Storage

How do you organise your personal information across mediums and platforms? I offer a technique for keeping information organised while benefiting from using the best medium for the job.

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Audio

I would like to share with you a technique for organising information.

We are bombarded with information in today’s age. There are a lot of different pieces of data – documents, images, videos – all kinds of information and media that we need to somehow store and organise. And it’s important, when we organise it, that it’s structured in such a way that we can access what we need when we need it. There’s no use having gigabytes of recordings if you can’t quickly find and access the one 5-minute clip that you need, at the time you need it.

So we have all this different information in some form or another. And then we have multiple storage mediums. We have our solid-state drive on our computer. We have USB drives, which we can plug in, to either our own computer or another person’s computer or another device. And then we have cloud storage – services such as Google Drive and DropBox – where we can upload things to the cloud and then access them on the cloud, perhaps on our mobile phone or tablet. And we also have, more recently, some peer-to-peer systems, such as Resilio Sync, where you can sync directly between different devices, bypassing the cloud.

With both varying information and varying mediums for storing it, it can get quite confusing and messy. How do we organise all of this seeming chaos?

The technique that I’ve found useful is based on using a “schema”. I use the schema above to organise all the information I need to story across my life. For example, anything related to travel is stored in a “Travel” folder. And under that folder, there are subfolders for each trip I take. So if I take a trip to Europe, there’s a subfolder called “Europe” and so on. And there are other folders. Financial information goes into a “Financial” folder. Movies go into a “Movies” folder. And so on.

The schema is simply a set of folder names. For example:

  • Financial
  • Movies
  • Travel

If I want to access my personal budget, I might store it in the cloud, so that I can get to it when we need it, either on our mobile when at the shops or on a tablet device or on the computer.

Whereas if I have something a bit more sensitive, say financial documents, I might store those somewhere that’s not up in the cloud and not easily accessible, perhaps just on my local drive.

And then maybe I have very large files, such as movie files, and don’t want to store them in the cloud because it would take too long to upload and download them. So I might want to keep them on a USB drive, because then it will be fast to transfer them to someone else’s computer for viewing.

Based on the schema above, I can store my files in a folder structure that is consistent across any medium. So if I need to store a movie on a USB drive, I make sure to put it in a “Movies” folder on the USB drive. If I need to store a piece of financial data on a USB drive, I put it in a “Financial” folder. But if I need to store, say, a piece of financial information on the cloud, then I go into, say, Google Drive, and I store that information in a “Financial” folder on Google Drive.

Schema

Notice what’s the same across all my mediums? Yes, it’s the naming and organisation of the folders. So I’ve kept the naming and hierarchy of the folders the same across all mediums. But that doesn’t mean all the mediums contain all of my data. So my USB drive might not have a Travel folder, whereas one of my cloud accounts does. But overall, if I need to find any travel information, whatever medium it’s on, I know where to look. It’s going to be in a “Travel” folder.

And I have these folders – around 8-9 at the top-level so far – and I’ve built them up gradually over time. I started with about 2-3 folders and now it’s up to 8-9. And I’m trying to keep it under a limit. But as I do this over time, I’m starting to kind of memorise what the folder names are. It’s all in my head. So it’s very easy for me to find what I want. If I need to find a scan of my passport, to upload somewhere, I’ll generally know to look under “Travel/Passport”. I might search one or two locations, like say first my USB drive and DropBox, but I’ll be pretty quickly able to narrow it down and find it.

So over time, following this method, you get the best of both worlds: you can keep things in a logical, findable structure, but also keep them on the medium that’s most appropriate and/or easiest to access.

Runway

Ever started on a new project with a new team, and not quite known where to begin? Writers call it “blank page syndrome” or “writers block”. Teams can experience this too – people throw around lots of ideas and there’s confusion and conflict, or people are “paralysed” and don’t do anything and nothing happens. This episode presents the idea of a “runway” – that is, setting up a structure merely for the sake of getting the team moving.

Audio

Have you ever heard the expression, often used by writers, “writers block” or “blank page syndrome”? We know what they mean. They don’t know where to start. They might have a large body of knowledge in their head or a lot of ideas floating around, and there’s definitely something they want to achieve, but they don’t know where to begin with it.

Musicians get this too, but then, they have this thing called “the muse”, which comes and gives them inspiration, so they can write their symphony or concerto, or play their violin.

I’ve seen the same thing happen with teams, not just one person, where we might have a goal, say a project. We have a plan, we have strategy and structure and everything should just get going, right? And we have that empty folder or empty Git repository or CMS. And we don’t know where to get started. And I’ve seen this happen with teams, where there’s lots of different ideas being thrown around. Some people say we should go minimal. Don’t repeat yourself. Then you have other people who are interested in a particular framework or methodology. So there’s a lot of discussion and debate within the team about where to get started.

What do we do as technology teams just getting started? What gets us going?

What I’ve found useful in a situation like this, at least one time, was to just start and create a structure. And you might ask, “how did you know what kind of structure to create?” My answer is, the problem at the time wasn’t that we needed a solution or structure or architecture that satisfies the project needs. Because that’s impossible. We don’t know what the solution will look like until we flesh it out in code or design. What we actually needed at that point was something to just get people started. That was its only purpose. A structure whose only purpose was to be something that people could bounce off.

You know how an aeroplane needs a big long runway to take off. But the runway isn’t where the aeroplane is heading. The aeroplane will be in a completely different place once it gets off the ground. And yet it does need that runway. It needs something to roll along and kick off from, in order to get into the sky.

And developers, designers, whoever’s working on your project may just need a runway. And it may be a completely incorrect structure. For example, I might set up a folder structure of, say, “cats”, “dogs” and “emus”. But what we’re actually going to solve by the . end of the project is a grouping of different kinds of shapes or sizes of animals. But if we start off with that incorrect structure, it gives the team something to look at and bounce off. And that gets the energy going. See if you’re just being greeted by an empty folder or very minimal attempts at structure, people don’t know anywhere to begin because theres nothing much there. But if you set up an incorrect structure, or a correct one for that matter, people have something to look at and then they have something to either critique or to go along and agree with.

So you start with ‘”cats”, “dogs” and “emus” and someone says, hey I think we should start to group cats and dogs together because they’re a similar size and we should put elephants in another folder, and we should put emus in a separate folder because they’re kind of weird. And what you’ll end up with is a new structure. And gradually over time, the structure will change to what it has to be. So it might start out as one thing and end up being something totally different.

We have to remember that this is code, this is software. It’s ethereal. It doesn’t have a physical existence like say a building does. And so by just having something there to start developers off with, to start designers, to start a team with, just a “runway” like this can get you going.