Out of a recent discussion with a new colleague came a simple question – “what is the best way to organize project files into a folder structure, and how should the files be named?”
There’s not one right way for this, but this is how I do it:
Folder structure – keep it simple and consistent
One folder per project, and within it, a general outline that I keep more or less the same for every project and adapt it to the specific needs / complexities that come up:
In this folder I capture everything that relates to the project, the only other place where files will be stored is the Outlook Inbox (I keep separate .PST files for every major project, so I can clean my Outlook afterwards and archive both .PST and project folder together).
There will be cases where a file that was sent to me via email will be saved in the folder structure as well, which is in effect an unnecessary redundancy, but… a) it is often important to log who sent what when, thus deleting the mail does not do you any good, and b) it is always good to keep a second, clean copy of a file someone sent you, in case you tinker with it and forget to make a duplicate copy.
Don’t create too many sub-folders – just enough so that you can oversee the contents of a folder easily. When too many old versions of the same document pile up (I sometimes have over 50 versions of a file), they go into the “old versions” folder, and get deleted after the end of the project.
The folder “Meetings and Milestones” often helps because in creating documentation for steering committees etc., you normally have to take slides/information from all over the project.
The folder “Single tasks” comes in handy to just file away everything that you did on the fly, mostly quick slides for colleagues, a pivot table that the VP wanted to see, stuff like that.
BTW, the numbers in front of the folder name just keep things in the order I want them to be in, they have no other meaning.
File names – Consistent and self-sorting
I was taught a simple scheme after which to name my files, and it has proven very time saving again and again. It goes like this:
- YearMonthDay: For example, 20100521 for May 21st 2010. 100521 works fine as well. Chose the date when the document will be presented / is due.
- ClientName: Self explaining. Make it short (“ACME” instead of “ACME Corporation”)
- ProjectName: Self explaining. Take the official one that the client also recognizes
- DocumentName: Must clearly state what is contained (“SalesForecastQ2″ is better than “Forecast”)
- Version: Count up from “_v01″. I do that in regular intervals when saving the document, and at least before sending it to someone else to indicate that there have been changes compared to the version before. When delivering the document to the client, either delete the version numer or replace it with “_final”
- Editor: Put your initials here when you save the document. “_JD” for Jane Doe. That way, everyone in the team knows who made the last edits on the file.
- XXX: The ending of the file type, e.g. “.ppt”
Thus, a file could be named 20100524_ACME_SalesUp_SalesForecastQ2_v04_JD.ppt. If you keep the file structure like that, the files automatically sort themselves if they are sorted by file name, giving you great oversight within the project folder structure.
What are your secrets in dealing with the masses of files that must be handled on a project? Share it in the comments!Read More
The gods of the internets are against me today. And for you. As of now, Xobni is directly available for you to test and indulge - which of course means that there is no real incentive anymore for you to jump through any hoops at the KillerConsultant to get it. Which blows my great idea of some semi-forced audience interaction.
But if you really like the KC, you will tell the rest of the world how you like your Xobni plugin in the comments anyway, right?!]
it is Monday, let’s see if we can get a conversation going. The deal is simple: I have five invites for Xobni to give away.
Xobni, if you have not heard of it yet, is a cool new plugin for Outlook which gives you a whole new look on your email experience: In a sidebar, it shows you all sorts of information about the person whose email you are just reading. When in the day, for example, you get most email from that person, their phone number, their contacts, a list of recent conversations and files received from them. Apart from that, Xobni also does a whole lot of statistics-voodoo on your mail – but that main sidebar in itself really is something you should try. I might go as far as saying that this could make email management fun again!
Xobni is in invitation-only beta right now… and you can get one of these invitations.
There are only one and a half conditions:
- Within a week of receiving the invite, you write a paragraph worth of your experiences with Xobni – what you liked, what you thought was cool, what features you missed, and if you’d recommend it. I’ll publish those short reviews here, of course with your name and a link to your website, if you want.
- The “half” condition: I’d prefer consultants to get the invites, of course – but if in the next days there are no consultants to be found reading this site (darnit!), I’ll open the tickets up for everybody else.
Go, sign up in the comments!
I am looking forward to seeing how you guys like / use / see Xobni.
As consultants, we live and breathe deadlines, like it or not.
They come in all sizes – from having to send an email at a certain time, to finishing the big deck of slides for the project’s final presentation. They overlap. They shift. Some are rigid, some can be bent – but you better not break them.
Here are some tips on how to tame this wild animal – your next deadline. Because not making the deadline is just not on the list of cool things to do.
Being able to concentrate under deadline stress is crucial to keep you productive.
- Set the email-check to manual. The ping/notification every time a new mail comes in (that you cannot attend to now anyways) will distract you, and you would need precious time to get back to concentration and pick up your train of thought. Blackberry users, set your profile so that you do not get a ring/buzz on incoming email.
If you are expecting important mail, ask the sender to give you a quick call once the message is sent, so you can check you inbox then.
- Disable all IM clients. Doesn’t matter if it is private or corporate, IM has to go off. You have no time to chat.
- CLOSE, not minimize, all applications that you do not need. If you are working in Powerpoint and Excel, close the browser. Close Outlook. What you don’t see doesn’t distract you.
- When working in an office with many people, check if there maybe is a quiet office/conference room available where you can hack away without being distracted by other people’s phone calls, conversations, etc.
- Get everything off your desk that does not relate to your current work.
It is good to be concentrated. That is enough for tasks where you are just hacking away and can put your mind on “execute”. But what if you need to actually be creative, as in thinking of possible concepts for a strategic option?
