The Art of Filing: Managing Your Documents… and Your Time
There was once a time where the whole world felt relieved when computers were introduced to store and retrieve all of our important office documents and files in one place.
But fast forward a couple of decades later and now managing those computer files have become a tedious and time-consuming job like in the old days.
Whenever office workers are looking around for a document they can’t find quickly and waste too many clicks in the process, their overall productivity is affected.
If you fall under such hardships, then let this article be your guide to a more productive, efficient and time-saving experience in helping you organize your files and folders and get you to manage your business process more easily.
SIGNS OF A POORLY ORGANIZED COMPUTER
If you’re not aware that your computer’s a disorganized jungle, here are some signs that may open your eyes to it:
- The computer desktop has over 40 or something icons on it.
- Your “My Documents” folder has over 300 files and 60 folders, which comprise of digital photos and MP3s.
- You can’t find the desired programs in your Start Menu’s list of numerous programs.
- You typically have to find a file using Windows’ built-in search facility.
- You use one folder to save all your Word documents, spreadsheets in another folder and so on.
The one good thing about the old ways of organizing files and folders using paper and cabinets was that you had to think about where you would put your documents so it’d be easier for you to look for them when required.
With digital documents, on the other hand, the idea that you can’t either see or touch them leaves your computer in a cluster of files, making it harder to look for them in the process.
And because this is a digital mess instead of a physical one, you often don’t realize you have a problem until you do later on.
In other words, you may not feel the annoyance of not being able to find a file until you eventually do.
Sure the basic search function is a powerful tool that can minimize this problem, but you still have to make your desktop more presentable and less messy so that it’s even easier to find what you need.
That way, you won’t have to rely on search more than usual.
In this post, we will run through how you can organize your files and folders more neatly.
Another interesting tidbit is that this article will present proper organization solutions to both Windows and mac OS users.
That’s because most of the user directory structure is the same and the strategies apply to both systems.
THE PURPOSE OF ORGANIZING YOUR FILES
Here are three end goals in getting your file organization system right:
- Make it easier to locate files: You want to make it easier for yourself to look for your files and folders without constantly sifting through folders or using search.
- Make it easier to file: Instead of taking your time going through a hierarchical mess, you want to save your files much faster without causing any hindrance in your productivity.
- Reusable: Whenever you think it’s possible, you’d want to use reusable templates as well as naming conventions in which the previous two goals are supported.
BASIC RULES OF ORGANIZING
To get a simple start on your file/folder organization adventure, use these steps:
1. Don’t Store Files on Your Desktop
Littering your desktop with pointless or too many icons, files or folders will take a toll on your system’s RAM, making it run slow and hampering your work rate.
The only thing you’d want to keep on your desktop is the trash/recycle bin and that is all.
Sometimes, it’s useful to store one file or two on your desktop temporarily, if you’re doing this on a regular basis and have no intention of filing it or them.
For Mac users, one efficient way of cleaning out your desktop is by using the application Hazel.
Windows users can opt for the same file-cleansing convenience with the DropIt program.
2. Restrict the Number of Folders You Create
When you’re thinking about creating folders, always go for the minimal approach.
You’d be surprised to know that most files fit in your hierarchy provided you’ve done a good job at mapping it out.
Typically, you should only create new folders (particularly top-level folders in Documents) if you’re constantly saving your files in the same place.
Just like this, you can categorize folders for the type of work that you do, rather than having to create a vast library of files.
The point is that you should keep your structure as simple as possible.
3. Strategically Title Your Files and Folders
One of the best ways to make it easier for you to find your files and folders is to put some thought on how to name them.
Just be sure that it isn’t anything too complex or convoluted.
Brett Kelly from Friend-of-AE loves to talk about the concept of naming your folder by keeping the “Future You” in mind. By this, he means:
“Envision the circumstance where you’ll need your file or folder and the kind of words you’re thinking of when looking for them.”
Let’s assume you’re saving a phone bill. Would it be more suitable for you to name it phone bill.pdf or July phone bill.pdf? Neither actually.
So when you’re retrieving your phone bill, think about how you’re going to look for it. For instance:
- By company (Looking for the phone bill for ABCCorps)
- By date (Looking for the phone bill for Feb 2019)
- By document type (Looking for a phone bill)
This way, you can look for just the file(s) that you’re looking for without opening the folder.
You can use this as leverage for when you’re using search.
So in this case, a good file name could be 2019-02 ABCCorp Bill.pdf.
You can use the same tactic for folders.
Though it’s not a good idea to have a group of folders inside other folders.
So it would be a better idea for you to call the folders ABCCorp Invoices (even when it’s within a master ABCCorp folder).
That way it is faster and easier to search with a keyboard.
DROPBOX AND FILE SYNC
Apart from the directory organization, which we will get to shortly, we’d also like to include Dropbox and other similar devices.
You will find that sync services (like the ones built into Windows 10 and macOS) are amazing tools that allow you to access your documents and be productive wherever you see fit.
These services are also quite useful in sharing documents with others.
Dropbox may be a popular service, but many prefer to use OneDrive or iCloud Drive. Some even consider using Google Drive and Box.
From this point onward, we will talk about the various types of structures and strategies that you can use for your local file system, or synced to the cloud if you prefer to place the folder structure in a special folder of your choosing.
