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5 Steps for Mastering the Art of File Organisation

Can't see your desktop background because it’s completely covered by files? Is your your ‘My Documents’ folder so cluttered you’ve never scrolled to the bottom?

If any of the above describes you, then I’ll go out on a limb and say that you really need to organise your folders. I know what you’re thinking: why do I have to organise my files if the search function exists? Okay, fair enough if all you need to do is to locate a file and open it. But when it comes to work, organisation is key for work streams or moving multiple files at once. Also, let’s not ignore the fact that it’s simply unsightly for a professional’s computer to look like the physical equivalent of a 14-year-old’s bedroom. I mean, you wouldn’t throw all your belongings into random drawers, would you?

Read on to find out more about how to overhaul your organisation system so you can find the exact file you’re looking for in one fell swoop, and lead the way for folder envy in your office!


OUTLINE YOUR ORGANISATION SYSTEM

First and foremost, you need to decide on the system you’d like to implement - much of which comes down to personal preference. Start by deciding on the highest-level of breakdown for your files, and go down the hierarchy from there.

 

For example, if you use Dropbox for everything, then it’s probably useful to start by separating everything as ‘Personal’ or ‘Work’. If you’re just use your computer for work, you may want to break it down based on chronology or purpose (e.g. operations, marketing, finance, etc.), depending on the nature of work you do.

The key is to organise the files based on the way you work. For example, if your work stream is mainly project based, then each one should get its own folder. But if you perform similar tasks week in and week out, then a chronology-based system probably works better. Also, as a general rule, it's not useful to organise files purely based on file type.

Put some serious thinking into this, and map everything out in a tree diagram, breaking everything down from the highest to lowest hierarchy. Really taking the time to consider what system works best for you will prevent you from having to change the system down the line, which is both time consuming and messy. Also, you can always refer back to your diagram if you need a cheeky reminder.

BE DISCIPLINED

Now you have your system down, you need to decide on a system to maintain your system! This means that you need to establish how you’ll be maintaining the structure you’ve created by setting aside the time to place every file in its rightful folder. The best method is simply to save or place the file into the correct folder once it’s been created. Taking those few seconds to put it where it belongs is what holds everything together.

Alternatively, you can save all your files on your Desktop, and place everything into the correct folder at the end of the day. Whatever you decide, don’t put it off for more than a day, otherwise things will just go back to the way they were in a month or two. Designate a space for new files, and make it a habit to clear it as regularly as possible. Similarly, you should consider archiving your files annually or biannually in order to keep things clean.

TO SUB OR NOT TO SUB

It goes without saying that sub folders are what keeps the system together, as it is the base of your hierarchy. Get used to creating a new folder for new files that don’t fit instead of just putting a file into a folder that kind of fits. It’s normal to see even 10 levels of depth in terms of organisation. If you have a folder that you need to access regularly, but it’s buried 10 levels deep, keep it in its rightful place, and simply create a shortcut (called ‘alias’ in Mac) in a more accessible place like your Desktop.

At the same time, it’s important to not go sub-folder crazy, which can also make finding your files a pain. It depends on the nature of your work, but if there are only one or two files in a folder, then perhaps they don’t warrant their own folders. Consider the number of files you save on average for each folder, and revisit when necessary.

For instance, if you want to organise your sub-folders by date, but only save one or two per month, then you probably shouldn't break it down by month, but by quarter. All in all, try to think of your folder names as keywords, and keep them concise in the same way.

THE NAME GAME

Another very important piece of organisation is how you name your files. Obviously, you never want to give your files a generic name like ‘Untitled.doc’ - but if you have a nice sub-folder system down, then your file names should be relatively short. For example, rather than having a file named ‘SalesReport_March_2017’ in one folder, creative a sub-folder in the ‘Sales Report’ folder for the year ‘2017’, so each file inside that folder can simply state the month.

Have a system in place so you’re able to immediately pinpoint which folder that file is mean to go by the name. A simple way to manage this is to use a underscore to separate each category that pertains to the file. Bonus tip: use abbreviations as often as you can, so you can view more of the file name at first glance (e.g. ‘InvestorDeck_March_12_2017’ works better as ‘ID_120317’).

TAG, YOU’RE IT

Even files can’t be at two places at once, but tagging gets them pretty close. Tagging is another extremely useful method for organising your files because you can apply multiple tags to a folder or file. For instance, if you have a file with the hierarchy ‘ProjectX_Sales_Jan’, then applying the tag ‘ProjectX’ and ‘Sales’ would allow you to search and find the file through two avenues. This is especially useful if you’re still playing around with the best way to structure your folders, as you can more easily find and shift files as needed.

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