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Welcome to Day 4 of the 5-Day Digital Organization Challenge. We are almost at the end of the challenge, but if you just came across it, no problem! Here are the previous three days:

Day 1: The Power Of the Dropzone

Day 2: Keep Favorites A Click Away

Day 3: What’s In A Name?

In Day 3, we talked about how we are going to name our files, notes, and photos. As we said, just doing that will have a huge impact on your quest to eliminate Time Squanders — those 5-10 minute “where IS that stupid document?” hunts that fly under the radar and take make our days more time-crunched than they need to be.

Now that we’ve given things a name, let’s talk about organization projects. Chances are, you’ve tried more than once to “get organized,” whether it is your files, notes, emails, photos, or something else.

Why do most organization projects end up failing over time? They seem promising at first, but over time it becomes a hassle to remember where to save things, and over time we forget where we put things.

It just becomes a hassle to dig through the elaborate system of folders, tags, notebooks, or albums, and the digital clutter starts to pile up.

The fact is, most organization systems are too complicated!

Focus On What Is Current

Here’s another problem with most organization systems: we have the things we currently care about all jumbled together with the stuff we used to care about.

Those “used-to-care” items aren’t things we want to delete — we still want to hold on to them because we may need them someday — but there’s no need to mix them in with our current world. For example, email attachments of 2017 shouldn’t be mixed with documents you need now because it’s cluttering your view (and robbing you of time finding what you need).

An easy solution is to take the things that aren’t current and put them in an Archive. This is a folder, notebook, stack, or album that tucks non-relevant items out of the way. They’re still there if and when we ever need them, but they keep our focus clear on the important things.

It’s like hiding away your sweaters for the spring and summer season. You will want to have them but there’s no need to have them clutter your closet amongst your t-shirts, tops, dresses, and linen garments that you do need.

You want to apply that idea to your digital information too and it’s very easy with an Archive. The Archive top-level folder is part of a system that we use and teach at Asian Efficiency called The Triple-A Method.

The Triple-A Method

Using the Triple-A method, we create three top-level folders (or whatever your system uses for organization):

  • Active: This is anything you’re currently working on, though “work” is very loosely defined. It could be a work project; it could be stuff related to your kids’ sports team or piano lessons; it could be a relationship you’re developing, a course taking, or anything that is currently taking your attention. Oftentimes it’s related to a current project or goal.
  • Assets: Things you want to have handy to refer to but you aren’t currently working on. It could be reading material, Someday/Maybe items, photos, menus, reference materials, or paperless documents.
  • Archive: This is for anything you don’t need, but you want to keep stored if you need to access it in the future. Inactive projects, reference material, outdated materials, or anything else.

Here’s a visual that might help:

There are several benefits of organizing things this way:

  • You have your Active projects clear and focused on things you care about right now. When you are looking at client files, you don’t need to wade through every client you have ever had — just the ones you are currently working with.
  • Any Assets you need are just a few clicks away. They aren’t scattered all over your drive or app.
  • Your Archive items are safe and (hopefully) backed up and out of the way. They’re there if you need them, but they aren’t cluttering up the things you care about. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • It is platform-independent. You can use this system on Windows, Mac, mobile, with files on your computer, Google Drive, Evernote, OneNote, task managers, email programs, photo programs — anywhere. No matter what system you use, your experience can be consistent.

Don’t Forget Your Sidebar

Remember the Sidebar Favorites you created back in Day 2?

The Active, Assets, and Archive folders are great candidates for shortcuts in your Sidebar. You want to make it as easy as possible to get to your key locations.


  • Create an Archive folder (or the equivalent to folders in your platform) at the top level of your organization system.
  • For extra credit, create an Active and Assets folder too.
  • Move at least a few inactive items into your new Archive, and use that from now on.
  • Let us know in the comments when you have created your Archive and what you’ve put in there.

We’ll have some more organization examples in our free upcoming live training. We’ll be covering some extra examples, and of course, answering your questions. So make sure to register today.

