By Alyssa Gregory
Over the years, I’ve worked hard to make my company as paperless as possible. Since so much can be done online and in the cloud, it hasn’t been tough, but it has presented a new challenge: keeping digital data organised to locate what I need fast.
Throughout the process, I’ve learned a lot.
This article was initially published a few years ago. Still, I’ve updated it today with even more recommendations that will hopefully help you manage your computer files and establish a streamlined and efficient file system that will increase your productivity.
Unless you have a fresh new computer and haven’t yet transferred your data over, you presumably have thousands of files on your computer that
aren’t organised in any manner. Doing a comprehensive rearrangement would take days, and I know I wouldn’t have the time or patience to accomplish it.
Begin by examining your present file structure and designing your new system from there, building on the file structure you already have (even if it’s a bit messy). In difficult situations of file clutter, establish a “dump” folder, dump everything in it, and start again, moving your files into your new organisational structure as you work with them. In the meanwhile, use the search tool to locate what you’re looking for (see below for more on this).
This phase will be based on personal choice since if you don’t organise your files in a manner that makes sense, you’ll waste time sorting through them.
My file structure generally progresses from general (Documents) to particular (Personal > Kids > Medical Papers). You may use categories, numbers, dates, or the alphabet to organise your files in a manner that works for you.
Create a consistent descriptive file name structure for your papers after setting up your categories. The following are the two aspects to consider: 1) naming each file in a way that gives you a decent notion of what it is just by looking at it, and 2) version control.
If you often transmit files by email and subsequently store them to your hard drive, make sure the file names reflect the version, date, or other identifying information so you can quickly identify the most current item. I usually use dates in my naming system, such as XYZ proposal 021915. doc. You may use v1, v2, etc., or your initials to indicate modifications.
You could assume this advice doesn’t apply to you if you utilise online collaboration or file storage like Google Drive or Box since you can immediately see document history and see what modifications were made and when. True; however, if you ever download copies to your computer or give them to someone else outside of the platform, the practice of providing descriptive information in the title/file name will come in handy. It’s simply a nice habit to get into.
Most systems store downloaded files to a Downloads folder by default. This works for many people; however, it leaves me with a massive folder on my computer that I seldom think about, loaded with all types of stuff I don’t need. I store all of my downloads and temporary files on my desktop instead.
I know what you’re thinking: doesn’t it go against the entire computer organisation concept? No, it doesn’t work that way. My objective is to keep my computer orderly and clutter-free; therefore, I save anything on my desktop (unless it can be filed away immediately) so I don’t forget about it. I clear up my desktop at the end of every day (or every couple of days if I can’t stand it any longer) by either deleting or filing everything.
In reality, I delete the vast majority of the items I download, including PDFs, photos, and review files. The good news is that if I downloaded it off the internet, I’d almost certainly be able to locate it again if I need it in the future. I still have a copy in my email archive if I downloaded it from an email, so nothing is permanently lost.
If you have a lot of papers, the search feature on your computer will be your greatest friend, even if you have an efficient file structure and always file what you need to file where it needs to be filed. It’s far faster to type in a few words from the file name and locate what you’re looking for than it is to browse through screens and screens of files.
Frequently, I am seeking something particular but cannot recall the file’s name. A keyword search comes in helpful in this situation. Because most systems scan both the document contents and the file name, the proper keyword may help you rapidly identify that needle in the haystack. You may search by file type, date, size, and other criteria in addition to keywords. You may have to be creative here (adding to the case for thoughtful and descriptive file names and folder organisation!).
Read these two articles for additional file search advice: PCWorld’s The Art of Windows File Search and CNET’s 10 Search Tips from a Mac Finder Fanatic.
You should back up all of your data regularly. This should go without saying, but I’ll mention it anyway. It’s pointless to spend time and effort organising your data if you’re not backing it up beforehand.
Make use of a cloud-based backup solution. Not only will this keep your data secure in the event of a computer failure, but it will also enable you to access them remotely if required. Many data backup solutions also offer version history, so if you delete or modify the incorrect file by mistake, you may restore it from your backup. Backing up your data also makes migrating your files (and the organising system you’re meticulously establishing) to your new machine a lot simpler. So, if you haven’t done so already, put your organisation on hold and back up your data.
Only when you build a system and stick to it will this form of file management work! File organisation is one of those things that need consistency to function properly. As your company develops and evolves, you may anticipate your file structure to alter as well. And you won’t be able to file everything right away all of the time. The accumulation of clutter is unavoidable. (I know… it’s a pain!)
Plan to comb through and clear up files on your computer that you haven’t gotten to every couple of weeks (or half a day if it’s really bad). This can help you keep your computer clean and working smoothly and make it easier to locate your files.
Although these suggestions worked for me, everyone’s organisational tastes are different. So use these suggestions and tweak them as required to develop your method.
How do you keep your computer files streamlined and organized?