Before you can be sure what type of computer document creation, storage, and management style is right for you, ask yourself the following questions:
Would I prefer to create and manage my documents with an online system or perform these tasks on my own computer’s hard drive?
What are the broad sections for which I create digital and hard copy documents?
Do I need to be able to access all my documents, all the time, from any location, or do I need constant access to just a few of my documents?
After answering the questions above, you may find you need one or more of the following tools:
- A Simple Text Editor/Online Notes System (GEdit, Wordpad/Google Notes, JJot).
- An Office Suite (Works, Word, OpenOffice).
- An Online Document System (Google Docs, Zoho, WriteBoard, Box.Net, MSOfficeLive, or your own website/blog).
- A few broad sections under which to organize your documents (Personal, Household, Work, Financial, Creative Writing).
There are lots of options for creating, storing, and managing your digital documents. To get started:
1. Use your text editor (or online notes system) for rough drafts, ideas, reference, works in progress, ongoing research, etc. You don’t need a lot of formatting options; in fact, I’ve found that the more options I have while writing the more distracted I get from the actual process. For me, using an online system as my actual writing platform just doesn’t work. It is too easy to tab over and check my email, stop to find a graphic, or remember some random little side-line I wanted to research. There’s a time for that, but the actual writing needs to be separated. I use my computer-based text editor (GEdit, which has tabs) and office suite (Open Office) and then my online document system (Google Docs) is simply for back-up/accessing files.
2. When you’re through with the writing process, copy and paste your text into your heavy-duty office program. Do your formatting and editing, add in charts, graphs, bullets, additional details, graphics, footnotes, etc. At this point, you’ve done the bulk of the work, so you can take some time to tweak the details and add in a few extras. You’ll save it here as the finished product.
3. Before you can save, however, set up your document filing system, either on your computer’s file system or on your online document system. Either way, the procedure is the same: create folders for your major sections. Within those sections, if you have a need to further sub-divide, create folders for your topics. It is within the appropriate topic folder that you will save your actual document.
4. Use a standard title format when you save your documents. The default method of saving is to let the office program automatically grab your first line or phrase and plug it in as the document’s title, or to save it under some generalization such as “Marketing Business Article.” That’s not going to be very helpful a month later when you have ten documents labeled “Marketing Business Article 1” and “Marketing Business Article 2.” Which one has that great list of creative marketing ideas, and which one is the finished article about local business marketing that you need to submit to your editor? You end up having to open them all, don’t you? That’s not streamlining. So here’s what you need to do. Your standard title format should have three sections: first, the type of document (review, rough draft, unfinished article, poem, love letter, creative writing, email draft, notes); second, the specific title of the document (“Twenty Creative Marketing Ideas Under $20.00”); and third, (this one is optional), the date of creation. To save a rough draft, you would open your Business section folder, then open your Marketing topic folder, then save the document as “roughdraft.20CreativeMarketingIdeas.04August08.doc”. It’s a long title, yes, but it will save you a lot of trouble.
5. Upload or download your documents daily. If you need access capability to all your documents, all the time, then you can create a compressed file of each day’s new documents and either upload it to your online document system (if you use a computer-based system) or the opposite, download it from your online document system into your computer’s file system. If you need access capability to only a few of your documents all the time, then simply save a copy of each of those documents to your other system as you create them.
6. Your last step is to regularly back up all of your documents and periodically purge what you are keeping current. I suggest a weekly back-up minimum; if you create many documents in a day, back them up nightly, or every morning before you check your email. If you’re saving a compressed file of each day’s documents, it would be one small, additional step to copy that file onto a cd or dvd, which can hold a lot of those files before it’s full. If your computer crashes and the internet dies, you’ll still be able to get that marketing article, though there might be other things on your mind. If you’re backing up regularly, then a periodic purging is as simple as the Delete key. You won’t have to go through a big back-up process first, just in case you delete something important. Do your regular back-up first, then every month or so clean out your folders. Keep only what is current and what you use actively for reference. Everything else can go; if you need it, get your back-up disc.
Initial streamlining always takes a bit more time than just using your same old, standard procedure. The benefits of streamlining digital and other documents, of investing that little bit of time in creating folders that make sense, and using titles that actually tell you what a document contains, will save your hours in locating the document you need when you need it.