By Alyssa Gregory
A few years ago, I made a push to make my business as close to paperless as possible. This hasn’t been that difficult to do since so much can be done online and electronically, but it has posed a new challenge – keeping digital files organized so I can find what I need quickly.
I’ve learned quite a bit through the process; here are six tips to help you create a streamlined and efficient file system on your computer that boosts your productivity.
1. Take Stock of the Current Situation
Chances are, you probably have thousands of files that may or may not be organized in some way on your computer. It would take days to do a massive reorganization, and I know I wouldn’t have the time or the patience to tackle that.
Start by at analyzing how your files are currently set up and create your new system from there, building on the file structure you have in place (even if it’s a little messy). In extreme cases of file clutter, you can create a “dump” folder, throw everything in there and start fresh, migrating your files into your new system as you work with them over time. In the meantime, take advantage of search functionality to find what you need (see below for more on this).
2. Devise a Naming Structure
This step is going to rely on personal preference because if you don’t set up your files in a way that makes sense to you, then you’ll end up wasting time shuffling through them.
Generally, my file structure goes from broad (Documents) to specific (Personal > Kids > Medical Papers). You can setup your file structure in a way that works for you with categories, numbers, dates, or the alphabet.
Once you have your categories set up, create a standard descriptive file naming structure for your documents. The two factors to consider here are: 1) choosing a name that gives you a good idea of what each file is by looking at the file name, and 2) version control.
If you tend to send files back and forth via email and then save them to your hard drive, the file names should reflect the version, date or other identifying information so you can easily pick out the most recent file. I tend to use dates in my naming structure, i.e. xyz_proposal_021915.doc. You can also use v1, v2, etc. or your initials to signify revisions.
3. Be Purposeful with Downloads
The default for most systems is to save downloaded files to a Downloads folder. This works for many people, but for me it leaves me with a huge folder filled with all of kinds of files I don’t need on my computer. Instead, I save all of my downloads and temp files to my desktop.
I know what you’re thinking: doesn’t that go against the whole organized computer idea? No, actually it doesn’t. My goal is to keep my computer organized and free of clutter, so by saving everything to my desktop (unless it can immediately be filed away), I can’t forget about it. At the end of every day (or every couple days when I can’t take seeing the clutter), I clean off my desktop by either deleting or filing everything.
In fact, I delete the majority of files I download – PDFs, images, files to review. The good news is that if I downloaded it from the web, I will most likely be able to find it again if I need it. If I downloaded it from an email, I still have a copy sitting in my email archive, so nothing will be lost forever.
4. Get Familiar with Search Functionality
Even if you have an efficient file structure and always file what you need to file where it needs to be filed, if you have a lot of documents, the search function on your computer will be your best friend. Being able to plug in a keyword or two and find what you need is a lot quicker than scrolling through screens and screens of files.
For more search tips, read these two articles:
- Make Windows Search a Million Times More Useful with These Simple Tweaks (Lifehacker)
- Six quick Spotlight tips (Macworld)
5. Back Up Your Files
It should go without saying that you should be backing all of your files on an daily basis, but I’ll say it anyway. If you’re not backing up your data, it doesn’t make much sense to spend the time and energy to organize it.
Consider using a Cloud backup service (like Carbonite). Not only will this keep your files safe and sound in case you have a computer malfunction, but it also allows you to access your files remotely when necessary.
6. Plan a Regular Clean-Up Day
File organization is one of those things you need to be consistent with in order for it to work effectively. It’s expected that your file structure will grow and change as your business grows and changes. And you’re not going to be able to file everything immediately, all the time. Clutter will inevitably build up.
Plan a few hours or half a day every few weeks to weed through and clean up files on your computer. This will help you keep your computer uncluttered, and your files easy to find.
Although these tips have worked for me, everyone has different preferences when it comes to organization. So take these tips and adjust as needed to create your own system.
Do you have tips to share for keeping your computer files streamlined and organized?