Coordinating Your Online and Offline Files

Coordinating your organizing systems to easily find offline and virtual resources easily.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #12


Today's topic is coordinating your online and offline files.

Rob writes in asking:

What tips do you recommend for coordinating e-mail, Word and hard files, which all contain different documents on the same topic -- the problem of this part of the century?

The quick and dirty tip is to design an explicit folder structure and duplicate it in e-mail, physical files, and computer file folders.

Create a Universal Folder Structure

I was a really strange kid. I dreamed of painting an image of the view through my bedroom window on the bedroom window shade. Then the shade could be up or down and I'd get the same view. Who ever thought these childhood neuroses would become a personal management asset? Because the best way to coordinate your online and offline files is to use the same folder structure everywhere. For this to work, you need a filing structure (at least for your shared files) that's easy to maintain and duplicate on the fly. If you haven't listened to my podcast on how to label and retrieve your files, this is the time. When you're a file-naming pro, it's like buttah to create new files on the fly and know just where they'll go.

Here's how mine works: let's say Gloria Worthaton, CEO of EnormaCorp, e-mails, is asking me to run a session for her company at a resort on her private island (in my dreams... If Gloria really exists and you know her, please send her this podcast). I create a proposal in Pages (the Mac word processor). Gloria's assistant's assistant's assistant prints it out. Gloria signs it, and faxes it back. Then she sends e-mail addresses of people for me to interview beforehand. I arrange phone interviews via e-mail and take notes on paper. Whew! That's a lot. We've got computer files: the proposal. We've got e-mails from Gloria and her peeps. And we have a physical file with the signed contract. ... then we have nightmares where we have four arms, sixteen hands, and three eyeballs. My sanity demanded it: I re-organized all my files consistently.

File With Consistency

I have a master category called CLIENTS. Each client has its own file within the CLIENTS area. When Gloria e-mailed, I immediately created a folder called "Gloria Worthaton" inside my e-mail program CLIENTS folder. And poof, with a simple drag-and-drop, I filed her e-mail there. That's also where the phone interview e-mails went. When saving the Pages proposal on my hard drive, I created a folder "Gloria Worthaton" inside the CLIENTS folder in my Documents folder. The Pages proposal, the PDF file, everything in file form went right into that folder.

Finally, when the paper fax arrived (and who uses paper any more?), I created a paper file folder labeled "CLIENTS - Gloria Worthaton" and put the single piece of paper in that file. Then I filed it under C for CLIENTS. I used to feel guilty about using a whole file for a single piece of paper, but then one day I bought some Tasty Puffs Cereal. I brought it home in a shopping bag. Inside the shopping bag was the Cocoa Puffs box. Inside the box was another bag. Inside that bag was the cereal. Compared to Tasty Puffs, one file folder for one piece of paper positively shines as a model of environmental responsibility. Grammar Girl tells me cereal packaging is a low bar for environmentalism, but I digress.

My system works for everything, but only because the filing system is simple and consistent. No matter how I get client-related information, I know how to create the right file for the client. Here is how my files are set up. Remember that I'm self-employed, so this scheme may not apply if your situation is different.

Create Master Categories and Go From There

I have six master categories: CLIENTS, LEGAL, FINANCE, HEALTH, HOME, and REFERENCE. Under CLIENTS, I have a folder for each client. Under LEGAL, I have contracts. Under FINANCE are my 401(k) and incoming/outgoing invoices. HEALTH includes my insurance and medical records. HOME is for receipts for when that new washer and dryer break. Lastly, REFERENCE is everything else, for example, plans for workshops I've run. Here's a PDF that lays all this out. Feel free to send me supportive, encouraging feedback about my drawing skills I can file in HEALTH, subfile MENTAL HEALTH, subfile, PROOF I'M WORTHWHILE, AFTER ALL.

This system is simple enough so I can always create a new file quickly and put it where it needs to go. I create the file on my computer, in my e-mail, or in my paper file, as needed. Since the system is simple and logical, it takes almost no effort to know where to put a file to keep my online files and folders consistent with the rest of my life.

By the way, as a teaser, let me point out that in my office, I file the paper contract in two files, the CLIENTS folder for Gloria and also my LEGAL / CONTRACTS folder. I'll tell you how to pull off this trick in a future episode.

To recap: keep your files in sync by creating the exact same folder hierarchy everywhere in your life. Make it simple enough that you can quickly create new files in the right place, and you'll tend to know exactly where to put each incoming file.

If you have questions for Stever about how to Work Less and Do More, e-mail them to getitdone@quickanddirtytips.com, or leave voicemail at 866-wrk-less

Work less, do more, and have a great life!

http://www.steverrobbins.com/getitdoneguy/12-virtual-folders.htm - template with sample folder hierarchy

Files image courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.