Do you need help organising your digital documents? Do you dread looking at the files on your computer? Files everywhere? Can’t get your hands on that document you wrote last week? That photo of your mum?
We often have digital folders full of documents that are disorganised. This leads us to be in a flap when we try to get our hands on our resume or some other important document. It isn’t a good feeling.
Organising principles are the same for physical and digital documents
It doesn’t have to be hard to organise your digital documents. We follow the same principles we’d follow with a physical document that needs to be put away in a filing cabinet or folder. First, though, what do you keep? Well, you can read about that in my blog post about what paperwork to keep.
Once you’ve decided what to keep, you need to be able to find it again. In order to do that you need to name things properly and have a clear folder structure. I’ll go over some basics below. There are whole systems and books on this if you really want to get it right, but for a basic filing system at home or even in an office the following tips should get you through.
Tips for your digital document filing system
Name your digital documents properly
Let’s start with naming the documents properly. If you get this right, it’ll help with the search function and help you find things in this way.
Naming a file is vital as it will give you the information you need, at a glance. No more wasting time opening each document until you find the right one. Firstly, be discerning. Only keep what you need. Then, the next step is to understand why you’re keeping it, and why you’d access it again. If you understand this, then naming the document should be simple. Just open the document, assess what it is, and name it after that. So, if it’s an electricity bill, put that in the title, if it’s a birth certificate make sure that is in the name. If it’s resources and articles, name them after the broader topic followed by the title. For example, Psychology: What is Hoarding or Marketing: 101 on Facebook Posts. That will make all of your resources related to Marketing together, followed by Psychology and so on.
What if it’s a document for inspiration or ideas?
Another type of document that trips people up is documents for ideas or inspiration. If you know that’s why you’re keeping it, name it after what it is. For example, if you have saved a bunch of images that are the inspiration for a dress you’re making, you might simply name them 001 Wedding Dress Inspiration, 002 Wedding Dress Inspiration. If there are multiple files of the same sort of thing add a date (or version number).
It only really gets complicated naming the file if you don’t know what the document is, or you don’t understand why you’ve decided to keep it. In this instance, you’ll want to question yourself a bit to uncover why it’s being kept. I’ve written a few blog posts on paperwork that might help you figure some of this out! Check them out if you would like more guidance.
It can be good to have some rules around how you will name your digital documents. Consistency can be really helpful in locating files in the future. It probably doesn’t matter too much if you have three files in a folder. It means much more when you have lots of files in one folder.
What should you make consistent? Firstly, dates. The format of the order of year, month, day and where you add the date to the file name is important. So, if you think it’s vital to include a date in the file name, the best way to name a file is to list it YearMonthDay. That is, 20180123 and put it at the front of the file name. This means if you click on ‘sort file by name’ in the folder it will chronologically list the files for you.
If you don’t need the date, leave it out.
If you have versions of the same document, then you may choose to use version numbers instead of the date. You would put the version number first to help sort and locate documents, e.g. 001 Business Plan. 002 Business Plan. Or you can add the version number at the end of the date, e.g. 20170123.V01 Business Plan, 20180123.V02 Business Plan and so on.
Type of Document
Lastly, type of document, and where this will sit in the title. Let’s continue with the electricity bill example. If it’s an electricity bill then this would be in the title. You would add this after the date if there is one. This will allow the documents to list in order for you. For example, 20180401 Electricity Bill, 20180901 Electricity Bill. This isn’t necessary if your folder only contains electricity bills. This would be obvious and is extra labelling you don’t need. If you’re creating a folder of all utility bill receipts, then having ‘Electricity Bill’ in the title will make it easy for you to find all your electricity bills amongst the other bills.
Naming Folders Appropriately
So, once you’ve named your files, you might find that you have hundreds of documents. Having them all in one folder will make it hard to locate what you need in a hurry. Some argue that you can just run a search for a document, and this is true. On the other hand, if you’ve gone to the effort of filing it, you may as well have a proper structure in place. It stops you from scrambling to find things in the spur of the moment. With this in mind, you want to make sure your folder names are appropriately labelled just like a filing cabinet would.
Folder Structure for Digital Documents
Having sloppy folder structures makes your life a living hell when locating something so it’s important to keep the headings broad, clear and concise. Have a look over your files. Are there a lot of one type of thing? It’s just like creating homes for things around the house. Your cutlery in the cutlery drawer, stationery together and so on. So, consider that as you look at your files.
Some examples for digital document file structures are:
- Folder Name: Utility Bills
- Sub Folder Name: Electricity (with the following files within):
- 20180401 Electricity Bill
- 20180901 Electricity Bill
- Sub Folder Name: Water….
- Sub Folder Name: Gas….
- Sub Folder Name: Electricity (with the following files within):
- Folder Name: Employment
- Sub-Folder: Resumes
- Sub-Folder: Selection Criteria Responses
- Sub-Folder: Contracts
Just remember that you don’t want to get stuck with really specific folder or file names. By that I mean, the title of the article, or similar. It needs to be something you can remember. Making it super specific can make it impossible to track down the document you wanted. In two weeks, you’re not going to remember the exact title of that document, so keep it broad.
Head spinning? Then maybe you need WellSorted along to help you through your digital documents and filing cabinet. Give me a call.