Better file naming

Naming files seems like an obvious activity and definitely not a rocket science. Yet have you ever tried to find anything you created or saved in 2004?  

Perhaps you still hold most of your records in paper format but as we move to paperless style living the need for good filing system will be bigger and bigger.

You could rely on tools like Evernote to hold all your information but I’m not sure how it would handle 10 years worth of data. I’ve already seen on some of the discussion forums that some heavy users had to consider using secondary accounts or even removing some content from the application as the database became too large and unresponsive.   

For that and many more reasons I decided to stick with the native formats and keeping files in folders albeit in a small number of them.  

To make sure I can find necessary information I’m using a combination of file naming convention, folder location and a program called Everything.  

All the files I create follow this format: [YYYYMMDD] + [category] + [Keywords] .
This allows to me to find files based on date, a high level category or one or more different keyword. 

To give you example if there is receipt for a pair of shoes that need to keep I would name the file in a following way:   

“20130922 receipt brand X running shoes.pdf”

To benefit of this approach is that it’s independent of any application, platform and if I ever move to Linux or Mac OS I will be able to locate my file with out a hassle. 

To avoid clutter and storing unrelated files in the same location I also use a fairly simple folder structure to keep a some form of hard edges. This isn’t critical for my filing system but it simply helps to narrow down the focus. If for some reason I want to browse through my receipts I can do that.

I try to keep the number of folders to minimum and avoid nesting as much as possible.  

Last piece of the setup is application called Everything. It creates an index of all file names that exist on your computer and then allows for searching those files. Everything does not search through the content of the files hence the importance of proper naming.  I have it set up to open when I press Win+S and then I simply type the word I’m after. 

One element that I’m yet to fully flesh out is how to find a good Windows replacement for Mac app called Hazel which automated a lot of filing and naming tasks. There a program called Folder Actions but I’m yet to dive into it. 

This approach has been very much inspired by series of posts published by Seth Brown (aka Dr. Bunsen) Although he uses Mac it wasn’t that difficult to implement the basics.

Dr. Bunsen / Naming & Searching Files Part 1

Dr. Bunsen / Naming & Searching Files Part 2

Dr. Bunsen / Naming & Searching Files Part 3

 

Better document tagging

Tagging is one of the best ways of organising information that you collect. Tags provide reliable way of linking varied contend based on common theme, topic etc. As opposed to folders which are rigid structures tags offer flexibility of linking information that’s spread around.
The only difficulty with tags is ease of creating dozens of them which over time becomes difficult to manage and make send of pile or words.

Dan Gold posted recently a guest post by Robert Oshler outlining a 5 step plan to better tagging of documents.

The key takeaway from this post is to use associations and “evergreen” tags that will give you the context of the information that you want to save. Finding the right or actually best way to tag information will take some time and practice but I’m sure it’s doable. That reminds me that I need to review my Pinboard tags and do a little bit of clean up.

5 Step Plan To Better Document Tagging

Organasing files on your computer

We save and store more information on our computers from simple documents to notes, ebooks, bills etc.It’s no wonder that finding a good way of keeping on top all of this is almost never-ending endeavor.
Some people result some give up and keep everything amassed in one folder and rely on search to find relevant information others resort to constructing intricate structures of nested folder up on folders. None of the above is really sustainable in the long run as sometimes you want to look through your files and are faced with giant list that’s not usable. The solution lies somewhere in the middle where you keep a light folder structure that matches most important areas of you life but also rely on search so you don’t have to browse manually.

If you need some ideas on how to approach organisation of files AsianEfficiency has very good overview on how to do that.

Organizing Your Files, Folders and Documents

Organising notes using plain text. Yet another example.

As I’m diving deeper into managing stuff in plain text files I constantly find interesting examples of other people workflows. This time I wanted to share a setup by Gabe Weatherhead. It’s fairly in-depth overview of plain text organisation and tools used to support it.
Two things that grabbed my attention is the use of MultiMarkdown for structuring notes and TextDrop app with appears to be online equivalent of Notational Velocity.

How I organize everything with plain-text notes

Frictionless is not structureless

One of the recent episodes of Mikes on mics podcast had a very interesting conversation about using paper templates to help sustain better productivity. Micheal Schechter made a good point that he needs structure to help him with the planning and thinking hence templates are excellent solution. In his eyes, these forms reduce the friction that a clean sheet of paper would have as they provide guidance and boundaries to his mind. Such approach might be very specific to Micheal but it’s got me thinking about interaction between friction and structure.
Very often we think of frictionless as totally rid of any structure, totally free. However frictionless really means to remove unnecessary obstacles, barriers so that things can flow smoother within a set of boundaries – structure.

Lets take it to the field or productivity. Frictionless productivity is not about getting rid of methodologies like GTD or Covey. A lot of us need them to help keep the focus and make sure we stick to the road and not drive throughout the fields. We want to maintain a system, an approach that let’s us organise thinking, tasks, projects etc. It’s not possible to act on every single idea or request the very moment it comes in hence you need a support structure.

