Folders in the FSIM

After my last post, a comment came in from Simon that deserved more than a casual reply.

Simon wrote…

Great post, many thanks!

I’ve been trying to get my head round your post and AmberV’s comments, plus the forum posts. I understand the filename system. I have a few questions:

  1. Do you apply your system to all files you create on your computer including proprietary or only text files?

  2. The folders are causing me an issue. Since the filename pretty much covers the file, there would seem no need for folders, except that you would end up with a single folder with a massive amount of data. Would it be best to use a few folders that cover broad areas such as ‘work’, ‘family’, etc.. This one really baffles me.

I think of folders in the File System Infobase Manager two ways: Large structural divisions of my hard drive (which these days is equivalent to my DropBox account) and smaller temporary containers for active work.

At the root (of DropBox) I keep four folders called Notebook, Admin, Writing and Topics. I also keep temporary folders up at the root for various work in progress.

This is what my top level folder looks like…


Notebook contains the mother load of FSIM files and it looks as you would expect from someone using this system, a few thousand text files named in the convention, easy to sort, easy to search, easy to add and edit. Even though I frequently use Notational Velocity, I keep PDF files in the folder as well. Some things just have to be in the form the were produced, and NV (and now WriteRoom for IOS) just skips right over the PDFs.

Notebook also contains a few temporary folders. Daily is the big FSIM repository.

The other three folders really are remnants of my pre-FSIM life, things I just haven’t gotten around to converting.


Topics is probably the biggest folder I have. It holds all my article PDFs. Think of it like a Zotero, or Papers, library. Every PDF is coded as per the FSIM, usually with N1 because there are works written by others. A while ago I got in the habit of saving all my reading as PDF’s because of an admonition from AmberV I took to heart: The internet was never designed to be a permanent repository of information. Web pages change, the go missing, whole sites are taken down and unless you want to be waggling around in The Way Back Machine you better PDF what you read. I also like to make markups so PDFs work well for my notes.

In Topics I have some subfolders for primary indexing, like Topics\LitCrit Topics\EconHistory Topics\Encryption. These are legacies mostly. For a long time I didn’t trust metadata tags (either Spotlight Comments or OpenMeta) I’m not sure I still do although I’m getting more and more comfortable with them over time. The sub-folders give me a fighting chance of finding something if full text search would otherwise skip over it. More and more these days I’m adding articles to Topics\ and putting in a few Spotlight Comments as if the PDFs were folders, and if I feel like I’d not find the file otherwise.


Admin is where I keep Administrative files: receipts, vacation plans, info about my kids tuition expenses, stuff like that. Every file is coded as per the FSIM, mostly with R2 (receipts) or R3 (projects). I sit on a few boards and have found that the FSIM works as well for commercial activity as it does for artistic\intellectual work. I’m not surprised about this, but I was a bit suspicious. The pace of commerce is so much faster than the Academy, I wondered if the whole thing would bog down, but so far, so good. I do tend to use more OpenMeta tags in Admin. They are fast to add, easy to edit, and I really don’t care if they will last for decades. This is completely the opposite of my writing work, which needs to have a robustness to last a lifetime.


Why a separate folder for writing? Good question. Increasingly my drafts are ending up in Notebook. No reason why they shouldn’t. They can be found by W1 or W2 etc. I think the location is mostly psychological. I like having a separate place for my writing work. The Writing folder also has a few folders with saved spotlight searches for stuff I query frequently: LitTheory files, Writer Notes, my reading notes. I also think I keep Writing separate because I’ve added a folder background picture and I’ve icon’ed the sub-folders. It provides a different and separate environment, the virtual version of the writers shed – when I’m in that folder, I’m writing.

