This is a guest post by Martijn Engler. I’ve had contact with Martijn for a while now and I think he is doing a great job at what he is doing. Martijn is (as I am) a young, Dutch guy. Martijn calls himself anΒ ‘Apple Coach’ and he gives training in how to work (way) smarter with all the technology. Enter Martijn:

First of all: it’s been some time since I’ve been in college, so maybe I’m not as up-to-date as Stefan is, but believe me – I’ve been there. And while I was there, and especially through my business at Apple Coach, I think I’ve picked up a few tricks. One of them I want to share with you today: how to organize your files.

The reason I want to talk about this is actually very simple: lots of students (and people in generally, really) struggle with this. They switch between using thousands of subfolders, to dumping everything in
just one folder – and losing every file they ever created in the process – and never really quite get that “perfect” structure going.

And that really sucks, because I know all of you do lots of great work for your study, and it would be a shame if you lost that work just because you didn’t organize your files the right way.

So, today I’m going to teach you a simple, but powerful structure to never lose a file again. How? With just seven folders and an awesome service called Dropbox.

Dropbox

Let’s start with Dropbox: a service to easily share and backup your files. It’s free for 2GB (2.25GB if you use the link in this post) and you can get 250MB for free for every person you refer to them. This can go up to 8GB.

If you need more space you can always buy more, for example 50GB or 100GB storage.

Using all this space you automatically sync your files to the internet and, if you want, to your other devices. The process is really simple:

  1. Install the Dropbox-program on your computer
  2. Place files in the Dropbox-folder
  3. Watch in awe when you go to Dropbox.com and see your files over there
  4. Install it on another computer (your desktop, laptop) or even iPhone, BlackBerry or Android phone!
  5. Edit files on whatever device you like, save ’em in Dropbox and see everything sync without any problems

This means you can use a desktop computer and laptop without the typical problem “aaah! that file is on my computer at home”-problem when you’re in class and only have your laptop.

The Folder Structure

On to the folder structure. Using the following seven folders you’ll never lose a file and always know where to find what you’re looking for:

Archive

Everything you’re not actively working on (assignments you’ve turned in already, stuff you don’t need to work on anymore, projects from last year etc.) goes in here. It’s probably a good thing to keep these files around, since you might need them or can use them in following years. But you don’t want them to clutter up your active files (those go in Documents), so it’s a good idea to keep them here.

Using Spotlight (Mac) or Google Desktop Search you can still quickly find files in your archive, so you never have to worry about losing a file in here again.

Backup

Of course you’re doing your backups automatically ;-), but there’re still times when you need to do a quick manual backup or export of a file. Typical examples are exporting to a different format or making an extra backup before doing something potentially stupid. You can clean out this folder from time to time by removing things older than 2-4 weeks.

Documents

This is your “active projects”-folder. All the papers you have to write, the research reports you’re doing and other assignments go here. Just create one folder per project and leave it there. This way
you can easily find your files without going through levels and levels of subfolders, but still have some sense of organization.

Best of both worlds if you ask me. πŸ˜‰

Inbox

The inbox is like your email inbox, something I’ve written about a lot in Dutch in my “lege inbox”-serie (empty inbox series): the place where every file comes in. Set it as your download folder, use it as a place to store new files, funny videos you get in you e-mail etc.

Process this folder once a week and make sure it’s empty. For the record: empty means no files, not “just five files left to process”. Really make sure you get it to zero at least once a week. Sunday is a perfect day for that, because it means you start your week with a clean folder. Another option might be Friday, so you really end your week knowing all files are in the right place. In the end it doesn’t really matter which one you choose, as long as you stick with your schedule.

Media

Oh, this one rocks. It’s the videos, music, pictures and all the other media fun stuff for you ‘free hours’! I like to subdivide this one into the before mentioned sections: music, pictures and video. I think those names speak for themselves, so I’m not going into that.

Since I use iTunes for my music needs (Dutch article about iTunes here) I just let that organize my folders (I wrote another Dutch article about
that: iTunes: je bestanden laten beheren door iTunes), but you can use whatever you like. Just let your music player (iTunes, WinAmp, Foobar, whatever you like) manage the music.

Public (Dropbox only)

This is a special Dropbox folder where you can put all of your files and folders to share with the world. Let’s say, for example, you’ve written a great essay about puppies.

Now, since everybody loves puppies, you might want to share this article with the rest of the internet population. A great and easy way of doing that is using the Public folder of Dropbox. Any
file you put in here will be on the internet automatically.

You can use the “Copy public link”-option in Dropbox and share it on Twitter, in an email to friends or even send it to a teacher for review.

Shared (Dropbox only)

There are files you don’t want to share with everyone, but might want to share with your buddies or co-workers. That’s why Dropbox gives you the option to share folders with other Dropbox-users. These folders automatically sync to their devices, so any files you put in there will be made available to them automatically.

You can use this to work on a project together or share movies, music and other stuff. You should, of course, not use this to share copyrighted materials, but that’s a whole other story. πŸ˜‰

Grouping these folders in a separate Shared-folder groups them nicely together, which also helps to identify which folders are using too much space on your drive / account so you can opt-out of sharing
those.

Conclusion

Okay, that’s it! Using the folder structure I described, preferably combined with Dropbox, you’ll have everything you need to never lose a file again. For those of you who are going to try this: I’d love to
hear how this works out for you!

For those of you who don’t: why not? What’s holding you back? Do you already have a system, maybe? If that’s the case – or any other reason – I would love to hear from you guys too!

Just post in the comments, and I’ll be sure to reply to every question I get here!

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