When writing, the last thing I want to do is waste time searching for a specific fact, anecdote, or quote in a mass of disorganized notes. Through painful experience, I learned to store notes in small plain text files (documents) and title them for instant retrieval.
I came to this strategy after diving into the literature on tagging, labeling, keywords, and creating a personal taxonomy. This stuff gets really geeky. Save yourself the effort and consider the following suggestions.
Predict the future you
This is the most important thing: Know your own mind. What keywords will you use to search for a file in the future? To answer this question, assume that you’ll forget:
- That you created the file in the first place
- Why you created the file
- What the file includes
The goal is to create a name that’s easy to find and perfectly describes the contents of the file.
It might help to list the attributes of a file that matter most to you. Merlin Mann, gives these examples of attributes:
For instance, when you are filing or searching for a photo, what do you think of? The location of the photo? The subject or people in the photo? The event taking place when you took the photo? Something else entirely? Write out a list of the attributes that you think of when thinking of your target items.
Attributes of a text file include anything that describes its content. Some examples are the:
- Topic and subtopic
- Name of a person
- Author and title of a book, chapter, article, or blog post
Again, this is entirely personal. Discover the attributes that matter to you. Pick the top two or three and think of corresponding keywords to put in your file names.
Include a project name
This suggestion is based on an über-useful idea from Scott Berkun: Everything that you do in life is a project.
I don’t know whether this idea is Absolute Truth, but it’s insanely useful. It means that you can stem the tide of chaos in your notes and get organized simply by asking one question:
What project does this relate to?
Your answer goes in the name of your file.
Note: There’s a robust discussion about projects in the book Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen. Also, I define projects in this post that mentions GTD. For more about GTD, see its website. The series on GTD best practices will give you other useful ideas for naming files.
Use the “x factor”
Honestly, this is what helps me the most. I stole it from Michael Schecter, who stole it from Merlin Mann. (But it’s not really stealing; it’s research, right?)
The basic idea is to end the first word in your file name with the letter “x.” For example, any project file begins with projectx, as in projectx write a blog post or projectx buy a new car.
The beauty of such keywords is that they instantly narrow down your list of search results. When I search with the keyword projectx, for instance, I only get a list of my current projects—not a list of all the files that merely contain the word project.
P.S. Whatever you do…
- Be consistent with file names.
- Use lowercase (easier to type).
- Use singular words (for shorter names).
The following articles will give you more to chew on. Note that suggestions for tagging files are also useful for naming files.
Some suggestions for better tagging
Becoming a tagging kung-fu master
Tagging best practices
Getting Organized: Great Tips for Better File Names
Naming Files And Avoiding Folders by Michael Schechter
How to Use Evernote If You Are a Speaker or Writer