The Ultimate Folder System: A quixotic journey to ACE

Everyone here at some point has made a set of folders to organize their thoughts and information. It’s a deeply personal thing.

And yet…I’ve put myself on a foolhardy mission to figure out the most universal folder system. Not the only folder system. Not always the “best” folder system. But the most universal.

Like…what’s the best starting point for the greatest number of people?

Maybe it is Johnny Decimal because you can just number folders. In practice, it requires building a not insignificant amount of structure, which involves making all sorts of unearned decisions about order.

Maybe it is PARA (Projects, Areas, Resources, Archives). It’s super simple and universal. Before Obsidian and linked-notes, maybe I would have felt at peace with PARA. But from my personal use cases, it doesn’t work for me. I think it breaks down because of how I go about thinking. Over half the time I don’t know what exactly I’m thinking about. So how am I supposed to know how to contain my thoughts into a very specific project or area? Where do the Sensemakers put their thoughts? Their journals? Their thinking? Is it wrong to rebel against organizing my thoughts by project?

For my own efforts, last year I introduced ACCESS (Atlas, Calendar, Cards, Extras, Sources, and Spaces). It attempts to be a folder structure built from the ground up to work with links. Folders and links working together—not as an afterthought, or a retrofitting—but as a fundamental part of the design. It attempts to get people closer to having a holistic system to manage Knowledge & Action equally—especially in the digital age of connected notes.

I’ve been happy with the number of people it has resonated with. I love it when individuals new to PKM find great comfort in it. I love it when they finally feel comfortable enough to morph it into something uniquely their own.

But I still wake up in the middle of the night unsettled by it because I think there is a more evolved version of it. I’m being serious. I’m often up at 3am worrying about these things. I used to worry about forming the systems on other things related to PKM. What I’ve noticed is that once I nail it, once it’s evolved several times, taking steps forward, backward, and to the side—once it gets to a certain point—I can rest.

I believe I finally got there recently with the most universal folder system for PKM: ACE (Atlas, Calendar, Efforts). At least, it will likely be my folder system’s final form. I am extremely pleased with it and now I wake up at 3am calm and relieved before falling back asleep.

If you’re still reading this and interested, I’ll quickly explain ACE…

…but to truly explain why ACE is my best attempt at the most universal folder system, we have to take a quick detour to talk about how we organize things.

Around 1989, Richard Saul Wurman (founder of the TED Conference) wrote “Information Anxiety” (I got the original hardcover version linked here).

Wurman argues that there are five ways to organize information. Just five. Think about it for a moment. Can you think of a fundamental way? Here are the five ways to organize information, according to Richard Saul Wurman.

  1. Location
  2. Alphabet
  3. Time
  4. Category
  5. Hierarchy (the original refers to this as “Continuum”, but that’s not as catchy)

Because of what we do within Obsidian—made links between notes—I felt that the LATCH model leaves out “relevance” or “relatedness”. I mean, we’re supposed to stretch “Hierarchy” to cover “relatedness”, but it’s a weak correlation, and “relatedness” is perhaps the most important way to organize information, so to have it only tangentially represented just felt…insufficient.

So I figured out a different way to represent the core ways we organize—and remember—things: STIR.

  1. Space
  2. Time
  3. Importance
  4. Relatedness

As content as I was with this theoretical construction, it didn’t feel overly practical. In the workshops I run, the most I was able to say is that your best chance of remembering a THING is when all elements are well-represented, as shown in the below images:

Not well represented - less likely to recall


Well represented - more likely to recall

With each element of STIR represented, the chances I am able to recall the right THING, at the right time, are at their highest. (An astute observer will likely recognize another reason why mapping notes like MOCs can be so valuable.)

Enough of a detour, let’s get back to ACE!

So here is my “aha” moment: The “STI” of STIR can map to the ACE folder structure—and in the process give us a universal folder system that optimizes for recall!

  • Atlas is for the SPACE of knowledge and ideas
  • Calendar is for moments in TIME
  • Efforts are for projects of IMPORTANCE

And the “R” in STIR is for the links we make between them all!

Just ask:

  • Don’t overly mind it, but can Future You find it?
  • What will Future Me like to see?

What’s better, is that it actually works in practice. Even further, it truly is universal, as I have implemented it in my mac’s Finder, our team’s Google Drive, a test version in Tana, and of course in my personal ideaverse in Obsidian (all images below).

ACE in Finder

ACE in Google Drive

ACE in Tana

ACE in Obsidian

Honestly, I’ve kind of ran out of steam, but I hope this provokes thought and maybe inspires a few of you to take ACE for a spin.

If you try out ACE, please let me know if it’s brought you as much clarity and relief as it has brought me.


this will work great for research , there’s something about all frameworks - at some point they all say the same thing, to me this looks the same as para , okr , ppv etc etc

Yes frameworks and acronyms look similar

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Nick, If these ideas are coming to you at 3:00 a.m., that’s clearly your magic hour for innovation! Just tonight I was using STIR to answer a structural question for a new effort my vault. And although I’m retired and don’t need the Calendar section of ACE, I’m completely onboard with a three folder system. Kudos for developing one that will be helpful to so many.

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Nick, it’s great to see your improvement on ACCESS (which I’ve been happy to implement into my own system). Moving Sources and Special into Atlas makes sense for me, but what about Compass? Does it belong in Atlas (space) or Efforts (importance)…they feel important to me, so I’m guessing Efforts?

Also, what’s the main difference between the Ideas folder and Content folder in Atlas? How does it relate to the “Things” folder? Understanding these nuances will help me determine whether I should try out ACE.



@nickmilo Would you briefly touch upon how those with ACCESS should transition to ACE in their vault?

