Let’s Forget Folders and Talk About Tags!

There’s a big issue of paperless approach and it’s called folders.

It’s not your fault, that you treat your electronic documents on your computer the same way you treat your paper documents on your desk. You are the victim as all of us because every operating system is teaching us to think this way.

Whenever you start your Windows, Linux or Mac, you’re welcomed by the desktop. There’s a nice icon of the dustbin and folders. Yes, initially when computers were something new and people were afraid of using them, desktops brought to this new and frightening electronic world something familiar.

Real-world desktop

Electronic desktop

Anyone can understand, how that icon of a folder is just an electronic representation of a real folder you use for papers.

Real-world folder

But sometimes, you might need to solve this problem: you have a document that kind of belongs to more than one folder!

Which one to choose?

Now what? Should you put it in the Project A folder and make a note to the Project B folder where to find this document? Should you make a copy so you can have this document in both folders?

What if something kind of belongs to three folders at the same time?

In a real world, you can’t solve this problem with having just the original document stored in many folders at the same time.

In an electronic world, though, there is a solution, but because we still think the same way about folders, we do exactly that! We just make a copy of the same document so we can find it in the Project B folder!

However, we can use tags instead!

With tags, we can actually get rid of all folders with their complicated structure and use just one, yet find everything in there. Sounds scary? Yes, precisely because we can’t imagine this in a real world.

We still try to find and set hierarchy completely ignoring this fundamental flaw which will eventually occur. We still try to force the electronic world to behave much like our real world.

But with tags, everything changes, for the better. While you can’t have the same document in one folder, you can have many tags assigned to one document.

This means that you don’t try to place the document inside some kind of structure, rather, you try to assign it a role.

To give you a real-world example. Let’s talk about John. John can be only at one place at the same time. Either he is in his office or he is at home, but he can’t be at both places at the same time, right?

Where is John?

However, regardless of where John currently is, he can have many roles at the same time! John is a web developer, he’s also a father and he’s an ice-cream lover.

When you search for John, you can call him home, if he’s not answering, he’s probably not there, so you can call in his office. Yes, it’s time-consuming to find John this way, because you need to look at all possible places where he can be. The same way you are searching for that damn document in many folders until you find it (or not).

However, when you search for roles, you just ask the people gathered at the meeting “Who’s developer?” and John will raise his hand. When you ask all people who are “ice-cream loving developers” to come forward, John will do that because he has both of these roles.

Folders are places, tags are roles.

When you stop thinking places, you can free your documents and actually put them all into one arbitrary place because you won’t be looking for them based on where they are, but based on what they are instead!

Now, how to achieve this on desktop-based computers? With Evernote!

Evernote is actually not the only solution that incorporates tags. You can use tags on your Mac and Windows PC as well, but using tags with Evernote is very simple and very powerful.

I said it many times and I will say it again. After 10 years with Evernote, I have yet to find a better solution for organizing my projects.

So let’s talk about tags in a sense of roles of the document.

With any kind of document, you should be able to find the answer to these three simple questions and assign the appropriate tags accordingly:

1. What kind of document is it?

It can be a letter, a contract proposal, a blueprint, an invitation, an analysis, a price list, a table, a study.

2. What project(s) does it belong to?

It can belong to one, five or twenty projects at the same time, your choice.

3. Who does it involve?

Is there any business partner or the author you want to assign to this document?

To make it super simple, it’s good to have some methodology for tags, so you won’t end up with many duplicate tags. I use prefixes to solve this problem. So anything related to the kind of document starts with the d. prefix. Like d.letter or d.contract. Regarding projects, I use the p. prefix and regarding people or companies involved, I use the k. prefix.

The only reason for using a smart document storing methodology is a smart search result!

When I search for the document, most of the time, I don’t remember everything about it, but I do remember at least what kind of document it is, and who is involved.

Thus, I can dive into that one electronic folder I call ARCHIVE and search for the document by specifying assigned tags. Like d.contract and k.MICROSOFT. This will give me immediately all contracts with MICROSOFT, no matter what projects they belong to!

Or, using k.MICROSOFT and p.cloud-storage will give me everything belonging to that project and involving MICROSOFT regardless of the type of the document.

But there’s more!

Yes, I didn’t stop here, I created the whole methodology for using Evernote as the ultimate task and project management system. I call it System2 and you can learn all about it in the book and in the course.

THE SYSTEM2 BOOK: https://link.zavrel.net/ts2book

THE SYSTEM2 COURSE: https://link.zavrel.net/thesystem2course

But recently, I’ve published even better, easier to learn and use version called System X