These tips are aimed at new edit assistants, DITs, DMTs/data wranglers, and tech assistants in particular, but the truth is that if you touch files on a computer, there might be something here for you.

1. Your desktop is a temple. Keep it clean

And by desktop, I mean the digital one. Nothing should be saved there. Not even temporarily. Ever. It causes clutter. You shouldn’t be using it to open programs; use Spotlight if you’re in OS X (CMD+spacebar) or hotkeys if you’re in Windows (right click on the application > Properies > Shortcut Key.

2. Multiple Desktops are your friend

Just because you don’t want a messy desktop doesn’t mean you can’t have a lot of desktops. Whether you’re working from one monitor or four (but particularly if you’ve only got one), multiple desktops, sometimes called workspaces, are a fast and elegant way of keeping your windows non-overlapped.

OS X: FUNC+F3 to enter workspace view, click top right to add another desktop, and CTRL + left/right arrows to navigate between them. In workspace view you can drag and drop windows around to move them between workspaces. You can bind specific desktops to hotkeys if you like; System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > enable Switch to Desktop 1 etc… by default it’s mapped to CTRL+1, CTRL+2 etc, but clicking on the shortcut on the right allows you to rebind them to whatever you like.

Windows: WIN+TAB to get into Task View; mouse over bottom right to add new desktop (orWIN+CTRL+D). WIN+CTRL+left/right arrows to switch between desktops. Close a desktop with WIN+CTRL+F4. Note: multiple desktops are only supported in Windows 10 and higher.

It’s weird to get used to, and seems clunky, but once you know it, it’s fast and efficient and I promise you will not want to go back. It’s way less fussy than alt+tabbing around trying to get to the thing you need.

3. When you save a file, save it to its permanent home

Even if you’re just doing some kind of testing, save the file somewhere it’s not going to be in the way. Somewhere logical, so that if you get interrupted and end up looking for this file two hours or two weeks or two months down the road, you know how to get to it. The folders it lives in should be informative; they should help to clarify the type of media they contain. You shouldn’t have to open media to figure out roughly what it contains.

The folder names should also be formulaic. Once you have established a pattern, it should be obvious what all future folder names should be.

4. Use a folder template

Every time I’m on a show, I try to bring in my personal folder template. If I’m the DMT, or data wrangler, or DIT, the assistant editor doesn’t really care how I organize my folders, as long as it’s consistent and doesn’t modify any original camera folders or media. So I bring in my own template, where I already have all of the main folders that I could possibly want. When I’m saving something in a rush, there’s less temptation to save it to a “temporary” home if I already have the correct folders made and ready to go.

In OS X, you should nearly always be in Column View in Finder. On Windows, life right now is a bit more difficult with deeply nested folders; try to navigate through your folder trees on the left as much as you can.

This is the template I use:

Original Footage: if it’s for a scripted show I will separate by day, since we will know what day it is. For non-scripted such as doc and reality, the projects stretch over much longer periods of time, possibly with entirely different crew, so it’s not clear which “shooting day” it is. So instead I would sort by date, formatted either 2017-12-24 (more readable) or 20171224 (more common, easier to type). Because mixed camera types are common on docs, but notes might not be present, I might also write something descriptive about the contents in the fourth column, ie A_Cam_FS7 or C_Cam_GoPro.

Transcoded: Will have a similar subfolder structure to Original Footage. If the project is meant for Avid, then the media will be ingested into the Avid MediaFiles folder. If it’s for Premiere, then they can live here.

Scratch Disk: Used for projects in Resolve, After Effects etc that call for a scratch disk. If this is a slow drive only used for backups, then this folder will be empty.

Graphics Sources: Logos, text, that sort of thing. Frequently empty.

Audio: Has the subfolders MX, SFX and Voiceover. These folders may have more folders relating to licensing paperwork, composer stems, etc. These folders are only for media that is especially relevant to the project; sounds that are likely going to be used or have already been used. It is not meant to be a full library.

