I fret about many aspects of my own writing. I worry about being dull. I fear my metaphors lack pizzazz. I constantly have to stop myself from editing while I write. But one thing never vexes me – my own sense of organization.

Years ago, I learned I could double or triple my writing output by setting up my hard drive to increase my efficiency. Anal retentive? Probably. Effective? You bet! Here are the principles I follow:

Define main "project" folders. I have a folder called "Current Active" and it contains a long list of sub-folders -- one for every client I have. This is an excellent system if you're a consultant because it makes filing a breeze. If the file belongs to Widgets Incorporated it goes in the Widgets Incorporated folder. If it belongs to the Hummingbird Rescue Society, it goes into that folder. No thinking required. If you’re writing a book you can also use this approach for chapters: one folder per chapter.

Set up many sub-folders within each main folder. Whenever I create a folder for a new client, I also immediately create a sub-folder for each project or publication. At the same time, I also create an "archives" folder so that when the job is signed off I have a place to keep everything without cluttering up the main folder. Within the archives I name the folders beginning with the year and month, to keep them in chronological order. For example: 07-09 ABC company newsletter #03.

Keep all drafts as well as all research and interview notes. Hard drives are big these days. Take advantage, My archives folder not only holds the finished publication or product for each client (usually in PDF form) it also contains all my drafts and research. And everything is clearly labelled:




As a bonus, at the top of each set of interview notes, I put the name of the person interviewed and his/her phone number. I have recovered valuable contact info in this way more times than I care to recount.

Use numbers and words to name your folders and files. Numbers are great for keeping your folders or files in order when you look at them in a directory. (Just remember to write numbers less than 10 with a zero in front -- for example, 01, 02 etc. Otherwise, if you have more than 10 files, "1" will end up appearing after "10"!) When I want a file that I use frequently to appear at the top of the directory, I name it beginning with 00 for example: 00_story_list. But if I’m working on many iterations of one project, I always begin with the day’s date, expressed like this: 12/10/29 (year, month, day). Many people are surprised when I tell them that this naming style will automatically sort their drafts into chronological order! When I wrote my book, I titled every draft with the date of completion. Thus, I always worked on the correct draft because it was always the last entry in my file.

Have multiple "ideas" files. We all have great ideas every day. And we all lose them unless we write them down. I keep a variety of different ideas folders -- for example, I have a folder of ideas for this newsletter. But here's the real trick: Each individual idea gets its own document so that I can "name" it. That way I don't have to open the document to remember my ideas -- I can simply cast my eye down the directory list.

Have templates for stuff you do regularly. I have tables set up (in MS Word - nothing fancy) for all the publications I produce, listing the number of stories and photographs required and a timeline showing how long the entire writing/production process will take. I also have templates for letters engaging photographers and graphic artists and for getting "approvals" from clients on various jobs. If I do anything more than twice I turn it into a template and store it on my hard drive.

Will all of these specific tips work for you? Maybe, maybe not. But invest an hour or two in getting your hard drive better organized and I guarantee you'll see your productivity soar.