Get Organized: The Most Important First Step

I typically work for large companies and on the first day at a new job I try to understand the previous artist’s organizational style, so I can try to adapt to it if possible. All of their files are saved in a specific way and other files are linked to them, so I want to maintain that system or spend a lot of time locating missing files. I’ll eventually update things later, when I have a better feel for the job.

Where are the active files located on the computer? Where are the finished files? How are they named? Is there a DVD backup of archived files? Does IT backup? How frequently?

Large companies usually have their IT department backup all of the computers every couple of days. You might think “Why should I bother backing everything up when it’s already being backed-up by IT?” The answer is that the backup IT is creating only exists in its current state for a few days or until the next backup. What if you change something inadvertently and don’t realize it for a couple of weeks, especially in the first couple of weeks, before you’ve got your bearings.

Even if you have a separate backup drive you manage yourself? Same answer. The solution is to make a DVD backup of everything at this point-in-time or as soon as possible. I start with the desktop files, because they are the ones that are currently being worked on. They may not be finished, but I need to know that I can get back here if the boss says “Let’s take a look at the original version again.”

To Get Organized:

1. Do not rename any files that currently exist, and don’t move any files to another location.

2. Backup all the files on your desktop, hard-drive, backup hard-drive and any zips, floppy disks, etc. onto DVDs. Keep the contents of folders together if possible.

3. Name your DVD as you are burning it. Start with the date first, then an appropriate name: 031510DesktopArchive or 031510ProjectsFolder. If you’re burning several DVDs in a day: 031510HardDrive1 or 2 or 3. If there is a protocol in place that works better use it instead.

4. Using a Sharpie Permanent Marker write that same name on the top of the DVD. Start with the first DVD you burn (This is the first DVD in the new archive you’ll create next), so on the right side of the DVD put a 1 with a circle around it. Each consecutive DVD will been numbered accordingly.

5. Now you need a way of locating this DVD in the future. You’ll have a hundred in no time and you don’t want to have to look through them all to find the file you’re looking for. Go to and download a shareware version of DiskTracker and install it. You’ll eventually want to give them $30 for the program, it is worth it.

6. With the first DVD you burned still in the DVD drive, open the DiskTracker program.  Go to File – New to create a new document. Save it as “CompanyName + Archive.” You’ll always look for this file when you are ready to add to the archive or search for a file.

7. Next go to “Scan This CD or Volume”  and select the DVD to be scanned. The program will scan the contents of the DVD and save them to the new file. Keep the program open and after each DVD you burn follow the same procedure.

8. Next buy a DVD portfolio to store your disks in. I pick the kind that allows four DVDs per page, per side.

9. On page one, with a bold Sharpie permanent marker, I write the number 1 on the clear sleeve. Then I  put the first DVD I burned in this sleeve. If a DVD is missing in the future I know which one, and can look for it. To save time number all of the sleeves.

10. After everything is backed-up you just have to back up the newest projects in the future.


A friend of mine, Jeri Ray Payne, worked as a webmaster at HCA corporate in the 1990’s. I was doing package designs for Dixon Ticonderoga and Prang Art Supplies in Heathrow, Florida at the time. She encouraged me to learn html and design web pages. She said it was the direction of the future and she was absolutely right.

Jeri Ray Payne recommended that I find sites that I liked and study the code to figure out how they created them. She said most sites were pretty bad because artists were not designing them.  She was right again, most web sites looked garish (overdone) or had no graphics at all at that time. I learned raw html this way and I still encourage students to do this.

I studied web sites and found bits from here and there. My family bought me books and tutorials for every occasion and I eagerly read them. I became a professional waiter; while I waited in the car for my husband to do errands I read a book, as I waited in line for a service I read another book, while I ate out I read some more, you get the picture.

I started building my portfolio web site using work I had already created. I put it on a dark gray background to make the brilliant colored art pop. I broke the site up into areas of interest:  Web Design, Print/Graphic Design, Sculpture, Animation, Resume, and Contact Me.

