Digital reference files: how do you approach it?

Discussion in 'PUBLIC: Discuss Tools & Software for GTD' started by GTD123BRO, Mar 29, 2018.

  1. GTD123BRO

    GTD123BRO Registered

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2018
    Messages:
    4
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    1
    Hi all, I'm just getting into GTD and I'm just getting my systems together. Because I travel fairly often, I think digital filing will be, for the most part, what works for me. Cloud based is..ok...but I'm a little security conscious (or paranoid, maybe haha). It's good enough if I just have access to most of my files on my main computer - but I'm open to any suggestions as cloud based is probably the future anyway.

    More so, I'm just wondering what a good way to structure all this is. The GTD book lays out filing methods in the real world but I don't remember it covering much on the digital world.

    How do you manage your digital reference files and make it easy for yourself to find what you need when you need it?

    Thanks!
     
  2. Oogiem

    Oogiem Registered

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2008
    Messages:
    4,471
    Likes Received:
    280
    Trophy Points:
    83
    Gender:
    Female
    There are a number of long posts by me on this subject around on the forum.

    The short form is:

    I am extremely cloud averse. Not just for security but because I live in a rural area which does not always have Internet access. So I do my digital filing almost entirely on my own machines.

    Define a clear naming scheme that is platform independent in case you switch operating systems. (no spaces in file names for example so I could switch to UNIX if necessary.)

    Define the naming system so that looking at a name will get you most of the way to knowing what's inside the folder or the file.

    Standardize how you will use dates if any and what formats keeping in mind how computers sort things. (Most of my date specific items start with a filename of YYYY-MM-DD_<filename>.<suffix>)

    Standardize on a few simple file types. (I use LibreOffice, Scrivener, PDF and AeonTimeline as my main file types.)

    Define a very flat filing system that mimics a flat paper system. (only 1 level of folders in the "File Cabinet")

    Create a folder for current active project support material.

    Decide whether to lump all someday/maybe and waiting for files into the main system or into separate folders.

    Decide what parts of the system need to be mobile. (I use DEVONThink for all electronic filing I need to have with me all the time.)

    Plan for a robust backup system that you also test regularly. (An untested backup is worthless. Make sure you can actually retrieve files from you backup by testing it.)

    Plan for how to review the filing system to remove unneeded files on a regular basis.

    And from experience:

    When switching from whatever you are using now to a more complete and well defined system dump everything into a new folder called backlog and explicitly move files out as you rename them and decide where they should go. I didn't and I'm still weeding out the junk within my otherwise nice clean system.
     
    Marília A and GTD123BRO like this.
  3. sholden

    sholden Registered

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2004
    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    19
    Trophy Points:
    8
    On my work computer I just have a folder called Reference and I dump everything in there and organize that top level folder by year. I find stuff in reference using Search.
     
  4. Jodie E. Francis

    Jodie E. Francis GTD Novice

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2013
    Messages:
    214
    Likes Received:
    75
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Gender:
    Female
    GTD123BRO, I used to use Evernote premium for all project support and reference like web clippings, someday/maybe, journal entries, and digital copies of account statements -- I love the full-text search capability! I used Dropbox for sharing, for photos and for other material that was more logically file-based.

    About a year ago I became quite concerned about the security of the cloud and discovered Sync.com. It is a Canadian service with end-to-end security including while in place, and pricing was comparable (or better) than Dropbox. I've moved out of Dropbox (which is based in the US) and have removed all personal information from Evernote (also based in the US). I still use Evernote for project support & reference, but anything of a personal nature is locked in Sync. Dropbox is used to share files if the other party requests it, otherwise I use Sync sharing (where I can share only with specific people, and set a an expiry date on shared links).

