With so much information at our fingertips, it can be easy to accumulate a large number of digital files and documents, making it difficult to find what we need quickly and efficiently. This is where digital organization comes in. You can save time and frustration by organizing your digital files and determining a long-term system that works for you. Good digital file organization can help you be more productive, efficient, and effective at work. Here are a few simple tips that will help you get started.
First, define your goals. This is key to getting started on your digital organization journey. What are you trying to achieve? Do you want more clarity and control over your digital life? Do you need more efficient access to your files? Making sure you have specific goals will bring clarity and motivation as you move through your digital organization journey.
Second, create a plan. What’s the best way to approach digital organization for your needs? Will it work better to tackle folders by type (email, photos, documents, etc.), or by project? Are there certain files you need to access more frequently that should be prioritized? Take some time to answer these questions and map out a plan that makes sense for you.
Finally, research any products or supplies you might want or need. Do you need an external hard drive, or will you purchase a cloud subscription? You might decide to invest in file-organizing software to make organizing and maintaining digital files more effortless. This type of software can help with naming systems, file tagging, and organizational schema. Or, if you’re also looking to digitize physical documents, you might need a scanner.
Sort files into categories. Category needs will vary widely depending on your career or industry, but generally, start with the broadest categories and work from there. Some options might be categorizing by date, project, client, department, or some combination of these options. Start looking through your files and see if any trends occur where you can group similar things.
Once you’ve settled on your categories, create a structure of folders and subfolders. This may seem obvious, but all it takes is one glance at a coworker’s desktop (or maybe your own) full of unorganized files to see that many of us don’t regularly put this into practice. If categorizing by project, some effective subcategories might be “resources,” “in progress,” “final,” and “archive.” When creating subcategories (i.e., subfolders), limit them to three or four folders deep at most. The goal is to make it easy to find files—it won’t be helpful to dig through endless layers of subfolders.
Decide on a file naming system and be consistent. This can make all the difference in your quest for Pinterest-worthy digital organization. If your company or industry doesn’t already follow specific file naming practices, it’s really up to you and your preferences. Many people like leading their file names with a date because it allows for easy chronological sorting. The best practice when using dates is a year, month, and day format. For example, the year (2023), the month (02), and the day (05), and based on your preference, you can opt to use dashes or not—20230205 or 2023-02-05.
Choose two or three descriptors to identify your files. Files names should be descriptive but limited to about 30 characters if possible. Avoid spaces and special characters—use capitals, dashes, or underscores instead. Applying these tips will take your file names from this “Meeting Notes Feb 5” to this “20230205_WeeklyStandupNotes.” Also, use versions (v1, v2, v3) to differentiate the progression of the same file.
Finally, be consistent—even if that means updating file names sent from teammates or downloaded from other sources. Consistently applying the same naming system across all your files will make all the difference in achieving your organization goals.
When the hard work is done, and you have an established system, set aside a regular time each week, month, or quarter for upkeep. As the day-to-day gets chaotic, some disorganization will inevitably creep back in. But the good news is, if you’re following your established system most of the time, regular maintenance here and there should be a breeze.
During your regular file cleanups, get in the habit of deleting files you no longer need. This will keep your digital space clutter-free and make it easier to find what you need. If you struggle with knowing what to keep and delete, you might consider moving files to a folder that specifies a mass delete date. For example, something like “Delete After 12-31-2022.” If you go looking for a specific file and it’s in that folder, pull it out and keep it. Otherwise, delete the entire folder and all its contents after the specified date.
Another tip during your maintenance phase is to standardize document types. You might consider converting files like Microsoft Word documents or PowerPoint presentations to PDF format. This will optimize the file size and save space and ensure that those files can be universally viewed across devices for years to come. If keeping an updated portfolio is relevant to your career, this is also an excellent time to identify and save your best work for your portfolio. Just be sure to get your employer’s permission and remove any sensitive information first.
And finally, backup, backup, backup! If you save files on a local drive, regular backups to a hard drive or cloud should become part of your maintenance routine.
Following these tips will help you get your digital files in order and make them easier to find and access when you need them. By taking a little time to get organized now, you can save time and hassle later on.
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