File Systems for Newbies … Getting a Handle on File Systems Through the Use of the “Flow” Strategy.

August 7, 2007


You’re not likely to have everything figured out your first day on the job … So use the “flow” strategy to get you through in the meantime.

Occasionally, I work with clients that are brand new to an organization. Without a doubt, the most common question newbies ask is “what kind of file structure should I have?” I think it shocks them when I shrug my shoulders and tell them, “Beats me.” But that’s the most honest answer I could give. You see, the hard part about being new to an organization is that you don’t have any idea what you’re going to need to keep. So how would you know how to keep it?

What I usually recommend is for them to use the “flow” strategy to help determine the best file structure for their needs. Basically, the flow strategy asserts that we should allow the flow of information help us determine how to organize it. Since new folks have no clue as to what’s coming their way,or what they should keep … there’s no way they could create a detailed file structure on their first day on the job. So I recommend, don’t even try!

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Instead, if you’re a newbie, create three “general reference” folders (all three should be labeled, “General Reference”):

1) one for email

2) one for computer desktop files

3) one for paper files (hanging type folder)

As you come across information that you think might be useful in the future, file it into the appropriate “general reference” folder. Next, and most importantly, after several weeks you need to open each general reference folder and evaluate its contents. Asking, “How many times have I referenced this information since filing it?” Five to one, you will not have looked at it once. In that case, simply leave it in the general reference folder (for now - save the purging for when you have a better handle on what to keep).

If you regularly referenced a certain kind of item, and now have 10 or more related items. Separate them out into their own folder. However, be cautious! It’s better to have fewer, well thought out folders then fifty random folders. You’d be surprised how often I work with clients that have ten folders that each contains only 3 items and an eleventh folder has 103. If you don’t have at least 10 to group, leave them in the “general reference” folder.

A final note, please don’t allow your “general reference” folder to become a “miscellaneous” folder. The subtle, but important difference is that you should be much choosier in what makes it into the “general reference” folder. Also, in order for the flow strategy to work, you have to regularly be monitoring and reevaluating your “general reference” folders, looking for things to group, or eventually purge.

Welcome newbies, and remember it’s impossible to know everything the first day, and that includes what to keep and how to keep it. So, in the mean time, apply the “flow” strategy by:

1. Gathering everything in “general reference” folds
2. Evaluating after a few weeks
3. Regrouping, and relocating as needed

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