Removing friction is about finding ways of accomplishing more in an easier fashion within the methodology of your choice. For me it’s been GTD and although I’m still not 100% where I would like to be, I do apply it every time I can.

When I’m looking at friction in my system I look at it in the context of the GTD workflow.

  • Are there any better ways to capture my ideas?
  • Can I organise my tasks in a more efficient way?
  • What steps can I remove or automate?
  • Are there ways of automating data flows between the apps I’m using?
  • Can I take better advantage of the features available?
  • What behaviors, habits decrease my effectiveness?

I don’t expect to always find an immediate solution, very often it takes time for an idea to pop up, sometimes I need to accept that my current tools can’t be pushed any further. I like this process/analysis as it allows me to look at the things I use and how to improve them.

Why full inbox is bad for you?

What happens to things that are left in a pile for too long? They start to rotten. First the process is slow and invisible but after a while it gains momentum and it’s almost impossible to stop.

Transfer this to managing email an you get the same result. The more email piles up in your inbox the more difficult it becomes to react in time, to stay on top of things. Messages lie there for weeks even months and people are chasing you two or three times before you react. This is not a way to work. If just these things don’t convince you that working out of your inbox and keeping it full here are few more reasons:

Difficulty to prioritize

Every email in your inbox looks the same and unless you have done something with it like flagged it or moved to a special folder. When emails are unprocessed in you inbox there is no difference between an email form your boss, friend’s photos, daily news update. However if you process your emails and put them in your system only those that are important will be there.

New stuff pushes the old off

Most email clients will show new messages on top of the screen. When email was its early stages this made sense as at that time email provided rapid communication channel so it made sense to show you the most recent stuff first. Nowadays we are far past that time. Whether it’s an email from your boss or another newsletter they will always take the top spot. There is no pardon for importance or context of the message.

Constant re-reading

What happens when you hear a ping on your computer? More than likely you scan the message quickly and then go back to what you were doing before. After a while you go back to your email and read the very same message again. As result you look at twice the number of emails you receive. This is highly unproductive behavior, firstly you break your concentration by checking the message and then you review the same message to see what’s required.

It’s easy to loose them

With large number of messages in your inbox means that important emails will mix with newsletters, company updates, thank you notes etc. With such unstructured setup  it’s very easy accidentally delete email or file them in some random places.

Something is waiting to blow up

An inbox that’s full of uprocessed emails is sign of out of control status. You need to scramble to identify important email, issues that may get you in trouble. Since more and more email arrives in your inbox all the time,  it becomes impossible to maintain any degree of control and then changes of dropping the ball are far greater.
We can debate what’s full inbox, whether it’s 3000 or 10 messages but that does not matter. Also it does not matter that you keep your inbox at zero constantly. More emails will arrive and you will deal with them but you’re not here to do just that.
What’s important is creating a habit of regular review of your email inbox, as often as you need. Do it regularly and do it properly i.e. review, decide, action.

Structures and productivity

weird structure

I was listening to a recent podcast with David Allen where he mentioned very interesting element.  Many times we are building a lot very complex structures to support productivity
adding layers of tags, applications etc. In effect we limit ourselves and put more pressure to maintain this system. It becomes a drag. Whereas the opposite should be true. A good productivity system should be light and flexible allowing to fit you into changing events and requirements. You can listen to full episode here.

Continuing with this thought focus on keeping your system just right and fit for purpose.

When you have them, it’s very easy to spend few hours organizing everything in your system. Adding locations, tags, links. Making sure everything is clearly laid out. But is such approach sustainable on daily basis? Probably not.

When you look at how people get organized more often than not everything they have is halfway done. They had some free time, so they decided to organise something they mean to do a long time ago. They put a very nice looking structure of A-Z folders, marked with different colours and labels. After a while only half of the documents are done this way, the demands of the daily work took over and there is no longer any time to maintain this structure.
The same will happen with tasks. You can go full on with application like Omnifocus or Thinkingrock  or Remember the Milk and fill every possible text box, add connections, notes and links, then you can dice and slice actions, projects the way you want.

After initial hurray stage this structure weighs you down and becomes a drag. It becomes apparent that filling all the boxes and putting all the tags and folders is too time consuming. It can’t be sustained in normal day when things are flying at the speed of light.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why a short list of daily tasks is so effective. It’s simple, easy, flexible and becomes great reference point for your progress throughout the day.

To conclude, tools you use should support enough to let you maintain the control of the day yet they should be light easy to use so that they don’t become a drag.

Photo by: Aislinn Ritchie

Keeping your toolkit clean

Toolkit, The Making of Closet, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico

Having the right tools is paramount for getting a job done. This sounds obvious but is it?

