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  • Digital Organization Challenge Day 1: The Power Of the Dropzone

Today is Day 1 of our 5-Day Digital Organization Challenge. Thanks for joining us!

In this Challenge, we are going to be conquering those Time Squanders — the 5-10 minute annoyances that fly under the radar but eat up a surprising amount of time during the day. They have a real impact on our productivity, and we don’t even realize it! We wonder where our Time, Energy, and Attention (aka, the “TEA Framework”) have gone, and in many cases, a lot of it has gone to messing around trying to save and locate files, notes, and photos.

We’re going to be building you a digital organization system as we go through the Challenge, so by the end, you’ll have the tools to easily manage and more importantly find, and piece of information you need.

In some ways, digital organization is not too different from paper and physical organization:

  • You have “stuff” coming in.
  • You need to put it somewhere.
  • If you don’t do that in an organized way, you’re going to have a problem eventually.

Think about when you have incoming physical items like paper: what happens when you don’t have a defined place for them to go when they come into your life?

That’s right, they end up piled and scattered all over the place. Sure, maybe occasionally you will do a purge or cleanup, but eventually, the same problem will come back.

The solution is to use a Dropzone: a defined place where you place incoming items until you are ready to deal with them.

With physical paper, the most common solution is a physical inbox, but the same concept applies to digital items: If you don’t have a defined Dropzone — a place to put them — when you receive those email attachments, download those bank statements, or take those meeting notes, they’ll be spread all over the place and will be very difficult to find when you need them. 

Here’s why we love the electronic Dropzone:

  • It is organized. You have a central place where you’ve saved things and a central location to go when organizing them.
  • It is productive. When you are busy, you are much more likely to quickly save an item to your Dropzone vs. trying to figure out where it goes. We will have tips later in the Challenge to make this process easier, but still — imperfect action (saving an email attachment to your Dropzone) is better than no action (letting it sit in Outlook never to be found again).
  • It allows for more automation. This is huge. The less naming and filing you need to do, the better and the more accurate things will be. By saving items to a particular location, you will have more opportunities to use automation tools to do the work for you.

Dropzone is very important that we included it in our Easy Organization System course.

Your Dropzone Is Not For Storage

The danger of a Dropzone is the same as a physical inbox: it can become a place where things accumulate.

There are two keys to avoiding this:

  1. Only save information here that you are later going to process and save. A Dropzone is not a working or temporary junk folder. Respect the Dropzone!
  2. Set up a regular schedule where you clear your Dropzone out. It can be once a day, a few times a week, weekly, or whatever makes sense to you and your volume of information. If you find yourself constantly skipping that “Dropzone cleanup,” that’s a sign that you aren’t scheduling it at the right time. It will take some experimentation and time to get it to stick, but it will be worth it!

You Will Probably Have More Than One Dropzone

… and that’s OK!

If you use numerous systems, as many of us do, you may have no choice but to deal with multiple Dropzones:

  • A folder on your computer or mobile file system. Some people call it “Dropzone”, some people call it “Inbox” or “Action”. You can call it whatever you’d like. Ideally, this folder is synced via Dropbox, OneDrive, iCloud, or Google Drive so that you can save to it from all your devices. I call mine “!Inbox”, and it lives at the root of my Dropbox folder.
  • A Dropzone in your note-taking app like Evernote, OneNote, Roam, or Notion.
  • Your photo library.
  • Possibly your email inbox, though ideally a system for that exists.

It’s OK if you need to have a Dropzone in each system. It just means that during your Dropzone cleanup, you take a look at multiple systems.

Exercise

Now it is time for you to take action. Every day of this challenge, we’ll have homework for you. Remember — there’ll never be meaningful change in your life without action!

Put space on your calendar to take action on this exercise and the rest of the activities for the next five days. You want to make sure you have time set aside to do the exercises. We appreciate you reading, but reading blog posts won’t get you organized!

Here are your action items:

  • Create a Dropzone folder on your computer for saved email attachments, downloaded documents, and other incoming files you want to save.
  • Schedule your first “Dropzone cleanup” for 15-30 minutes later this week.
  • Let us know in the comments where you’ve created your Dropzone, and when you’ve scheduled your first Dropzone cleanup.

Want some extra help? Register here for our FREE training on organizing your files, notes, and photos the right way. We’ll include strategies, tools, and extra examples. So make sure to register today.

 


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Last Updated: October 20, 2022

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  1. I’m in!

    DZ’s created in EN & Box.com (email already has one, obvs!) – called it @DROPZONE so it sorts to the top of the list.

