Flat Earth Wagon Wheel

Photo by * Nina *

Here is my end-of-year self-evaluation. I look at all of the systems in my life and judge which ones have added value and which ones have been a waste of time, resources or both.


Paper is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, stuff on paper stays on paper – dogs and coffee cup rings, notwithstanding. On the other hand, stuff on paper tends to be forgotten, misfiled or added to a convenient nearby pile.

Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

My battle with paper is on-going. I have abandoned sticky note proliferation in favor of jumbled notes in a spiral-bound memo pad.

I learned a great notebook technique from my former father-in-law. He kept his bankbook transactions in one notebook. I liked that idea so much, I still use it today. Lots of room, more pages and hard to misplace.

This is a victory: I have not wasted much time hunting for ideas from last week or bank transactions from 2006, because I know they’re in that memo pad or that notebook.


No matter what you may think of Real Estate Guru books, the best advice I ever got from one of these guys is the monthly folder system. Twelve hanging file folders hold 90% of the crap I think I might need, such as receipts from that car repair shop. Every six months, I shred papers from the previous six months.
At the beginning of every month, I move last month’s folder to the back of the file cabinet.

The battle with my folders is waged over the 10% of paper that I think need to be kept more permanently.
I keep renaming folders and moving papers around until the aforementioned curse is upon me.

Photo by Tim Morgan

This is a resounding defeat. As of this writing, I have four folders for the car, three folders for credit history, three folders for insurance (not including the car), two cell phone folders, 37 client folders (80% of whom are former clients, boo-hoo-hoo!), a box full of real estate transactions (which I can legally shred in 2009!) and three portable file boxes with business records, board game designs, medical records and old Police Department certificates. Did I mention that the dog has a folder, too?


Nature abhors a vacuum. So does my entertainment shelf. NO, I’m not talking about its dust-filled nether regions, I’m talking about any space that’s not taken up by a gadget, stray toy or remote control. DVD cases are squeezed into every nook, crack and cranny. And that doesn’t include the ones lovingly ensconced in my CaseLogic zippered CD holder. Or, the two dozen on a bookshelf across the room.

Still, it beats the days when we had half as many videotapes, taking up five times the space.

Photo by lostfate13

There is no logical system to our DVD storage. If it’s flat, it gets a stack. It’s a victory for chaos.


I used to obsess over storing tools, hardware and lubricants. Since the tools had no control over where I put them, they harassed me with commando raids: stripping nuts, gashing drywall, rending flesh, stuff like that.

The reversible drill once bested me in a hole-boring contest. I spent 45 minutes futilely pushing it into a wooden bookcase before I realized that the drill was spinning in reverse.

As I get older, these beasts don’t entice me like they used to. My boys get all the pleasure of misplacing them, now. Lest you think I’m being sexist, I’ll have you know that my wife and daughter always put the tools back where they found them. Which is usually on top of the fridge. (Oops? Did I just blow it?)

Photo by TOMTEC

Now, if I can find the nail clippers, I’m happy. This is a truce.


Cables, uninterruptible power supplies, cables, phono plugs, phone plugs, extension cords, big bricks, cell phone chargers, little bricks, twist ties, cables, KVM switches, speaker wire. And cables.

Photo by unimatrixZxero

Massive fail.


No booze, no cigarettes, no exercise. Do neck rolls count? I don’t have them, I do them!
Pop-Tarts®, coffee, my wife’s lasagna.

Photo doctored with PAM vegetable spray

All in all, a good year. My wife’s cooking has definitely added value to my life. (I will delete all comments referring to any other additions!)


What’s the point? No matter what filing system you devise, the next program you install will force you to make an exception. I heard Windows Vista has yet another default location for your stuff. Whatever.

I have won some hard-fought battles in this arena. In the old Windows 3.x era, I mastered the wagon wheel system of file storage. Some people called it a hub and spoke system, but that made me think of airplanes.
The whole idea of spending more than three clicks to get to a folder is repugnant. However, littering my hard drive with convenient shortcuts is just gross. Shortcuts eventually need to be categorized and you wind up with the stupid Start menu. Arrgh!

My solution is called Flat-Earth. Think of what happens when you chop down all the trees in a forest: it’s easy to see daylight! Basically, I recreated the Wagon Wheel in a folder outside of My Documents. I called the folder FlatEarth and dumped all spreadsheets into the Spreadsheet folder, all Word documents and text files into the Docs folder and so on. Just like my spiral notebook, I know that file is in there somewhere.

However, the files and programs fight back. They know I have several blogs and ezines. These web-centric entities are stored in a Flat-Earth folder called Websites. The files and programs always make me choose between saving to the project within Websites or to the Docs folder.
Since I also develop software, which contains documentation and possibly spreadsheets (for those burning calculations), the files and folders gleefully force me to decide where all this stuff should go.

Deep in the so-called Flat-Earth folder

This is a stand-off. Flat-Earth has made it simple for me to do backups, since it is outside the toxic dump known as My Documents. However, it has cost me much time in deciding where to store files, with the result being that I spend more time looking for files that I haven’t used in a while.

It actually looks like the forest floor is slowly filling with new-growth trees.

My Blog

Speaking of projects, this baby has been a total victory of substance over form. It started out as a confused jumble of tentative and tepid posts and burst free with a declaration of independence.

I learned about Finding and Using Incredible Flickr Images. That has made a big difference in the presentation.

(Thanks, Skellie!)

I battled with WordPress’ default image upload location, and won that, too! Not only did I turn off the date-based organization, I stopped using their uploader altogether. I just use FTP. This was such an important win for me, that I pulled out all the stops when the system threatened to reclaim its territory.

I was working on a new blog and had totally forgotten how to keep the uploader from storing the images in month and year folders. Unfortunately, I was outflanked by that blog. But here, I control the organization.

Hot Buttered Popcorn

Photo by Hey Paul

Hot Buttered Blogs

The Web

Of all the systems affecting my life, the web is the easiest to evaluate.
I think that is because I have only one point of entry: my satellite modem.
Sure, there is the constant battle with Firefox bookmarks, RoboForm passwords fighting with FireFTP Passwords, TweetDeck fighting with Twhirl, coComment fighting with my own *cool system.

But, unlike file cabinets and Wagon Wheels, I can make the web disappear with a click.

Photo by gabesk

Victory is mine!

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