How do I Manage my Stuff and Keep Sanity
January 04, 2015

Have you ever had a problem, when all things around you seem to be somehow unordered, messed up a bit, or even chaotic? Have you felt that you are doing something wrong when saving your files, links, images, projects or notes? Have you ever had a feeling that everything of the above could be done in a different, more efficient and more organized way? Well, I did. Actually, not even once. Many times in many different things, I failed to organize them in a convenient and an easy to access way. But with years of practice and work, the more experienced I became, the more changes I have made in the little systems, that helped me to keep my stuff safe and ordered. The systems have changed and evolved quite a few times, but now it seems to me, they have been quite stable and robust for a few years now.

File System

I never name files in a language, other than English, or in any character set, other than Latin. Naming files in Cyrillic, for example, can cause real pain, when copying your files to another system, where Cyrillic isn’t present at all.

I never use a space in file and folder names. When there is a word separation needed, I use a period instead. Spaces can be dreadful, when uploading you files for web: some programs replace the spaces with dashes or other characters. I’ve also tried to separate the words with underscores or dashes, but an underscore seemed to take too much space (being too long), and a dash seemed to me as a bad visual separator. So I sticked to the period, as it was short, visually pleasing and is used in the system anyways, to indicate the file extension. 

The last rule, that I follow, is to name all files and folders only with lowercase characters. On Windows system a folder named “Splendid” and a folder named “splendid” is the same, but on Linux, it’s a completely different folder.

My three rules of naming my files and folders, again: never name files in any language other than English; never use space in file and folder names; always use only lowercase characters in names.

Dropbox

All praise the great and mighty Dropbox! Seriously. This thing can be easily nominated for the idea of the century. Well, keeping files in the cloud, is a great idea by itself, but Dropbox does it on an absolutely higher quality level than others. One of the most useful things, that Dropbox does especially good is keeping previous versions of you documents. This has been a lifesaver so many times now. The Photoshop file got corrupt? No problem, just download its previous version and keep working. You accidentally deleted an image from the project? No problem, Dropbox still has the copy. You did a change in the code, and can’t remember where it was? No problem, just download the other version and compare them.

Inside my Dropbox main directory, I have a few folders only. I keep my programs, that I need on my home PC and on work in the programs folder; the public folder is for sharing projects with clients, or making some personal stuff available for public, this folder is also synced with my personal server, so everything uploaded there is automatically mirrored on the server. 

One of the most useful things, that Dropbox does especially good is keeping previous versions of you documents. This has been a lifesaver for so many times now.

The resources folder is for keeping templates, icons and mock-ups; all screenshots made with Greenshot app (the best screenshot app I could find), are uploaded to Imgur, and also mirrored to the screenshots folder. The share folder is for sharing stuff between my co-workers. The setup of the www folder probably deserves a whole article by itself — I keep my local server and database there, so I can work on my website projects and sync them between different devices.

The work folder deserves the most attention here. Each of my work projects gets a separate folder and is saved into the work folder. Each project is structured, as shown on the picture above. All the design source files are saved in the design folder; the documents regarding the project brief, client data and legal stuff are in the info folder; website HTML, JavaScript and CSS work is in the html folder; moodboard folder is for keeping inspirational stuff (UI/UX ideas, screenshots, stock photos); and the wireframes folder speaks for itself.

Evernote

One day I realized, that there are too many bookmarks in my Chrome bookmarks bar. Looking for other ways for keeping my useful stuff and links, I stumbled upon Evernote.

Evernote is perfect for keeping tons of different stuff, that you think can be useful one day (but probably, won’t). The main rule, that I follow, when saving my stuff to Evernote, is: “Tag it!” I use only a few folders (because the number of folders is limited and one note can be only in one folder at a time), that indicate the action, that needs to be done, regarding the saved note (read, watch, buy...) If no action is needed, and I just want to keep the note for future, better times, I save it to keep notebook. If I can’t figure the action right away, I just save the note to .sort. If I want to keep a note only for a few minutes, I save it to remove.

I use a whole bunch of tags (because tags are nearly unlimited). Evernote allows me to keep all my tags structured in a tree-like structure, so I can easily navigate through them. When saving a new note, I usually apply few tags to it, so it can be easily found in the future. The main rule is to add a type tag as long as a category tag (or few) too. In the future, the type tag will help to find the right content type (an article, image, bookmark or event), and other tags help to find the right context.

For example, if I’m adding an article about the golden ratio, I’m going to add an article type tag and a theory context tag. Later, by just selecting the article and the theory tag, I can easily find all articles about design theory.

I save everything to Evernote: UI/UX ideas; website screenshots; my thoughts; useful bookmarks; different “TOP-10” lists; events and much more. If tagged properly, all this content can be found easily and quickly, and can be really helpful, when designing, planning, looking for inspiration or just keeping stuff safe.

Flickr

One day, my hard drive went insane. It would not boot, whatever I would do. I googled and tried to repair it somehow with some weird pieces of recovery software. But nothing helped there. I could access the info on it, but I couldn’t boot from it. Well, the only one option there was to buy a new hard drive. But at that point I suddenly realized, that gigabytes of my personal data were on that disk, and, the biggest part of that were photos. I already used Dropbox at that time, so I wasn’t worried much about my projects and work data, but to recover my photos was a priority thing to me.

Inserting a disc into my PC, then waiting until it loads, then opening a photo, then waiting until the next photo loads — all of that is the best discouraging for watching photos you ever wanted.

The only option I saw at that time, was to burn all the photos on DVDs. So I bought DVDs. A lot DVDs (I had over 80 Gb of photos at that time). As turned out, burning photos to discs is a tedious and long process, it took me around two days of my time. But now my photos are safe, nothing can happen with a DVD: it can’t crash, it doesn’t need to boot, everything’s fine. Or not? Well, as turned out, I was wrong. Some of the DVDs got lost, some got scratched and were nonfunctional, some took an eternity to load... And the main problem in that all was that I never got even a slightest desire to actually see the photos. Inserting a disc into my PC, then waiting until it loads, then opening a photo, then waiting until the next photo loads — all of that is the best discouraging for watching photos you ever wanted.

Copying the photos to the new hard drive wasn’t an option, as I wouldn’t want them to take so much space on it. So I started looking for other options. All the cloud storage services offered around 10 Gb of space in average, and that was not even close to what I needed. But then, I suddenly found Flickr. The guys offered 1 Tb of space! That was amazing, and exactly what I was looking for.

From that day I keep all my photos, personal and working, on Flickr. All my private photos are hidden from others, so no one except me can access them. I also keep here all free photos, that I can find on the internet, building my own little stock library. Websites like Unsplash, Picjumbo, Death to the Stock Photo offer high quality free photos each week. I try to tag them (I have a lot of tags in Flickr, really a lot) and to put them into different thematic folders, so they can be found easily in the future. The main rule here is to apply as many tags relevant to the photo as possible, so the photo can be found easily by just searching for one of them. The naming is also important: I try to describe what’s on the photo with 6-10 words (e.g. “Hand Holding a Pink Donut in Front of a Brick Wall), the same way as the guys on regular stocks do.

Overall, the main goal for me, when organizing all my stuff, is to easily find what I am looking for, and these systems above are really helping me to accomplish that. And how do you manage your stuff?

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