I recently helped a client of mine organize her digital files so I thought it would be a good idea to share some of my tips for organizing digital files.
First, Some Thoughts on Digital Scanners
There are a lot of paperless options on the market, however, scanning all your paper products into digital files may not be practical. Years worth of files would take hours upon hours to scan. Plus, these files will take up virtual space, which could slow down your computer system. If you decide to go paperless, target one area of your paper files. For example, if you have a lot of business cards, scanning them into your contacts folder would be a very user-friendly paperless option. The bottom line is when you’re going paperless, it’s much easier to target paper products you use often. Start by scanning items as you go forward and see if the paperless system is something you can live with versus trying to work backwards and scan everything you own.
Creating Folders and Sub-Folders
The most effective rule of organizing anything is sort “LIKE with LIKE”. Most computers come with broad MAIN folders that will help you sort your items (Pictures, My Documents, Music, etc.). Creating sub-folders within these pre-defined main folders is the first step. Start with one main folder, such as My Documents. Click through your documents and move things that don’t belong into the correct main folder. Sticking with the mentality of “like with like”, of course. Dump old files and any duplicates you no longer need. Start paring down and you should see some sub-category trends start to develop.
Don’t fall into the trap of over thinking things and confuse yourself with statements like, “well I have documents that contain some photos…”. For example, under “My Documents” I have a “Blog Folder” and under “Pictures” I have all my “House Photos”. I could combine them since I use my house photos in my blog, but the reason I separated them is because every time I want to look at those photos, I don’t want to have to sort through all my blogging files. That may seem like common sense, but keeping things separated into simple broad categories prevents hunting for files all over your computer.
After cleaning out all the old junk from each main file and sorting items into the correct broad category, decide on your sub-categories. It helps me to take a look at everything I have and jot down some potential sub categories before I start making folders. This helps me avoid any “mistakes” and let’s me define my system before I put it into place. Inside each sub-folder if you see you have more than one type of file, break those up into smaller sub-folders. For example, if you have a chunk of documents that are work related, you could label that sub-folder “Professional” or “Work”. Inside that folder you could have “Resumes”, “Professional Development”, and “Projects”. If need be, further break up those folders into smaller sub-sections.
Keep your file names short and follow the same pattern for everything. This will help you scan documents more quickly if they are all labeled in the same format. It also prevents you from creating multiple folders for the same thing. By default the computer will arrange things alphabetically (or ascending for numbers) and labeling with the same format lets you see things with the same name right next to each other. Here’s an example of what NOT to do:
- FILE 1 = 2013_HousePhotos
- FILE 2 = house pics
These files contain the same things but have two different names that wouldn’t line up if arranged alphabetically, creating confusion in your documents. Whatever format you use, keep it simple and stick with it!
For me, photo organizing is done in two ways. First, under my Pictures Main folder I have my Sub-Folders, which consist of categories, like Pets, Family, Events, Holidays, House, etc. Under each of those folders I find it easier to break up my pictures by date AND smaller sub-folders. For example, Holidays are more easily organized by dates (Christmas 2012, Christmas 2013…and so on), but Pets are more easily broken down by pet name. I could never have all my photos organized chronologically like some people…I can’t always remember when a photo was taken, but I always remember what it event it was or who the picture was of, that I am looking for. Defining a system that works for you is what’s most important.
Document Sharing and Virtual Storage
Google Docs and Dropbox are some great ways to share files and collaborate. These tools are also helpful if you have several computers. They help you avoid the need for a flash drive or emailing back-and-forth, and your documents remain the same between people and devices. The other benefit is that they are free! Google Docs only requires that you have a Gmail account first. Utilizing other cloud services for files like photos, which take up a lot of digital space, can help lessen your computer’s burden and improve overall functionality. Virtual storage also acts as a safeguard against your computer crashing, being lost / stolen, or damaged. Most virtual filing systems are password protected and offer great online security.
Just like you clean your house, you have to occasionally clean out your digital files. This process is much easier and less time-consuming if you keep up with your designated system and file things as they are created in the correct place. We are all busy, but taking two extra seconds to label something and file it in the right place could save you an hour searching for it…and don’t tell me you can just use the computer’s search function! This only works if you can remember the name of the file and it takes more time to do this than knowing exactly where it is each time. Organizing is a process not an event and it’s never “done”…it’s something that takes persistence and dedication to MAINTAIN…
Hopefully, you are well on your way to a more organized digital life. Is there anything you do to make organizing your digital files easier? If so, share it in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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The Blog Strut, Thrifty Thursday, My Romantic Home, The Charm of Home, Inspire Me Please, The Thrifty Groove, Sweet and Simple Fridays