Organizing digital files, do you love it or hate it?
Do you have a lot of files just hanging out on your computer with no system to organize the data? Here are ten best practices for creating a file structure. Following these best practices will allow you to find files by searching or by manually clicking through file explorer.
Please remember there is no one way to organize your files. Each system needs to be adapted to the users. With that in mind, Let’s get started.
Decide on a Folder Structure When Organizing Digital Files
This can be a bit overwhelming as there are three basic options. You can create a structure based on projects/clients, date based, or file-type based. There are pros and cons to all of them and the structure you decide on should be something that is easy for you to maintain.
The best thing to do is to use a structure that suits the way you think especially if you are the only one using the computer and searching for files. If multiple people will be accessing the files it is a good idea to have a meeting and decide on the best folder structure.
If meeting with others start with pencil and paper to determine the hierarchy. Work through the types of files you have and the general categories. If using a client or project-based structure you will copy this hierarchy over to each client or project folder.
You may want to separate out business and personal files unless there is a tendency for overlap. This can be done by simply creating parent folders called “business” and “personal”. If there are common files that will be shared with family members then create a folder named “family.”
When creating personal files use subfolders such as financial, kids, family, home improvements, etc. You can then divide these subfolders into smaller categories to make finding what you need in a pinch easy.
When creating business files use subfolders that correspond to clients or projects. Depending on the type of data you are storing you may want to use a date-based system. I’m not a huge fan of file-type based systems especially if you are dealing with multiple clients or projects.
Think in general categories and then get more specific as needed.
Stick to your Digital Organizing System
Once you have decided on a system stick with it!
When we start any new system there is a tendency to want to rebel. Plan to stick with your new system for at least 3- 6 months before deciding to do a major overhaul.
Yes, you can tweak it here and there to optimize your file system, but unless you have uncovered a major flaw try and keep with it for a while. You may notice other items that need to be changed and it will be easier to change everything at once then throwing things out of whack by fixing one issue at a time.
If you have a Separate drive use it for your documents folder
In an optimal world, we would have a separate drive to store our documents and pictures. This would allow you to separate out your documents from the system files making it easier to determine which files to back up.
All is not lost if you don’t have a separate drive to work with. You can always create a folder in your root drive, usually “C:” called “My Files.” You could then divide this folder into “Personal” and “Business.”
You could also use cloud storage to separate out your documents from your system files. Most services allow you to access your files through file explorer so there is no need to get distracted by going online.
Use Sub Folders on your computer
Using subfolders allows you to find files more easily. When you group into larger categories it helps you to zero in on what you are looking for. Examples of using subfolder would be the main file called clients with a subfolder for financials and then each month within that folder.
Use subfolders as needed but don’t use too many. Endless double clicking gets tiresome and may, in fact, deter you from using your system. Only get as specific as you need to be.
The more subfolders you have the briefer the digital file name can be
Because you are categorizing your files with folders your file names can be brief.
Instead of naming a file with the client’s name type of report and date. You may be able to simply use the report name because it is filed within the client file and the appropriate month.
If it is a common report name you may want to add more specifics so when searching you can tell what client the report is for at a glance.
Move default locations into your root folder
When you save a document Windows wants to put it in a default folder and organize your digital files for you. Usually, these folders are named my documents, my pictures, and my music. If you are keeping these file types separate from system files you can change where these default files live.
Locate the default folder in file explore you then you can click it and drag and drop it in the folder you want it to live. This could be the My Files Folder on your C drive or another drive that is connected to your computer.
Don’t use abbreviations for your computer files
Abbreviations can lead to confusion even if you are the only one who needs to access the file. You may think you can remember what your abbreviations mean, but unless it is a commonly used abbreviation to describe something you deal with on a regular basis, chances are you are going to forget why the abbreviation was so witty and memorable.
Use descriptive file names
The goal is to know what the file is without having to open it. Be that descriptive! Use dates, report names, anything that identifies what the file is. Do this in a few words as possible but don’t forget tip number 7 above.
Move Files into folders as you go
When you save a file put it into the right spot from the beginning. This only takes a couple of seconds and can save you precious minutes when the client calls and you need access to the file quickly. Be proactive!
If you are dealing with a lot of incoming data you could have an inbox where you save files to be processed later. This is a placeholder and I would recommend clearing this folder on a daily basis and no less frequently than weekly.
Cull Your Files Regularly to keep your files organized
Maintenance is key. Go through your folders on a regular basis and remove what is no longer needed. This, in my opinion, should be done at least quarterly. If you are using folder for current projects you may need to update and cull weekly.
Set aside time on your calendar to get this task done.
The more often you cull and organize the less time it will take for each maintenance session. You may find that nothing needs to be moved or deleted. That’s ok! Getting a refresher once a quarter on how what type of information you are storing will keep the rules of your folder structure op of mind.
There you go! 10 best practices to follow when organizing your digital files. What best practices do you use? Do you manually locate files or do you use the search function?