My site was only live for a couple of weeks when I got a call from a friend of my husband back in Nashville, Tennessee. They’d been talking and my husband mentioned that I was building a web site and encouraged him to take a look. The friend said the company his wife worked for, Rogers Group, Inc., was looking for a web designer. It was a match made in heaven and the beginning of my new journey.

My online portfolio was reviewed and I received a call/phone interview. I was invited to come to Nashville to meet the project leader and department heads. They hired me on as a contractor to design their new 500 page ecommerce web site.

They saw no problem with my living in Florida, since I could ftp the work to their servers from anywhere. Wow, could things get any better? I sat in my pajamas at my computer and worked around the clock on the web site. I soon realized that I needed a lot of photos of people working, talking, and interacting for the site. Their motto is: Together We Create Opportunities for People to Succeed and I needed images to support this motto and to make the site relevant. I also needed to get out there and learn the industry/culture.

I was able to fly roundtrip to Nashville for $100 and spend a few days each time visiting each of their many locations and interviewing employees.  I took photos at each location of employees and buildings to use on the web site. I then created montages of each location to use on each location’s community page. While I was there I interviewed people and wrote articles to use on the site. It wasn’t long before they asked me to take over the intranet and the twenty page news letter. My husband and I wanted to get back to Nashville and this was as good a time as any, so we moved back.

Each week brought a new project, but they were interrelated, so it wasn’t difficult to take it on. We took pride in the fact that we could update the internet and intranet instantly. All browsers in the company were set to the Rogers Group intranet site for the most up-to-the-minute information.  Employees enjoyed seeing their photos on the front page of all of our media, even if it was only for the day.

Many of the locations sent in their own stories and photos. Everything was archived to allow employees the opportunity to revisit their moment of success. Together We Did Create Opportunities for People to Succeed.

Things change, and web sites do too. You can see samples of the original design at:

As a college instructor and experienced Web designer, I constantly remind my students that it is not just about the grade. As important as the grade is, when you are hired by a company or client to do a job ­- the bottom line is Can You Produce?

A grade measures your ability to follow instructions, know and use the programs thoroughly and finally to solve the problem creatively. An employer assumes you know all of this when they hire you. The bigger question is: Can you do this several times a day, at a fast pace, while being interrupted with other very important projects, without complaining, and still come up with fresh, unique finished products in a timely manner?

As a result, the college experience can only touch on the realities of the work world. Here in college the students learn and hone the skills that will allow them to participate. It’s up to them to take it to the next level of total commitment, where the real work is done.

Now that you have done the basics of archiving your files, you’re ready to keep yourself organized on a daily basis. Making daily lists will help keep the stress down and allow you to work more efficiently.

If you think about it, worry and stress generally involves trying to remember to do something the next day, or reviewing decisions you made today based upon something specific. Graphic designers find themselves working on many projects simultaneously, it’s very important to keep track of where you are with each project.

End of the Day List

1. Start by making notes at the end of each day regarding what you’ve accomplished.
a. Include jobs you’ve put on top of the list as requested by your boss or another.
b. Include jobs that you worked on while another was out being proofed, sent to the printer, etc.
c. Include jobs that have been approved and are at the printer and the status of when the press check will occur and the finished project will be delivered.

2. Make another list of things to do tomorrow while it is still fresh on your mind. You don’t want to make the list in your head before going to sleep at night, then worry about that list all night.

3. The next morning present that list to your boss and see if they want to revise it. They may have had a meeting with their boss the day before and know the due date has been moved up or down. Job priorities change hourly. You may have to remind your boss you were asked to change the priority and why.

When you become a master of organization you’ll be calmer, which will confuse others into believing you’re not busy. You will have to prove you are indeed busy, competent and fast, and your lists will do that for you.

As you start doing these things you’ll work out a system that works for you and is fast. Don’t turn this into another job. Keep it simple.