How I Work: Organizing Digital Assets

I’ve been doing a few posts on this meme of “how I work” so I figured that I’d continue things with talking about how I go about organizing digital assets. When I say assets, I mean everything from the literal document and multimedia files, to some of what I do in terms of creating, searching, and collaborating with them.

Storage and Encryption

As with many people who have a digital life that is older than half a decade, there are several media devices that I’ve used: PCs, laptops, personal media players, game systems, and mobiles. Generally speaking, I’ve been able to get all but the oldest of items onto a series of flash memory cards. I use a 32GB microSDHC card for the items that I need to access the most – which would include music, pictures, documents, and recently archived projects. This file store is also one of the areas where I backup my Dropbox archive. The only thing that doesn’t sit in this file store is any data that has to do with governmental functions or has highly personal information.

For that kind of information, and as a backup to the 32GB microSDHC, I have a 32GB USB memory key. This memory key is split into two 16GB sections. One section is open – meaning that I can drag and drop files from any PC onto that memory key. The other section (partition) is password encrypted. This area allows me to store those sensitive digital documents that might not have a hard copy counterpart (many of them do). One thing that I’ve begun doing is to enable document-level encryption on those documents. So that even if the encryption to the memory key is broken, there’s that second level of encryption that has to be gone through.

Those are the primary storage areas. I’ve also got a few holder hard drives (HDs) that have had information on them from past laptops and desktops – and while I don’t own the PCs anymore, the hard drives were not bad nor did I want to go through the fun of destroying the information on them (hammer and burn). I’m able to access the information on those HDs by connecting them to my mobile phone (the Nokia N8 has the ability to connect to hard drives directly without a mediating PC).

I’ve also got several smaller sized memory cards and USB keys that have context-relevant information on them. For example, the previous memory card that I used in my mobile, an 8GB microSDHC card, now serves as the secondary document and mobile photos backup area.

Searching and Organizing

Back when I used to have a PC, I was a heavy Outlook user. Because so much of my life revolved around the people I knew, the events they were connected to, and the documents or communication that was a result of those, it was a great application to play with. I’m long past that time and instead of Outlook, rely on services which are able to quickly index, search, and tag information on various devices and across services.

In terms of my mobile, I pretty much set items in a designated folder (audio, documents, video, etc.) and then a larger context fulfilling folder. For example, images for July are in the images/2011/07 folder. Documents are a bit more organized, but once anything is in those context-relevant folders, I tend to forget about it. Its merely in this function so that I can quickly move to another media if needed without thinking too hard about the what/when of the item. I then use the Search Widget to find items that I might forget about – that is, if the attending application isn’t already able to see the content (which usually isn’t the case). I don’t care to spend a lot of time in a file manager.

On my iPad things are simpler. Instead of dealing with files, I deal simply with services. Email stays on the server and is accessed through the Mail application. Search is ok, not great, but ok on there. Documents such as posts and drawings are saved into their respective applications, and then sent into my Evernote account. I used to tag everything when it got into Evernote, but that service and app has gotten so good that I don’t even worry about that anymore. Evernote is even able to make PDF and image content available for search, so I can get away with sending journals and drawings to it and those would be accessible.

If you will, I really hang on the ability to contextually search my content. I don’t so much keep a running record of everything, but at a glance, I’m usually able to pull back from memory what an item was for and what I was thinking when it went into that place. The more likely that content is to be shared however, the more likely I am to make that association data clear outside of my head.

About Collaborating

I do a bit of collaborating, and that has changed how I manage and deal with some of these assets. Where I would really prefer to be using fewer services, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense in terms of connecting the dots with others. Google Docs and Dropbox are the primary tools that I use for collaboration, and each are able to be usable in several contexts for the needs that I’d have towards data.

Thing is, its still hard to get some clients/people to think about collaborative files and assets when they start with me on a project. For example, if you send me some data to review, if its placed within the Dropbox folder that we already share, then its easier for us to make changes and comment on that data, than if you send me an attachment, and then I need to transform the file in order to edit it or make it in some way collaborative.

I do wish that more entities that I dealt with would go the collaborative method though. I’m not speaking of web-based content management systems, but just the assets themselves.


As with the other ways that I’ve talked about how I work, I’m always tweaking the formula and looking for ways to be more efficient while still getting things done in a solid manner. I’ve made several decisions that would be easier to meld with others if I bent a bit in one area or another (for example, there are no MS Office editing facilities on any mobile or tablet I own; all that stuff goes to Google Docs since those documents are always shared with others). But, I do think that in time dealing with assets will be even easier. I’m not as much the pack rat when I don’t know what something is for – but I’m also more careful about throwing things away and/or making sure tracks are sure. One’s got to with the amount of data we deal with these days.