A tip for the New Year: organize your project folders by year

TL;DR: Create a folder named "2016" in your "Desktop" or "Documents" (wherever you keep your work files). Move everything there. If you need anything again, take it back out.

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There are many ways of organizing your folders in a directory structure. None of them will ever be complete satisfactory, because we use multiple dimensions to find our stuff. Sometimes we would like to look for a particular typology of project, or by the name of a collaborator, or by date.

Of all the dimensions by which you could organize a directory structure, what I do is to organize them by aspects of life (for most that will be "Work" and "Personal") and inside each area, by year.

Organizing your folders by year is not by itself better than other criteria of organizing things, but has two distinct advantages: it makes it easy to tidy up things, moving unused stuff out of the way, and it is backup-friendly.

A simple method, though not the one I follow which I explain below, is to keep only what you're currently using in the top level, and move stuff from previous years into one folder per year:

  1. Create a folder with the name of the year that passed.
  2. Move everything into that folder.
  3. If you need any of that again, move it out of the folder and back to the top-level of your "Desktop" or "Documents."

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The method I use is the following. I keep top-level folders "inv" for research, and "pers" for personal (in the past, "inv" was "research," which was too long; even before, it was "work," which didn't feel right to me).

Inside each of these top-level folders, I keep one folder per project, like this:

  1. 2016_bigcrisisdata/
  2. 2016_swdm/
  3. 2016_digital_health/
  4. 2016_petitions_modeling/
  5. 2016_bureaucracy/
  6. 2016_reviews/
  7. 2016_recommendations/
  8. Archive/

If I continue adding or modifying files in a folder, because I continue active on that project, I rename the folder, e.g., "2016_digital_health -> 2017_digital_health."

If I continue using some files as reference in a read-only manner, I keep those files with the year they have in the top-level folder.

If I stop using a folder, I move it to the “Archive.” From there, I copy or move stuff to an external backup when it gets several months old.

I keep no files in the top level, only folders. If I need to start anything, I create a top-level folder, and then move to the “Archive/” if it goes nowhere. Alternatively, I use some one of the generic folders: “{Year}_bureaucracy/”, “{Year}_reviews/”, “{Year}_recommendations/” are the generic ones I use now.

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I backup continuously and automatically my working directory, as I try to keep there only the active projects and the recently archived ones. If I need to answer a question about something I did years ago (which doesn't happen often, but it happens), I go to to the external backup.

Over the years, I have found this way of organizing things makes things easy for me. In general, having a simple method for organizing your stuff can save you a lot of time and effort. Just choose a way and follow it, and make exceptions when necessary, in whatever way works best for you.

Happy New Year!