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As professor I have to organize a lot of digital documents. I have systems to do this for research and teaching and I am happy quite with these. Moreover, questions on such topics have already been asked, e.g., here or here.

However, for administrative work I regularly find myself thinking about where to store and how to name different documents like official minutes, my own notes, agendas, invitations, accompanying presentation pdfs, study regulations, law gazettes,... I have not set up a working system that I am happy with and one reason may be that, when I start to be in some committee, I do not really know in advance what kind of documents will come in. Should I arrange them by type? Should I only keep links to the place where the newest version is? Should I organize everything that is related to a certain meeting? I may add that I have a system to organize documents for hiring committees as I already know what kinds of documents are involved but that is basically it.

So my question is:

How do you organize your digital documents related to a certain administrative job?

You may answer with general guidelines but I am also interested in solutions for specific cases. I'll upvote anything that I find reasonable and check the answer as correct that helps me best.

  • You might consider trying a personal wiki. Hyperlinks are fantastic tools, and web browsers are much better at navigating than file explorers. – semi-extrinsic Oct 5 '15 at 12:48
  • Could you state what OS do you use? Mac OS X has a tagging feature that allows multiple association between files in addition to the plain directory structure. – Ébe Isaac Oct 5 '15 at 13:32
  • @ÉbeIsaac Interesting - I use Linux (Ubuntu and Debian with Unity and Gnome). – Dirk Oct 5 '15 at 13:33
  • For open-source file tagging that works on all major platforms, there's TagSpaces -- I don't use it myself but it seems promising. – Pont Oct 5 '15 at 15:13
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The lovely thing about organizing things electronically is that it's much easier to re-organize than physical paper. The problematic thing is that you can let things accumulate for a lot longer before noticing there's a giant pile forming.

My own personal solution is thus to start each new commitment as its own single folder. For example, if I'm serving on a committee, that committee gets a folder and everything about it goes in that folder. Likewise, I have a folder where documents about required trainings go.

If only a few documents show up, one folder is enough. For example, for the journal where I'm an assistant editor, I've got only one folder with just a handful of files, since almost everything I need to remember about that responsibility is in its online system. When more than a dozen or so documents appear, however, I'll create at least one subfolder that can hold a cluster of documents that I don't want to have staring me in the face every time I think about the project. As things further accumulate, swelling the contents of the top-level folder or the subfolders I've developed, I'll continue developing structure and substructure reactively.

Thus, by deferring organization until there's a quorum of things to organize, I give myself time enough to learn about the organization of information that I need to do. By beginning organizing when there's a dozen or so items in a location, I deal with organization at an early enough stage that it's not a daunting and time-consuming task.

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  • Thanks a lot! That is exactly the type of answer I hoped for. Looking forward to more answers… – Dirk Oct 5 '15 at 11:12
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The general guideline would depend on the type of responsibility:

  • If your work has to a single responsibility over multiple departments, then organise your docs within departments.
  • If you have multiple responsibilities over within a single department, then organise according to the responsibilities.
  • If you have a mixture of the two, you may nest one on top of the other as sub folders with the least number of items (departments or responsibilities) as the top level partitioner (or whatever you feel comfortable with). Otherwise you may use tagging (as in OS X) or shortcuts to avoid duplication.

From the description of your documents your responsibilities circle around event organising and management. In this case you may organise your documents as directories as events.

You may keep your own notes as raw text in the appropriate directories or use a notes management software such as OneNote or Evernote.

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    Sorry, but I don't really understand this approach. Could you give an example of what "department" and "responsibility" mean? I guess that "department" does not mean the same as in "math department", right? – Dirk Oct 5 '15 at 14:40
  • @Dirk: Well, yes. In addition, I mean Accounts, Admin, Systems, Operation, etc. – Ébe Isaac Oct 5 '15 at 14:48
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    I have to admit that I still don't get what you have in mind… – Dirk Oct 5 '15 at 15:12

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