Do you have a “Misc” folder?

Justin Woodum is a freelance computer, experience & processes hacker. He builds software to build solidarity. Justin narrates on how he chooses to organize his files/folders using a “Misc” approach.

I usually have a misc folder/category in most places I store/compile things. I usually call this folder (or tag it) “Unsorted.” I began using this way of organization because at times, I just do not have the bandwidth to sit down and properly categorize the “misc” item. This way, nothing is ever lost. When using folders, I only have one real Unsorted folder – I create short cuts to it in other folders for quicker access.

While it may be a rarely used dump, I find the “misc” approach user-friendly. Although I try to be diligent and always categorize things properly and immediately, there are times when due to time shortage, it doesn’t happen and there’s a risk of losing things (this has happened in past). My misc/unsorted category allows me to preserve things rather than lose. My strategy on choosing what goes in this folder is “least best” but “just in case.” However, I do not leave things in the misc folder for long.

miscellaneous-iconIs the “misc” category really user-friendly?

I feel most of us, while organizing files into folders – try to do it quick. (Wonder why!?) We quickly create major and clear categories/folders (example: Music, Resources, Projects, Accounts) and sub-categories/sub-folders. And then we observe few files that are just difficult to “marry” with any of our folders. We think: Let’s create a misc folder for now and revisit it tomorrow when we can re-categorize in free time. Weeks, months and years later, our misc folder keeps getting fatter and cluttered for us to retrieve things easily.

Only naming makes you really comprehend things better. Now and in future. Misc remains a mystery and with increasing intensity over time. You cannot remember what kind of things are being dumped. Number of clicks and windows getting launched are more. And finally your computer “Search” feature is overused.

Rujuta Bapat, CEO of Olive Design has an interesting view. 

I never create the folder named “Misc”…it is like creating the mess or dustbin. You can’t find anything in there!

I partly agree with her. I have a hard time finding something in time in my misc folders.

Wendy Sheridan, Sr. Graphic Designer at 4D Security Solutions has a capital take on the subject.

Creating misc folder is pointless. The TLD (top-level domain) is “misc.” Folders are just created for categories. 

While organizing files and folders usually see two extreme behaviors – the misc approach and no-misc approach, organizing other things such as tasks and emails is usually approached differently by the same user. Why? We see files as resources or archives “for later use”, and tasks and emails as “to be used now” – so the same person would perhaps choose a different philosophy. Let’s see what approaches people take in various context of organization.

Teri O’Connell, President at Humans and Computers, Inc. shares her view.

I name my “misc” folder as “Odds & Ends” on my Desktop and Laptop. The contents of this folder don’t fit into any of the categories I’ve established for my file structure. They’re typically isolated documents that don’t relate to my other documents. When I discover that I’m accumulating a group of similar documents, then I create a folder for them and remove them from the “Odds & Ends” folder. I never think about making them easy to recollect, just easy to find – recollecting is more difficult than recognizing, so I focus on making them easy to retrieve without having to run a search over my machines. 

Vinay Pugalia, CEO of Inkey Solutions shares an approach that most of us might resonate with.

I create “Misc” folder when I find that there are few things that are just too random to further classify into something meaningful. If after a certain time, I feel that there are few things that can be further categorized, I move them under the newly created category/folder. Now, this newly created category could be under “Misc” or outside, depending on the prominence. 

Probal DasGupta, a serial entrepreneur shares his experience with misc, including an exception.

“Misc” category usually means “I don’t think I will ever need this object, but I am hesitant to lose it.” I almost never go into my misc folder. Only and major exception: The misc folder under “Media – Images” – because I do save a lot of stuff there – the only exception.

Chris Gutierrez, a gutsy entrepreneur tells us how he organizes his tasks, and also provides his view on misc folder.

I force myself not to use “misc” approach in my tasks. I categorize my task list into 4 categories – “Priority 0″: Most important and urgent; “Priority 1″: Important not urgent; “Priority 2″: Not urgent and not important; and “Ideas.” While browsing during reflection time, things inside “Ideas” are pushed into Priority 2, 1, or 0 if they gain actionable relevance and importance.

For me, the misc folder gets forgotten most of the time. Whether it’s photos or music, it’s the largest folder that gets ignored. 

Samit Panchal, FSO Advisory at Ernst and Young narrates his experience with organization of folders and emails.

For documents/images that I have over years and have had to move from camera to laptop, one laptop to another, I have “misc” or “others” folder. The thought-process being: Files are too important; can’t delete them now; but these are just too many different kinds; not worth my time to create a folder for each. Over time though I’ve noticed that I rarely go back to the “others” folder; only for a few files if at all. Then again, apart from pictures and scanned copies of certificates and such, I rarely go back to any archived stuff.

I employ a different approach for office work and organizing emails – email being my primary communication at work, getting documents, sending minutes or memos. I find it easier to organize using project names as there’s usually a well-defined boundary of start and end; so all emails can sit there and then I can view by Sender. At times, I also store copies of emails in multiple folders if relevant (cross-listed), but strictly when time permits. All other emails sit in the Inbox/Sent Items and I do not go back to them looking for emails sent on a particular thread; my approach is to search by Sender or Recipient or specific names.

My manager has an interesting style. He keeps all emails archived by Year/Quarter/Month and then views by Sender.

Vivek Kotru, Director – Global Marketing at Geometric shares his revelation.

I created “misc” folder (I call it: General) to put information like prospects that we were not chasing actively or similar files that didn’t feel worthy to deserve a specific named folder. I put in files in this folder as the fastest way to folder organization at that time. And then I cannot find it when I have to. I have reconsidered changing the “General” folder to make it more intuitive, but have not succeeded so far.  

The important thing to keep in mind about organizing your files, emails, tasks and anything else – is that you should take whichever approach allows you to retrieve specific item in the easiest and the quickest way. I have done and seen others do organization for immediate entry, not for immediate retrieval.

“Misc” folder is the fastest way to store uncategorized files. But is it the fastest way to retrieve uncategorized files?

Does misc make you miss things that you didn’t want to lose?

Vishal Mehta

Vishal Mehta

Vishal Mehta is a usability professional who loves to play chess and has a strong eye for details. He's also the CEO of IDYeah Creations, a UX practice in Pune, India. Vishal is also a guest blogger on UXBooth, Technorati, BlogCritics, and SAP Community Network.

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