Living Hard Drive Free

After switching machines every 2 months for the better part of a year, I finally bought a permanent laptop. However, after constantly changing machines, this whole experience has made it very difficult for me to keep track of my desktop files — I have folders, files, things downloaded from the web (books/docs/music/films) — and then when I’m forced to a new machine, I have to consolidate all of my desktop files onto a flash/hard drive, and then put it on my new machine.

While this doesn’t sound that bad, when you take one disorganized group of folders and then add another group of disorganized folders to it (often with similar names), and then do it 6 or 7 times, things can start to get messy. For example, I’ll look for a PDF I downloaded — I know it was in my reading folder, but I’ll have to check Desktop/Machine1/Reading, Desktop/Machine2/Reading, Desktop/Machine3/Reading and so on to find it. And that can get cumbersome when you’re doing it all day.

So when I got my new computer, it was a chance for a clean slate — forget all the old messy folders, I can do it right this time. Only download files I actually need, organize them well, and keep as few files on my desktop as possible. As for the old files, I’ll throw them all onto an old hard drive under the folder ‘Archive’. You gotta cut your losses.

But I failed. Ultimately, I started downloading things, saving files, and then creating folders to organize all of this as desktop clutter started to build. And then sometimes I would get that nagging suspicion that I’ve already downloaded this same PDF 7 other times on every other machine and just never got around to reading it. Which means I’ve not only been hoarding files & wasting space, but I’m also violating one main principle of life — not being selective enough about what I let into my life. Either I should’ve never downloaded it (demonstrating poor selection skills), or I should’ve read it already (demonstrating poor prioritization). Both are bad.

My strategy in real life to be selective and minimize unnecessary clutter — lay everything I have out in the open. This way it’s easy to see out what I’m actually using and not using. I can’t hide things in a box in the back of my closet. If it sits there and I haven’t touched it in months, I throw it away. Pretty simple.

So I decided to take the same strategy and apply it to my digital possessions. Minimize the amount of space so it’s easy to manage what I use, and discard what I don’t use. Also I wanted my solution to be in the cloud, because it makes the most sense. With the cloud, I’m actually limited by space (5GB on Dropbox is not a reasonable substitue for my 700GB hard drive), and it’s also accessible anywhere. I no longer have 700GB on my laptop, 1TB on my desktop, 200GB on my netbook and have to organize/maintain all of the different hard drives. My files are all in one place and they go with me everywhere. Machine agnostic.

I don’t want to have to open and fire up a web app every time I want to access my files, that’s a pain in the ass. There needs to be a desktop client as well. With that in mind, the options are pretty clear — Dropbox, Google Drive, and Box. I use all of these already, and so I took a look at how I’m currently using the services, and crafted a way to use them efficiently and mold it to my goal of moving my entire hard drive to the cloud.

Drive has largely replaced Microsoft Office for me. I’m using it on a daily basis for everything – to create spreadsheets, track sales, write copy/essays, track ideas/thoughts/goals, etc. Almost everything I do can be traced back to some sort of Google Doc. So I cleaned Drive up a bit and kept it that way. Drive would remain my main tool and my first option for any type of work.

As I looked through my Dropbox folder, I noticed that most of my folders in there are folders I share with other people. Mostly with me on the receiving end. While I do keep a bit of my own stuff in there, it’s mainly become a repository for shared info that can’t be done in Drive (code, pdf’s, contracts, etc). For the files that are personal, it’s mainly on the go material — reading. It has become sort of a flash drive, but in the cloud. I only have 5GB’s of space, so I can’t have all my files live in it. But the files on it are easy enough to access (Laptop, iPhone, iPad, Browser, and all without connection as well) that I will usually throw a PDF of a book in there before a flight or something. The added benefit is that everyone else uses it, so it’s easy to share files and pass around information. Since it’s only 5GB it can get of control pretty quickly if you have a lot of shared material, I’m going to try to keep it fairly ephemeral. Only books, music, documents, etc. that I need right now will be in there. Immediate consumption. It will conserve space, limit options and increase focus.

Lastly, I have Box. Pretty similar to Dropbox, except I have 50GB of space on there. It’s enough space to amass a good amount of stuff without quickly running out of space. But it’s also small enough that you don’t have a lot of room to hoard. If you’re downloading things as quickly as I am, you can fill up 50GB in a short amount of time if you’re not careful. Essentially only pictures, good books, and archived documents that are necessary will be saved onto there. Only qualified files that flow through Dropbox will enter Box. This ensures that most things in Box will actually be worth keeping — I’ve actually used the file in some capacity (probably read it), and I decided that it was worth keeping. Once in a while, I’ll probably have to go back and clean it out, but with only 50GB of space, it will be pretty quick to see what I’m actually using and not. This way I can start to curate a very high quality repository of information, and since I’ll have actually previously consumed all of the information, it will become a digital extension of my own knowledge.

With this funnel process — Drive to replace Office, Dropbox for keeping immediate files and sharing, and then Box as an archive of sorts — I can more easily reduce clutter and keep only the things that I actually need. In addition with everything I have in the cloud, theoretically, I’m making another step towards being truly machine agnostic. Which is cool, right?

Update: 5/23/2013

Got a new laptop from Coupa the other day, and started working on it with next to zero setup.

I leave my Coupa laptop at the office and my personal one at home. One day at work, I needed a file and looked on my Desktop and — shit, new computer. But oh wait! Found it in Box. Amazing.

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One thought on “Living Hard Drive Free

  1. Pingback: How I Use the Web | Chris E. Yin

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