    Processing scheduled for weekly review/planning on Friday PM

  2. Late start for me…
    Work:
    I already had an inbox (dropzone) folder on my work Onedrive and in Outlook tasks.
    I also had previously sceduled a weekly review every friday 13:30-14:30, when I among other things clean my inboxes.
    Private:
    I had an inbox folder on private Onedrive for files and in Todoist for private tasks.
    I have sceduled weekly cleenup of these inboxes every saturday 10:00-10:30.

  3. For electronic documents, my Dropzone is my computer desktop. I use Hazel to keep it clean-ish, but I need to revisit my rules.

    For emails and stuff I need to think about for more than two minutes, I forward them to Omnifocus.

    I have two physical inboxes, one at the office and one at home.

  4. I'm a day late starting this. I've created a Dropzone on both my work and personal computer desktop. I've also created one in Evernote and Dropbox..

    I will make time to go through my work dropzone on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday morning from 7:30 to 7:55 and on Saturday from 7 am – 7:30

  5. I created my Inbox (well, cleaned up my existing Inbox and added it to my favorites) in Dropbox and scheduled my cleanup for the end of the work day.

    I also have an Inbox in Evernote, but I have let so much stuff pile up in there that it is going to take me a while to empty it out, but I will time-box that and spend 10 minutes a day on it until it is cleared out.

  6. I don't understand the Dropzone concept. Digital files come into Outlook Inbox and get stored three times per day in OneNote or OneDrive, depending on what they are; or they get attached to a task. They don't linger anywhere. Am I missing the point?

    Photos are still all over the place on different devices. I haven't had time to decide what app to use for storing photos. I have an Android phone/use a PC. Everything used to be in Picassa. When Microsoft stopped supporting that app, I thought I would switch to Amazon photos or Google photos, but haven't decided yet.

    I "clean up" leftovers in my inbox from 6:30-7 pm on Fridays (earlier if I go out). Similarly, I have time scheduled Mondays, after dinner, to review the junk and deleted folders to make sure nothing slipped by.

  7. I don't understand the Dropzone concept. Digital files come into Outlook Inbox and get stored three times per day in OneNote or OneDrive, depending on what they are; or they get attached to a task. They don't linger anywhere. Am I missing the point?

    Photos are still all over the place on different devices. I haven't had time to decide what app to use for storing photos. I have an Android phone/use a PC. Everything used to be in Picassa. When Microsoft stopped supporting that app, I thought I would switch to Amazon photos or Google photos, but haven't decided yet.

    I "clean up" leftovers in my inbox from 6:30-7 pm on Fridays (earlier if I go out). Similarly, I have time scheduled Mondays, after dinner, to review the junk and deleted folders to make sure nothing slipped by.

  8. Dropzones created: Photos (to be later sorted to albums, given description and geotags checked). !Inbox folder on desktop and in cloud – process daily (M-F). Drafts for capturing and sending ‘stuff’ to filing throughout my system. Drafts to be emptied once a week unless gets cluttered in any given week. Notes is where I now also gather clipped web stuff and email info I want to keep to be later sorted (once a week) into folders. First clean up was last evening and next weekly one will be Sunday afternoon.

  9. Dropzones created: Photos (to be later sorted to albums, given description and geotags checked). !Inbox folder on desktop and in cloud – process daily (M-F). Drafts for capturing and sending ‘stuff’ to filing throughout my system. Drafts to be emptied once a week unless gets cluttered in any given week. Notes is where I now also gather clipped web stuff and email info I want to keep to be later sorted (once a week) into folders

  10. My digital Dropzones include: Mac Downloads folder, iPadFiles app Downloads folder, Things 3 Inbox, GoodTasks inbox, Gmail –Today label, and Drafts app. My physical locations are box covers near my desk and in the kitchen, as well as a pocket sized Circa notebook I jot notes in al day. Though I tend check some of them daily, I have set 4p Fridays to go through all of them.

  11. My Dropzones include: Mac Downloads folder, OmniFocus Inbox, Reminders app, an email folder called *Waiting, and a physical inbox by my desk. Clean up is on Saturday with other elements of Weekly Review.

  12. Hello,
    I have created a "'Dropzone" folder in the Downloads.
    I have put the cleanup process to my weekly Todoist checklist, which is scheduled on Fridays.
    Looking forward to next articles! :-)

  13. Okay so long story short, my new dropzone location resides in the newly crated ~/DropZone folder in home directory of of Finder.

    Longer version? *sigh* grab a seat, grab a drink, grab a snack, cuz this might get a bit involved.

