I’ve always been great at starting things (terrible at finishing, but that’s another post), so I’ve always had a bunch of on-going projects. Since deciding to start a business this has only become worse. I think I have files for four or five of my own projects, two or three involving friendly collaborations, and now several for clients and potential clients. My usual desk pile of random notes, printouts and doodles was not going to cut it.
Physical file organisation
First I tried in-trays. It seemed so business-like! I was properly chuffed with myself. Only it didn’t work too well, as the stuff at the bottom just seemed to get buried or avoided.
My current solution is magazine files. This keeps all the folders right there in front of me so I can see all of them at once, and nothing seems more prioritised than anything else. It has also enabled me to split projects into categories, so Writing has a file of its own, and Client Projects and Personal/Collaborative Projects take up two more.
As for storing individual project material, I tried the manilla folder approach at first because I wanted to save money, but it was awful. Things were ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and so things got forgotten about, or I would find myself opening up all the folders trying to remind myself which project was where. It also made banking a nightmare, as all the paperwork was mixed in together, so if I wanted to find the pin number reminder I had to work through a pile of loose paper statements, receipts and back of envelope projections until I found what I wanted.
Then I got clear plastic folders for everything. Man, they were so much better! Now I could see easily what was in each one. I’m a very visually motivated person too, so my eventual goal is to print a nice colour front page for each folder to easily identify the project. As most of my work involves graphics of some kind, and I love typography, I find this fun and motivational – I just need to be careful not to let it become a time-suck which distracts me from the actual work.
Finally, I realised that larger things like banking needed an actual ring binder. I took a lesson from my manilla folder experience, however, and bought the more expensive ones made of sturdy clear plastic. I fitted the spines out with custom designed images reminding me of the contents. Now I know exactly which folder is for banking, and I smile when I lift it and see how tidy and pretty it is.
Digital file organisation
Of course, this doesn’t account for projects which are mostly electronic, and at the very least every one that involves code is naturally going to be. I’ve been caught out a few times over the last year in a situation where the machine I had in the location I was in did not have the latest version of the code or document I needed. This is an enormous productivity suck, and can clash heavily with your personal plans if you need to be in one town for an event later that night or the next day, but your work is in another location.
For code, using a repository which you can access from anywhere and which always maintains the latest version is just good practice, so BitBucket was a no-brainer.
Dropbox fulfills the other side of things: I create a folder for every single project, even if it is only a collection of ideas and initial research. Then I put everything in there – images, paperwork, random notes from napkins, everything. This means two things. One, I can get rid of a lot of the random paperwork generated by my compulsive note-taking by collating it in one place. Two, I don’t have to be in the situation any more where I am talking to someone about an idea and am not able to show them the graphics, or the research I have so far, or whatever. You can log in to DropBox from any device with internet access, it doesn’t even have to be your own.
Another advantage to both of these tools is that they make it really easy to share the entire project with your collaborators.
So now, when I get stuck in a hotel, or at my boyfriends house, or at a cafe with a friend, I can always access my work. It has taken so much pressure away, and means I can work from almost anywhere. The feeling of liberation, and of being able to get work done when the urge strikes without any obstacles, is great.
Being more organised and thinking consciously about enabling remote working has helped me so much. I’ll go into more detail in a later post about how important it is to mind your mental state if you want to make progress, but this is a great example of that in action. The flipside is that you are making it too easy to become a workaholic. Just because you can work on the train, doesn’t mean you should!