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@KarenHume I’m happy to hear you actually found a way to use STIR to make an organizing decision.

@jenkuo Ah yes, where does Compass go…

I had the same question. I initially went with Efforts, just like you are thinking, and that can work. But for myself, I found I preferred it to be next to all of my other maps in Atlas. Specifically, I use Atlas/Maps/My/Compass

CleanShot 2023-07-22 at 08.42.24

It felt good and grounding knowing I can go to ‘my maps’ and see an overview of all aspects of my life.


I’ll cover this completely by Aug 30th, 2023, but for now:

  • Throw Cards, Extras, and Sources into Atlas
  • Turn Spaces into Efforts
  • Now you’ll have ACE. Play with that for a while

@nickmilo Appreciate you sharing the nuances… now I need to think about how to use ACE for myself if I were to change how I’m using ACCESS.

ACCESS has been working great for me so far (since LYT11) so I’m less inclined to fix what isn’t broken until I start to feel some friction and dissonance with my system.

It’s great to see you evolving your system to bring you calm and relief (which is the whole point for having PKMs in the first place) for the times your active brain wakes you up at 3am. :blush:


Thanks for an in-depth breakdown of the new ACE folder system.
I’ve started using Obsidian for a few months and wasn’t sure how to continue.
Thanks to your YouTube videos I’ve learned about the great potential and features of Obsidian.

I was wondering: what’s the difference between the subfolder My under Atlas and the folder Life under Spaces/Efforts?
And what is the folder Compass about?

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I find this really interesting. At the moment my vault is a mish mash of different concepts and ideas that have been bodged together to get something that works for me but definitely is not optimised. I feel at the moment with my notes Its going to take some real wrangling to get them to conform to this method. Which I don’t feel like I have the time for at the moment. But I’ll keep this in mind.

Thanks for sharing !!

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I feel like I’m missing key information to understand this. After reading it twice im not sure where I’m supposed to put each of my notes

After reading PARA book that just came out, I found the Idea of everything is a Project a nice idea. However that didn’t make sense for MOC and Atomic notes and journal notes.
I wanted to keep the projects idea from PARA tho, but then it struck me I can just link atomic notes inside projects.

So my main folders are now: Source, Projects, Wiki, Journal, Archive, (Documents)

  • Source, source note db, inbox, Readwise sync
  • Projects are like your Efforts
  • Wiki is like your Atlas
  • Journal is like you calendar
  • Archive, last A in PARA, moved all my notes here, ready to be used/moved someday.
  • (Documents), for templates, plugin stuff, and others

So combination of PARA and ACE :slight_smile:

I also can stop organizing notes into some categories, so I’m using nested tags as folders to organize notes somewhat. it’s flexible, easy to use, can be used in projects, wiki.
It’s optional, my brain just needs some organization per category :slight_smile:

Folders are also welcome in my wiki folder, because I like to keep the note and images or other files together. Probably will end a max 3 level folder structure ( Like History - WW1 - Specific folder ) for these folders. These folder are basically refactored projects folders.


Here is my first ACE on top of my Zettelkasten:

It’s a great improvement for my START HERE page. And it’s one page only. For me there was no need to change the overall folder structure of my Zettelkasten. From now on I’m using ACE as my structured top view of my Zettelkasten. Thank you for sharing!


@nickmilo thank you for this. I think I’ve finished assimilating the Ideaverse kit into my vault. Here’s what I got the most value from:

  • home - my home page was almost non-existant before - now it’s a place I visit with pleasure
  • folders - I was trying not to have too many folders before, but the ones I had were starting to give me some anxiety - now I have more, but I don’t really think about most of them and it’s much cleaner
  • efforts - I really like this way of putting things, and it already encouraged me to add some stuff in there that I was dreading because they were projects, though I didn’t really define them yet

It also inspired me to clarify some things about my PKM as a whole.

Keep up the great work!


I see why “Ideas” goes into “Atlas”. But it seems like “Content” is content that you produce? Wouldn’t this go into “Efforts”?

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I actually have the AB/XZ folder system installed here. Works like a Porsche.

I like this. It’s a comprehensive system from idea capture to execution.

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Kind of interesting for me to see how Nick is getting back to folders and hierarchy.
I was in the 2nd or 3rd LYT course, and atleast during that time my impression was that he tried to get rid of the need for it (altough he always said, use them when you need them).

Of course, using my PKM for nearly 15 years now, i shaped my own way of doing things that work for me…
As i understand it - its always about retrieving information in the end. So that a piece of thought, a note - not get lost in the ever growing thing, that i call my PKM.

My personal “heureka” moment was actually a very technical one. I found using OpenAI´s API to do embeddings for my PKM offered me such an improved search that beside a very flat folder structure (i am not even convinced anymore i need any at all), links and tags - i not only find relevant information very easy but also related topics that i didnt linked at all.
I am still using MOC´s as a way to get a structure for normal browsing and discovering and working on concepts etc… but overall, this technical advantage of using large language models and especially embeddings completely put my PKM use in hyper-mode.

Anyways, i think different people need different aproaches - so i guess this ACE system will surely help people. Always interesting to see the progress.


A variation of ACE that makes more sense to me because I don’t have to “translate” which concepts went into each bit of the acronym is TIP (or TIPS). It better captures, IMO, the words you assigned to those categories anyway.

Ideas & Information

optional S - Sources

(Some people might prefer not to keep sources as a separate category from their main Ideas & Information location.)


I came here to write what @MostlyVirtual has already written. So I’ll just add my +1 to this comment and add another thank you to @nickmilo. This has helped me clarify my PKM as well!