Trying to find things is perhaps one of the most frustrating and time-sucking activities we have to deal with on a daily basis. The print-out of your latest financials for your meeting with the accountant? Somewhere in the general area of your desk. The keynote speech you gave a year ago that you’d like to turn into a book pitch? It’s probably one of the zillion files that litter your computer desktop or maybe it’s in DropBox. That email from a prospect containing the RFP details? Buried somewhere deep in your inbox!
Whether it is your physical filing cabinet, your digital files or your email folders, the best way to maintain your work sanity is to come up with a logical file structure system that you apply to all of the above.
How to Create a Logical File Structure
Create a Consistent File Naming System — Try as much as possible to use the same system for all your files. So, for example, if you have a physical file folder for every client organized by client name, create corresponding digital and email file folders using the same name. The same goes for all your administrative files, remembering that if you name it “Accounting” in your physical files, don’t switch to calling it “Receipts” in your digital files.
Anchor With Meaningful Keywords –Use logical keywords in all your file naming. This is especially important for your digital files as it makes it easier to use the Find function to locate a particular file or set of files if you have an idea of what keyword(s) to search for.
Avoid Subfolder Build-Up — Create a system that allows for more top level categories and fewer subcategories to avoid the dreaded subfolder search. The easiest way to do this for your digital files is to mirror your physical filing system as it has limited subfolder capabilities.
Use Numbers to Maintain Order — Follow the numbering system for digital folders to force them to display in a specific order. For example, by putting the number one at the beginning of the folder name, it will automatically be displayed first in the Sort by name view. So if you want to always see “Current Projects” first, you would name the folder “1. Current Projects” to always keep it at the top of your folder list.
Always Follow the Filing Rules — Once you establish a system, stick with it! If the rule is to always name a file with a particular convention, always use it. A good standard is CLIENT/PROJECT NAME – FILE TYPE – DESCRIPTIVE NAME_DATE. So, for example, if you were naming the spring launch press release for ABC Corp, you would name it “ABC – Press Release – Spring Launch_May 2014”. It does make for long file names, but all the separate keywords and categories are easily searchable.