    MY SOLUTION TILL TODAY'S CHALLENGE

    I use this software called Dropzone.app on my Mac, though that's a recent development as of the past year or so – prior to that replacement I used two others in conjunction with each other: Yoink.app and Gladys.app. All 3 of these apps (note, not used as actual directory/folder locations on my computer where I "dropped" stuff, but used solely as application UIIs to drop things in) served as adequate dropzones

    TANGENT ON PAST ITERATIONS, FEEL FREE TO SKIP

    On an unrelated sidenote, the only reason I switched out those 2 for Dropzone.app is for the sake of simplicity. I use both the iOS and macOS versions for Gladys.app and I own the macOS version of Yoink.app already. I was going to purchase their mobile/tablet version too and sync it all via iCloud… but then I just decided it was all too overly complicated to try to simultaneously covet the few "niche" or "unique" features of those 2 separate apps simultaneously when they already have a lot of redundant overlaps in general functionality and that I should just drop one and keep the other. Soon afterwards, I came to the realization that I don't really utilize or urgently need the mobile counterpart apps anyway – especially after the advent of Apple ecosystem feature updates like Airdrop, Universal Clipboard, etc came to the fore. At which point, I dropped both rather than just one and jumped ship to Dropzone – it doesn't have a mobile app, but it serves it's purpose as a dropzone + it even supports some minor automations to boot

    BACK TO THE PRESENT/PROBLEM

    … I've come to realize over time that they all 3 of the above have one minor but significant flaw (at least, based on the workflows I prefer / the type of person I am)

    **I have no friggin clue where on my machine those files actually live!!!**

    I don't get crashes or battery drains often (by their very nature, they are unexpected/unpredictable events) but I can't tell you how many times I'd restart my machine only to find my Yoink'ed queue of files have simply dissappeared into the ether and I'd have to hunt them down all over again. Dropzone operates in this fashion too, for either one, if you right-click a file and select "Reveal in Finder" there is no **dedicated** "dropzone spot" they are saved to, those files reside wherever you previously dragged them from until you drag them out to a new location. This a ibg deal when you're moving files around from commonly freequented folders like Documents or Downloads or your media folders etc… but when if it's some obscure file from a subfolder nested 7 layers deep in an external drive or something? You'd have no choice but to hunt it down manually again before dragging it back to your Yoink or Dropzone "dropzones" again — which aren't actual "saved locations" so much as locations in the app's interface linking back to the original.

    At least the records of Gladys persist past restart/crashes, but even when you right-click and use "Reveal in Finder" the file isn't in an easily accessible location but buried deep in some obscure Finder path like /Users/joelthomas/Library/Group Containers/X727JSJUGJ.build.bru.MacGladys/BE3C0B8B-A36D-4A3B-BEB7-A66586E6CD3E/353FD6A1-0A38-45D1-B60D-E1EECCABBA9D/thumbnail.png

    SOLVE FOR DAY 1 CHALLENGE

    I've installed 2 new apps.

    I know, I know, "shiny new object syndrome" alert. And hey, you may be right, I might not stick with these.

    If it helps, I'll start off by saying I'm still keeping Dropzone.app on my computer — but I've made a slight adjustment to the workflow. In addition to using it as an ephemeral space where files reside anywhere from ~5 minutes to 5+ hours before they're utilized elsewhere (i.e. the main "Drop Stacks" feature) I've also created a new folder-destination and move-action. This is the aforementioned ~/DropZone directory I made note of at the very top of this post.

    Basically, anything I want to grab for reference but I don't think I'll access right away (this can definitely be a bit of an arbitrary judgement, as these are ad-hoc drag'n'drop decisions made on the spot made on educated guesses due to time-constraints or sometimes just plain intuition…but I digress) gets dropped in the "DropZone" folder located in my machine's Home directory.

    Anything else (i.e. any other ad-hoc grabs that I dragged into Dropzone.app **with a clear intent in mind**) is placed in the Drop Stack UI. Heck, this could even be stuff from my "~/DropZone" folder, or something I just quickly grabbed from Documents or a USB drive etc. The point is the Drop Stack is now truly an ephemeral "buffer space" in Dropzone.

    If it helps to think of it this way, anything in the Drop Stack of Dropzone.app is something that's "Active" and the actual file-location isn't too important, whereas anything I dropped in the DropZone folder is a "dropzone asset" of sorts – preserving it's location till utilization (whenever that is) is important to my workflow. Heck, even if I don't utilize it by the end of the week and discard any accumulated clutter in my DropZone folder I'll at least have peace of mind (as opposed to previously when unexpected crashes or system updates or battery drains or other forms of restart would wipe my "stuff in holding pattern" items clean in Yoink and Dropzone)

    Anyway, that's my change to my Dropzone.app workflow now, if it makes sense, I created a dedicated ~/DropZone folder that I will now use in tandem with existing Drop Stacks in Dropzone.

