Improving Your Digital Organisation

I hate mess.

Mess slows me down. Untidiness is something that I loathe, yet I can’t always find the motivation to tidy up. I like it when everything is neat and in its place, but it often feels like too much of a chore to put things where they should be. Bank statements, utility bills, and pay slips had been building up on my desk for some time before I decided to do something about it. The final straw was when I had to do my tax return and I couldn’t find my latest P60 (I’m both employed and self-employed). It was then I realised I needed to improve my organisation skills.
It was a kick up the backside, and got me to make a change.

My physical surroundings and my digital space (files, folders, etc.) are fairly similar in regards to the mess that accumulates, and how I deal with it. I have cupboards and draws next to my desk to keep all my spare camera gear and batteries, photo papers, envelopes and stamps, blank DVDs, and so on. On my computer, I have my files various folders and sub-folders in a hierarchical filing system.


Digital Organisation and Filing

I’d argue that one of the most important elements of organisation is filing. Tidying up your folders is a worthwhile time investment if you wish to keep your files easy to locate. I find that limiting directories to 5-10 sub-folders each is helpful, as more than 10 folders makes it too difficult to find anything. There is only so much you can sort through at any one time, and being presented with a hundred folders is just too much information to process. If each of your folders contains 10 subfolders, then each level down you go, you should increase your filing capacity by an order of magnitude. I try to keep less that around 20-50 files per folder.

I do not use the Windows filing system of My Documents, Downloads, Pictures, etc… My filing system has main directories in a folder under my main drive, D:\. Each folder has sub-folders, sub-sub-folders, etc. So if I need to get to a vector graphic I created of the Empire State Building, I can find it in D:\Graphics\Vector Graphics\Photo Based.

Directory Sub-folders Files Size (GB) Average files per folder
Blog 5 47 0.3 9
Music 1,486 9,712 57.4 7
Contracts 440 19,746 144 45
Fitness 43 723 127 17
Flat 53 1,061 7.3 20
Graphics 199 3,457 14.6 17
Photos 327 6,659 41.6 20
Portfolio 200 2,628 7.8 13
Stuff 484 10,204 6.5 21
Total 3237 54,237 406  
Average 359 6,026 45.1 19


Work in Progress

One strategy I find very useful is having a go to folder for all my work-in-progress, and having this folder load when my computer starts up. The title of this folder is ‘New Art’. An important thing to remember is to not keep too many files in that folder – only those you are actively working on (or intend to work on in the very near future). The more items in that folder, the more divided between them your attention becomes. When presented with three items, you’ll likely work on one of them – however, if confronted with thirty possible things to work on, it can take a while to choose which one is deserving of your time. The best way around procrastination is not to confront yourself with so much every time you start your computer.
Try archiving off all the photos/artwork that you intend to get around to at a later date, but aren’t a priority for now. I have a folder called ‘Not Important’ for this stuff. You can now focus your attention on the few pieces that you really want to finish.


To Do Lists

Check lists are invaluable for productivity. I don’t even really like that word. It’s nice when you can say ‘I’ve been productive today’, but otherwise employing productivity methods feels a bit too much as if you’re treating a creative process as ‘work’.
Here’s the truth – creating is work.

However, it can be less of a chore and more enjoyable with the right approach to workflow management. The way you work may not have changed in years, and you’ll be surprised at how a small tweak here and there – such as prioritising future tasks in a to do list – can help. As with my work-in-progress folder, having a To Do list that automatically pops up during start-up helps a lot. I have ‘Graphic Ideas and ‘Blog Ideas’ notes on my phone that I add to whenever I think of something. That way, none of my ideas ever go to waste. Whether they are good ideas or not gets determined in due course, but at least I don’t forget them. Inspiration can strike anytime, and anywhere, so it’s fortunate that 99% of the time I have my phone with me.
I was very productive while trying to write this post – my procrastination led me to brainstorm a whole load of new topics for other blog posts, as well as fleshing out others I’d partly written. Procrastination is not necessarily a bad thing – it’s what you do while you procrastinate that counts. Having a document with all my part-written ideas in it helped me to just get typing, adding more and more until bullet points became paragraphs, which in turn became fully explored topics.
If you find you keep putting things off when you know you really should be getting on with them, take a look at Tim Urban’s article on Wait But Why about why procrastinators procrastinate, as well as his TED talk.

While I will readily admit that there’s nothing ground-breaking in what I have written in this blog post, I hope that it has given you a few new ideas or reminded you of things you knew already but had stopped putting into practice. At the very least, I hope you now have some motivation to get a little more organised. Whatever you do – go create something you can be proud of. I wish you well.

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