How to develop a simple Dropbox habit that will save you time and grief

It’s 2014 so you’ve probably heard about Dropbox. And you think it’s cloud computing, blah, blah and you start daydreaming an old hard drive tower sitting on a big fluffy marshmallow cloud and think, “Marshmallows…yum…” Or is that just me?

Dropbox is an incredibly useful service that as their simple tag line explains allows you access to all your digital “stuff, anywhere.” I drew this sketchnote timeline to give you an idea of how it works and how it can be super useful.



I’m still surprised how often in talking to clients about Dropbox, that they’ll tell me that they signed up for the free account and they maybe uploaded a photo or two through the web app and then thought, “Huh” and moved on with their lives. But you’re missing a very easy and simple workflow that can be a digital organizing game changer, this in my mind, is one of the best ways to use a cloud file service like Dropbox:

Let’s walk through a scenario like the one in the drawing above.
You open up Pages or Word on your Macbook and type up an action plan for the week. You press file> save and…drumroll: where do you save it?
If you said the “documents” folder or even called back to your PC days and said “My Documents” then keep reading…

Dropbox has an excellent web based app that allows you access to your files anywhere you can use a browser like Safari or Chrome, but at the heart of the service is installing an app on your computer that makes DB a local folder in your Finder. If you didn’t do this when initially setting it up or maybe you did it, but then ignored it, take a look now at your Finder and see if you see something like this:


You see, it’s not just a local folder on your computer, it’s a local folder with super-powers. Anything that it’s stored in that local folder will automatically be uploaded to Dropbox’s server so that you’ll have access to it on all your other devices.

So to go back to our scenario: you write up the action plan, you go to save it and instead of selecting the default Documents folder you save it to the Dropbox folder and with that simple shift in habit you’ve gifted yourself the following benefits:

1) Access to your action plan on multiple devices: if you had just saved it to Documents, you wouldn’t be able to review that action plan later on your iPhone, iPad, work computer, and even your Grammy’s aging PC. It would just be stuck on the one computer you created it on.
2) A much more efficient solution than keeping documents in your email: the old school way of emailing documents to yourself or keeping archive copies of evergreen documents in your inbox to pull up at later times is clunky, because you’re downloading copies of it each time and if you make any changes then you’ll have to email an entirely new copy of it. Dropbox is essentially an invisible thumb drive that you don’t have to put on your keychain.
3) A low impact, second-tier back-up for your text files: Dropbox is not a solution for backing up your entire computer online, for that I’d recommend Backblaze. But because text files take up so little space it is possible to put years worth of documents into the free Dropbox account. Again, once you change your habit of saving your files to Dropbox rather than the default Documents folder than you’ll know that if all your local drives go kaput or are stolen, you’ll have copies on your thumb drive in the sky. I know a number of playwrights who wish they knew this trick before they lost a play to a grumpy hard drive.

Try it right now – go pull your great american novel file out of the Documents folder and into Dropbox and then view it on the iOS Dropbox apps and the web on Grammy’s Hewlett Packard. Every time you save something on your Mac moving forward pick the Dropbox folder and not Documents, it’s the habit that will keep on giving. Let me know how it goes!

  • Roland Greco

    I have saved all my documents to dropbox. now I have hundreds of documents to organize. Any suggestions on how do do it – should I create folders in the dropbox web app and move files around that way? Your thoughts would be appreciated. thank you,

    • Roland, yep, I would create folders for sure, but I would do it directly in your Dropbox folder on Finder, just like you would any other folder on your Mac. Then it’s just a matter of putting like with like — I actually created a “Documents” folder within my Dropbox and then a series of subfolders from there. I’ll include a screenshot to illustrate. For more information about my idea behind the “Z_Archives” folder see my post: 21 Quick Actions You Can Do Today To Change Your Digital Life Forever:

  • Roland Greco

    thanks will do