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Creatives Can Be Organised, Logically

Richard Bamford
December 7, 2020

I recently got a new computer. As someone who works closely with technology and workflow organisation, I get excited about the fresh start that is a new computer. A new computer often heralds the beginning of a new folder structure. After all, a new computer is a perfect opportunity to improve upon established methods and ensure that going forward, your files are as well organised as possible. So, I will be reflecting and possibly improving upon my folder structure, as well as my standardised approach to naming conventions.

Now, while I know that not everyone would be excited about a new computer for these same reasons, I believe that this is the perfect opportunity to dispel a common myth about being organised.

Some people might say, “Richard, only someone who works in tech could get excited about such things, because tech workers are more analytical, left-brain types.”

The theory of people being either left-brain dominant or right-brain dominant has become widely accepted in our society. In a nutshell, this theory suggests that a great deal of our personality, approach to learning and work, and even likes and dislikes can be attributed to which side of our brain is dominant.

  • Left-brain people are thought to be more technical, analytical, and organised. They enjoy and thrive in structure.
  • Right-brain people tend to be more emotional, expressive, and creative. They thrive off of inspiration and enjoy new experiences and ideas.

Now, while this all sounds very well and good if we’re talking about, say, more effective ways to teach schoolchildren. However, as adults, it’s important to reconsider the oversimplification of this system. That’s because it can be a real disservice to ourselves and our colleagues.

In my time at Extensis, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many creative customers — designers, creative directors, photographers, and talented, witty marketers. I’ve also worked with archivists, historians, geospatial engineers, and developers. In my experience, while their minds may work a little bit differently, everyone can benefit from more intentional, inclusive, collaboration systems for organisation. Also, we’re all more alike than you might think.

No Matter What “Side” You’re On, You Need to Rethink Organisation

Take my example of proactively choosing a folder structure and naming convention for my new computer. As a “right-brained” creative, this task might seem pointless. After all, you’re not one for overly structured workflows or systems. You’ll follow your intuition when saving files. Anything less could be construed as a betrayal of your creative nature — and a waste of time that could be better spent on creative projects.
Well, now, hold on. Creatives can . You can save so much time and peace of mind by easily finding the right file quickly.

Left-brained folks, don’t think you’re off the hook.

While you may be more innately organised, years of positive reinforcement may have led you to believe that your aptitude for structure is flawless. There’s always room for improvement, especially when you’re collaborating with team members. After all, just because your folder system or naming convention works well for you, that doesn’t mean that it’s intuitive for others. Take a team of five incredibly left-brain dominant people who adore structure, and you may just find that they all use different naming conventions or folder structures.

The approach we take to naming files is often based on our personal logic. And personal logic, obviously, varies greatly from person to person. What’s more, that logic can change over time. If you go back through old files, you’re sure to notice differences in the naming and organisation. Maybe there were exceptions to the rule or improvements on your methods, but one thing is certain — our own logic can change month-to-month and even day-to-day. That’s why we need a structured approach to naming and storing our files.

You’re Using Both Sides of Your Brain

I mentioned earlier that putting too much stock in the left-brain and right-brain theory can limit your perspective. There is even some evidence to suggest that the theory is more of a figure of speech than anything that neuroscientists can tangibly measure. If we could truly compare the dominance of the left and right brain, I believe you’d find that the difference is not as dramatic as one might expect.

My opinion isn’t based on neuroscience, but upon decades of working with people across industries in a multitude of different roles, and being constantly surprised and impressed by them.

Creative types, contrary to what you might assume, can be ruthlessly organised, and not just for their own work. I’ve seen creative directors who push entire departments towards consistent file structures and naming conventions with greater efficacy than you would expect from a laboratory.

On the other hand, I’ve worked with classic left-brain types like engineers and archivists who have astounded me with creative approaches to their work. Not to mention that they will often impress me with their creative pursuits outside of work.

We all know at least a few people who fit the cliché, cookie-cutter left-brain and right-brain archetypes perfectly, but most of us are somewhere in between. Painters can figure out how much to tip at a restaurant. Developers can pick out a tie. And even if we did all fit squarely into a left- or right-brain category, it doesn’t change the fact that unless you’re working for yourself, by yourself, you will be working with people who don’t think exactly the same way that you do. Making the effort to communicate with and understand your colleagues is a huge part of effective collaboration.

Once we accept that our own systems and approaches to work are not flawless, we can appreciate the need for collaborative processes and consistency. After all, any inherent issues will be multiplied and compounded depending on the size of the team and the duration of the project. The longer the project or client contact lasts, the more effort goes into the file naming convention — but the better the organisation tends to be.

Indulge Your Creative Side with Well-Deserved Structure

I challenge you to question your preconceived notions around what it means to be creative. There’s no reason that a right-brained, inspired aesthete shouldn’t be organised. In fact, you can even get excited about organisation! You can be a champion for organisation. And you can create more time and energy for your creative projects by embracing organisation.
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