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How I know You’re an Amateur Content Creator

hint: it’s your messy digital files.

 

Content creation is an inevitably digital process in the 30th year of the Information Age. Moving away from analog creation provides significant benefits to creators, from the powerful creation shortcuts to the distribution of content. With the great power of digital comes great responsibility — digital file organization. We rarely work on digital projects in a vacuum. We create and deliver content to partners and clients and work collaboratively with colleagues, contractors, and outside agencies. Often, we’re required to share our digital files with several others, making how we organize, title, and store them almost as important as the quality of the work itself. Intuitive and considerate digital file organization is the key characteristic that distinguishes the professional from the amateur creator. Professionals tend to use file naming and organization as a means of communicating how and why they created files — an effort that doesn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated. In contrast, when a collaborator receives your messy project, it elicits one of two thoughts; 1. This person might be new to the professional space, 2. This person is sloppy. Either way, it puts the recipient in an awkward position of having to clean up your mess, ask you to clean it up, or worse, silently decide to avoid working with you in the future. Many of us strive to make a living from the creation of content. We create because we love to create, but as professionals, we need to operate within shared parameters to flourish. Our skills and work need to be understood by others for them to be marketable. If you’re taking this criticism to heart, consider the additional benefits to a digitally organized life beyond marketability and professionalism.


Clean your room!

