Although a Content Dashboard can save you time by making it easier to access files, it can’t do the entire job on its own. If you really want to save time, you might want to explore the way you have organized folders and files on your computer’s hard drive.
All too often, the folder and file systems on an individual’s computer reflect spur-of-the-moment decisions, rather than a purposeful structure. This results in frequent time-wasting searches for lost files.
The confusion becomes even worse because there are so many tools available for file creation and management. Most of us work with multiple devices, not to mention myriad cloud-based collaboration and file-sharing resources like Dropbox, Evernote, and Mindjet Connect. As a result, productivity and efficiency become fractured, and things like version control and organization and can be nightmarish.
Searching for Consistency
One possible solution I suggest is based on a folder structure I’ve been using for the past five years. It saves time by eliminating decision-making when creating subfolders for new books, clients, or projects.
I now use the same structure on all of my computers, as well as online backups, which further simplifies locating files.
The structure begins on the root (or lowest) level of the C-drive on my computer’s hard drive.
Granted, no computer folder and file system will ever be 100% perfect. Yet, over 85% of the time, the structure displayed in my File Finder mind map really works. I share it with you as an example to inspire you to develop a system for yourself, with a folder system that reflects your workflow.
The key to my folder and file system is the use of alphanumeric folder names. The numbers are essential because they display my primary folders in the right order, regardless of the spelling of the folder names.
The following comments may help by providing a better understanding of the contents of folder:
- 01 Clients and Prospects. Opening this folder reveals two folders: A-M and N-Z. Each client or prospect gets their own folder. Each contains a 01 Inactive folder where I move prospects that didn’t turn into clients within a reasonable time, or clients following the completion of their project. File names for folders for individuals begin with their last name, (i.e., Arnold, Benedict).
- 02 Events. The events folder contains separate subfolders for upcoming media intervals (where I’m being interviewed), podcast interviews (where I’m interviewing others), presentations or speeches, and workshops. This subfolder contains a separate folder for individual events. One of the biggest benefits of this folder system has been my ability to easily access previously created presentations—regardless of the organization I created them for.
- 03 Goals. This is divided into personal and financial goals.
- 04 Ideas. This primary destination is my simple, 3-step Idea Tracker dashboard, which allows filtered views for specific categories of ideas like book and eBook ideas, copywriting, graphic design, presentations, and visual marketing. (When an Idea Tracker category becomes too large, I use Mindjet’s Create a New Linked Map command to keep things manageable). The 04 Ideas subfolder also contains folders for downloaded examples of eBooks, SlideShare presentations, and white papers, etc. Your interests will determine the categories you create.
- 05 Joint Ventures. Like the clients and prospects folder, this contains separate A-M and N-Z subfolders, each containing “01 Inactive” subfolders.
- 06 Marketing. This was a difficult one to create, but is the most important in this time of focused content marketing. Today, we are all likely to be creating more content in more places, not to mention frequently repurposing and reformatting our content. An audit of already-created content takes some time to set up, but you may be pleasantly surprised at the wealth of existing content waiting to be reformatted and reused. Worthy ideas contained in early blog posts, for example, can be condensed into “best of” compilations, tip sheets, or Tweets.
- 07 Resources. Although mind maps for specific projects are saved in the appropriate client, marketing, and writing folders, I save all of my Dashboard mind maps in a special “Dashboard mind maps” subfolder in my Resources folder. This makes them easier to back up and share on all of my computers and other devices. The remaining subfolders are used for identity graphics (key logos, photos, and templates), stock images, custom graphics, and vendor maps.
- 08 Writing. This was another difficult folder to set up, because writing informs the basis of both client and marketing projects. To eliminate the ambiguity, I reserve the Writing folder strictly for writing I intend to sell, such as books, eBooks, and information products. The distinction is sometimes blurry, but it has worked well for me for a long time.
Please note: ideally, there should be a 1-to-1 correlation between your Content Dashboard’s Topics and Subtopics and your hard drive’s Folders and Subfolders.
Observations and Tips
This system has worked for me for over five years. It’s shared in the spirit of a project you can adapt for your own needs. Here are some observations and tips:
- Be consistent. Once you come up with a folder and file organizing system that works for you, replicate it throughout your computer network. Whenever I have “temporarily” stored a back-up file in a random location on another computer, I’ve paid the penalty in terms of wasted time searching for the file.
- Subdivide folders into years. For convenience, when subfolders become bloated with files, I subdivide them into years–i.e., the folder containing projects for my long-time client Benedict Arnold contains subfolders for 2012, 2013, and 2014. This also makes it easy to occasionally remove older and seldom needed folders from your primary computer for cloud or offline back up.
- Realistic expectations. I suspect that there will always be some messiness involved in setting up a computer folder and file system. There will always be some files that don’t have an obvious home. However, when you get to the point where there’s an 80% or 90 % chance that you immediately know where to save or look for a file, you’ll end up saving yourself a lot of time.
- Periodic touch-ups. When I’m working on a project, I occasionally save ideas or interesting URLs to my Content Dashboard map rather than where they “should be.” To compensate, I’ve learned the value of scheduling 5 or 10 minutes a week to purge these snippets of ideas and random URLs from my Content Dashboard, and place where they belong.
- Pace yourself. Don’t feel you have to reorganize the contents of your hard drive all at once. Instead, view this as a long-term project, scheduled in stages over a period of weeks. The last thing you want is to be interrupted in the middle, with files in multiple locations.
The time you save will be directly proportionate to the care you extend creating a logical and consistent folder and file organization on your computers, tablets, and on cloud services. Saving files and looking in the right places will soon become second nature to you. Download my example File Finder map here.
Do you have a system for saving and accessing folders and files? Would a File Finder work for you? How much time do you think it would help you save? Share your experiences in the comments!