First, we will start with your personal documents.
Whether you’re a Windows user or a Mac user, there is a good chance you use the same \username\Documents folder as everyone else to store your personal documents. (Note: For Mac users, the slash is / not \).
If you have files for both personal and business needs, then the solution is to create two separate folders for them.
If you’re using Dropbox, the folders will look like these:
Even if you don’t use Dropbox, the folders will look similar, like so:
Bear in mind that you should divide your personal documents based on what you do in your life.
For example, you can create folders for Family, Education, Employers, Finance, Home, Health, Travel, Purchase, and Vehicle.
There can even be sub-folders inside your folders.
For instance, if you have documents regarding your kids and parents, then you can create folders for each inside the Family folder.
Here’s what they would look like
- /Documents/Family/Duncans (My parents)
- /Documents/Family/Yeungs (My wife’s)
If you operate in this manner, you can split folders in life, naming them as:
The idea is to settle for a folder structure that matches every aspect of your life and how you mentally organize things around them.
A similar structure can also be applied if you prefer to use a task management system.
Like your personal documents, how you structure and organize your business documents will depend largely on company, occupation, industry and job position.
If, for example, you’re working in a large organization, you could very likely be working from a shared drive.
And if that’s the case, then you’ll be happy to know that the directory structure will already be set up for you.
But if you’re working for a small company or team and you are just building your directory structure, then it would be wise to sit together with the people who will be working with these documents so you can come up with a structure together.
You’ll get a better chance if you’re working with those who are familiar with documents and how they are to be structured.
If you’re not working from a shared drive or want to store your documents locally, it all depends on what you do.
For instance, let’s assume you’re a business analyst who’s working on a project, your directory structure could look something like this:
- /project name 1
- /project name 1/wip
- /project name 1/brainstorming
- /project name 1/output
- /project name 2
- /project name 3
Each of those projects would have subfolders that are related to logical units of organization, like stakeholders, the type of work or who you’re supposed to report to.
Once you’re done with your projects, you should move them to /archive.
Now let’s assume you’re an online marketer working from your laptop at one of the pristine Caribbean Islands, the set up may look like this:
Overall, how you organize your business-related directories comes down to how you want to segment your business or jobs into logical units.
Perhaps one of the simplest, if not the simplest way to do this is to map out your company/enterprise in detail on a piece of paper or a whiteboard, specifically depending on the type of work you do on a daily basis.
And then group related activities into logical groupings – you may think of it as an organization chart for your job/company, just without the positions.
SAMPLE FOLDER STRUCTURE
A Sample Folder Structure is a bit elaborate but it makes it clear on how you want to organize your files down to the very specific detail.
When you’re figuring out how you work with your files and folders, you will realize that there are certain folders and subfolders that you use over and over.
This is usually the case with client work, financial documents, and project work.
It would be very helpful to create a template structure that you can use beforehand.
That way, every time you come to a new financial period, start a new project or onboard a new client, you can simply copy over that template folder.
This comes with two benefits:
- Saves time: You can create a whole folder tree with relatively fewer mouse clicks and keystrokes.
- Enforces consistency: By saving folders in the same manner over and over, your mind will become familiar with the passage of time, making it easier for you to locate them with search.
In order to create a folder structure, you need to set up your sample folder structure.
And then when you need to retrieve it, just copy it in File Explorer on Windows or Finder on macOS and then paste it into your new client or project folder.
LAUNCHERS, SHORTCUTS, AND FAVORITES ARE VERY HANDY
If there are specific folders that you access most of the time, then you can easily retrieve them by dragging them to the File Explorer or Finder sidebar rather than having to go through your file structure to get them.
It is the quickest route to your folder in that it literally takes only one click.
Tip: Apart from being a great solution for folders you always have access to, it is also very useful when you’re working on a project. You can just drag your project folder to the sidebar as you’re working on your project so that you can access it on the fly. And when you’re done with the project, you can simply remove the folder.
With these, all you have to do is simply type the name of the folder and presto! And once you get the hang of it, it will be your favorite way to get to a folder.
We opened up on this earlier in the post, but by the time you have your folder structure set up, setting up an automated organization tool like Hazel on Mac or DropIt on Windows will give your overall productivity a huge boost.
If you have recurring files (like statements or bills) and make rules for them (for instance, “always contain the text abc” or “always named xyz”), these tools can help auto-file the documents for you.
What you have to do is just scan or download the document, and the tools will rename it and store it into the appropriate folder.
HIDE FILES THAT ARE OF NO USE TO YOU
Once you have organized your file structure and are familiar with the types of files that are always of use to you, you will notice that there are some files that serve no significance to you or your corporation whatsoever.
You may come across certain MP3 files or entertainment videos that are just sitting there for no valid reason.
If this is the case, then one way to make it easy for yourself is to hide those files.
This will give you cleaner space to work with and allow you to focus on the files and folders that you really need.
To hide files, simply right-click on them and choose Properties:
Then just tick the Hidden tick-box:
We surely hope that at this point, some of the tips and ideas in this article have opened your mind as to how you too need to better organize your documents and files.
As long as you follow the rules right at the beginning of this article and establish an effective hierarchy, file and directory organization, will be a cakewalk.