In my last post, I explained the value of a directory structure: consistent file management structures a disciplined workflow that increases productivity. The magnitude of its importance was a revelation that occurred largely after graduate school as the result of starting a new job.
When I moved to start my new job, I needed to move my files to my new computer. In transferring my files, I realized that my work that followed my well-defined workflow transfered easily, while the work that didn't follow the workflow did not.
The contrast between the ease with which I started the well-structured work and difficulty getting up to speed on disorganized pieces threw in sharp relief the importance of maintaining a workflow structured by a consistent file management system. For those well-organized projects the only difference being on my new computer was that I began work from a different "root directory".
What is a "root directory"? Just as it sounds, the root directory is the directory from which all other directories sprout. Wikipedia's useful, concise definition is: "A root directory is the first or top-most directory in a hierarchy."
When I was at the University of Michigan, I made
C:\Documents and Settings\mbader\ my root directory. When I moved, first to New York then to Philadelphia, the directories could be easily transferred to a new root. At both, this happened to be
For the well-structured projects the directories were in the same location relative to each other. Unlike the projects on which I lacked discipline, there was no hunting down files through reconstructing the convluted thought process borne of exhaustion in the waning hours before a deadline. The files were exactly where I left them, except I need to substitute
C:\Documents and Settings\mbader\.
In hindsight, I realized that using
C:\Documents and Settings\mbader (i.e., "My Documents" in Windows XP) as my root was a mistake for two reasons. First, it is inadvisable to use spaces in path names; resisting the temptation will save headaches down the road (spaces increase the difficulty of programming). Second, "My Documents" is a default directory for lots of programs. The result of these defaults is an accumulation of junk that makes following a disciplined directory structure difficult.
Now that I described what the root directory is, advised how it should be named, and suggested where it should be located, I can turn to what is in it since ultimately that is where the work actually happens. The root directory contains all of the directories that organize my other tasks. In my last post, I highlighted five of these: data development, projects, reviews and comments, proposals and grants, and other writing that I will describe in more detail. Below, I reproduce (in part) the root folder of the directory structure. In the "first or top-most directory" you will see a directory for each of the five types of tasks that I do.
D:\work /Data /Projects /ReviewsAndComments /ProposalsAndGrants /OtherWriting <several other directories>
None of the directories contain spaces and initial capital letters demarcate words. An alternative to prevent spaces is hyphenating words (e.g. reviews-and-comments or the URLS of my blog posts); this is really a matter of personal preference.
Under my old system at Michigan, my directory structure was:
C:/Documents and Settings/mbader /Data /Projects /ReviewsAndComments /ProposalsAndGrants /OtherWriting <several other directories>
You can see that once I navigated past the root directory, it was very easy to find all of my files because they were all in the same place I had them in Michigan (or, in reality, should have had them in Michigan since I wasn't as disciplined as I should have been). Since the lifespan of a computer is limited and we frequently move for jobs, this structure eases that transition and helps us do the work that we enjoy.
Now, anytime I need to save a file for work, I know where to begin.