I keep a lot of notes, scanned documents and this since 2000. In 2004 I went totally paperless because I went for a World Tour. I had to be able to manage my business, customers, legal stuff and archives in a small volume. I manage today 60694 items in 30 GB just for the private part, 3 times more for my businesses. A serious PKM strategy was required.

Worflow

I keep my notes in two folder hierarchies: one for my work, one for private personal stuff.

I keep my notes directly on the disk using the file system. I could use any tool like Explorer on Windows or Finder on MacOSX but I use Kneaver Filer which is specially made for this usage. It has built-in support for most file types, folder views, editing, cropping and sorting features.

Initially, my notes are saved in chronological order in a “ToSort” folder.

I don’t aim at sorting everything, just what is likely to need direct retrieval. I keep a lot of notes, screenshots, scanned papers. Like 200 per day.

If you compare my “ToSort” folder with an inbox, I don’t focus on “inbox zero” but instead I cherry pick most important items and move them to dedicated folders.

If I need something I didn’t sort, I’ll go back to the “ToSort” folder by date. First I get to the correct date using a search and widen to nearby notes to get the full picture. Often I end up isolating this group and moving it to the correct place. Because it’s done on a need basis, it doesn’t impact my productivity. I make sure to complement important pictures with a text note to add text-based search.

I sort occasionally, like every week. I pass over all recent items until I reach my last sorted mark.

I sort progressively. First I remove anything non-work related and move it to “Perso/ToSort”. It’s again a “ToSort” bucket/folder that I will sort during non-work time

Everything that comes to my place or to me, by mail, by delivery or due to exchanges is being scanned and kept. I don’t overthink it. I keep a stack next to the scanner and I scan while doing other menial tasks like cleaning my desk.

Hierarchies

I use two hierarchies. One at the top, 1 to 3 level deep, is unique. There are no benefits to use tags for this level. Placing items there is imperative. There are few cases of horizontal search across branches.

A second hierarchy comes again and again under many branches. It’s no more unique and could be replaced by tags. This hierarchy is often made of places names, years, people, jobs or status.

Hierarchies correspond to ontologies for the KM nerds.

I will explain the work-related organization in another post. Let’s focus on the personal stuff.

The “Perso” folder is organized it 10 subfolders. This has been stable and consistent for 15 years. Never felt the need to reshuffle it.

Step by Step

  • AdminAdmin: contains everything related to administration and main public services. Subfolders: Taxes, Identity card & Passport, Justice (empty), Retirement, Family affairs, Succession, Houses, and Health Services. A “Places” subfolder is location dependent. It’s divided into the various locations I lived. That’s where all the contracts for public services reside: landlines, power, water. Such contractual folders have a “Contract” folder with the most recent copy, a “Dated” folder for past versions, “Infos” for non-critical information, “Bills” folder etc. A top “ToSort” folder keeps what has not yet made it to individual folders.
  • Bruno WinckBruno: That’s my private folder with what is really only pertaining to me. Notes, self-guidance, banks, employment, my history. Folders like Banks, Employment will be divided by banks or companies and again by years.
  • Friends: That where I keep messages, memories, about friends and family members. One folder for each and a large “ToSort” folder.
  • Hardware: Durable goods. Warranties, manuals are there. A recent European law obliges every vendor to supply their manuals online in pdf I leverage that to save from scanning. One folder per item. It’s very long but helps to get direct access. I also keep notes on usage, best practices, what worked, what didn’t.
  • Health: Self descriptive. That’s where I keep copies of prescriptions, checkups, vaccinations. I can track quickly what happened to me 10 years backs in case it can have an impact. I often keep copies of radios or medicines indications. It helped me to get the right medicine while traveling far away based on past use cases. That’s also where I keep information I grab from news on epidemics, health hazards one can encounter while traveling. It’s PKM for health. This folder has been a life saver.
  • Leisure: 20 folders corresponding to my main passions: Books, Drawing, Walking, Tinkering, Cooking, Maths, Languages, Politics, Science, Yoga, Gardening, Movies
  • Network: This is more general than friends. It is separated by places like in “Admin”. It’s not only about people but also events, meetings, places to hang out. The range of places is also larger because it’s not limited to places of residences.
  • Shopping: contains everything about what I wish, selected, bought. Receipts. This folder is divided into 10 domains: books, food, garden, electronics, and a large “Others” folder. I rarely dig into it and when I do there is a serious reason, I can afford to spend a while. If I buy something expensive I would usually take screenshots during my search. If I’m disappointed I can go back and see what went wrong in my choice or find a supplier years after.
  • Souvenirs in French, Memories in English. random stuff I keep from URL life or collect from the Internet. Many folders named after people, places or events. That’s where I keep pictures of places I lived, notes on school, education or childhood. It’s more folder to free my mind by unloading memories than a place I visit. I used some pictures for my personal blog.
  • Travels: This is a large folder, predictable considering the time I’m traveling. It’s organized by continents, again by countries, states, cities. “AmericasĂ©, “Africa”, “Asia”, “Europe”. Time to add an “Oceania” folder. Done. I keep scans of business cards, hotel brochures, links to travel agencies or airlines sites. I don’t travel with guidebooks, I guide myself. For this reason, I must be well informed and retain details from trips to trips. I often keep handwritten notes of practical details: opening times of shops, local holidays, distances, Always the same rule, items descent into subfolders in need only. I rarely copy stuff, I take pictures of documents, street signs, posters. It’s very fast. For example, after a few days, I would empty my pockets, lay everything on the bed, take pictures and dispose of everything. Same for choosing flights I would keep screenshots and go back to them for the next trip. I also keep practical notes like what to place in my bag, what was superfluous, what was too fragile. Everything I can take out of my mind and forget stays here. It’s also the place where I keep visas applications
  • ToDo: A big folder with plenty of “one day maybe” tasks. They appear when I search ToDo. I rarely do. It’s a backlog for my next life.

Takeaways

  • Keeping stuff and storing it is an iterative process. A dedicated tool helps.
  • Sorting everything upfront can be a waste of time, focus on what is crucial
  • Two hierarchies : One unique and defining, another repeated for refining
  • Use predictable names based on externaly defined names vs self defined terms

And you? How do you organize the bulk of your notes? Leave a comment to share your choices and options.

Next post is on backup strategies for those notes.