Stock Footage: Stock video from pond5, shutterstock and the like. Will be subfoldered according to provider. If some stock footage has already been purchased, there will be a folder for that, and licenses will be kept there as well.

Production Paperwork: I might have more subfolders inside of these, depending on the show and how much I have been involved with documentation. If there isn’t too much, I’m happy to sort by date.

Exports: I don’t have a set of default subfolders for this one; they are made on a case-by-case basis, depending on the show, the volume of exports being done. On a series, each episode will have its own folder. If it’s a feature film, exports will be subfoldered by cut version, ie Editor’s Cut, Producer’s Cut etc.

Resolve: Carries backup .drp files of my Resolve project file. The main project will be saved to wherever that system normally saves projects. Also carries ALEs, custom LUTs, and reference stills from the DIT.

Dailies: Will be divided by shoot day or date. It’s a different thing from Exports, which refer to some kind of cut.

BTS: Behind the scenes. Publicity stills and BTS video go here, subfoldered by shoot date.

After Effects: Projects and exports will go here. The subfolders are adjusted based on the show.

Premiere: Premiere main project and backup projects.

Avid: Avid main project and backup projects; sync maps going to plural eyes; etc.

FCPX projects go into my root folder.

5. Favourites in Finder

Drag your frequently-used, deeply nested folders into Favourites (OS X / Windows 7) or Quick Access (Windows 10). Good things to have in there: Avid Attic / recovery location for whichever NLE you are using; Avid Users (or wherever your editing program stores user preferences); main folder for your show; export folder for your show. If it’s a personal computer, you can add frequently called upon stuff like Manuals, CV, Demo Reel, Invoices.

6. Bookmarks in Chrome

This one’s not just for you – it’s for all of your edit suites as well! Bookmark useful things for your editors, producers and fellow assistants, things like: the To-Do list program you’re currently pushing people to use; Google Sheets with rushes logs; the password manager; SFX, MX and video stock sites; wetransfer or whichever upload programs your show is using. Bookmark them and put them on a toolbar so they can’t be missed.

7. Password Manager

Similar to To-Do lists: passwords don’t belong on sticky notes taped to keyboards and monitors. They belong in a password manager, where they can’t be lost or stolen. The more sensitive the nature of your show, the more vigilant you should be about keeping the footage and other files intact. There are many great solutions around now, including cloud-based password managers with a team environment in mind, that may also interface with apps on your phone. It also means that when you’re passing your work onto someone else, they have a central place to go to and cannot be locked out of footage which interrupts delivery times.

8. Dropbox-ready Paperwork

Set up dropbox account with all the types of things you frequently find yourself emailing around. A personal dropbox account can contain CVs, user manuals, personal ID / proof of residence. Work accounts can have things like scripts, delivery spec sheets, watermarks, logos and templates.

9. To-Do Lists

Stay away from notebooks and sticky notes. Hopefully something cloud-based that you can share with others and also use on your phone. Something like Asana has great options for integration with calendars and assigning tasks to other people. But it could even be something very simple like Wunderlist.

Digital notes don’t get lost, and it’s easy to keep track of what needs to be done, and even easier to prove to your supervisor what you’ve accomplished in a day’s worth of work. Transition to the digital world, my friend.

They are just notes. They don’t have to be pretty or super organized.

10. Write down your workflow.

This blog is born of an assistant editor’s tendency to write things down. Writing things down helps to clarifies steps, and will help you optimize things to make you faster and finish work earlier. It makes it easier to pass off to another assistant should the need arise, making it easier for you to accept a promotion. And perhaps most valuable at all, it gives future-you a breadcrumb trail back to proven workflows should the need arise. No matter how many times you’ve done that Resolve > Avid roundtrip, if you try to do it again after two years, you’re going to miss something. If you wrote down the workflow, you won’t.

What do you do to stay organized?