In my drafts folder I use a lot of subfolders for smaller stories. Usually these hold notes and versions (that will probably change with Lion versioning) Big projects are constructed in Scrivener so the Scrivener file acts like one big folder (and technically Scrivener files are just containers, folders by another name) And this gets to the ‘I’m lazy part’. Those drafts should be bundled up into one text file, maybe formatted for TaskpPaper so they are easy to navigate, and appended to the current version. But I tend to do a lot of drafts, and I tend to start and not finish a lot of work (There are hundreds of stories in my SFD – Sh*ity First Draft – folder. that’s just how my creative process goes) So they stay as separate file in folders

One trick: Don’t FSIM name both the folder and it’s contents, you’ll go mad. If you think a collection of files is always going to be referred to collectivity (like a set of notes for a story) FSIM the folder. If the folder is really just temporary, then FSIM the files themselves. I’ve learned this from hard experience because I used to name them both, folder and file, and one day a few months ago I fixed all the double coders. I will say however, that it does show how resilient and flexible the system is. Need a collection? Use a folder and FSIM it. Got some files that could be related later on to lots of other things? FSIM them.


What you see here could be called a hybrid system. I think of it as a legacy system. Remember, I’ve been at this PC thing since the late 1980’s, back in the dawn of recorded time, when we only had folders. Full text search was a dream. My work patterns were formed in those Windows folders, and frankly some of this foldering came as I wanted to cary sub-segments of my stuff around first on USB keys, then on my iPad. Until recently the IOS apps just couldn’t handle ‘the whole thing’.

What’s the trend? Towards one really big folder of text and pdf files with a few picture files thrown in. Every day I find that I’m getting at my stuff more with Spotlight, and the value of the FSIM is in it’s future resilience to some data need I can’t predetermine into a folder system.

  • Note: As I took the screen shots I realized there was another folder at the DropBox root: Reading. That’s a semi-temporary folder that I use to sync with GoodReader on my iPad. It holds 20-30 ever cycling PDF’s on their eventual way to Topics.

  • Another note: All of this is extremely arbitrary and has changed over time. The resiliency of the FSIM is that I can folder stuff as I need based on my current preoccupations and work flows, but the underlying system is still there. I expect if I took screen shots of my folders next year, especially of Notebook, it would be radically different, but all the file themselves would still be coded the same.

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  1. Simon
    Posted August 24, 11 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    once again, great post.

    many thanks for the informative and detailed way you’ve gone through this. In the end I decided to use a time based folder system. I use year/quarter for my folders. This suits me as projects will naturally disappear once they are completed. Finding is easy because of the FSIM.

    The only problem now is how to get all my data into this system. emails aloe are taking a while. I also decided to convert files from proprietary formats where possible. My emails are being saved as rtf/rtfd.

    Perhaps on your next post you could look at how best to automate the filing. I use Typinator to put in the current date and time, but somehow with the use of Hazel there must be a way of dragging a file into a folder and having it automatically rename. I’ve also completely stopped using tags as they are not part of the original file (I think?).

    Email is also an issue. I receive it in high volume and if I’ve not been able to access it for a few days it builds up. My current Typinator setup replaces some text with todays date and time which is my unique file id. This doesn’t work with emails 2 days old. Also email attachments need thinking about. Still I really like the system.

  2. lanyip
    Posted November 5, 11 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Hi Doug

    Thanks for the useful post. I have just come across your site and am posting a longer comment to your main FSIM post, but wanted to make a specific comment about folders.

    My first small point is about symmetry across filing systems. I have worked to ensure that my folder structure makes sense across all my personal systems: meaning that my document, email, finance program and password program all share the same structure (of root folders and the first level of sub folders). Do you adopt a similar approach?

    My second point is regarding the number of folders / sub-folders. FSIM style tagging only really works for documents, so although I see my number of folders reducing as you do, I still see folders as important means of classification and linking between completely different systems.

    I am not yet sure if there is a ‘best’ common way to organise folders. My system has a few more folders than yours, with a clearer topic rather than function approach, part of which is no doubt due to using this to classify spending and emails. My root folders are: business, finance, fun (e.g. writing, travel), home, notes (diary and NVAlt files), people, stuff, and vocation).

    Finally, can I ask a question on organisation beyond documents – how do you approach photo organisation? My music is automatically handled by iTunes, as it is at least a simple folder structure, but I manage photos myself as Aperture is not nearly as transparent. I have root folders for decades and sub-folders for events, with filenames of “yyyy-mm-dd event_#” (as an aside I find hyphens useful in the dates as I don’t always use full dates and without the hyphen ordering does not work properly in either windows or osX).

    Thanks again for the post!

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