How often to you find yourself searching for an important document on your computer, but can’t remember where you saved it. Your thought process goes something like this:
“Was it an attachment to an email I received? No.
Did I get it via a link to a Google Doc? No.
I think I saved it to my hard drive. But which folder did I save it to? And what was the file name?”
The search, which should have taken 30 seconds at most, has now eaten up more than 15 minutes of precious time. In the process, you’ve come across 5 other distractions, and can’t remember what you were looking for in the first place. Sound familiar?
Without organizing your electronic folders and files, every search is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
In today’s workplaces, we constantly battle information overload. There’s a lot to keep track of and no shortage of places for info to get lost, and these challenges are only exacerbated when we work with others. Having a system for organizing your electronic folders and files lets you stay in control over the mountains of information that come your way, eliminating confusion, wasted time, and stress.
Four Steps to Get Organized
There is no one right way to set up an organizing system, which means you can create a system that fits your specific needs and preference. Here are my four steps to building a foolproof system.
Step 1: Get Everything in One Place.
The first big decision is which platform or location to use for all your information. By consolidating information in one or two places, you make it easier to search – and therefore quicker to find – just what you are looking for.
Step 2: Decide on a Folder Structure.
Create a structure for folders and subfolders, rules for what goes into each. You can make up the rules based on what makes the most sense to you. The guiding principle is that each file should have only one logical home to avoid duplication.
Step 3: Set a File Naming Convention.
Create rules for how to label individual files, so it’s easy to tell what the file is from the name (and whether it’s saved in the right place!). A good file name will tell you the document’s content, what project or team it relates to. You may want to also include a date and time stamp to keep track different version.
Step 4: Schedule Regular Upkeep.
Sadly, organizing systems don’t maintain themselves. Designate a shared-drive maintenance point person to set aside an hour a month or a quarter to clean out old files, create new folders to house content that doesn’t fit in the existing scheme, and archive old items.
It’s Not Just About Saving Time
Developing a file organizing system takes some time, especially if you are building a system multiple people will use. But the benefits far outweigh the investment. In addition to time saved not searching for items, having a clear and defined system:
- Ensures consistency in saving habits across your team.
- Reduces risk of duplication or effort.
- Eliminates version control issues.
- Makes it easier to onboard new team members.
I see proactive strategies such as these, that improve internal operations, as the low hanging fruits of business process improvement. Every workplace faces it’s share of recurring problems and inefficiencies; there’s no way around that. But rather than resign ourselves to never-ending frustration, we can identify small, inexpensive ways to either eliminate these obstacles entirely or mitigating their potential damage.