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Managing material (Support material vs. Reference material)

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  • Managing material (Support material vs. Reference material)

    I’m trying to implement the GTD method since a couple of month already and now I’m at finding the best way to organize my material (both support material and reference material). Most of it are electronic files so for now I would like to focus on electronic files only. I would be glad to get your suggestions/comments about my questions.

    - I use 4 folders (‘Inbox’ / ‘Action’ / ‘Waiting’ / ‘References’) to manage my emails in Outlook. Emails that I want to keep are actually stored within a month folder (e.g. ‘01-jan’) within the ‘References’ folder and they are sorted by sender because I usually remember when and who sent me the email that I need to find.
    -I save all attachments on my hard disk in My Documents. It works OK for me.

    Do you have any suggestion/comment about that workflow ?

    I have 6 folders into ‘My Documents’ (‘Inbox’ / ‘Support Material’ / ‘Reference Material’ / ‘Waiting For’ / ‘Someday’ / ‘To Read’). I often have trouble to determine where to store some material (support vs. references) that are related to projects but that I don’t really need to complete them, let’s see an example.

    In my job we received many letters from the client. Some letters will stay useless for me but I might have to act on some other (if my boss delegate me on it) and there is some that I want to find quickly because they contain information (drawing, client statement, …) related to project I am responsible for and that I might have to look back (e.g. if someone ask me about it).
    I store all letters in the ‘Reference Material’ folder within ‘Letter Client_name’ and they are sorted by letter number. Then, I copy the ones that are related to my main projects in the ‘Support Material’ folder within the ‘Project’ folder relevant.

    Personally I would think it is not effective to copy reference (you wouldn’t do that with paper). Should I remove from the ‘Letter Client_name’ the one that I copied in my ‘Project’ folder? But then if I’m looking for a letter that I only know the number, I’m screwed up because all letters aren’t in the same folder anymore. On top of that I don’t really know if, in my case, it is support material because I don’t need it to complete my project, it is just information that I want handy. I would think that support material are only the files that I create (or modify) + the files that I used for that.

    What would you do ?

    I edit some of my documents quite often and I always save them in a different name (with the date) so after a while I can have a lot of past version of a document. Should I constantly (during Weekly Review) move these old versions somewhere in the ‘References Material’ folder? Or elsewhere (completed / archive project folder) ?

    Some documents are related and useful for completing different projects. Should I copy these documents? Once again I don’t like copying files because then you are never sure to work with the last version of the document.

    How you manage that ?

    I read in a couple of post that it is a best practice to limit the depth of the folder tree to the minimum. I have doubts about it because in my case I can have up to 100 documents for a subsystem (that I keep within /Reference Material/System/Subsystem/Topic/). I could limit the depth by naming my folder System_Subsystem_Topic but then it would become uneasy to find the right folder among the long list of folder (eyes get distracted with too much to read).

    What is your opinion?

    I usually take my meeting notes in a notebook and later process my notes by typing it in an Evernote note that I tag with the project name. I’m having trouble to type my note directly during meetings but I’m trying to work on it.

    Thank you for your time.

  • #2
    Just a short answer (maybe more at a separate time):

    I keep my reference material totally separate from my task management material - different places, different structure, different everything. I do not even want them overly integrated. I want them for very different purposes, fundamentally. For sure there are synergies to be gained by firmer integration/coordination, but I usually get by with just links or similar directions to the reference material if I need it, but usually I have no problem finding what I need in my reference. It gets too complicated for me to even think about how to coordinate it all into one single structure.


    • #3
      Here's my system:
      Folders -Done, Projects, Reference, Review, Tickler, Calendar support. Also a few AOF support folders.
      I use the same folder setup for Outlook and My Documents.
      I also use Onenote with a similar setup to summarise information and keep links, and working notes.

      Project folders have subfolders - #Project, +Done, +Information, then one subfolder per sub project.
      the # and + are used to keep those folders at the top of the list. A sub project could be a meeting, a document review, basically smaller tasks within the same project. When I've completed a subproject it gets moved to the Done folder. The project folder holds discussion notes and emails/documents related to the planning and management of the project. I use information folder to hold project support information.

      Reference folder is for general reference, and may duplicate the project information, but usually doesn't. If I have an active project for stuff then I would preferentially file it there, and when a subproject or project is done but I want to keep the stuff, I would move it to reference then at the end of the project, or just move the whole project to a Done folder.

      Document Version control - I've struggled with these issues too. I've now decided that each version is a subproject, and gets its own subfolder within the project folder. Each version might have several steps (drafting, reviewing, comments), emails for it would get stored in that subproject folder. When that version is finished, the folder gets moved to Done, and I make a new folder for the next version. When the document is finalised, the final version gets stored in Information, and on the company filing system.

      What I like about using a folder for Done items, is that your filing system is not cluttered up by completed stuff, and basically consists of all your active projects and open loops. You get a real clarity about what needs to get done, whilst still keeping the completed stuff as reference within the project.