Here is an example, a friend of mine needed a small fix done at his home. He called a handyman to check it up and fix it. It took this guy two visits to fix this small issue only because he didn’t have the right tool. When he showed up first all he had was just car keys, he looked at the issue and decided he needed some parts. Came back next day brought the part and started fixing it. As you can imagine it wasn’t smooth job. He didn’t have basic tools and in the end my friend had to borrow him a wrench so the handyman could finish the job.
This is an extreme example of people not being prepared to do their job.

This got me thinking about my tools. Even though I don’t have a metal toolbox like a plumber I do use different tools. My computer is my toolbox and various applications are my tools. Different realm but the same idea.

Are tools aligned with the outcomes you want to achieve or are they scattered all over the place? To take control of my tools I would do three things:

– make a list of mostly used tools
– make sure I know them (good for security reasons)
– make sure they are the right tools for the job.

As you may have noticed I’m looking quite often at different applications,  it’s probably fair to say that I use or read about new tool almost every second day. I developed a habit to review the list of installed software on my laptop to make sure all the application serve some purpose. Whenever I notice an application that I no longer need I remove it using RevoUnistaller. It saves some space but it also makes the toolkit clean and up to date.

I’ve taken this approach listening to Enough podcast by Patrick Rhone and Myke Hurley where they talk about having just enough (power, storage, apps) on your computer to do your work.

Do you look at your toolkit often? Does it matter for you whether it’s nice and clean or all over the place? 

Please share your views in the comments.

(photo by Wonderlane)

Organise synthesise and share information with Diigo.com

image

If you’re a blogger, researcher, writer or simply enjoy browsing a web and finding useful information you might find Diigo.com one of the most useful online tools for data gathering.

What is it?

Diigo is a cross between social bookmarking, research and collaboration tool. It provides wide array if features to help you organise, synthetize  and share information on the internet.

Here is list of key features.

  • bookmarking – pages are booked marked and organized using tags, list and quick description synopsis.
  • annotating – comments and notes can be added to selected elements of the page and shared with other users.
  • highlighting – interesting sections, quotes can be highlighted using  different colours.
  • read it later – save pages to read later, with iPhone client you can read offline on the go.
  • collaboration – find friends and people with similar interests, add them you your network and share links, comments, ideas.
  • sharing – links, notes and highlights can be easily shared via email, twitter or reports summarising captured content.
  • public or private – links can be shared with Diigo community or made private for your view only.

How I use it?

I was never a user of any social bookmarking services. I dabbled with Delicious for a while but it didn’t go anywhere. However with Diigo.com it’s a very different story. Although at first glace it looks like just another variation of Delicious, it really more than. Here is how I use it:

Research & data gathering
When I’m researching a topic on the web I use highlighter to mark interesting quotes and sentences.Then I book mark the page in my library adding tags and list name. Let say I’m doing a research about Diigo, best practices and use scenarios etc. In order to keep everything in one place I create an ad hoc list and save everything there. Once I’m happy with collected material I go back to my library select relevant list and allpages and highlighted sections are clearly displayed there. For more permanent backup and storage I send the full content of the list to my Evernote account. This way I have a record of my research, interesting sections including links to pages titles etc.

Blog post writing
Having couple dozen of RSS feeds in my Google reader means that I have plenty of sources of interesting productivity articles about different tools, methods, tips & tricks. Diigo allows me to connect with my blog and quickly use annotations highlight  and help me to write. This is particularly useful for my weekly links post. All I have to do is simply tick articles that I want to include in the post and click send to blog.

Information sharing bookmarking service
Sharing information using Diigo is super easy. First of all I can decide if the bookmark is public or private. Secondly as I’m adding tags and saving it I can sent a link to people I have connected with on Diigo, tweet it or simply type the email address and they will get a link to that site. If some piece of information is important I can bookmark and annotate with Diigo and then send to Evernote for permanent storage.

Why it’s great

First of all it’s very easy to use. After initial setup I was able to brows through the features, configure my profile and settings. What’s more important is the breath of features provided and ability to use them straight away. As the developers provide toolbars for every major browser I was able to start bookmarking, highlighting and annotating in no time.

Diigo being a simply bookmarking service would be good but where it truly shines is the whole area of annotating the web. Adding notes, highlights, building lists, summarizing the important are great features that put this service way ahead of others.

As this is online service it’s accessible anywhere you have access to internet. Also each mobile platform (Androind, iOS) has it’s own client and I must say using Diigo on a device like an iPad must be fantastic.

Lastly I’m always wary of being locked in a proprietary format with no way if exporting information. This was one of the main reasons why I didn’t use any online bookmarking service. Having all links in my browser was the safest option. Fortunately Diiggo is not locking me in. There are multiple options of exporting data your have created. Everything starting from bookmarks to annotations and highlights can be exported in text friendly format.

[Note: All opinions are my own, I’m not affiliated with Diigo in anyway nor received any compensation for this post. I’m very happy user of the service and wanted to share my experiences.]