Full Circle Communications

October 2015
Julia Wilbur Research Update
In September, I had a great trip to Rochester, NY, the place Julia Wilbur left in 1862 to work in Civil War Alexandria.

I will be updating my research into her life and times on Saturday, Nov. 14, in the Local History Room of the Barrett Library in Alexandria.

Also, a bit of a brag--I received the Ben Brenman Award as "Outstanding Researcher" for 2015 from the Alexandria Archaeological Commission.
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ease in writing?
"Ease in writing" comes from a poem by Alexander Pope, the British poet:
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, 
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance. 
Note he (and I) didn't say "easy writing." But just as dance lessons can help get you around the floor more gracefully, the goal for this newsletter is to share a tip or two to improve your writing.

Recipient of Constant Contact All Star Awards, 2011 through 2014!

Managing e-Files for Writing Success  
computer_idea_web.jpgMultiple projects, each with first, second, and 11th drafts. E-mails from four years ago. Saved PDFs that you will need....someday. Does this sound like your computer?

Computers and other devices now have sufficient storage to save just about every bit and byte we have written or received. But that doesn't mean we should.
Paul Lagasse, of Active Voice Writing & Editorial Services, applies his skills and thought processes as a former records manager to managing files, as summarized here. He also shares advice about moving between devices and about backing files up.
All of Paul's ideas won't work for you (or me), but they can get us thinking about the systems we can develop that will work for us.
File Management and Writing

Paul defines file management as "the ability to find files when you need them and to delete them when they are no longer needed." Key words: find and delete.
What's the connection with improved writing? Here, to me, are a few. First, when I can easily locate information scattered in many locations, I am more efficient, less frustrated, and better able to spend time on writing and not searching. Second, a good file-labeling system often leads me to incorporate ideas and sources that may have slipped my mind completely. And third, I find a "clean" system calming, which can't be bad.
The System   
Paul's system begins with the "linchpin": that is, the basic unit of organization around which your files orbit. For example, you may start by organizing by project, client, or year--or some combination. (For example, I might use "ClientA-Annual Report 2015," which I know will have lots of bits and pieces to organize.)
Then, he suggests three steps:
1. Before a project begins, set up a standard set of document folders, enter your client contacts into your address book, and set up folders in email.
2. During the project, apply consistent file-naming and color-coding protocols and also back up work regularly.
3. After the project, use "disposition protocols" to archive what you need and purge the rest.
Remember that "find" is an important goal of file management. Three things make this task easier:
  1. Hierarchical structure. A main folder will contain many levels, sort of like those wooden Russian folk-art dolls. Paul's next level consists of Administrative files, Project files, and Clip files. Within these, he places such disparate pieces as proposals (administrative), drafts (project), and final output (clip). A schematic he developed illustrates this
  2. Consistent, searchable, and sequential file names. The naming convention needs to work for you and the people with whom you work, considering most of us transfer files back and forth to others for revisions and review. One colleague laments naming a file "really final" to distinguish it from the earlier, supposedly final versions! Recite the mantra: consistent, searchable, sequential.
  3. Visual cues. Paul uses colors and icons for a quick scan on his laptop. He color-codes client files for quick visual reference (each client assigned a different color). Then he uses custom folder icons to code the file folders for different aspects of a project. And he takes advantage of the color-coding feature in his email application to mark client emails similarly.
Use the system you set up! And back up regularly.
Why not keep everything? Deleting files you don't need speeds up searching. It improves the accuracy of search results, as well as speeds up copying and backups. You may also be contractually or legally required by your clients to delete files after a certain period.
Paul uses metadata to flag files for deletion. When a project closes out, he adds the date of disposal--typically six months from the closeout date--to the folder's Comments pane (called "Details" in Windows). At the beginning of each month, he does a search for all folders with that month's date in the Comments field. He then deletes temporary files (such as all those interim drafts), keeping final versions or other files with permanent value (such as style sheets, contracts, and reference materials).
Paul's six-month time period may not work for everyone. When he explained it to a group of us at a recent conference, several people pushed back. The idea is to pick a time frame that works for you. And if the time frame is "forever," at least move files off your computer to an external hard drive or a server, where they are accessible without intruding.
Moving Between Devices
The cloud presents both opportunities and challenges for e-file management, Paul said. The ability to store files on remote servers and access them from multiple devices is a real convenience, but it can be hard to keep track of where files end up.
If you store files both on a computer and in the cloud, be aware that some services, like Dropbox, will not automatically sync between them. Apple's iCloud lets you set up hierarchical folder systems in folders that you create, but not within the folders created automatically by the system. Access to cloud-stored files on mobile devices can be tricky; some apps aren't as fully functional as their desktop equivalents, and less-powerful mobile versions of writing apps can sometimes mess with complex formatting features.
Some systems, like Microsoft's SharePoint and Google's Drive, add collaboration tools to the file storage function, so that several people can work on a document simultaneously. Other cloud storage services don't offer this; if you have multiple people working on a document simultaneously in Dropbox, for example, set up a file-renaming protocol to preserve the multiple versions and to ensure that everyone is working off the latest version. And while Dropbox and many other services allow you to recover deleted files, free services typically only save back a certain number of versions or over a limited period of time, meaning that older versions can be lost, he warned.
Backing Up
Many organizations have policies about backing up files and systems to make the task seamless. If not, or if you work solo (or, heavens, are ignoring company policy), start a habit TODAY to regularly back up to the cloud or a device that is in a different physical location than your office/computer.
Here's what he does:
  • While working: Regular autosave/"control S"
  • When a task is complete for the day: Copy onto an external flashdrive
  • Daily: Save the flashdrive contents to a cloud server or FTP site (Dropbox, ElephantDrive, and Carbonite are free or low-cost solutions)
  • At least weekly: Complete automated backups to an external hard drive.
To Learn More
Send Paul an email with questions and suggestions. Here's to e-file management for better writing!

File icon, email, and contact management tools (Mac versions)
  • Interfacelift.com (file folder icons for Mac)
  • Indev.ca (MailTags and MailActOn plugins for Mac's Mail app)
  • Nisus.com (InfoClick, a powerful email search tool for Mac)
  • BusyCal.com (BusyContacts, a great address book manager for Mac)
Back-up systems for you to compare
  • Dropbox
  • Carbonite
  • ElephantDrive
  • Mozy

Full Circle Communications, LLC / Alexandria, VA / 703.212.0350