In Search of a Better Filing System - Vision and Hints at a Breakthrough

So I’m thinking of how to be able to find folders more quickly in my reference system. Most of the files come in from email, are written by others, and I may need to pull them together in a summary document to present up to decision makers. In this context, what does productivity look like to me: it means I can find a document quickly. If I evaluate how things are going with my nested folders based on project name and a couple sub-folders, its a very mixed bag.

My vision is 2-fold:

  • I can find those files quickly to pull them out.
  • Once I pull any file out of any folder to the desktop or current working folder. I can have it automagically go back to where it should be filed.

This will be my current fiddly quest now that I have note-taking basically sorted out. I’ve made a bit of progress on both points just today.

I've been keeping track of how I've been finding and not finding files. Spotlight isn't really cutting it for a lot of cases. If I'm in a crunch, I usually go back to mail. Why? it is because I usually know who sent the file to me and about when they sent it. It turns out that often times, the contents of the file aren't enough for me to narrow the search down. Another problem I have is that I often have several versions of the documents in various stages of preparation (these are usually multiple drafts from multiple contributors) and outright duplicates in the system. This is a sub-problem that I’ll be going after later.

So what was the breakthrough? It involves a mail rule to automatically save attachments to a folder with the name of who sent it to me and Hazel to auto spotlight comment tag the file. Hazel also moves it to my “inbox” folder for further processing. This type of approach has been done before (insert here some of the stuff I found) but not in ways that worked for me (they weren’t simple enough for me). I'll have to extend the auto-tagging to my current nested folder structure and I should be there.

I’m going to have to clean up the script a bit and get some screen shots to illustrate it so that will be another post soon. In the meantime, I thought I would outline my current system in slightly more detail.

My go to setup for a while which has been infinitely better than the past is as follows:

4 main folders:

This set up comes from this post at Lifehacker

  • Now - these are currently active projects (think GTD projects here not my work project codenames).
  • Inbox - these are documents I have to figure out what to do with or need to get parsed into projects or filed.
  • Outbox - this is where stuff gets put to get filed or deleted. I have a large amount of Hazel rules mainly by subject title that move files to the right work based project folder in my last folder.
  • File Cabinet - Things get filed here by project with a couple of sub-folders.

I keep Now, Inbox, and Outbox synced to Box.net so that I have access to these files anywhere.