Digital files & folders: how to file & find information the smart way

Digital files & folders: how to file & find information the smart way

By Kathryn Knights, Tutor at Professional Academy

Do you spend more time searching for files and folders than using the information contained within them? Do you forget where you have saved things and what you have called them? Is your day spent on search clicks rather than work clicks? Then this blog is for you. I’ll walk you through how to organise your files and folders so you can store and retrieve information the smart way.

Digital clutter is just as much of a problem as physical clutter. However, because it’s easy to ignore many of us are guilty of stockpiling digital information. We often think the limitless digital world is liberating, but the truth is it makes us lazy, messy and inefficient.

Digital storage should be treated in the same way as physical storage, setting parameters and creating structure to avoid things getting out of control.

When it comes to file and folder organisation nirvana, this is the two-step process we are aiming for:

Step 1

File it – information (and your time) is a precious resource. Every piece of information you store should have a purpose. If it doesn’t then you should question why you are wasting your time saving it in the first place.

Step 2

Find it – your system should be easy to retrieve information from. This is why putting some thought into how you organise files and folders is so important.

Before you reach your nirvana you need to do three things.

  1. Clear up

The first rule of file and folder organisation is to get your house (computer) in order first. This means removing files and folders from your desktop. Your digital desktop is the same as your physical desktop. When your desk is a mess you can’t work smartly and the same applies to your computer desktop. So clean it up.

Tip: files and folders you access regularly can be added to your Finder sidebar (Mac) or File Explorer sidebar (Windows). This gives you instant access to the things you use the most.

  1. Create a folder hierarchy

Sometimes we create deep or complex folder hierarchies because we think it will make things easier for us. But once those hierarchies are built it means things get buried more deeply. And guess what? Things that are buried more deeply are harder to dig out.

When you’re creating folders, think minimal. Reduce the layers as much as possible. Two or three layers is better than six or seven. A good rule of thumb is to only create new folders if you find yourself repeatedly trying to save similar files in the same place…only to find the folder doesn’t exist.

To help you at this stage you might want to take some time offline to map out on paper a folder structure that will give you a visual representation of how you want to store your information.

If you happen to do both work and personal tasks on your computer, you should create two folders to split out your personal and work items.

Here is an example:

/Documents/Personal

/Documents/Work

Personal documents

How you divide up your personal documents will come down to how you mentally divide up your life. A very basic split could be: Education, Family, Finance, Health, Travel and Car.

You might have some sub-folders under these headings, for example:

/Documents/Personal/Health/Exercise

/Documents/Personal/Health/Food

Work documents

If you work in a large organization and use a shared drive then you may not have a say in how that shared drive is structured.

However, if you work in a smaller organisation you might be able to gather people together to decide on a new structure.

If you do save some documents locally then, as with your personal documents, how you arrange them will depend on how you organise your mind. It will also depend on the type of role that you have.

You might split up your documents by project, for example:

Document/Work/Project Name 1

Document/Work/Project Name 1/WIP

Document/Work/Project Name 1/Ideas

Document/Work/Project Name 1/Output

If you work in the business development team then a more suitable folder structure might be:

Document/Work/Finance

Document/Work/Legal

Document/Work/Sales and Marketing

Document/Work/Systems

Document/Work/Projects

  1. Create naming conventions for files

Take the time to name your files appropriately. Be descriptive and add a date if you can. Consider what will come into your mind when you try to locate the information at a later date.

Creating files names such as Invoice.pdf isn’t very helpful.

A better choice would be to use a naming convention such as: type of document, company name, date e.g. Invoice-ABC-Company-May-20.pdf

Or flip the order e.g. 20-May-ABC-Company-Invoice.pdf

You will now be able to file and find information the smart way. It will take some time to set up the structure but the gains in the long term will far outweigh the short term pain.


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