    As for the new apps I mentioned, I researched and chose these precisely because there is no need for all of the aforementioned manual labor – it's a simple matter of configuring things in settings.

    unclutterapp.com is basically "yet another shelf" akin to Dropzone, Yoink, Gladys, et cetera. The thing I like about it is, just liike Gladys, it handles recent clipboard content (no fancypants niche-features like ML powered metadata, unfortunately >_< it's just text) alongside dropped files –– but unlike Gladys –– Unclutter also has a dedicated note-taking function in addition to those other two features. So it's basically a one-stop shop for all the quick clutter that accumulates which has no clear destination, whether copied content, jotted thoughts, "dropzone" files and folders, etc.

    And as I said, I can reconfigure the default save location of stuff in settings so that it's no longer buried deep in some arbitrary spot like /Users/joelthomas/Library/Containers/com.softwareambience.Unclutter/Data/Library/Application Support/Unclutter/FileStorage/ReadMe.txt but rather nested right under my new DropZone folder a-la "~/Dropzone/Unclutter". Now those files are in an easy to remember spot, they're spotlight-searchable, etc etc. All the benefits of an app-UI "dropzone" + plus the peace of mind of knowing the actual folder "out of sight, out of mind" cluttered stuff ends up in.

    The second new install for today was lightpillar.com/spotless.html which only handles files but it does it damn well. It's not just drag'n'dropped files but it can even monitor particular folders like Desktop and Downloads and treat these spots as "dropzones" too which get automatically organized and sorted into appropriate folders on your machine based on various criteria. Honestly, this app is almost hazel-esque with how complex and nuanced you can configure the rule-sets (for both "drag'n'drop" as well as "time-based" automations).

    But what I find most impressive honestly, is the "undo history" functionality. That alone sold me on biting the bullet to test out this product alongside Unclutter because, well, it's just nice to not have that mental overhead :) I know that I can always "un-drop" stuff I dropped (and thereby relocated) in this new "dropzone" (…does this count as a "re-relocation" trick or an "un-relocation" technique? I'm not sure. But I can move stuff back with a simple click. That's nice. I never knew I needed it till I had the option, but now that I do, it's rrrreeeeaaaallllyyyy nice ^_^ It's basically solves the opposite/corollary problem to "digging around to find some obscure location to drag stuff from" that I mentioned before)

    Oh and same as the new Unclutter app, I chose this because I could adjust in settlings where the "Spotless" folder will reside. And it should be no surprise that I moved it to be at "~/DropZone/Spotless"

    SUMMARRY

    I don't know which of these 2 new apps I'll keep, or if I'll disregard both and stick with with what's working via Dropzone.app now that I've attenuated the "placeholder location" workflow to better suit my needs, but in one way or another all 3 of these trial-solutions I've implemented today allows me to save (temporary) stuff to dedicated "dropzone folder/s" in my machine's Home directory.

    Dropzone.app "Drop Stacks" = "Active" stuff where I don't care where it resides as it'll be cleared to neutral ASAP, and the ~/DropZone folder serves as a special placeholder for all the other stuff. They're both buffers, their longevity and permanence just happen to function differently (they may even intertwine with each other at times, i.e. a file that's resided in the DropZone folder for a few days may end up back in the Dropzone.app "stack" once again before it's moved/copied/discarded from that holding-pattern buffer within a few hours or minutes' time)

    Unclutter.app can hold files, folders, notes and clipboard content that I drop in there. It too is configured to save content nested inside ~/DropZone/Unclutter. I kindof consider this an "active" area too. At least compared to the automated organization features of the following app, the "clutter" in this folder is well and truly messy, so it kidnof prompts me to clean it up regularly – if not by the end of the day then by the start of the next workday for sure. Maintaining it any longer than that seems like it'd drive me nuts tbh…

    Spotless.app only handles files, but it has so much more potential when it comes to "dropzone destinations" based on configurable type+time+location based automation rules.

    The logic is almost (not quite, but almost… e.g. no applescript support, no recursive searches within subfolders, etc etc) as complex and nuanced as Hazel.app – but while Hazel functions as a silent service-worker in the background Spotless has a well thought out app UI that stays out of the way when you don't drag stuff and animates into view just when you need it (like Yoink, DropZone etc), it's notifications and prompts are more robust than Hazel when it does take action on your files, etc, etc. And sure, with enough manual trial-and-error effort I could probably accomplish most of this with Hazel automations too… this has it all built-right in. How much applescript experimentation would I need to go through to replicate the "copied/moved/trashed history" panel, complete with "individual/bulk undo" functionality? Or the conflict-resolution prompts and other such interactive notifications? The dedicated "peekaboo dropzone UI" when files are dragged? Hazel works well in the background and I see no need to replace it, but Spotless seems to serve a spot (pun intended) in keeping my Desktop and Downloads and dropped items nice and neat and tidy and organized and sorted and spotless (I'm a punny person) too.