    Sync also does versioning automatically (maybe Dropbox does too, I can't recall). Security features are explained here:
    https://www.sync.com/your-privacy/
    And no, I'm not an affiliate, just a happy customer :)

    As for folder structure, I think it is a matter of personal preference. This is what I use in case it helps:

    Home Business
    <mother-in-law>
    Family
    - Music
    - Software downloads
    - Photos
    - <folders for each year>
    - Annual files
    - <separate folders for each year - easy to delete after 7 years>
    - 2018
    - Pay stubs
    - Investments
    - Statements
    - Confirmations
    - Bills
    - water
    - hydro <etc>
    - Insurance
    - House
    - Car
    - Taxes
    - Reference - short term
    - great for access to vacation-specific info while traveling :)
    - project files could be here instead of my personal area below
    - Reference - long term
    - Personal - DH
    - Personal - Kid 1
    - Personal - Kid 2
    - Personal - Me
    - Project reference
    - Project 1...
    Shared

    Incubate & Someday/Maybe are still in Evernote, in notebooks of that name. I'll probably leave them there, for the full text search.
     
  5. John Ismyname

    John Ismyname Registered

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2017
    Messages:
    84
    Likes Received:
    20
    Trophy Points:
    8
    Gender:
    Male
    Hi Jodie; I am a Canadian too. I have been using an American service called Carbonite, which automatically backs up MOST of my hard drive to the cloud. I use Dropbox and have security concerns. I have maxed out the free space offered. I'm looking to use Sync to sore everything on my hard drive via running a script daily that will do this. Do you use Sync this way?

    P.S. When I checked Sync's web site I was thrilled to see that a co-founder is Thomas Savundra. He use to run a web-hosting company out of his basement when I first started using him as a vendor!
     
  6. TruthWK

    TruthWK Registered

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2018
    Messages:
    20
    Likes Received:
    9
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Gender:
    Male
    I just made a switch in this area today as I realized something. Put this as still in test mode but I'm excited about it. I switched my work system from OneNote to just using....Windows Explorer, Microsoft Office and OneDrive. Of course this would work on a mac as well. I am going to use Google Drive for my personal system when I get a chance to move that. I realized that a few things were bothering me and a new and very simple way to solve them.

    1. Limited and inconsistent hierarchy. In OneNote, Evernote and other apps I've tried, you always have Notebooks, Stacks, Lists, Projects, Sections, Links, etc. I try to limit my hierarchy of things to 3 levels deep but trying to jam this into the above list of elements in different apps was annoying. I realized from rereading the Organize chapter in GTD today that these all can be represented by Folders. David mentioned that all you really need is folders and lists. In the digital world, I started thinking that all I need are folders and lists of folders, which are just folders too. So all I need are folders in that vein.
    2. I wanted to be free to add a bunch of support material to any action, project, waiting for, someday/maybe, etc without them getting lost in the shuffle. My thought process started from realizing that what I really wanted was for each of these categories of stuff to act like a folder where I can place as much as I want in them and anything I want. I can even create multiple subfolders for a project and represent large category filing. If I create a folder for each next action, then a parent folder called Next Actions, when I look in my Next Actions folder I have a list of next actions with the support materials right there. GTD doesn't require fancy due date handling and such. I can just add a Due Date to the Folder name like I would using a plain text list.
    3. I couldn't put anything into a OneNote or Evernote notebook. There would still be a small amount of stuff that didn't fit as well in there like source code, files I receive, PowerPoint Presentations, etc. I thought that I'd love to just have all that reference material in one place. Folders let me do that. I can put any file in a file folder.
    With those problems solved, I thought that there would be a drag with not using a notebook app where switching between pages and sections were quick. I'd have to double click on a file and open it and wait longer for Word or Docs to load it and that would create too much drag in the process. However, after actually trying it, I realized Word only loads slow on the first file. Also, I realized that both Google Drive, OneDrive and Windows (not sure about Mac) let you see a preview image of many files when looking at them. This made it easier to see if a file had what i wanted. You can also set up the view to have a larger preview image show up on the right. This actually made it easier to find something than in a notebook app.

    Anyways, like I said, I'm still testing this but it might work real well and it's also free with Windows and very cheap with Google Drive if I go over my 15 GB. Not a problem with OneNote but I've found myself hitting Evernote's free limit. Also, I don't have to spend money on an expensive to do application. Back in the day, I could spend money and try out new apps. Usually this led me to wasting money because I'd switch so often. Having the constraint of wanting to stick to a budget has made me smarter and more judicious about my system. I've tried my best to capture the simplicity that David Allen talks about where I don't get distracted by something having a bunch of features that can be traps to wasting time. That last point has been important with my personality because I tend to let myself want to play with every little feature and get sidetracked.

