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Susan Kistler on Organizing and Finding Files

My name is Susan Kistler and I am the Executive Director of the American Evaluation Association. It is my pleasure to contribute each Saturday’s post to the aea365 blog.

One challenge for me is organizing and finding the volumes of files and emails on my computer. Towards that end, I offer one Hot Tip and one Rad Resource that have helped me over the years.

Hot Tip: Naming Conventions – Using file naming conventions helps me to keep track of and find files. Here are three that have contributed considerably in my own efforts to manage, sort and track files:

  1. Dates: Use a consistent approach to dates and attach them to the name of any document that will be vetted or have multiple versions over time. For cyclical items, such as monthly reports, we use the month name at the end to represent the final version, for items that have multiple versions, we use a six digit date format such as ‘012210’.
  2. Personal Versus Professional: Use a consistent prefix for personal versus professional files. For me, those are “aea10…” (for 2010) and “sjk10…” This prevents (or at least considerably hinders!) my accidentally sending a personal file to a professional colleague and allows for quick sorting.
  3. Create a Hierarchy: Major projects all get their own naming abbreviation that we place right after the professional prefix, again for ready sorting and identification.

What does this all look like?

  • aea09.aea365.guidelines.121209 – this would be the version of the aea365 contribution guidelines that was circulating on December 12 of 2009
  • aea10.elibrary.value – this would be a handout that we made on adding value to eLibrary contributions
  • aea09.nl.policywatch.oct – this would be the final version of the October 2009 policywatch newsletter column from George Grob – his November one is named the same except with ‘nov’ as the final portion.

Rad Resource: X1 Search Tool: X1 has rescued me more than once from that search for a report or email from three years ago. It indexes all of my emails (198,000 and counting) and files (25,000 and counting) and allows for both broad and detailed searching and drilldown based on any word, document, date, recipient, location, and/or file type. And its fast – really fast. I’ve tried other products, but for me the speed, accuracy, and in particular the capacity to refine searches, have made X1 a godsend. It costs $50. Learn more at http://www.x1.com/

The tips, tricks, and resources reflected above represent my own interests and work and do not represent an endorsement from AEA.

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org.

8 thoughts on “Susan Kistler on Organizing and Finding Files”

  1. Susan,
    I must say, I can start filing my files correctly because they are literally all over the place on my desktop, of course it gets confusing when I am in a time crunch and can’t find the right files. I do believe the biggest thing that you mentioned was keeping personal files separate from professional for quick sorting. Great tips!

  2. Wolfgang,

    I wish I could help, but we’re running XP (and X1 is definitely faster than the native search in XP).

    We’re likely to upgrade to Windows 7 later this winter. I’ll update the post at that time.

  3. X1 – that ist what I was looking for since a long time, since our IT adminstrators cancelled the glorious Eudora 7.1 E-Mail client, the best ever on world.
    So I will try X1 (for windows XP)
    My question to Vista and Windows 7 users: Does anyone knwo, whether X1 makes a difference compared with the Microsoft idexed serach in these Operation systems?
    (soo many evaluative stuff in this short text)
    Kind regards

  4. Thanks Michael – very good point and suggestion.

    John – Yes!

    Marcus – I use a tagging system as well as my next level of organizational obsessiveness.

    One other good thing about using a naming convention is that it means that you know whether a file is yours. For instance, I have had colleagues tell me that I sent them a file named “aeaconference” and I can confidently say that it did not come from me!

    Happy filing one and all!

  5. Thanks for the suggestions, Susan.

    Here comes my shameless Mac plug 🙂
    Mac OS X makes it really easy to manage files. For example, you can use Automator or Applescript to create actions for automatically naming and filing computer files. Additionally, if you’re the super-organized type, there are software offerings that makes it really easy to tag files by keywords. For example, if there’s an SPSS data file, I may tag it with the keywords of “data”, and the study’s name. With the power of Spotlight search on the Mac, you can find these files, as well as emails, within a matter of seconds.

    John, I’ll have to tell you about the software offering I use for managing PDF research articles…

  6. I use a similar convention for keeping track of my PDF files and articles. I use the first author’s last name (dot) year published (dot) an abbreviation of the title of the article. This makes it easy for me to search for the article by year, author name, or title. e.g. scriven.1994.evaluation as a discipline.pdf

  7. Good suggestions; here’s a small modification that some will find relevant. Susan’s system for dating her emails is ambiguous with respect to US vs. Euro conventions (which use opposite month/day order), so for those of us who may want to share file names with friends or colleagues (or biographers) overseas, I suggest using the convention one sometimes sees overseas, viz., put the month in lower case roman. So June 8, 2010 is 8.vi.10 in full, or drop the periods for speed.

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