Make Your Future Self, Thank Your Past Self


On a daily basis, I often have multiple tips to share with people about using technology more efficiently. Through methods of productivity or even just simple keyboard shortcuts, there’s often a way to do something easier. I do of course, also have a desire to learn from other people’s best practices. Because of this, I feel it’s a pretty good idea to start sharing more ideas through my blog and hopefully open up some discussion about being more resourceful and efficient with the tools we use on a daily basis. That doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly going to start doing tutorials or podcasts, but I’ll admit now that the majority of these tips will probably be design/photography related and most probably technology related. I just hope they’ll be useful for you in as many ways as they’ll be just a great resource for my own personal record.

To start things off, here’s an anecdote that I have thought about often over the past couple of years.

Help Yourself by Helping Others First

I’ve always been a clean and tidy person with an element of structure to everything I do. Yet there were definitely times close to when I began my career in design that would suggest otherwise. If I were to open any of the old files I had previously created, it would make me wince with frustration. If you can predict the type of frustration I’m referring to, then I’m sure we have a lot in common. If not, then maybe I can help you out — and those that work with you, for that matter.

The types of frustrations I mean are: messy, unorganised and confusing files and file structures. For example, within a Photoshop document I used to have countless layers named after the number of their inception alongside clones of themselves automatically appended with the word ‘copy’, in groups with simple names. Even the files themselves weren’t without a few -final.psd, -final-1.psd or -latest-final.psd filenames and probably in single folders named simply by the project. Yuck.

About 5 years ago, I started to make a much larger conscious effort of arranging my files into better folders and generally just tidying things up a bit; even within those pesky Photoshop files. It probably coincides with the time that I started working at Apple and started acknowledging many people’s personal devices and mysterious methods (or lack) of organisation.

All seemed to be going well for a couple of years and then something huge happened. I started working directly with other people’s files and file structures. As soon as I started collaborating with other people on projects or sharing disk space with someone else, I realised just how different people’s habits were for organising the files that I was working on. There were many cases of lessons learnt in ideas of project management in the more professional environments, but there was still room for improvement across the board. Even my own practices to keep things a bit tidier were not good enough. I would constantly be going back and forth with whoever I was working with, to ask where things were or to ask them to take me through a file setup. It was about a year and a half ago — almost overnight — I dramatically changed the way that I organised my own digital self. Every document I created would be labelled correctly with version numbers in folders dedicated to particular file types within projects and sub-projects etc. The files themselves would be extremely well commented and arranged in the most logical way possible with no redundant content. In a Photoshop file, no layer would go unnamed. Rarely, would I have to explain the structure of a file. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how often I’ve come across this scenario.

It was about a year and a half ago — almost overnight — I dramatically changed the way that I organised my own digital self.

I’ve dedicated a lot of my time to maintaining organisation within working environments over the past couple of years (anyone I’ve worked with will most likely back this up) and it’s all down to one thought in my mind; who else is will see this file? Just from the thought of knowing that someone else will open a particular file that I’ve created or worked on, has made me far more organised and allows me to keep things clear and not try to overcomplicate things. Maybe it’s because I’m embarrassed to let someone see my mess, just like I’ll tidy up the house before someone comes round.

The one thing I didn’t realise, is that my embarrassment of letting others trawl through my mess ended up as a massive favour for myself further down the line. So many times throughout the past year, ‘Present Joe’ has thanked ‘Past Joe’ for labelling something logically and conveniently. I found myself working much faster in the long run when it came to making adjustments multiple times on multiple occasions, as I was able to understand a file from the moment I opened it as I was completely new to the file. Lest not forget that I was actually able to find the file in the most logical place in the first instance! These efforts have turned into habits and nature for me, even for my own personal work as I know that one day, I will feel like a new person viewing my own work and there won’t be any embarrassed in the slightest.

By thinking of others, I had made myself more efficient.

The underlying thought that other people will almost always be working collaboratively on the same documents as me, has lead to a much greater increase in productivity. It sounds pretty simple and rather silly that I feel the need to explain that being tidy for others will help you out; but remember, there was a time when I thought I was pretty tidy and well organised, but it wasn’t until I took a seat in the audience that I realised just how wrong I was and dealt with it. I’ve been helping my future self ever since.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading; I know this has sounded like a parent moaning to their children about leaving a mess. But I hope that the digital experiences I have learnt from, will allow you to recognise how initially helping others out can ultimately offer more assistance to your own future self, in more ways than you can imagine. Give it a try. Go over the top on organising something that you do regularly and then thank your past self later on.

As mentioned earlier, watch this space for a whole host of resources on improving your workflow and productivity!

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  1. […] abstract background was originally used for my blog post “Make your Future Self thank your Past Self” as a way of introducing colour to the page. I shared this on Dribbble and then a few months […]


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