are, though (I'm way beyond my quota there). Dividing into Current projects and Archive is a good idea. I'm thinking I would need more structure in the archive than just A-Z, though…

                      One thing I am struggling with that none of you have mentioned, are all the different drafts and versions of things I have written. I guess I should just chuck everything but the final version out, but for some reason I'm reluctant to do so.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Goldmund View Post
                        Oogiem: Thanks for sharing your system. I'm curious, though: Why exactly do you want to flatten out your folder structure?
                        ....
                        One thing I am struggling with that none of you have mentioned, are all the different drafts and versions of things I have written. I guess I should just chuck everything but the final version out, but for some reason I'm reluctant to do so.
                        Flatter structures are easier to find things in because you don't have to remember that folder X is a child of folder W. Fastest filing is a single layer of folders, it is what I have in my paper system but for electronic items it does make sense to have a few children of folders.

                        Your second item is exactly why.

                        For example I have a folder Water Law and within that is a child folder of Water Case with XXX. Within that are all the various versions of the documents and e-mails and everything to and from the various water lawyers & judges and the various negotiations before we settled as well as the final case report and judgement. I also keep many versions of critical items and they do tend to be in their own folder.

                        Another example I have a folder Sheep Inventory History and a file Sheep Inventory 2010 both in my top level file system. The past years inventory goes into the folder the current is the one out on top. I have to keep them for 5 years by federal law but I save them all.

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                        • #13
                          Bit Literacy example.

                          Originally posted by Goldmund View Post
                          TesTeq: Looks like an interesting book, I'll consider buying it. In the meantime, are there any good summaries of his advice online? (Or maybe you can give us the elevator pitch on his take on folder structures? )
                          Bit Literacy folder structure:
                          -- Parent folder (top level folder for files not handled by another tools like iPhoto, iTunes or e-mail program)
                          ---- Project or category (reference) folder (this level must not contain any files - folders only)
                          ------ Properly named files and optional subfolders (file naming scheme is: initials-date-topic.ext) (*)

                          For manually managed photos:
                          -- Photos parent folder
                          ---- Year folder
                          ------ month-event folders

                          (*) I prefer datetime-initials-topic.ext file naming scheme.
                          Last edited by TesTeq; 04-20-2010, 12:00 PM.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Oogiem View Post
                            Flatter structures are easier to find things in because you don't have to remember that folder X is a child of folder W.
                            Makes sense, I guess

                            Originally posted by TesTeq View Post
                            Bit Literacy folder structure:
                            -- Parent folder (top level folder for files not handled by another tools like iPhoto, iTunes or e-mail program)
                            ---- Project or category (reference) folder (this level must not contain any files - folders only)
                            ------ Properly named files and optional subfolders (file naming scheme is: initials-date-topic.ext) (*)
                            Cool! Thanks. Some questions, though:

                            How many parent folders are there typically? Not only one?

                            What are the initials? Those of the author?

                            Why include the date/time in the file name when you have that info in a separate column you can sort by?

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                            • #15
                              Bit Literacy answers.

                              Originally posted by Goldmund View Post
                              How many parent folders are there typically? Not only one?
                              As few as possible for easy backup strategy. For example I think one should have separate parent folders for personal and work stuff.

                              Originally posted by Goldmund View Post
                              What are the initials? Those of the author?
                              Yes, author's initials. In my naming scheme I use "source id" which may be author's initials or organization id.

                              Originally posted by Goldmund View Post
                              Why include the date/time in the file name when you have that info in a separate column you can sort by?
                              I don't remember Mark Hurst's explanation but here is mine: file date/time stamp is lost when you send a file via e-mail.

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