A Filing System That Keeps You Motivated

A Filing System That Keeps You Motivated

PilotFireIn October 2014 I had the pleasure of speaking at the SimpleREV conference, and I was lucky enough to speak right before David Delp. I say lucky because by the end of his talk he had us all a) dedicating ourself to our most important goals and b) singing. Thank God I didn’t have to follow that. David has some unique and useful advice around filing structures, so I asked him to write a guest post for us.

Where should I store this file and how am I ever going to find it again?

Yikes! Why am I saving it in the first place?

How to organize your files, your stuff—your whole life—is the big question many people wrestle. All the time. Ten years ago I discovered a simple system that for me is extremely reliable, easy to remember, fully customized to my life, and has the incredible added benefit of reminding me why I’m doing something while I’m doing it. It’s part of a method I teach called A Simple System for Everything, and it includes a great filing system.

Start with your role.

I’m one of those guys who’s always asking, why. Why am I starting that project? Why am I saving this thingy? Why am I doing what I’m doing, and why right now?

It’s not always easy to get to the answer, but once I understand my motivation, everything else lines up. I work with more gusto, love more unconditionally, and yep, organize my files with more clarity.

Answering the why questions is easier when I understand the role I play in a given situation. Roles are at the bottom of the why question and they become the top of the file organization.

The roles you play are the categories of your life.

We all play many roles in our lives as Caregiver, Earners, Advocates, Champions, Mentors, Lovers. As a Salesperson for a company your role is very different than as a Financial Planner looking out for your family’s security. Your motivations as the Caregiver of your parents are very different than your motivations as an Entrepreneur, although some of the behaviors may be similar.

Start here. What are the most important roles you play at work? The name is very important to understanding your motivation. Your job title might be Product Manager, but your roles might include Mentor, Motivator, Clarifier, and Gunslinger.

Next think about your roles with your loved ones: Caretaker, Friend, Lover. And your roles around money and creativity.

And now imagine this: the names of your roles become the names of the folders that organize all of your files.

The System.

Yes, I’m suggesting you organize your filing system with your roles at the very top. Then within the roles folders put your project folders or there may be sub-roles with project folders. While this seems very simple, it’s actually very powerful.

Role Folders

For example, here is the root of my filing system. (Don’t scratch your head too hard when you see Husband and Divorcee. Some of these roles have been inactive for a while.)

Each of these roles has a clear meaning to me. As a Father my role is to provide a safe, rich life for my daughter and to help her find her own strength. Defining it this way made it easier to decide to become her soccer coach and, consequently, where I would store the files related to that role. Instead of a “Team Tigers” folder stuck somewhere randomly inside an “Other Stuff” folder, I have a “Coach” folder which has a home inside the “Father” folder.

Coach Role

This might sound odd, but the day-to-day use of those role-named folders and their relationship, Father containing Coach, actually triggers my connection to “help her find her own strength.” When I’m doing Save As… for the team roster, I see that structure in the dialog box, and even if I’m not thinking about it, maybe even because I’m not thinking about it, the connection between what I’m doing and the motivation to do it gets a little stronger. That micro-reminder happens dozens of times of day, for all my roles.

It also makes it easier to remember where I put stuff because my role is more integrated into how I think about myself than other categorizing systems.

For more examples, some important roles for me include Breadwinner and Entrepreneur. As a Breadwinner my goal is to get money into my life so the project folders are organized by clients and projects for clients. As an Entrepreneur, my goal is to start businesses that provide value. All of my own business projects are in that folder.

I also organize my folders in my mail program by role, too.

I organize my do list by role, too.

Organizing a Life you Believe in.

I didn’t come to this system because I needed a way to organize computer files. I came to organizing my computer files this way because it’s how I organize the rest of my life. It’s how I figure out what I want to pay attention to this year, this week, today, now.

Like most people, you might not have an overarching singular mission that drives all your decisions, but you are probably very passionate about some of the roles you play— especially the roles that inspire you to be your best.

What are those roles? Musician? Mother? Adventurer? Make a list of your roles and play with the names until they fit. Capitalize them like job titles so you take them a little more seriously.

Understanding the roles you play lets you set goals that have your heart at the root of their motivation. Rather than, “What do I want to do with my life?” and getting stuck on why. Ask yourself, as a Homemaker or Software Designer or Best Friend, is there something you know you want to do for sure, before you die? Something you’d set aside many other things to do?

For me as a Father, before I die I want to travel to a faraway land with my daughter. This year I’m going to buy her a Eurail pass and set her out into the world to discover that land. And this week I’ll talk to my friend Bernard to see if she can stay a night or two at his place in Paris.

As a Designer, before I die I want to design tools to help people make a life they believe in. This year I’ll launch my software tool to make a great week’s plan, and today I’ll mention it in an article I’m writing to you.

Have you already figured out that my do list is also organized by roles?

Todoist Roles

The Great Year Plan

Great Year
Knowing what you want to do before you die is not about making a bucket list. It’s a way to discover what’s most important to you. Because it’s based on your roles, it becomes a reflection of how you see yourself, and it’s an excellent view of your life’s priorities. This is a map of your dreams.

There are others ways to sort your life’s priorities, but this is the best one I’ve found, and it works!

Every year, sometimes twice a year, I offer a workshop called the Great Year Workshop, and if these ideas are intriguing to you, I want you to join us January 24 in San Francisco. Our goal is to make a realistic plan for the year so that everything we do lines up with our dreams. Even the most mundane tasks align somehow with a core motivation to be our best in our important roles.

Organizing your life by role keeps you connected to the meaning in your life. Organizing your files by role triggers that connection every time you file something.

What’s one role you know feels great when you are at your best? In that role is there one thing you know for sure you want to do before you die? What will you do this year? What will you do this week?

The answer will bring you one step closer to your dreams.

David DelpDavid Delp is an Artist, Entrepreneur, Designer, Teacher, Father, Friend, Community Organizer, and Creative Director at Pilot Fire. It’s his dream to design super duper tools to help you focus your attention and craft a life you wouldn’t trade for a bazillion dollars or even a time machine.

About the Author

Brooks Duncan helps individuals and small businesses go paperless. He's been an accountant, a software developer, a manager in a very large corporation, and has run DocumentSnap since 2008. You can find Brooks on Twitter at @documentsnap or @brooksduncan. Thanks for stopping by.

Leave a Reply 4 comments

archana - September 29, 2015 Reply

Thanks for sharing this concept. It makes so much sense. It will bring meaning to all that I do.

Lara - January 16, 2015 Reply

Thanks Brooks (and David),

I’m going to try this out!
Your words “the connection between what I’m doing and the motivation to do it gets a little stronger” reminds me of a guy on the CBC (radio) who harnessed this same power by using his passwords to help achieve his goals. Every week he set a new password/goal. Not only did a goal stay on his mind, but every time he keyed it and felt that little bit of pleasure-feedback associated with successfully accessing whatever the password enabled, the motivation to reach the goal got a little stronger.

And why not try to harvest something from the simple of acts we perform each day?

The Path to Paperlessness and a File System that Keeps You Motivated - Pilot Fire - January 16, 2015 Reply

[…] invited me write to his folks about my Filing System that Keeps You Motivated. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this here, but yes, I organize my files by roles, too. […]

David - January 15, 2015 Reply

What a pleasure to meet you, Brooks. Your backup recommendation has given me a new (I hope not false) sense of security. Well, security is a fantasy anyway so gauging the truth about it is folly. So thanks!

Oh, and thanks for letting me talk to your people. I got some nice feedback on Twitter.

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