- Have pen and paper available. For developing ideas, the link between your hand, eye and mind is more direct than when you are sketching things in PPT. When available, use your company’s yellow pads (those that are giving you the PPT-slide-frame, so that you can fill in action title, etc.
- Use a brown paper for your storyline. When creating a story, it is important to see it in its entirety. Again, this is better done on paper than on screen. Print out your slides (they must not all be ready to do this, you can start with only titles on the slides), put them on a board/brown paper/wall.
- Talk to someone who is not involved. Of course, you are short on time, so this is not the place for a tea party. Nevertheless, if you are braining away on an issue and do not come to a conclusion, present it to someone who is not involved. Often, the act of expressing exactly what your issue is, helps you to process and solve it.
Unfortunately, deadlines often result in late nights or all-nighters. So you need to stay awake beyond your normal comfort zone.
- Get yourself a decent supply of caffeine. For me, a good mix of coffee and coke works well (not cocaine, buddy. We are not bankers ). Energy drinks tend to create too much of a sugar/caffeine high that fades quickly and leaves you more tired than you were before.
- Switch all available lights on. Trick your body into believing it is day.
- Make it cold. Not freezing cold, but the warmer the room is, the easier you get tired.
- Sit at a desk. When working away in the hotel, chances are the bed looks really nice to sit on and do some work… and then you wake up in the morning with the imprint of the keyboard on your forehead. Sit on a chair at a desk.
- Listen to energizing music. Chances are that your customer is already at home with wife and kids when you get cranking – so it might be possible to get the earplugs out and put some good vibes on. Avoid singer/songwriter type of music – the type where you actually listen to the lyrics -, you don’t want to distract yourself too much, just crank up the mood.
- Take power naps. In your chair. Set the alarm to LOUD, set it to 15 minutes. Not more. When the 15 minutes is up, stand up, stretch, move around, get back to work. DO NOT EXTEND THE 15 MINUTES, that most of the time means you are losing the war against sleep. For power napping, I love pzizz. For the extra kick, you might want to try the caffeine nap.
What are your favourite techniques for cranking the deadline? Share in the comments!Read More
I get the feeling that GTD was not designed for consultants, at least not when it comes to the proposed setup. 43 folders tickler file? How do I get that into my briefcase? Making new folders for every project that comes up? Carrying that as well? Yeah, right. I actually had the folders implemented, and always took those for the week with me. It was not too big a stack, and at the end of the week I sorted it back into my file cabinet, archived stuff that I had collected over the week, and took out the folders for the next. Unfortunately, there is not always a cabinet available to hang my folders. Now I am down to an organizer-type thing – like an A4 booklet, it has seven partitions of sturdy paper, and in them I sort everything I need for the next week (Monday to Friday), plus stuff that goes back to the Archive or the Tickler. That does work quite well… but let’s be honest, most of us don’t carry paper in an organized fashion, apart from the travel expenses that need to be claimed.
Most consultants live out of Outlook.
(For those of you forced to work with Lotus Notes, I am sorry. Maybe you were a mean kid and deserve it? If not, go complain to your IT department)
Living out of Outlook can be a blessing, and a huge pain. It does mean that your calendar, your mail and your tasks are in one place, and sync with your blackberry or whathaveyou-Exchange-compatible phone. It means that you can arrange meetings with your colleagues and not miss the important “changes due on Monday, 8am” mail from your boss Friday night.
Unfortunately, Outlook (and especially its ToDo-features) is not built with GTD in mind. There is no notion of projects and contexts by which you could sort from the getgo… but fear not! The mighty powers of the internet have caused other people to tackle that issue before you. Here’s a quick list of places to go:
This freeware (beta) gives you a GTD-feasible dashboard view on outlook. Looks promising, but as the developer says it is not compatible with Exchange yet, I can’t try it out, and only those of you with a standalone Outlook (Lonely knights of consulting) should. [Edit: As Jello.Dashboard's developer, dr. Uqbar, pointet out in the comments, the plugin generally works with Exchange, but he cannot test it thoroughly, lacking an Exchange environment, and thus can't guarantee it will run under all circumstances.]
- The official GTD plugin from Netcentrics
This is a plugin for GTD licensed by David Allen Co. – so it must be good, right? In addition to supplying new Task-views that implement Contexts and Projects, it adds a custom toolbar to your Outlook, with which you can easily file, mark as someday/maybe, etc. … it is not free though, after a 30 days trial it costs you USD 69.95… now lets see if we can do better than that:
- Melissa MacBeth gives some good tips on how GTD can be implemented with Outlook 2007′s own tools.
- And finally -for the Outlook part of today: The three – part – tutorial from David Ornstein on embedding the GTD workflow into Outlook 2007. This is deep stuff, it will need some (very well guided) work on your side – but hey, even the folks from DavidCo were impressed – maybe it is worth the effort for you as well?
So you see, there are possibilities to improve your life in Outlook by a vast amount. If you try some of this stuff out, let me know how it goes!
As for me – I am still stuck on a homegrown solution of ToDo-Views, which to implement projects and contexts basically… but it is a hard trick for me. See, I am a Mac user by heart. I have sworn never to have to work on a lousy Windows machine once I made the switch… until my new job came around the corner, and all you get is a ThinkPad with Vista pre-installed, Blackberry and Office 2007. Period. Being a newbie, asking for special treatment was not an option (especially not in a big firm, where you do not really have a lot of choice over your hardware in the first place). I miss my OmniFocus big time. *sniff*. Anyway.
In the next week, we will look at online-options of implementation, for those of you not wanting to tinker with their Outlook, and those who might want to integrate personal and work task management.Read More