Folder Naming Take 1

Ben - Wed 31 October 2012 - iCloud, file system

Now I have a blank canvas, let's begin.

Before I look at folder/file naming and organising, I want to look at the file system concept. As I go down this path, I am taking a lot of inspiration from Oliver Reichenstein who develops Ai Writer. Oliver has written a great post on Mountain Lion's New File System over on his blog. He outlines a problem I always have, "where the hell shall I put this file?" and folders inside of folder, that are inside folders issue.

Classic folder systems don't perform too well. One reason is that organizing folders is engaging in the tiring discipline of information architecture. Information architecture is hard brain work. Just like a chess problem, it seems obvious once done, but takes considerable mental energy to figure out a clear and simple information architecture. And mainly, you just don't want to do it all the time.


Folders tend to grow deeper and deeper. As soon as we have more than a handful of notions, or (beware!) more than one hierarchical level of notions, it gets hard for most brains to build a mental model of that information architecture. While it is common to have several hierarchy levels in applications and file systems, they actually don't work very well. We are just not smart enough to deal with notional pyramids. Trying to picture notional systems with several levels is like thinking three moves ahead in chess. Everybody believes that they can, but only a few skilled people really can do it. If you doubt this, prove me wrong by telling me what is in each file menu in your browser...

And I am crap at chess! Heavy folder depth drives me crazy. The idea of a one level document system really resonates with me. I don't think I could quite go for the dump anything loose in your documents folder and search for it approach but limiting my folder depth seems sensible.


Oliver's post is mostly based around his move into using the iCloud Document Library. Currently I don't really use iCloud for much other then backing up my iPhone. I use google for all my email, contact and calendar syncing. I do not own an iPad and I haven't installed iWork on my iPhone so I've never bothered using iCloud for that. But the quote that got me thinking was this:

However, what matters is I don't need to think before putting a file away anymore.

I'm not sure where to start with incorporating iCloud into my workflow but the vision of not having to think about where to store and find a file is very attractive to me. I'm sure it's too good to be true and there are downfalls to it but we are talking about a system that is only just over a year old. Anyway I'm intrigued but I'll leave this for another time.

Where to start

Ok let get back to looking at my Documents folder. How do I achieve a simple file system with limited sub-folders?

Time for some inspiration! Since getting my iPhone around 5 months ago, I've really got back into Podcasting which I hadn't really touched in 3 or 4 years. One Podcast i'm really enjoying is Mikes On Mics with Michael Schechter and Mike Vardy. Beyond the fact that Ale makes everything better, I've been learning a lot of great productivity tips from them. So naturally I went searching through their blogs for inspiration and came back with 2 posts I like. Mike Vardy's How I Organize My Mac and Michael Schechter's nvALT 101.

What I like about Michael's nvALT post is about naming your files, even though the idea is from someone else.

I use a naming convention that is effectively stolen from Merlin Mann (and by that, I mean it is entirely stolen from Merlin Mann). My file names include one of several category keywords, a one-to-five word description (this should be whatever you're most likely to type when searching for this file) and the creation date. I know this sounds confusing, so here are a few of my own examples:

Blogx - Blog Post Title - 11-05-20 
Workx - Any work meeting or writing project - 11-05-20 
Ideax - Actionable idea - 11-05-20 
Thoughtx - Tangent for blog or idea - 11-05-20 
Runx - Running lists of books, unprocessed to-dos, calls, etc (no date)

For those who are wondering why I place the x at the end of the category keyword, it is so that when I search for files, I don't pull up everything that includes that word (another Merlin tip).

I've actually been using this kind of system for a few weeks. This post encouraged me to try out nvALT and this naming system.

I want to couple that naming system with my folder system. In comes the other Mike.

I don't stack too many folders inside of others unless they are warranted, but when you look at the top-level folders in Documents, Music and Pictures on my MacBook Air, you'll see several folders for each project inside. I don't keep one called "Online Writing" and then stack my various folders that contain my contributions to websites inside those. Instead (as you may have noticed above), I simply keep folders called "Posts - " and then add the corresponding website to the folder name so I can know what's what with just a glance. And by using the first portion, I'm able to better narrow down where I have to look in a Finder window to find my drafts for writing online are stored (I simply look for the letter "P" and go from there).


Ok let's pull this together. I'm going to try and split folders up more. For example, before I had a folder called "_Projects" then subfolders that had the project files in it. Now I'm just going to have a top level folder called "projectx - PROJECT NAME". If I want to find all my projects, just a quick search of "projects" will bring them up all.

I've created some text expander snippets to help.

I'm bored of just talking, time to walk the walk. I'll be back once I start adding stuff back to my documents folder.

And so it begins