    Side Note: Still using Outlook/Gmail for Email. That doesn't really change or I haven't thought of a good way of unifying email/folders yet that works for me.
     
    ontherun likes this.
  7. Jodie E. Francis

    Jodie E. Francis GTD Novice

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2013
    Messages:
    214
    Likes Received:
    75
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Gender:
    Female
    Hi @John Ismyname ,
    I've looked at Carbonite in the past and ultimately decided it wasn't worth the bother. Currently my data is all in the cloud, and apps are either web-based or can be easily re-downloaded by logging in to the provider's web site. So I don't bother with an image backup, and don't have any local data to back up.
    I don't imagine Sync would work too well for that purpose. It may be the encryption, but I find when I'm working on a large file (digital scrapbook) saving directly to Sync, the software hangs waiting for the file to save. One option is to temporarily pause the syncing, which is easy to do. Another is to use a working directory on my PC and copy the file to its proper place in Sync when I finish.
    Incidentally, the effectiveness of this approach was tested recently when I had to re-build my laptop (thank you, Windows Update). It took a couple of hours but wasn't too arduous. Which reminds me, I do need to make a bootable usb stick...
     
  8. John Ismyname

    John Ismyname Registered

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2017
    Messages:
    84
    Likes Received:
    20
    Trophy Points:
    8
    Gender:
    Male
    My beef with Carbonate is that it does not ingeniously back up certain file types (i.e video files). Likewise, native windows does not necessarily copy everything with a copy command. I'm thinking of using a "dropbox like" service - where the interlace is a windows/dos drive and using a DOS command that will copy everything on my main drive to this back-up drive.
     
  9. Oogiem

    Oogiem Registered

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2008
    Messages:
    4,471
    Likes Received:
    280
    Trophy Points:
    83
    Gender:
    Female
    Further update, In addition to my main files on my main computer I have smaller digital files and notes in DEVONThink that I can sync with my mobile devices. The filing system is the same though, very flat and I do not use DT to index files.
     
  10. ontherun

    ontherun GTD Connect

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2015
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    Gender:
    Male
    Just did the same exact thing, and I got more clarity out of it! My mind seems to like it! =)
     
  11. TruthWK

    TruthWK Registered

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2018
    Messages:
    20
    Likes Received:
    9
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Gender:
    Male
    I'm curious what you were using before @ontherun
     
  12. AFG

    AFG Registered

    Joined:
    Sep 12, 2018
    Messages:
    25
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    @TruthWK - amen to "Limited and inconsistent hierarchy. In OneNote, Evernote and other apps I've tried, you always have Notebooks, Stacks, Lists, Projects, Sections, Links, etc."

    This is one of my biggest complaints about such apps. Ironically, at least one of OneNote's predecessors just had folders that could be nested arbitrarily deep, that IIRC mapped 1:1 to filesystem folders/directories. But I was told that naive users found that confusing, so OneNote and EverNote evolved to a metaphor of notebooks, which can be stacked, have sections, etc. But physical notebooks can't have pages aded or moved around = so perhaps their actual metaphor are three ring binders?

    Related: OneNote only allows you to have pages (content, text) in sections. You can't have a "README" page at the top level of a notebook to say what the notebook is about. Section groups cannot have pages, only sections. I have therefore started crteated sections called "README-xxx", which typically only hold one or a few pages of content, the actual README text.

    Damn, I wish that they had stayed with the "folders" metaphor. Physical manila folders can be nested (to a limited extent). You can put explanatory notes on the folder cover, or as a few loose pages in a folder holding other folders. Etc. Even back when I was using paper, I evolved to using manila folders in a filing cabinet, as opposed to notebooks or binders. You can put notebooks or binders in folders, but vice versa not so much.

    Additional wish: I wish that I could set any level of the hierarchy to be peesented vertical or horizontal. E.g. possibly all levels vertically presented. Currently OneNote only presents page names vertically, but insists that sections and section groups be presented horizontally. This may be one reason why they limit the hierarchy.

    --

    As mentioned above, I am currently using OneNote as my "digital filing system".