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Brooks Duncan

I love taking technical topics and translating them so that they make sense to non-nerds. I'm a Chartered Professional Accountant and have been a software developer and have run software support in very small startups and extremely large public corporations. I strive to be relentlessly helpful in everything that I do. I live in Vancouver, Canada and insert extra u's in many of my words.

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  1. Like Knut Olav Urdal I’m trying to decide between Tiago Forte’s PARA system and Triple-A/EOS. I’m leaning towards PARA because I think AAA blurs the boundaries between the “actionability” of a Project and the “watching brief” nature of the Area of responsibility we have in our lives. What do y’all think?

  2. I created the three folders in the root of my main data drive (D:)on my laptop. 1 Active; 2 Assets; 3 Archive. The DROPZONE is still on my desktop; haven't decided on whether to move that over to the D drive or not. I moved all items from the dropzone to one of the three folders. The dropzone is now empty!

  3. Made these folders and started adding to them. My desktop is….. CLEAR! In the meantime my to do list is to research Hazel and see if I can’t make all this sync so I can easily move from desktop to iPad. Thank you.

  4. For me, out of sight is out of mind. So I have to be really really sure that I don't need something anytime soon, or I will forget about it. I've created an Archive folder, which automatically picks up any PDF I drop in there and moves it to Evernote (using Hazel). I also created a Reference/Assets folder and an Active Folder.
    I've tried many systems and folder structures before. Hopefully this one will work for me!

  5. I have moved all the projects that i am not working on in my todoist app to the archive folder. so those folders are moved to archive folder together with their action lists.

  6. So…Asian Efficiency is helping me get my work files in order. I was managing, but with this new system, I will be succeeding at better organization than I have ever had! I have created my Archive, Active & Asset folders & I have started to move files into the respective areas and I am smiling at just how this simple, yet profound way of doing things is a game changer. I am excited! Thank you!

  7. I already had the PARA folder structure with the folders: 1 PROJECTS, 2 AREAS, 3 RESOURCES and 4 ARCHIVE. I experienced some friction to separate between where reference material should go, dependent of the character of the material (personal responsibiliy or general interests). There were also work mixed with reference information in one of the folders. I believe it will be a clearer distinction between the folders now with the tripple A folder structure in place.

    I have made following change of my existing folders:
    0 INBOX – Unchanged
    2 AREAS – Will be deleted after all content has been moved to 1 ACTIVE and 2 ASSETS

    My top level folder names are now:
    0 INBOX
    1 ACTIVE
    2 ASSETS

  8. Ohhh this is scary! I feel like once something goes into the archive I will never see it again!

    Seriously though, I know I am going to get hung up on not doing this because I can't decide whether something is "active" or "asset".

    So … I have created an archive folder and I have started to go through my folders one at a time (and am deleting stuff I know I will never look at again) and move things I know are completed projects into there. And previous years financial records (that's an easy one!)

    1. I have the same issue…having a hard time deciding whether something is an asset. I have a hard time deleting thing so it is good to have an archive file to put them in, but I am afraid that if I put something in an asset file, I won't remember it when it should come up. On my digital file in Assets, I leave an open task that will come up in a filter showing that something still needs to be done on it. That might work for me. I like clearing out my Active file so that I don't feel as overwhelmed.

  9. I think this is my favorite tip so far. It drives me nuts having to go thru all my old files to locate something I created just 3 weeks ago. I created Archive, Active, and Assets, and moved several folders of outdated files into Archive — old marketing information, spreadsheets that were awesome in their day but no longer relevant, etc. I think I'm going to add some time into my weekly processing to move additional folders/files into the appropriate category. It feels like weights are being lifted from my shoulders. I didn't realize how much digital clutter can add up and become stifling.

  10. Changed my study notes format in Evernote to
    Active ( stuff I’m working on)
    Assets ( will maybe reference in the near future )
    Archive (might not touch)
    The insertion of an assets folder is a really interesting idea, and will hopefully keep things out of the archive folder that I’ll want to reference more frequently

  11. I hadn't done the sidebar or moving things wholesale to the archive folder. I'll have to give that a go because I initially moved them to the inbox. :)

  12. Apparently, I’ve been using the archives folder incorrectly and was using it as a repository of things I will delete some day (but never did). I’ve deleted all the files that were in there and now all I have is some reference material that is outdated but still holds some value.

