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From Clothes to Files: Why We All Hate Organizing (But Here's How to Do It Anyway)

1 December 2013
Dr. Moria Levy
A closet full of clothes and shoes

Do you also find yourself among those who tend to procrastinate? Each winter, as the need for long clothes arises, I often delay the task of organizing my closet. Some items managed to stay accessible year-round, allowing me to sidestep the inevitable mess that slowly accumulates. However, there always comes a point where I can no longer put it off. Eventually, I muster the motivation to empty the closet and tidy it up. Surprisingly, the process takes less time than I initially anticipated, but I still have to avoid falling into the same procrastination cycle again. I acknowledge that only some operate in this manner; some individuals, perhaps more commonly women, diligently organize their closets twice a year, in spring and fall. However, I am not one of them. I am a procrastinator through and through.

The same issue arises in the personal computer's document library and the network's, albeit perhaps more prominently in the latter. When we purchase a laptop or establish an organization, we typically begin with a well-organized library. Folders and subfolders are set up, and documents are stored with the hope of maintaining order. However, this task is only sometimes straightforward. The hierarchical structure demands that we select the appropriate location; sometimes, a document can fit into multiple categories. Thus, we hesitate, delaying the decision-making process and the saving of documents. This challenge is further compounded by the fact that many of us store correspondence, often accompanied by attachments, in Outlook folders. Searching for a document makes it unclear whether it resides on the hard drive or within Outlook. Even if located in Outlook, we may need clarification on whether a more recent version exists in the computer's (or network's) document library. Unlike the wardrobe at home, the document library is scarcely organized by anyone—not on a seasonal basis, nor even once a year, and likely not once a decade. Documents accumulate over time in various locations, sometimes multiple versions of the same document. Unlike physical clutter, digital storage space is inexpensive, leading us to retain everything. This abundance of documents significantly hampers retrieval efforts, ultimately to our detriment.

So, what's the recommended approach? Investing in a document management system isn't advisable for households and most small organizations comprising several employees or even a few dozen. Such tools are costly and often only utilized if a specific regulatory requirement or the organization primarily deals with document-related work. Additionally, I suggest refraining from using a portal platform for document storage, even if one exists within your organization. Most portals haven't yet reached a convenience comparable to storing and updating documents on a personal computer or network. Despite various purportedly user-friendly interfaces and third-party tools designed to streamline the process, they often fall short of significantly easing the task, rendering the investment unjustifiable.

At home and in small organizations, storing documents on a personal or network drive is advisable. Only crucial correspondence should be archived in Outlook, and even then, the associated files should be stored on the same drive mentioned earlier. It's essential never to confine searches to just one location. Instead, clarity should prevail, ensuring no ambiguity about where to save and search.

In organizational settings, it's prudent to maintain as much data as possible on shared drives, allowing the entire team to access and update files related to specific topics or projects. Only administrative or classified content should be stored differently, adhering to necessary restrictions. While there are limitations due to the hierarchical nature of this arrangement, as of 2014, it's deemed the lesser evil compared to investing in a document management tool. Document names should accurately reflect their content to compensate, facilitating quicker searches and selections.

I suggest periodically decluttering and discarding documents, though it appears to be a decree the public struggles to follow. Nonetheless, I propose (and commit to implementing myself) that if you have multiple versions of a document (draft, first version, final version, final-final version, etc.), make the effort to delete unnecessary duplicates or keep only one version from the outset.

Now, how do we manage to locate documents amidst an ever-expanding list? My method involves immediately sorting the relevant subdirectory by date modified, from the most recent to the oldest. This ensures that new documents surface at the top, facilitating quick retrieval.

Is this the complete solution? Not entirely. Properly planning the organization of libraries and sub-libraries and establishing conventions for document naming without undue complexity are also crucial. Additionally, certain documents may warrant storage on a portal, if available. But I'll delve into that again; I've already elaborated enough.

Off to the wardrobe I go to retrieve something. Last week, I tidied up...

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