    I have tried using the filesystem folder / directory structure, as several people on this topic seem to be doing. I don't do that so much now because much of my work involves clippings of arbitrary content, like screen shots of diagrams, clippings of web pages, etc. Just saving a copy of a web page in a filesystem folder is a pain, unless you have the "save as single page" feature in your browser - which for years was available only in Internet Explorer, not Chrome or FireFox.

    More important, when you save an item in the filesystem you have to give it a filename, and it can be a pan to create unique filenames. Dumping clippings on OneNote content pages doesn't require so many names. Similarly, you don't have to unique names for emails in your mailreader's Inbox and archived folders.

    BTW, I also tried using the bookmarks section of my web browser as my GTD filing system.

    So, right now I mostly use OneNote, and probably my saved stuff is 40% text, 40% images, 20% other file types. OneNote can OCR saved screen clippings, allowing searching.

    I use email, and filesystem folders/directories, for additional information. Project support stuff, I believe, is the GTD term.

    I may link from OneNote to a file:// URL, and/or to files in Google Drive. But the problem with such links is that, if the location is changed, the link is usually not updated. (Permalinks?) So I often link to the file, but put a page snipping in OnweNote. Ditto email.
     
  13. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2008
    Messages:
    696
    Likes Received:
    71
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Have you ever looked at Scrivener? I suspect that it would be missing other things that you need, but it might be worth looking at. Its primary use is as a writing app, but:

    - It supports folders nested to an arbitrary depth (there may be a limit but I've never encountered).
    - You can not only name folders but add text to them--that is, to the folder itself, not just to the files that it contains.
    - Folders can contain text files or folders or both, plus you can drag a variety of other file types into the folders or paste them into documents. I've never really made much use of Scrivener's capability for handling non-text files, but I suspect that @Oogiem has.
    - You can view in outline mode and "corkboard" mode (where you can see the text that you added to folders) in addition to the usual hierarchical folders-and-files mode.
    - Edited to add: And you can very easily move things around.

    So while I'm writing my novel in Scrivener, I also have a Scrivener project called "Briefcase" that I use to store a variety of things.

    And it syncs beautifully (at least the text part does; again, limited experience with non-text) to my iPhone.
     
  14. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2008
    Messages:
    696
    Likes Received:
    71
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Y'know...I'm suddenly very seriously considering moving my personal GTD lists--not just the support material, but the lists--into Scrivener. Folders for projects, files for actions, keywords for contexts, Collections for context lists....

    There is no "checkoff"--actions will stay there until I delete or move them. That might drive me crazy.

    And the Search Results view doesn't offer the Folder as a field that can be displayed as a column. Also unfortunate.

    But Scrivener has an illusion of hands-on control that a database-as-database (of course there is a database in Scrivener's innards) doesn't have. That might resolve some hard-to-express frustration I've been having lately with OmniFocus.

    @Oogiem , you're the only person that I remember talking about Scrivener here, and you're an OmniFocus user. Can I ask you, am I insane to consider this? I realize that you're on one extreme of the number-of-tasks spectrum and I'm on the other, but...

    Hmmm.
     
  15. AFG

    AFG Registered

    Joined:
    Sep 12, 2018
    Messages:
    25
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    No. Thanks, it sounds very interesting.

    Onto my Someday/Maybe list. Or perhaps my @Waiting-For list - waiting for you to report after trying it, if there any gotchas.

    That's life. Commercial software is never feature complete. Only Open Source software has a chance.

    Q: can an item be in two places in Scrivener - both in the Briefcase, and somewhere else?

    Linking into two places is one of the things that computers can do, but paper can't. I wish that OneNote/EverNote?... supported it.
     
  16. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2008
    Messages:
    696
    Likes Received:
    71
    Trophy Points:
    28
    I believe that one Scrivener project can link to an item in another Scrivener project. I've never tried it, and I can't seem to figure out how to do it when I run to check now. I'm using Scrivener 2.8; it may be a Scrivener 3 feature.

    Returning to add: You can link within a single Scrivener project--and if you were using Scrivener as a GTD tool, you'd have many GTD projects in a single Scrivener project.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2018
  17. AFG

    AFG Registered

    Joined:
    Sep 12, 2018
    Messages:
    25
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    Thinking overnight, I realized that "link" may be ambiguous. I probably should have said "include by reference" or "transclusion".

    All hypertext systems can link between items. IMHO links are the very definition of hypertext. But if page A links to page B, all you see in page A is something like "click here to link to B".

