January 28, 2021•958 words
Before the Digital Diet, I was obsessed with finding the perfect file management system. In the late 20th century (it's fun to write that, instead of the more mundane 1998), software was wedded to the Cabinet, folder and file paradigm. I suppose it follows that, since the operating systems used hierarchical systems to store information, software would piggyback on those systems. Of course, our brains don't work like computers (thank goodness!)
Leaving aside questions of preference, functionality and best practice, I assert that the limiting factor to the utility of hierarchical systems for storing my stuff is--drum-roll--indecision! What are the main folders? What children should each folder have? What if I change my mind after setting up an elaborate scheme? Arrrgh!
In addition to the indecision problem, I was also plagued by the complexity of backup regimens. I've been severely burned, numerous times, by my failure to adequately back stuff up. I've employed all kinds of schemes over the years. My absolute favorite is drive imaging. Back in the day, a Windows 98 install, with a few common applications, would fit nicely on a 650 MB CD. I used Norton Ghost and had my computer backed up six ways from Sunday.
Now, Windows 10 has to be slipstreamed! Damned thing won't even fit on a DVD. The imaging software out there ranges from great to WTF, but I don't use any of them. Instead, I came up with a file structure that makes it easy for me to use the iDrive cloud service.
Basically, I created a root folder within c:\Users\Me. Everything important is stored as a child folder of this root folder. Then, I just instructed iDrive to make daily backups of that one root folder. Easy peasy. Instead of making new backup jobs whenever I add new folders, I just add new folders somewhere within that forest.
The downside is that everything is in that forest!
Now, that's just files on my laptop. Multiply the folder problem by every major software that I use:
- Browser bookmarks
- Gmail labels
- MS Office documents
- Visual Studio
- Steam games (LOL! First-world problems, eh?)
I have read articles that have suggestions on taking control of each of these areas. "Taking control" means a combination of fixing my current mess, eliminating stuff I don't need and actually remembering whatever protocols I develop to maintain the data that I care about.
That's a tall order.
First of all, it's not just about the logical structure that supports storage and retrieval, it's also about the volume of data being stored. Tangentially, it's also about how I use the software. In an ideal scenario, the logical structure supports the volume of data while also allowing me to work the way I want to.
There is a practical limit to the number of browser bookmarks one can store, before they become a useless collection of links. Same with email. I never bought into the demi-god Google's precept that, with 15 GB of storage, I should never have to delete email. Why? so your minions can mine my archives for nefarious marketers? You can read about how I wrangled Gmail labels in Disposable Email Addresses.
As for Office documents, if you are a creator, you will tend to document your ideas. I make prototypes in Excel. I don't bother much with Microsoft Word, as I have Standard Notes, Scrivener and EditPad PRO. Still, text files proliferate my hard drive, with very little logical organization.
Finally, ecosystems like Steam and Visual Studio are best left alone. I let those monsters do what they will with my files.
So, how do I attempt to wrangle my data into some semblance of control? I experiment! In the 20th century, I tried and loved Compass, a cross-browser bookmark manager. Last year, I dabbled in Memex, which did not quite suit my needs. Finally, my friend, Mitch Mitchell, who introduced me to iDrive, told me about Workona.
Workona is a magic bullet. It ticks all three boxes:
It has a logical structure that manages browser tabs and bookmarks
It brings order to a large volume of data (bookmarked sites and saved tabs)
It works the way I want my browser to work (even though I didn't know this at the time.)
That last point bears explanation. When you struggle with something, it's either because you don't understand how it works, or you're using it the wrong way. When browsers first implemented tabs, I immediately began to keep a dozen tabs open and I pinned a dozen more to the favorites bar.
I only have two eyes.
Just because you can do a thing, doesn't mean you should. When I did this with Firefox, my computer resources would dwindle away. It became such an issue that I switched to the "new" Edge browser. Now, even though both browsers use the Chromium engine, Edge manages to not leak memory as badly as Firefox did when I last used it.
Still, too many open browser tabs means too much clutter and it will still consume computer resources. Workona showed me how to solve my "too many" browser tabs problem. As a bonus, I got rid of my pinned tabs, so distractions are minimized.
I'm still learning to live with Workona, and I have foisted some bad habits onto the logical structure (too many workspaces, for example.) But I was able to turn my useless collection of bookmarks into resources that I can recall easily, with Workona's powerful "Find anything" search box.