How I Set Up My Files (Brief)

I have wanted to post on filing for a long time, but have not gotten to it because there is so much to say. So, instead of continually putting it off, I’m just going to post some brief things on filing now and then. Doing incomplete posts on how to set up your file categories are probably better than doing nothing at all. And, eventually, I hope to get around to a full series on the subject.

So, here are two pictures of my file categories. You’ll notice in the left-hand part of the screen shot that I divide my categories into 7 major divisions, which are:

  1. MP [= personal]
  2. DG [= work]
  3. NC [= consulting and such]
  4. General Reference
  5. Quick Access
  6. Shortcuts
  7. Archives

I will save going into the distinction between these divisions for another post. For now, I thought I’d just show a screen shot that shows the categories I use in my personal files.

The organizing principle for these categories is area of responsibility. Each area of responsibility gets a file — if I have something I need to file for it. The result is that everything has a place. Further, it is easy to know how to create a new category if nothing existing fits for something — I just ask what area of responsibility it pertains to, and if it doesn’t exist, I just create a file for it.

Within these categories are sub-categories, which I will also save for a future post.

One other thing that I’d also like to talk about now but will save for later (among many other things) is why filing even matters at all when you can search your computer.

In the meantime, here’s the screen shot of my personal file categories (sorry if it’s small — just click to enlarge):

And here’s a continuation with what wouldn’t fit in that screen shot:

One other note: Just because I have a category of something here doesn’t mean that this is the primary repository of my files for that area. I also have paper-based files, which continue to be the main home for many of these categories (for example, bank statements, which I don’t like receiving electronically). My physical files follow the same structure so that everything is based on one unified approach.

Tomorrow I will post the categories I use for my work files.

January 25, 2011 | Filed Under Filing | 6 Comments 


  • David Murray

    Thanks Matt. This is helpful. I notice that these seven categories are outside Dropbox. Why not inside Dropbox? What do you use Dropbox for if not for having all files backed up and accessible from anywhere?



  • Matt

    David: I just use Dropbox for files I want to have accessible on my iPad or iPhone. So Dropbox is for the files I want to have portable. I don’t have everything in Dropbox because I actually like having a distinction between files that I prefer to have portable and those that I don’t need to have access to anywhere.

    To keep my files backed up, I use Time Machine.

  • Chris

    Are you saying that each of your 68 categories represents an area of responsibility? Or that your three areas of responsibility are yourself, DG, and NC?

    I ask because your 68 MP categories make quite the long list. I try to opt for broader categories, because anything longer makes it too difficult to keep mindful of how I’m attending to each area (or role). I am curious if you have tried that and abandoned it for a reason.

  • Matt


    The 68 categories are the areas of responsibility. However, those categories can be grouped into higher level summaries. So at a high level, my responsibilities can be summarized by DG, MP, and NC. The 68 categories are drilling down.

    I found that, with my files, this level of detail was more helpful, at least for me, than trying to stay at a higher level. For example, even with the “MP” division, these 68 categories could be grouped into 6 broad categories of “Personal,” “Family,” “Household,” “Financial,” “Social,” and “Professional.” But I found that even those groupings, while helpful summaries to think in terms of, didn’t provide enough granularity and distinction in my file categories.


  • David Murray

    Thanks for the explanation. I use Dropbox for all my backup and all my documents. I was using Time Machine, but a few times I omitted to backup for a couple of weeks and suffered for it! Appreciate your openness.

  • Jason Poling

    Matt – I stumbled upon these brief posts on filing. They are helpful, but I cannot see the photos embedded in them. I’m not sure if the trouble is on my side or if the files are no longer available. I think seeing your files would help flesh out your descriptions. Any way I can get a look at those pics? Thanks! I appreciate all you do! It has been very helpful to me! Jason