To fully understand this concept, consider your digital workspace as your childhood bedroom. You can’t have friends over until it’s cleaned up. Your parents would reem you if they walked into your messy room. But there’s more to cleaning your room than getting your parents off your back. As an adult, you finally realize how nice it is to come home to a made bed in the evening. You notice that life feels chaotic when there are clothes strewn all over the floor, and there is unfolded laundry in a hamper getting wrinkly. You see how much more peaceful life seems when you proactively take care of these things. It gives you clarity and headspace for other, more important things. Keeping a tidy digital room elicits these same, cozy feelings. An organized digital project and workspace allows you the headspace to enhance your productivity and creativity. When I’m creatively flowing, I don’t want to be bothered to organize. But if I come out of that flow state to deliver the job, only to find a complete mess, I tend to get anxiety. That’s why it’s essential to develop organizational habits. Habits are the keyword here; a tendency to organize, something that you do without much conscious thought or effort. Organizing habits allow us to maintain a tidy digital workspace without interrupting the flow state of creativity. It’s about efficiency because it’s much harder to untangle a birdnest of digital string you carelessly create than it is to keep your project organized from the start. Digitally messy habits If you’re not sure that you’re a digitally messy person, here are a few indicators to consider. Boss: “Can you send me that document?” You: “Uhh…”Messy desktop The desktop is not a place to store your files. The desktop is akin to the floor of your bedroom; you can drop your clothes on the floor when you get home from work, but they have an intended home. Many people think they’re only going to leave a file on the desktop for a little while, then slowly accumulate a virtual disaster. I’m all for visually moving data from an application to your desktop if you’re not quite sure where it needs to go, but you need to develop a strategy to move them quickly to a designated location. Messy downloads folder This folder is one of the biggest pitfalls for young content creators. If you use an application like Premiere Pro, the links created to the media you’re editing are known as “relative” links. The software only knows the location of the media based on the file’s directory at the time of import into the project. If the project moves (sent via dropbox to another editor) and the project has links to YOUR downloads folder, that media will be offline. You should keep your downloads folder empty at all times. There is a place for every item you download from the internet, and if you don’t have a folder structure that lets you put these things in a tidy home, go start creating one right now. I emphasize start because it’s an iterative process. I’ve been developing good organizational habits and structures for my entire career, and it frequently changes as I learn more and more about what I need to feel organized. Strange naming conventions Final? Final_Final? Dashes or Underscores? There’s a lot of different ways to name your projects and your files, and the only key to doing it right is consistency. Consistency aids two things the most, readability and intuition. If you look at a list of files in your file browser, your eyes shouldn’t strain to find what you need. Much like laying out typography, you want to make the process of scanning and reading the information as easy as possible. It’s easiest to read large amounts of type if they’re left-justified, and lower-case type is easier to read than upper-case as it allows the eye to flow through the lines smoothly. Use underscores “_” and hyphens “-,” NEVER periods “.” I’m okay with spaces, but many sticklers would say not to use them either. Then there’s naming intuition, which is especially useful with versioning. When you export a file that you don’t intend to share with a client, there should be a suffix that announces this. I always use RC for this stage, which is short for “rough cut.” Other good examples are V for “version” or R for “round.” Deliverables that go to clients should have a different suffix. If you’ve promised a certain amount of revisions, this is how you keep track of it. The important thing is, especially when you’re in a team, to know at a glance where this project is in the process. Lastly is the final deliverable. There should be a suffix that denotes that this deliverable is final and ready to be posted, and your team and your client should understand this by the name. You can also use proper prefixes. I like to use some kind of serial number for my projects. Many workflow systems will generate unique “job” numbers when a project manager or producer opens them. If you’re a solo-preneur, you can do this yourself with a tool like coda.io. A little code will give you a fixed index length, which is essential for readability. e.g., “00022.” Folders and folder names lacking intuition Folders and their names should have a logic to them, and consistency is key here as well. I’m not the first, and I certainly won’t be the last to discuss this exact topic. Justin McClure has an entire project dedicated to the subject, called Get Your Shit Together. Here are some examples from his folder. I prefer a more straightforward structure, which you can see by watching the YouTube version of this article. https://justinmcclure.com/gyst What you need to make it happen Now, this seems daunting, but there are significant benefits to developing a digital organization habit. I understand what it’s like to be in a creative state and not wanting to slow down to take calculated organizational steps, but I promise that developing this habit will make you a more creative person in the long run. Once it becomes a habit, you won’t even recognize you’re doing it. Make the organization unconscious. If you’re a messy room person, one way to develop this habit is just to pick up one thing whenever you’re in the room (article reference?). The same applies to the digital tidying habit. Next time you open a project, move just one file into its correct place. Post Haste There are software tools to help you develop this habit. The single most important tool is a free software called Post Haste, by Digital Rebellion. https://www.digitalrebellion.com/posthaste/ Post Haste is so simple, yet so useful, that I’m amazed I haven’t heard of other tools out there like it. I mentioned before that I have a YouTube video out which gives an audio-visual breakdown of how to use Post Haste. You can go there now to skip the reading. Do you want to start a new project? Open Post Haste, enter your project information (serial number, client, brief project description), click “create project.” Done. Post Haste will use a folder structure template to create your folders for you, name them, and create your project files. These project files can even have existing folder structures inside of them. For example, a Premiere Pro project that has existing folders and sequences at the start that mirror the folder structure and naming of the file-level folders you created. Post Haste is the best way to get a great start in building a tidy project. The templates come pre-populated, but you can easily create your own. You can also create different templates for different types of projects. A YouTube video constitutes a different folder structure than a design project. I personally only use one base project template that has all my essentials, and I can add anything extra as it comes about, based on proper naming and structure principles I’ve developed and learned over the years. You have two options for where Post Haste creates these folders. The first is a fixed location, which I recommend. Post Haste will automatically write these files to your designated Projects folder, making the whole process even more straightforward and requiring fewer clicks and thought (more subconscious and habitual). The other option is to choose a location each time you create a project. If you’re bouncing between different project locations based on the content or whatever other reason, this is an excellent option to have. There are even more great tools in the Post Haste preferences. Closing Post Haste after creating the project, strict naming to force out special characters, designated separator characters for breaking up your project title, global hotkeys. But perhaps the most crucial feature, especially for teams, is the template location designation. Post Haste template files are pretty simple at their core. These .pht files are little packages that contain your desired folder structure inside of the, and on Mac OS, a right-click, “Show Package Contents” will give you a glimpse of this. You can edit folder structure from here or from the Post Haste application. These templates live, by default, in your user Application Support folder. But here’s where it gets interesting. You can designation the template location to be any folder on your system, including a shared drive like a NAS drive or a Dropbox folder. If you work on a laptop and a desktop, you can share your templates across your devices using dropbox as your template location. If you’re on a team, every member of the team can have the same location for their templates. If one person updates the template structure or the projects within, the change will ripple through to all members when they create their next project with Post Haste. This feature creates consistency of structure and naming across all team members, allowing people to jump in and out of projects seamlessly. That is the most significant benefit of a program like Post Haste. Wrapping up So we know that “The way you structure and name your files might just be the biggest tip of the hat that you’re still a rookie.” — Justin McClure We know that digital tidiness is a habit that can develop. We know there are tools to help us live a digitally tidy life. It’s time to Marie Kondo your digital life. Organize your digital files, and organize them efficiently and in an optimized way, for your own sake and the sake of your colleagues. It’s the one thing you can do to increase your perception as a professional content creator, and it will give you increased confidence to go out and conquer the world.

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