Having posted the screen shot of the top-level file categories for my personal files division yesterday, below are the top level categories for my work files.
As I mentioned yesterday, I’d like to go into more detail about the logic behind the structure and how to set up good file categories and an overall system that doesn’t bug you, but I figure it is better to post something brief and incomplete now and then also do a full version down the road, rather than just do nothing in the interim.
You’ll notice that while my personal file division was organized by area of responsibility, my work files are organized by department. Then, within the department files the sub-files are by area of responsibility for the department.
“Executive Management” means things pertaining to the overall leadership of the organization; it made the most sense to treat that as a department in itself. “Talent” means “HR,” because I think it’s better to look at people as people rather than resources. “BBC,” “BCS,” and “CDG” are related organizations that we work closely with; for simplicity it made sense just to treat those as departments as well.
One last thing on filing for now: It is possible to create a system that doesn’t bug you. I think it was about 5 years or so that I developed the approach I am using, and it hasn’t bugged me since. The actual act of filing is not always fun and I try to keep that to a minimum; but I never find myself having to think hard about where to put anything, discontent with the structure, or unable to find anything quickly.
Here’s the screen shot for my work files:
I have wanted to post on filing for a long time, but have not gotten to it because there is so much to say. So, instead of continually putting it off, I’m just going to post some brief things on filing now and then. Doing incomplete posts on how to set up your file categories are probably better than doing nothing at all. And, eventually, I hope to get around to a full series on the subject.
So, here are two pictures of my file categories. You’ll notice in the left-hand part of the screen shot that I divide my categories into 7 major divisions, which are:
- MP [= personal]
- DG [= work]
- NC [= consulting and such]
- General Reference
- Quick Access
I will save going into the distinction between these divisions for another post. For now, I thought I’d just show a screen shot that shows the categories I use in my personal files.
The organizing principle for these categories is area of responsibility. Each area of responsibility gets a file — if I have something I need to file for it. The result is that everything has a place. Further, it is easy to know how to create a new category if nothing existing fits for something — I just ask what area of responsibility it pertains to, and if it doesn’t exist, I just create a file for it.
Within these categories are sub-categories, which I will also save for a future post.
One other thing that I’d also like to talk about now but will save for later (among many other things) is why filing even matters at all when you can search your computer.
In the meantime, here’s the screen shot of my personal file categories (sorry if it’s small — just click to enlarge):
And here’s a continuation with what wouldn’t fit in that screen shot:
One other note: Just because I have a category of something here doesn’t mean that this is the primary repository of my files for that area. I also have paper-based files, which continue to be the main home for many of these categories (for example, bank statements, which I don’t like receiving electronically). My physical files follow the same structure so that everything is based on one unified approach.
Tomorrow I will post the categories I use for my work files.
Lifehacker has a good post on how you can use Jott and Evernote together.
Jott is a transcription service. So using the iPhone app, you can use your voice to leave yourself a note, and Jott automatically transcribes it.
These notes need to be processed just like your in box — they are really another in box, in fact. When processing them, the less than two-minute actions should be done right away. Longer than two-minute actions should be put on a list.
But what about the non-actionable stuff you just want to remember? For example, there are a few key things after a meeting that you want to write down for reference, but they aren’t necessarily actionable. That’s where Evernote can be useful. Evernote is basically an electronic notebook, which allows you to group your notes into notebooks, tag them, and sort them by title, date, etc.
The way to use Jott and Evernote together is to email those “reference”-type jotts to your Evernote account. Jott will have already transcribed it, so it saves you that work. Then, once in Evernote, you can title the note, tag it, and put it into the notebook you want. The article shows you how to do this.
A “tickler file” is part of the standard GTD approach; most productivity folks also recommend having one. It allows you to “mail” actions and items to yourself in the future.
I have an “electronic tickler.” Instead of doing 43 physical folders (one for each day of the month, plus one for each month) and doing this manually, I just have a specific action list in my productivity system called “Action Calendar.” I keep my tickler items on that electronic list.
Here’s how that works. Every item on that list has a due date. “Due date” there really means “do on.” I check that list every day (well, most days) and the items with that day’s date are things that need to be done or brought to my attention on that day. I ignore everything in the future. The point of this list is that you don’t need to think about anything in it until the day it comes up.
This is a great way to keep track of repeating tasks that need to be done on a certain day. For example: changing your furnace filter every month or so. I have that as a monthly repeating item in my action calendar (probably every 6-weeks, actually, but you get the point). When it comes up, I change it. During all other times, I don’t need to think about it.
Another instance is processing notes you capture in your “capture tool.” You don’t want to just capture action items and other stuff you need to process, and then just leave it to your brain to remember to do it. I have a repeating task in my action calendar to process my notes.
An action calendar also works well for single items that come your way, and which you have to do at a certain time and cannot do until them. For example, when we moved and started our new trash service here, the company sent us two coupons for two free months. The problem is that you can only use them in two (future) months which they designated.
We received the coupons in November or something. The months they were to be used in were February and March. So, I created action calendar items for the first Saturdays in February and March that said “return [name of garbage company]‘s billing coupon for free month.”
As you can see in this example, there was along with this a physical item to keep — the coupon I had to send in. Hence, I do keep one physical file for tickler items. I call it “pending.” It’s actually for more than just physical tickler items. It’s for any paper-based support material I need to keep which pertains to non-project actions. Paper-based support material for my electronic tickler fits in here great.
I thought to write this post because the action calendar item to send this in for March just came up. So I grabbed the coupon out of my pending file and sent it in. (Now I’m writing this post.)
Now, someone would say, “Paper is old-fashioned. That company shouldn’t have sent you actual paper coupons to send in.” Well, sure, but the fact is that they did. You have to be able to deal with the fact that not everything is going to be electronic.
I find this balance — keeping my tickler items electronically, but then when necessary keeping any physical support material in a single (rather than 43) physical folder that the electronic item then points me to — very useful.
I do also have other physical files beyond this one “pending” physical file, because the reality is that you do have paper to deal with. But that is for a set of upcoming posts (as soon as I can!).
The most common question I received on email was actually a request to do a post on filing in general. Lots of people wrote in to say that learning about filing is one of their greatest productivity issues.
What categories should you use for your computer files? What are the best practices for filing in general? How should one manage paper-based files (which, although secondary to electronic files, still have a place)? Is there a consistent category structure (or at least set of principles) to implement across your whole computer (documents, pictures, videos, iTunes, iPhoto, etc.) and then also your paper-based files?
I’ll be talking about all these things in the near future. Filing is a huge issue. A lot of time (and therefore money!) goes into the documents we create, and so it only makes sense that they should also be organized in an orderly, easy-to-access way. Making our documents and other files maximally accessible and useful is just as important as creating them in the first place.
If you set up your computer files right, you will have a streamlined workflow and save yourself a ton of time. If you don’t, your workflow is obstructed and just becomes less enjoyable in general.
Fortunately, there are some really solid principles on how to organize your files. I’ve done a bunch of research on filing (it started when I was organizing the DG website — there is a lot of overlap between website structure and filing, because both have to do with information architecture), and several winters ago I spent about 50 hours (yes, to my shame!) going through a process of trial and error to get everything right and document my conclusions.
I hope that the time I spent figuring out filing will save others a lot of time and help show a more enjoyable way to work as well.
So, that’s coming soon.