I've been using computers for ages. I still have trouble deciding how to structure the data in my file system.
A part of the way that I go about storing stuff that has been working really quite well for me lately is my personal data archive.
I have a pretty rigid and formal mechanism for managing my 'important' data. Such data includes source-code, e-mail, documentation, invoices, etc. related to my business or media, writing or other documents that are personal or educational. This post isn't to discuss how I manage that kind of data.
This post is about how I manage my 'non-crucial' or 'transitive' data. You know, stuff like a quick note in notepad while I'm on the phone, or a temporary file for testing something, etc. This kind of data is likely never needed again, and the longer it hasn't been needed the less likely it is to ever be needed again. But sometimes, you jot something down, or create a test of something and then you think that you have finished with it, but a day or two later you find that it'd be handy to have it again. This can create a problem. In the first instance, if you delete everything then you won't have it when you need it again later. This can be a real pain in the neck, and for me is not an option that I like at all. Another option then is to think and try to determine if you'll need it again, the problem with this is that you have to waste time making a decision about every little thing that you deal with while still being exposed to making the wrong decision. The last option is to keep everything that hits your desktop. The problem with keeping everything is that it's pretty hard to manage. If you try to classify every little thing and squirrel it away, you can waste an awful lot of time, and quickly realize that classification can be a hard problem.
I have a solution for this though. Lately my blog is starting to become a part of my solution too.
I have a shortcut to a folder on my desktop. This links to an 'Archive' folder on my network mapped home drive. I also religiously run an application known as TClockEx. TClockEx is a replacement clock for the windows system tray, and over the years has become an integral part of how I use my computer.
I tend to work with most 'transitive' data on my desktop. I copy it out of e-mails, off the web or create it there. This is not always the case, but it is generally. After a while the desktop can become cluttered, with shortcuts to web sites that I saw something useful on, or example source files that I'd been checking out, or heaps of text files containing little notes that I made about something in notepad and then saved to the desktop.
To 'clear' my desk, I just double-click on TClockEx which I have configured to copy the current date and time to the clip board when I do that, in this format: yyyy-MM-dd HHmm. Then I create a new folder on my desktop and paste the date and time in as the name of the folder. I then throw all the stuff that has become redundant on my desktop into this folder just by dragging it in there. I then right-click on the folder and drag it over the short-cut to the 'Archive' folder that always sits in the bottom left hand corner of my screen and choose 'Move' here.
Simple as that. If I need to find something later, I can generally just get it manually by looking in the archive folders which always sort alphabetically by date. If I can't find it like that for some reason, I can always find it by using the search features built into Windows Explorer, either by filename or by content.
Because I have this practice, there is an extra bonus: I'm not afraid to record stuff. Because I don't have the hassle of figuring out how to classify stuff, I can just jot it down in notepad and leave it there. Things like an IP address, or an e-mail address, or someones phone number, or even just some random thoughts on any given matter. Because TClockEx copies the date and time for me, I don't have to think about a file name for this stuff either. I just name the file after the date and time that I saved it. Since I don't tend to save more than one thing in any given minute, this works fine. Otherwise, I just change the value of the time part by a few minutes manually. The sort of content generally doesn't lend itself to being given a filename anyway, so this is a really handy way to work with 'transitive' data and I thought I'd share it.
I mentioned before that my blog is becoming a part of how I manage my information, and that is true. This is a great tool. When I find a web site for example that has something of interest, I can create a brief description and a link and just post it to my blog. In this way I have a reference that is always readily available. The other reason it's great is for little thoughts like this one, I can jot them down and always know where I can go to remind myself how I do something (although this particular process is one that I'm quite sure I'll never forget :).
An interesting side-effect of this process is that these days I rarely run anything 'Maximized'. I have a 19“ monitor, and generally what I'm working on, or looking at doesn't require that I utilize all that space. So I pretty my always have my desktop visible in the background, particularly when I'm browsing the web. This is cool, because I can just drag the URL from the address bar in Internet Explorer onto my desktop to create a temporary link. This has saved me a few times in the past, where I've been on a research frenzy and found heaps of great content only to have Acrobat Reader cause Internet Explorer to crash, closing all my windows. Since I'm not afraid to record my data, generally as soon as I find something I think is interesting, a shortcut to it hits my desktop.
After a while all the data in the archive builds up. Because it is already sorted by date, and because it tends to loose relevance over time, I can just wait until I have about 1GB of data in there and then cut the oldest 600MB off to a CD. I can just label the CD 'Transitive Data Archive [DATE]' and then I never loose anything, ever! ;)