Sometimes the simplest tasks become the biggest time-wasters, like waiting for a web page to load or worse, finding a file you need. Few things will make you want to hit your head on the table more quickly than struggling to find a document you know is there.
You can put an end to those headaches once and for all by taking the time to get an organizational system in place. Instead of using your search feature and crossing your fingers that you know the file name you need, you can have all your folders at the click of a button.
Start with these key tips for organizing documents:
Work with Levels
One of the most common mistakes while organizing files is making your folder categories too broad. You might have more defined categories than you realize.
For example, let’s say you’re a small business owner. You can have a general “documents” folder and work your way down from there.
Within “documents” you can have a folder called “client documents.” Inside that folder, have a separate folder for each client. Finally, inside each client’s folder, have folders for different types of documents like invoices, planning notes, completed work, and more.
It might take time to click through each of these levels, but it’ll be faster than doing a search and looking through the hundreds of documents that pop up.
Don’t Underestimate the Importance of File Names
As helpful as it is to have many folders, this creates a bad habit for some people. You can save multiple documents with the same name if they are in different folders and your computer won’t stop you.
The problem is that if you search for that file name, all the documents with that name pop up. You won’t be able to see which folder they’re from at a glance.
The same applies to folder names. In the example above, you could have an “Invoices” folder within each client’s folder. When you search for “invoices,” though, they’ll all pop up and you’ll have a hard time finding the one you need.
Instead, don’t be afraid to have longer file and folder names that are more specific. For instance, instead of naming a folder “Invoices,” name it “Invoices – Client A.”
Have a Consistent Naming Scheme
No matter how well you organize your files, you’ll have times when you need to use the good old search bar. If you don’t name your files in a consistent way, though, those searches will be more difficult.
Do you want to allow spaces in your file names? Do you want to replace spaces with underscores or dashes? Or should you use camel case instead of breaks between words?
Do you write out the names of months and days or do you abbreviate them? Which other words will you abbreviate?
Decide on a consistent style and make a list so it’s easy to remember. Otherwise, you may spend valuable time trying to find a January invoice because the file’s name is “Jan” instead of “January.” Don’t assume your file system is smart enough to know they’re the same.
Schedule Clean-Out Times
When you organize your files, the goal is to save every file in the right place as soon as you create or download it. We’re all human, though, and that doesn’t always happen. You might download files in a hurry and leave them in your general “downloads” folder for example.
Schedule an appointment for yourself once per month to go through those default general files. Sort and save everything as necessary, or delete anything you no longer need.
To keep cleaner files, some people also like to go through and archive older files from time to time. This is a matter of preference depending on how full your folders get, but it can greatly cut down on searching time.
Get On the Same Page
When you’re the only person using a folder or computer, you have all the power. You can arrange it any way you want and know that it’ll stay that way.
When it comes to shared folders and shared computers, all bets are off. You could be the most diligent organizer in the world but if your fellow users are moving things or saving files you need incorrectly, you’ll have the same frustrations.
If this is happening, it’s time for a discussion. Sit down with your colleagues or whoever else uses those folders and agree on an organizational scheme.
Always Have Duplicates
We’ve all felt the sheer regret and devastation of losing a file or deleting one by accident. It’s enough to make you throw up your hands and call it quits on everything.
As you organize your files, find a way to have duplicate copies of everything. This could mean running a backup program or creating an automatic system that saves your files to different locations.
The key is having those duplicate files on different drives. For example, if you have a Mac, you can sync Google Drive with Mac so your files are on your computer and in the cloud. As a rule, you want at least one cloud-saved version of your files.
The same goes for physical documents. In addition to the physical copy, have at least one digital version saved.
Organizing is one of those tasks that you either love or hate — there’s little in-between. No matter which side of the fence you’re on, remember that in the end, organizing documents wisely and carefully will make your days easier, more efficient, and less frustrating.
Is your computer organized? Let us know in the comments below!