    I’ve also renamed my “WIP” folder to “Active”.

  13. Created an archive, active, and assets folder. Already moved several current client docs into active and older files into archive. Working what’s going to go into assets.

  14. I work for a small consulting firm with thirteen employees. The organization of our work files is determined by our CEO. It changed a few months ago, and will probably change again in another few months. I like the idea of the Triple-A Method, so I will try to figure out a way to integrate it in our current organization method at work. I have established the Triple-A Method with my personal files.

  15. SCARY! I'm still stuck on thinking I need 30 different folders but search does work well. I've started putting articles and "to read later, maybe" stuff in my new "LATER" folder and admin stuff into my new "ARCHIVE" folder. We'll see how it goes…

    The key is to remember 90% of the newsletters I get I really don't need to read ASAP, if at all (Sorry, Asian Efficiency!).

  16. LOVE THIS! I have a couple of spreadsheets and docs I refer to weekly that I put in the Assets, current job folders in the Active folder, and some random junk in Archive because I'm a digital hoarder lol. This is great and should make things a tad less frustrating.

  17. I have done all the challenges. My computer was just one big hall with everything in there. I discovered documents I haven't used in almost ten years that have been moving to a new computer with every change.

    I was so glad to learn i could move my most frequently used folders to Quick Access as well as create the DropBox folder.

    Today I created that Archive folder and placed all those documents and cleaned up all that I haven't needed. I have spent most of today just doing all that and my life already feels easier.

    Thank you!

  18. I created Active, Assets, and Archive folders at top level and then have them in the side/Quick Access menu. Under each, I divided into Work and Personal. In the Archive under Work I put "Hardware Software Licenses" and a pattern with instructions for making a men's suit jacket in Archive – Personal.

  19. I already had an Archive folder in my Hotmail account, but there were only a few miscellaneous emails that had been incorrectly filed in there. I'm pretty good about filing emails into respective folders, but some of those folders are no longer relevant to my day-to-day life. I've now moved these files to my Archive so they no longer clutter my email folder area.

  20. I created the Archive, Active and Assets folders and pinned them to my sidebar. Have started moving files into the Archive and Assets folders. This paradigm has given me a great sense of clarity regarding my files.

  21. The Triple-A Method is definitely something I need to implement across the board. I have been using pieces of it for my systems for a long time, but never put it into a system that applied to everything, so I was still left wondering where things were located since each system seemed to have its own logic in how I handled it. I will be going through each system and applying the Triple-A Method so I acquire the much-needed consistency I was missing!

  22. I can only really do this with my personal stuff–my work files are organized in a totally different way! But I did create an Archive and an Active folder (personal assets are all in one specific place). This was the biggest challenge of the week for me, but so worth it!

  23. Already had a File_Cabinet folder that is my Archive and an Active_Project Folder for current stuff. I moved several old Scientific papers out of the backlog of to be filed, renamed thema nd got them into my File_Cabinet archive.

  24. Made Active, Assets, and Archive folders in my Google Drive.
    My to-do list and active projects are in Trello. I made a Trello card with a link to the Active folder to access related documents to my current projects.
    Got a lot sorted and cleared out.👍

  25. I went through some of my archive things!!! Yay me! I already have the Active folder (I call it an @@Action folder) and an archive folder (that one is @@Done). I think this shows how much I’ve learned from Asian Efficiency!!!

  26. Done. Created:

    iCloud Drive > Documents > Active
    iCloud Drive > Documents > Archive
    iCloud Drive > Documents > Assets

    …and added to the macOS sidebar.

    I moved historical documents and inactive projects into Archive, current work and personal projects into Active, and reference documents I've commonly used into Assets.

  27. I created the three "A' folders. I moved files for inactive projects and organizations that I no longer volunteer for into the archive.

  28. In my Archive, I have files from previous years, previous things I've worked on that don't need to be at the forefront of what I see and deal with. They are things that are unlikely that I'll need again, but if I get audited, I need to have them.