    If A "includes by reference" B, then you may see the actual text of B, surrounded by text of A. As in

    <<This is A text before B. <<This is B text. Not a link, but the actual text.>> This is A text after B.>>

    Having to click through a link to see something is friction, overhead. Including by reference eliminates the need to click through, but is better than copying the text of B, because you can edit in a single place. (Sometimes you have to click through to edit the content of B - i.e. click through to edit, not click through to view - sometimes you can edit in the context where it is included by reference, i.e. in A (or A1, or A2, or ...)

    Beyond "include by reference", and other transclusion variants like conditional (only excerpting parts), there's what I call "link caching" or "transclusion caching" - caching not necessarily for performance, but because the link target may not be currently available. If disconnected cached content can be edited in more than one place, then you may need to do a git-like merge.

    One of my great frustrations with tools like OneNote (and EverNote, and various task and list managers) is that they have the beginner set of the features that we in the hypertext community have developed over the years, but they stop short of some of the most useful features. Not providing "include by reference" and other transclusion features is one example. IMHO one of the worst examples is that OneNote supports the classic wiki double square bracket link syntax [[link]] - but OneNote creates the target page as soon as the link is created, rather than creating it when the link is clicked on. Lots of time wasted on misspelled page names because of that stupidity.

    ---

    Scrivener's treatment of synopses and the corkboard metaphor is a form of transclusion.
     
  18. Oogiem

    Oogiem Registered

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2008
    Messages:
    4,471
    Likes Received:
    280
    Trophy Points:
    83
    Gender:
    Female
    We'll I've moved nearly all my medium and long format writing into Scrivener. So I have blog post ideas etc. and I find it works well for that in addition to novels, research papers etc. but I've not really considered it as a primary GTD tool.

    I know for me not being able to have recurring projects pop up at a predefined time once I finish them would drive me nuts as well as not having the satisfaction of checking off a task. So, I could not use Scrivener as my GTD system but in many ways it would be like an electronic paper equivalent so I can't see why it wouldn't work.

    My suggestion is pick one small area or section of your stadnard GTD system and try it, worst case you can check off another thing that won't work. ;-)

    And if you wnat totalk about the Omnifocus issues you are having feel free to contact me. I've bene doing major reconstruction of my system lately so would be glad to talk about it.
     
  19. AFG

    AFG Registered

    Joined:
    Sep 12, 2018
    Messages:
    25
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    What SW is that in - Omnifocus?

    I had a similar feature in a calendar program years ago on my Palm Pilot PDA, but I haven't seen it in any SW since.

    This was for items that recurred, not "start every N days", but "N days since last finished". E.g. at the time I was taking allergy shots, circa every 7-10 days. Putting it in my calendar, say, every Monday, was unsatisfactory - because if I missed a Monday, and delayed until Wednesday, I was not allowed to take the next set of shots on Monday, because that was only 5 days since I actually got the shot. Had to delay until Wednesday-Friday.

    I have long missed this sort of "N days since last occurrence" feature. (Or, fancier "first Monday of the second month after last occurrence".)

    AFAIK it is not in Outlook, Apple, ... man, I have evaluated so many "modern" calendar programs that fall short!!

    IMHO this sort of "N days since last occurrence" feature is sorely missing from task management programs for things like the GTD weekly review. E.g. If you do your weekly review on Fridays, and you slipped your last week's review until Thursday of this week, should you do a big weekly review on Friday of this week? Maybe... but maybe not so bad to skip.

    E.g. if you have a recurring task to call your sister every week, and you slip 5 days, ...

    Man, I can go on ... workouts, etc.

    So many task and calendar and PIM programs have spent, IMHO wasted, scads of time developing fancy UIs, adding emoji - and don't even have this sort of basic scheduling functionality.
     
  20. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2008
    Messages:
    696
    Likes Received:
    71
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Yep--OmniFocus has this. I got used to it and was indignant that Reminders on the Mac doesn't have it.

    Unfortunately, OmniFocus isn't available under Windows. (Though you could get the iPhone version.)

    There's apparently a one-way migration ability for reminders from Exchange:

    https://support.omnigroup.com/of-windows-pc/
     

Share This Page