We all know that person whose desktop is cluttered with so many unorganized files and folders that you can’t even see their wallpaper.
This might be fine on a personal computer that’s only used for social media and games, but if you’re trying to accomplish real work, this sort of mess is only going to lead to mistakes and frustration.
That’s why having a good system for managing files on your computer is crucial if you want to be more productive and keep on top of things.
We’re going to break down exactly what file management is and why it’s a must for anyone who uses computers for any line of work.
Every file on your computer is part of a complex, hierarchical system made up of directories and subdirectories. The process of naming, storing, and retrieving these files in an organized way is the basis of file management and when done efficiently, can save a tremendous amount of time and headaches.
Imagine a large organization with several terabytes of valuable data stored on their servers. Now imagine trying to find one specific file on these servers when you only have minutes to spare.
You’re going to have a pretty hard time if nobody has bothered to properly name and store these files in a way that makes it simple and straightforward to retrieve. According to a survey by SmartFile of over 421 IT administrators in the U.S, more than $21,000 on average is lost in productivity costs every year because of poor file management.
That’s a lot of wasted time and money for something that can easily be managed.
Here's where things can get a little complicated. Remember the good ol’ days of storing paper documents in those yellow folders and tucking them away inside a trusty file cabinet? Each document was placed in a labeled folder, and each folder was stored in alphabetical order for easy retrieval.
Now, remember that one time Steve from accounting took out a few documents, put them back in the wrong folder, and randomly tossed them into a drawer?
What seems like a simple mistake can create hours of extra work and unneeded frustration.
Fast forward to 2017 and the same mistakes can be made digitally by failing to properly name a file or by storing documents without having a system in place.
By using a good file management system and keeping a consistent naming and storage convention, you will always know exactly where to find particular files without having to waste time searching.
Subfolders are a huge benefit when trying to keep things organized. Within your main folder, you should have multiple categories of folders. And within those categories of folders, there should be more specific categories of folders.
For example: Documents > Tax Information > 2015 Taxes > W2’s
With this system, you can see your main folder “Documents” contains a subfolder for your tax information. Within this folder you can have multiple folders for each year of taxes. Inside these folders, you can easily find your W2 documents or anything else tax related for that specific year.
This is much easier to manage than having one “Document” folder with thousands of random files ranging from tax documents, to vacation pictures, to recipes.
A hierarchical system is great and all, but if your files have random, cryptic names, it’s not going to do much good.
Instead, establish a rule for naming each type of file so you can quickly tell what it contains. Stanford has a great guideline for coming up with naming conventions.
Incorporating elements such as project title, date, version, and some sort of unique identifier makes retrieval a lot easier.
We live in a time when almost everyone is familiar with hashtags. Putting a “#” before a string of characters creates a link that lets you find similar content with a single click.
Metadata works in a similar way.
You have the option to right click on your file, go into its properties, and add additional information under the “Details” tab. By adding a title, subject, tag, category, or author, you’re able to quickly search for that specific word or phrase within a particular folder. This is extremely useful if your folders contain hundreds (or even thousands) of files.
If you’re dealing with an extremely large amount of data and manually maintaining a functional sorting system is too complex, you can always opt for software that does some of the hard work for you.
Using third-party software as a document repository not only makes it very easy to locate what you need, it also acts as a sort of audit trail. What this means is that when a document is opened from the repository, the user must “check it out”, almost like checking out a book from the library. When the user is finished, they check the document back in and it leaves behind information letting everyone know who touched the file last and what changes were made. This is great for avoiding mistakes that would otherwise take hours to resolve.
Many file management software options are cloud based, which means users are able to access documents from virtually anywhere, so long as they have proper authentication.
Subfolders are a great way to organize content within other folders, but it is possible to get carried away.
Say you’ve been working on a project for a very long time and have multiple revisions and version numbers. Having a main project folder that goes into a “revision 1” folder, that goes into a “revision 2” folder, that goes into a “revision 3” folder is a huge waste of time. Every time you need to get to your newest version, you have to click through several folders to find what you need.
Having a simple “revisions” folder that contains each version with a date is a much simpler way to go about storing your project updates.
Inversely, having too many files inside a single subfolder can make things cluttered and take too long to find specific document.
Using the previous example, say you have a main project folder, and inside is a “revisions” folder that has over 100 revisions of the same document. Sure, everything is organized within a single location, but it’s a lot to look through at once.
Instead, create revision folders based on time periods. If you’ve been working on a project for six months, have a revision folder for each month.
At some point in time, you’re just not going to need certain documents anymore. Keeping a file from eight years ago can be beneficial in some cases, but it’s usually just a waste of space.
If you know you’ll never need to access something again, simply delete it. If deleting something is too risky for you, there are plenty of archival programs out there to store old documentation. Using a program like WinZip allows you to compress files you don’t currently use so they take up less space, and then store them on another drive.
Security is a major issue facing companies of any size, and having an effective encryption method to protect valuable files is a must.
You can have the greatest file management system in the world, but if your documents are vulnerable to hackers, it’s not going to mean much. By encrypting all of your folders and subfolders, you’re creating multiple levels of security that greatly limits the likelihood of a data breach.
Another great way to ensure your data is protected is by implementing a secure file sharing system. This makes it so users can only upload or download files under a secure connection, instead of accessing valuable documents on the local coffee shop’s Wi-Fi.
While it may seem tedious going through the trouble of following all these rules just for storing your files, the benefits are well worth the extra work.
Something as simple as adding the date or version number to a file can save you so much time when you need to retrieve a document, and adding metadata only increases this efficiency.
By using an effective system of folders, subfolders, cloud storage, and encryption, you and your organization can rest easy knowing your data is secure and easy to access at a moment’s notice.
Gone are the days of having hundreds of random files blocking your desktop’s wallpaper.
Gone are the days of spending hours searching for a single document only to realize it was hiding in plain sight under the name “document.txt”.
If you really want to make your life easier and help your business run smoother, implement a proper file management system. You’ll thank yourself later.