  29. I created an archive folder within my existing OneDrive file hierarchcy, but as I did it, I'm wondering if it should then have separate Assets folder within to house archived assets items?

  30. I <3 arhive! Both as a top level, and sub-level folder, even though it's a fairly recent revelation for me. In Evernote, I have an "zArhive" notebook (z because of sorting), that stores things I don't need to look at, but for work, each "project" has its own arhive, for the things that are not "top of mind". Everytime I open a folder, and see I couple of files that are no longer actionable, into the archive they go!
    The Downloads folder now contains an "_archive" folder, that will be slowly chipped away after Dropzone cleanout, and the newly downloaded files, that will be dealt with daily.

  31. After listening to a couple podcasts of the person who created the Building a Second Brain course, I created an Archive folder and started naming folders the same across systems for projects (iCloud, Things 3, etc.). This article got me to rethink the archive folder a bit so I put it on the top level of my documents and categorized items for my work into a separate folder inside the archive folder instead of having multiple archive folders depending on the area. I also found that consolidating reading material and some other items into a main Assets folder has cleaned up a lot of my files. I am not sure the best way to incorporate an Active folder but I will be thinking about that as I continue seeing how my current system is working.

  32. I created and Archive on my Mac sidebar and iPhone favorites! I created an Active, Asset & Archive on my Google Drive for my business. I like this simple mindset shift!!

  33. I love this system. It us do simple and yet do effective. I used to mix asset and archive in the past which resulted in taking a long time to locate documents or emails I needed. O have just created an asset folder and started sorting through my emails first moving to my documents next:)

  34. I really like the Triple A concept. I simplifies things down quite a bit. I am keeping my active projects in Active, I am keeping my forms and supplementary documents in Assets and any completed projects are now put in 2021 Archive. Knowing the criteria, helps me know where to look for things. I have also put those folders on my favourites . I think I have used Active and Archived projects before, but I kept the Assets in with my Active projects, making things more cluttered than they needed to be.
    This has been very helpful. Thanks

  35. This one will take awhile. ARCHIVE is easy to create, but to manage it, I want it to have the same file structure as my ASSETS (which is basically Documents). Also, I'm having Dropbox/Finder sync issues with Documents and have multiple Documents folders. Gah! Work is pristinely organized, personal started out neat and is now a runaway train.

  36. I had previously attempted an Active/Archive system in the past. I struggled with this concept as I was constantly struggling to identify what to put where (and when to put it there). I believe Assets may have been the piece I was missing. Thanks!

  37. I'm already used to putting everything I need to archive in YYYY named folders, but I really like the idea of and Assets folder and an. Active folder is a muuuch better place for what I'm currently working with than just sitting around on my desktop. For the sake of triple A, I might just move my yearly folders in an Archive folder. Thank you

  38. I created top-level folders called _ACTIVE, _ASSETS, and _ARCHIVE, and added them as shortcuts in my sidebar. I like this simple triage organization, which should make filing and access easier. Currently I had many different folder in various places that need to be consolidated, and I started working on that. When I used a MacBook Pro as my main computer previously, I didn't really have enough internal storage so I had acquired several external hard drives over time, where I had moved a lot of files, documents, photos, etc. to free up space on my computer – one volume was called DATA and another was EXTERNAL. When I decided to get an iMac and had more internal storage, I was concerned that maybe those external hard drives might be aging and will eventually stop working (even though I had included them in my Backblaze cloud backup), so I move then over to my iMac under –DATA and –EXTERNAL. Certainly I don't need both, but they both have complex structures and somewhat redundant; for example, I have projects and books on both, so I need to spend some time and get this really organized, rather than what has evolved over time haphazardly.

    Actually, I already had an –ARCHIVE folder, which I renamed _ARCHIVE to be consistent with _ACTIVE and _ASSETS. However, that really requires a current review, so I just created an interim top-level _TO_FILE folder under _ARCHIVE to avoid messing with all my existing folders there. Then I spent several hours this morning move stuff from my renamed _DATA folder, and also began to group things like Projects there. I need to get other tasks done today, so I will have to continue this process on a regular basis for a while to get it in shape.