    Oh, and when all those fancy rules aren't sending stuff to Documents or an external drive or a project folder etc, the default fallback location is always ~/DropZone/Spotless(/sub/folder/s based on rules like filetype, location dragged from, time-based automation-triggers, naming scheme template, etc etc).

    Easy to remember, easy to navigate and access, stuff in Spotless is searchable via Spotlight in this new default directory, etc etc. All the benefits that come with having a known and dedicated "dropzone" location that was mentioned for ~/DropZone/Unclutter and ~/DropZone applies here too.

    As for the cleanup schedule… "Stacks" in Dropzone.app pretty much falls under "clear to neutral every day" and the "DropZone" folder will be weekly (before my Sunday Weekly Review though. I've scheduled a reminder for Friday morning and the calendar event deadline is a timeblock towards Friday evenings)

    ~/DropZone/Unclutter will likely be automatically cleared out even without opening that location int eh Finder as I drag stuff out of the app. And I have a very high confidence in the fact that my inner OCD will drive me to clear out the accumulating clutter on a day by day basis #ClearToNeutralDaily

    ~/DropZone/Spotless cleans up and accumulates various content from my Desktop and Downloads folder via schedules automations on a weekly and daily basis, respectively. I'll be testing out the interactive notifications to see if they are reliable prompts to keep me cleaning them weekly. If they aren't effective enough, I'll probably just knock it at the same time as my ~/DropZone folder out as-per the calendar event I scheduled for Friday evenings. Or maybe I'll set a separate task reminder in OmniFocus for my Sunday Weekly Review? It's tough to tell right now. The fact that stuff get's auto sorted/organized helps a lot tbh. My daily/compulsive "itch" to clear to neutral isn't there. And I kindof think of stuff that "falls through the logic of all the other rules and ends up in the default fallback destination of ~/DropZone/Spotless" as more akin to "someday/maybe assets" rather than "active" content. Idk, I'll have to use it for a prolonged period of time before I know for sure. Anyway I already have the repeating Friday evening calendar reminder now, so at the very least I'll see it when I'm developing the habit of combing through the ~/DropZone folder.

    Of course, if over time I end up dropping one or two of these apps and opt to keep just a single "dropzone" tool, then all of this can be simplified; the ~/DropZone folder will serve as my dropzone. Any subfolders within it at that point wont be based on numerous other apps but rather they'd just happen to be other folders I happened to drop into my dropzone app of choice which relocated buffer content to this central point of access.

    </end-overanalysis>

  14. Created a Dropzone folder in Dropbox, may have to also create one in OneDrive. Review will be Fri mornings, when I can organize & read things.

  15. My Dropzone folder will be on my desktop and I will review it every Friday afternoon when I get home from work. I can also make one in my work folder at work. I will do the Challenges during lunch break.

  16. Hello, I've created Dropzone as a photo library and put three times a year as sorting time in my calendar. Maybe three times will be not enough.

  17. I already have DropZone folders on my computer desktop, Gmail account and in my Evernote app. Am scheduling a cleanup on Wednesday. Need to get better at doing that regularly.

  18. Hi,

    I have created a drop folder on my Desktop, for any digital pages to sort/follow up. Keeps my desktop clean. Schedule daily/weekly to review/sort/clean.

  19. While I have a HUGE problem with paper clutter and I also have a problem with digital clutter (not as bad though), I've decided to make Todoist my Dropbox. My other huge problem is my to-do list and I know I can save emails with to-do items on them to Todoist, but I end up making everything urgent and due today. So I will put all emails and other items that are action items into Todoist and if I'm not sure how to date them or prioritize them, I will still put them there and review them, prioritize them, and add dates at the end of the week. I will set a time to do that. It will be something I do every Friday at 2:30 p.m.

  20. Hello, I have created 3 drop zones – one in mail client, in facts it was always there – it’s called the Inbox.
    I’ve just started to handle it as a drop zone only.

    Second one I created in my OneDrive – files to be sorted.

    Third one in my Apple Notes, to put notes that need to be sorted later.

    Finally I have put the cleanup to my daily checklist, which is scheduled at the end of the day.

    Looking forward to next articles!

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