I keep a lot of files in a lot of folders, but I’m inconsistent in how I organize them. This means I too frequently have trouble finding things, so I’ve made another attempt at fixing the problem.
I’ve tried all the popular “systems”. From PARA to ACCESS to Johnny Decimal, but everything has felt either too prescriptive or too loose. And they all felt like I was living in someone else’s space. I don’t want to memorize or check the “rulebook” to figure out where I should put something.
The systems that work best for me are the ones that fit my brain naturally. My brain works with digital files the same way it works with physical files. It likes folders. I use five six top-level buckets:
Inbox – New stuff that needs to be filed. Can come from anywhere, but I know it should be kept and saved somewhere.
Desk – This is where I keep my working files. Current projects, temporary stuff, and anything else I want within easy reach.
File Cabinet – When I’m finished with a project, I move things here. Anything I don’t need day-to-day, but may need to look up reasonably quickly. Recent receipts, software serial numbers, etc.
The Attic – Things I’ll probably not need, but one never knows, so I put them in the Attic. The Attic is for long-term storage of things I want to keep. Tax papers, auto maintenance records for cars I no longer have, etc.
Deep Space – This is new. Deep Space is where I put things I’m sure I’ll never need but can’t bring myself to throw away. My gas bill from 2007? It’s waiting out there in Deep Space. A letter I wrote to some company 10 years ago? Same. It’s a just-in-case for just in case.
Library – This is for things other people have written: Blog posts, ebooks, research articles, quotes, clippings, etc.
I keep everything except Deep Space files in DEVONthink. I use three distinct DEVONthink databases: “Jack” (because I couldn’t come up with a better name), which holds my Inbox, Desk, and File Cabinet files. I keep “The Attic” and “Library” as separate libraries because they tend to grow forever and it’s easier to sync, backup, and manage them separately.
Deep Space files are kept in a folder on my Mac Mini file server. Everything is backed up as part of my My Personal Backup System.
Within each of the folders, I use whatever organization scheme that makes sense.
“01 Desk” contains a “Projects” folder and some loose bits I want quick access to.
“02 File Cabinet” uses a simple version of Johnny Decimal, but I break the rules all the time.
“Library” is full of topic-based folders like “Environment”, “Technology”, “Politics”, and “Photography”.
“The Attic” and “Deep Space” are jumbled messes of folders and crap, just like a real attic.
It’s been pointed out that this is very PARA-esque. This is true, there’s a similar “flow” to things. My Archive is deeper, maybe. Maybe I should give it a catchy name and sell courses and ebooks! 😆.
Anyway, this structure is a slightly refined version of what I’ve always done naturally, before getting sucked into “Productivity YouTube”. I’ve formalized it a bit, but it’s what makes sense, so perhaps I’ll stick with it this time.