    I also need to examine my DEVONthink databases, note-taking apps, editors, and tools to see where stuff is being stored. It's obvious that right now, I have too many places for my "archive", when there should just be one. It's similar for my assets (reference, resources, etc.), where I have stuff all over the place that needs to be brought together in a coherent way. Initially, I have to focus on my _ACTIVE folder so that it only contains stuff for current projects and areas. With my present situation, it's very hard to even find my "active" stuff since it's scattered all over.

    1. It seems I am going thorough all that your are experiencing. Bottom line is that I have archives and data over so many old and current storage devices. My task is now to set up a new pattern to follow, then spend time consolidating important things from the past. In addition to the time saved searching for information, think of all the storage devices we will reclaim in the process! The excitement of the possibilities helps to diminish the thought of the enormity of the task of consolidation, LOL!

  39. I really like the idea of an archive, I have colleted data from many years and nearly never need it, But when I do, I use something like HoudahSpot and always find it very quickly

  40. Already have an Archive database in DEVONthink. Keeping the some folder structure as in the Active database makes it easy to archive files. Went through a project and found same files to archive.

  41. I have two questions/problems.

    The first is that with items in different databases and emails from various accounts, how does this work? If things aren't centralized, we'd end of up with Triple A files all over the place.

    The second is managing flow from one Triple A to the next. An Active item will eventually need to be moved. Likewise, Assets may becomes Archives. It seems like a lot of work to constantly monitor to make sure items are in the right place.

  42. Great recommendation. I already have an Archive for both work and for personal. So now dividing other items between Active and Asset, on computers and in other reference tools like Evernote. For content in Roam (which has no files or folders, I'll use these distinctions as tags.

  43. I didn't do this for two reasons. (1) It would require totally reorganizing my current systems. (2) My current systems work rather well. For documents I use Zotero and store things on my NAS drive. As we did with sidebar shortcuts, I create a Zotero collection for each active project. Everything saved electronically is a sort of document, so Zotero might work for everything, but this is less than optimal. Instead, I use my file system. E.g., for each tax year I have a folder under ~/Documents/Personal/Financial/Taxes. I also use the excellent search facilities in Zotero, Evernote, etc. It's not a perfect system, but it's better than what I'd anticipate as a needle-in-haystack search in the Archive or Assets folders. Besides, at lease within these two folder I'd be replicating things.

    E.g., suppose I want to see what documents I need to save from my 2010 tax year. I have a guide on how long to keep certain tax-relevant documents. Ordinarily, this would belong under Assets. But why not just store it either in the top-level of ~/Documents/Personal/Financial/Taxes or in a child of this directory (e.g., ~/Documents/Personal/Financial/Taxes/Guides).

  44. Is the idea the folder structure looks like Dropzone > Active > Work or is it Archive > Work with Dropzone being a handy place to store files before sorting into the Active/Asset/Archive folders?

  45. I reviewed and confirmed my Archive folder has all of my completed projects or items I’m not referencing. I split my Active folder into Projects and Areas to delineate between active projects and areas of responsibility.

  46. I already have an Archive folder in Google Drive. I took everything out of my Projects (similar to your Active) and Resources (similar to your Assets) that I hadn't touched in a while and moved to Archive. My Evernote was a mess … but I've set up the top level folders, just need to move all my notes into Archive (for now). I can use search and find something to move into an Active folder if I need it!

  47. Done. Have a similar folder structure, but reviewed the "reference material" category I am using and added the assets at higher level and moved some the material I had in reference to that area and some material I had in archive to assets.

  48. I was using the PARA process for my files which in similar in that you are separating your active, reference and archive files. After reading this I like AAA better because there are less buckets and Assets makes a ton of sense for me.

    I already had an Active and Archive folder but have now adopted the Assets Folder!

  49. I created top-level folders for Active, Assets and Archive in iCloud, where I store my documents, and in the Notes app. I also put those folders in the Sidebar in Finder. And I moved some older items into Archive. I'm used to the top-level folders being Business and Personal, so I'm interested to see how this new structure is going to work for me.

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