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I am looking for a smart idea to use for my folder hierarchy:

The data: I have many projects by different clients and different kinds of, like business cards, websites, development, logos etc. (mostly design & development). I have personal, client and work projects.

The problem: I usually spend time to think how to search information, for example "the psd file of that logo I designed for the X website".

Tried but didn't work:

  1. Folders by status: Done, In progress, Stopped. Why? Because it takes time to go back and forth inside different folders of the same project e.g. In progress\X\logo and \Done\X\website
  2. All in one: all folders in one root folder sorted by name. Why? Too many folders and difficulty to find the current running projects...

The requirements:

  1. Status: done, running, frozen
  2. kind of project: logo, coding, research, business card etc.
  3. Client: myself, company, client X, client Y etc.
  4. Fast search re: folder name or hierarchy

Any ideas ?

EDIT: I am using MAC OS X and I am not looking into any external software ! Just plain files and folders !

share|improve this question
Without any 3rd party software it will be difficult, but I highly recommend having a look at Quicksilver, if you not already have/know it, as it is extremely useful and extremely powerful, integrates perfectly into OS X and your workflow and lets you access files/folders/contacts, etc. easily and quickly. – MostlyHarmless Sep 21 '13 at 7:09
I've edited my answer accordingly – MostlyHarmless Sep 21 '13 at 7:15
What version of OSX are you using? Can you tag (meta-data) files? – Raystafarian Sep 21 '13 at 11:13

Simplicity Rules.

If you take too much time to explain your system, then it will take you even more time to implement it. At some point in time, the tagging/sorting/archiving activity will stop you from using it.

Tools and software are great. Beware obsolescence! Hierarchical folders still rule the day.

If you have a Mac setting, finder could help you find what you need.

I would go for a simple hierarchy of folders and meaningful file naming convention.

For example, for the folder structure:

  • A
  • A/ABC Corp
  • B
  • C
  • D
  • ...
  • Z
  • 0-9

As for naming convention, be as explicit as possible. I would suggest to design a checklist list for naming convention. Standardisation is helpful and will help you loose no time on file management.

For example:

  • "20130921 - ABC Corp - Logo - firs draft discussion w CMO.pdf"
  • "20130922 - Me - Coding - learning PHP advanced cryptography.html"
  • "20110101 - Zorg Inc - Business Card - Final card.psd"

To manage the status of the project, I would create an empty txt file like this:

  • "20130901 - ABC - Logo - Status running.txt"
  • "20130910 - ABC - Logo - Status frozen.txt"
  • "20130920 - ABC - Logo - Status running.txt"
  • "20130920 - ABC - Logo - Status finished.txt"

This approach will provide you a robust system that is portable from OS to OS, from system to system. a search on terms will filter automatically to what you are looking for. and even a quick visual browse will make sense for you.

Have fun and a great productivity.

share|improve this answer
This is exactly what I was thinking when reading the OP. Alternatively, you could also use Outlook folders, with the same logic. – Juha Untinen Sep 22 '13 at 12:15
Do you use the same kind of hierarchy - I mean have you tested If this works for you or is it just a suggestion? – Radolino Sep 25 '13 at 7:11
@RobDel I use the structure as described on both my Business and Private computers. my work computer is a Win7 platform and my private computer is an OSX one. I have also the same setting on my paid Dropbox account. – Pierre-Yves Genot Sep 26 '13 at 19:34
@Juha Untinen: exactly, I do it in IBM Notes (for work). For my private email, I do not do it. I just have an archive folder where I put everything. – Pierre-Yves Genot Sep 26 '13 at 19:35

Limiting yourself to just files and folders this is what I would do.

Top Level - 2 folders: Active and Dormant. Dormant means completed, cancelled, pending, on-hold or what ever as long as it is NOT WAITING FOR ACTION FROM YOU.

Dormant-Second Level - one folder per client/company

Dormant-Third Level - one folder per project but named to include the client, e.g. Johnson folder, Johnson-logo sub-folder. The Johnson client folder can have all of the contact and other generic information.

Active - folders containing all client-project folders that are awaiting action by YOU. Finish what you need to do, tell who you need to tell, drag it to the right place on the dormant side. Everything on the active side is something that needs your action or input. Optionally, if there are multiple open projects per client then I would consider client folders on the active side.

Optionally, the Dormant side can be split into truly dormant versus pending/on-deck. That is they are not really dormant, just not on your plate at the moment. More like waiting for all of the details before the projects starts or moved from your active folder when the client is reviewing the work.

