When I was young, I was lucky enough at the time to have a Commodore 64 with floppy disk drives. I had hundreds of floppies – I think about 300 or thereabouts. And each floppy was capable of storing around 160KB per side – a whopping 320KB per disc. At the time it seemed practically gargantuan.
Except, of course, it absolutely pales in comparison to the sorts of storage we have available to us now. My active, post-formatted storage across my laptop, desktop and servers and home NAS storage is in excess of 30TB. That’s active. Then I have a bunch of standalone hard-drives I plug into docks for archive purposes, and I have around 15TB alone in 1TB hard drives that I just don’t have any use for any more.
I don’t have any use for 1TB hard drives any more. They’re too small and fiddly.
Despite my best intentions, I’m often a bit of a data hoarder. But I also digitise most of my life so it’s understandable that I’ll have a reasonably large amount of storage floating around my house. At any point, it’s around 50% occupied. (I like room for growth.)
Just like bigger companies though, with the amount of data I can store today, I run the risk of being overwhelmed by it all. How to manage it, how to back it up, how to find it. Backing it up is a bit of a no-brainer, since that’s my core job at an enterprise space.
But how do you manage it? How do you find data when you need it? Funnily enough, it all comes down to one single word:
Particularly as a home user, when you don’t have access to advanced backup and recovery tools, hierarchical storage style archivers, your only hope is keeping organised.
It starts at your desktop
I once had a boss who couldn’t file anything. He had thousands of papers and documents on his physical desk. One day in frustration he piled them up into a mountain of documents that stretched over a metre across and around half a metre high. I didn’t say anything, I just raised my eyebrow in question. “It’s a conversation piece”, he told me, “If a customer sees it, it’ll start a conversation.”
Perhaps not the sort of conversation he wanted. And perhaps not at a time when he was present. I overheard some of those conversations.
If there’s one thing guaranteed to give me a virtual case of hives, it’s seeing someone’s desktop (Windows, Mac or Linux) absolutely covered in icons – like, completely covered in icons. Your desktop should be as blank as possible. Anything that lands there should only be something you’re immediately working on, and you should periodically take stock of what you’ve got on your desktop to make sure you’re not letting clutter creep in.
Just like your physical desk, your desktop is the start of getting organised on your computer. If you need to file things on your desktop, keep them isolated into function specific folders – rather than just dumping stuff on my desktop, for instance, I keep a “* To File” folder that I drop incidental stuff in. I know it’s not hyper organised, but we do all need some areas with lesser organisation.
Tidy desktop. OK?
Everything has a place, and there’s a place for everything
How often, growing up, did you hear that statement? For me at least, it was a fairly regular thing. When it comes to data, that means structure. The only way you can be really be organised is to have structure to where you store your files.
For instance, I have a dedicated photos hard drive. They don’t just go anywhere. If I’ve snapped it with my iOS device, my Android, my DSLR or anything else, it ends up landing via an import process into the appropriate area on my photos hard drive. If I manipulate the photo – export it and edit it, it gets stored into a particular processed folder on the photos drive, and even then it’ll still be stored in a subfolder depending on what it is or what the photo was taken for.
That might sound like a bit of effort, but it means that when I’m looking for a photo, I can find it quickly.
Same for documents – I have sub-folders for correspondence, for technical documents, for certifications, for, well, you name it. And again, there’s break-downs. On my home NAS I don’t just have everything lumped into a single large bucket, I have a Finance share, a general share, and then shares for both myself and my partner. For the last 7 years our financial records have been organised by year/month; this year we’re trying a new process of organising by year/type. Both work for me but my partner finds the month layout a bit less intuitive.
So it’s not as if I’m organising a specific structure, just that you have one, and one that works for you.
If your data isn’t structured or organised yet, there’s no time like now to get started. But don’t think of it as something you have to sit and work at all day until it’s complete. All that’ll do is leave you with a rather towering resentment towards the order you’re trying to create.
Instead, start by thinking about what structure will suit you, and break it down into the bigger categories, such as:
Each one can lend itself to entirely different structures, and that’s OK.
Pick one, perhaps even the smallest, and start introducing that structure to that type of data. Again, don’t make yourself do everything in one go, just make yourself go back and finish it.
Structure with benefits
Once you start getting data organised, you get the additional benefits inherent to organisation:
- It’s easier to find data when you need it (manually or via operating system level searches)
- It’s easier to archive data when you no longer need it immediately accessible
- It’s easier to delete data when you no longer need it at all
- It’s easier to work out what you need to backup – and then easier to run backups for it
And all that structure starts with one simple action: creating a new folder.