That's the best I can think of with FOLDERS only. I, personally, would have a spreadsheet that details all open projects, the steps for each, a priority and a status for each. Other columns would be added as needed. Completed projects would move to a separate sheet or tab. You can sort the spreadsheet by project or by individual sub-task priority as needed. And this would give you a head start on status reporting and progress tracking.

update - Addressing this:

Folders by status: Done, In progress, Stopped. Why? Because it takes time to go back and forth inside different folders of the same project e.g. In progress\X\logo and \Done\X\website

I am not sure why you are "going back and forth" to a "done" project but what I describe is different. The done side is a hierarchy and the active side is flat. If you do have multiple open projects with the same client the common material ought to be in the client folder rather than the project folder.

share|improve this answer
Very nice ideas, but how do you "connect" your folders to the spreadsheet ? Can you tell me a bit more about this? – Radolino Sep 25 '13 at 7:10
The "connection" is merely the first column which states the name of the project. The second column would be tasks within the project. Other columns as needed. This is opposed to a to-do list within each project folder. It's all in one place and can be ranked and prioritized across projects. I personally use 3 columns (among others) just for the priority and status notation that dates back to the Franklin Day Planner days -- but others will likely use what works for them. – Arbalest Sep 25 '13 at 20:37

Traditional folders may not be the best way. Consider tagging your files and folders, like questions are tagged on StackExchange.

Using third party software for this would probably get you locked into the software you choose. And such software generally depends on special databases, so your metadata is not copied if you copy a file to another file system.

For Mac OS, try using Cmd-I to add "Spotlight comments". These are stored in .DS_Store files, but at least it's a way that should work with future Mac OS versions. See

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Traditional folders IS the best way: fast, cross compatible (you could quickly copy files as they are to a windows or linux machine), simpler. Plus this : – Radolino Sep 21 '13 at 6:22

Since you did not specify an operating system, I will present to you a solution for Windows: I found that taking a GTD/The Secret Weapon approach might be helpful. You can then use the Windows search to find all documents matching the tags. Here are the key factors:

  1. Put all files in one folder
  2. Assign tags to the files, answering the following questions:
    1. Who?: A person or group. I personally follow this rule: +LastnameFirstname, but also +Company +ClientX might work!
    2. Where?: A place where I might need or usually access the document, e. g. @Home, @Work. This is helpful if you share private and work documents on your machine.
    3. What?: A topic, e. g. Business card

You can also add your own tags:

  1. Status, e. g. #Done, #Running
share|improve this answer

If you want a very powerful tool to organize your files and projects, you could use DevonThink Pro

I'm using DevonThink Pro Office for some years now and I'm very happy with it.

It can index files and directories on your hard disk and creates a database with a content index. You can easily add tags to the files and folders and each tag is - at the same time - a "group" (in other words a virtual folder).

You can create saved searches, have powerful AppleScript support, so that lets you organize your data.

There are also labels (like those in Finder, but you can define them separately) where you could e. g. model a project status like "archived" / "work" / "done" or similar.

share|improve this answer
this one costs 125 euros ! – Radolino Sep 21 '13 at 8:35
DevonThink Pro Office is in this price range, DevonThink Pro costs < 70 EUR. It's not free, but it is a great application and very useful for many people. As I'm still using OS X 10.6, I was not aware of the fact that in newer versions of OS X there is file tagging implemented in Finder. What about Quicksilver? It's free and could help you access your "pure files/folders" solution. – MostlyHarmless Sep 22 '13 at 21:07


I'd use a hierarchical structure:

first level: clients / private / work

second level: for clients a folder for each client*, containing a folder for each project,
for private and work directly one folder per project.

  • if you prefer filtering by spotlight searches or similar, you might want to include the client name (maybe abbreviated) in the name of each folder of this client's projects.

If you prepend the start date like 201309_WebsiteXY to the folder name, you can sort them alphabetically and have them chronologically - I think you mostly have a rough idea WHEN you did something when searching.

For fast access to files/folders I recommend Quicksilver (see below).

You could add more "metadata" to the filename or to a spotlight comment for searching.

For the status you could use the OS X Finder labels like "done", "running", "frozen" at the level of the project folder or maybe at the level of each file.

Then with smart folders you could filter out your running project/frozen/done folders

For fast access to directories, Quicksilver ( is an awesome tool. I'm using it for a long time now and I would not know how to work without it.

If you let it index your project folders, by typing some words of the folder name you directly have access to the project folder and then can browse the folder's contents with the arrow keys and open/copy/show/manipulate the selected file(s).

There are a lot of plugins which also let you access

  • your address book, etc.
  • your web browser's bookmarks and history
  • even directly display the content of text files
  • manipulate images
  • launch AppleScripts or terminal commands
  • launch applications
  • define triggers (Keyboard shortcuts) which start a certain command/action .....

There is also a plugin (OpenMeta File Tagging Plugin) which allows to add OpenMeta tags to files and folders, which you could use for adding the Contact/Company/client information

Options are endless and it is incredibly useful once you've got accustomed to it.

Ah, best of all: it's free. :-)

You'll find a lot of Quicksilver hacks and usage reports on, e. g.

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