It’s the New Year, which means it’s a great time to get organized. And if you’re struggling to get motivated on the really hard stuff—like mopping your floors or sorting through mismatched socks—try starting by organizing your digital files. You can even stay seated while doing it! Here are some tips to help you have a successful day of digital file decluttering.
An important first step of any project is setting goals. It can help you stay on task when sorting files, and not get sidetracked by forgotten assignments, memories, or anything else you encounter along the way. If you’re struggling to determine goals, Microsoft recommends you start by asking who, when, and how:
- Who: Who needs to understand your organization system? Is it for your personal files or do you have to consider other stakeholders? If your plan will affect multiple people or departments, it’s important to consider how tech-savvy everyone is to ensure your organization system is accessible.
- When: When do you want to start your project and how long do you want it to take? Do you want to complete it all at once or approach it in phases?
- How: How will you know when you’re ‘done’ and measure success? Many people have tens of thousands of photos or documents on their devices at any given time, so it may not be feasible to do everything at once. Be realistic with how you’ll measure success.
If you’re working with multiple stakeholders, make sure to get their opinions on these, and use them to guide your overall goals. It’s important to get info from everyone that will use or interact with the system. Understand what they like—or hate—about the current system, and what you can do to change it when organizing files.
Delete files you know you don’t need
Although there may be an impulse to save everything just in case, deleting duplicate files or files that you know you don’t need, is an important step. It will save you time down the line, and free up space for the files you need to save.
Determine how you will organize files
If you’re organizing personal files, this process may be easier, since you won’t have to worry about other stakeholders or unknowingly deleting important files. In that scenario, organizing by date is a good starting point, and then breaking that down into specific events or time periods. If you don’t need to get that specific, organizing by date is a good strategy. You can always go back and organize further, like the example below, if needed.
EX: DEC_2022 > HOLIDAYS > WORK_PARTY_PICS
If you’re organizing files for an organization or multiple stakeholders, it’s a bit more complicated. Each organization method—by name, date, project, and department—has their pros and cons (screenshots on that below), so after determining goals and evaluating needs, determine your best path forward.
Choose your naming convention
Your naming convention will likely depend on how you’ve chosen to organize everything. For example, if you’re organizing by date, you may showcase the date first in the file name, and then add more specifics after, like: Dec_2022_Holidays_Work-Party-Attendee-List. On the other hand, if you’re organizing by name, project or department, those details will come first, followed by the date. For example: Work-Party-Attendee-List_Holidays_Dec2022.
The hyphens are not required, of course. Some company’s systems don’t allow spaces, so it’s a good alternative. Whether or not you choose to include hyphens or spaces, consistency is key.
Establish a way to manage version control
We’ve all been there: You’re about to send an important file, when all of a sudden, you notice that there are a million versions of it with the same name. You look and look, and soon realize an hour has passed, and now you’re late on submitting that document that caused this whole issue in the first place. It’s frustrating, time-consuming, and entirely preventable.
The easiest way to mitigate this is to use organize files in a shared file application, like Google Drive, or SharePoint, where you can clearly track edits and work from the same document. You can also use ‘track changes’ in Microsoft Word to ensure you’re working off the same file and are saving all edits along the way.
Another way to deal with this, according to Microsoft, is “establish a clear order of file name endings and ask the whole organization to stick to it.”
Maintain your system of file organization
Maintenance of your file organization system will look different depending on how you’ve organized it, and if it’s more multiple stakeholders versus personal files. For personal files, maintenance is more straight-forward. You’re the one responsible for maintaining your organization system, so keep your goals in mind and periodically update them to make sure they’re current. They can help drive and motivate you to stay organized once you’re done with the big delete. Make sure you’re sticking to the organization method you chose, and change it if you find it’s not working as intended. The goal is for this to be ongoing, rather than just done once every few months.
For a company, or plan that involves multiple stakeholders, make a clear plan to rollout your organization system, including all the appropriate documentation, instruction, and helpdesk resources should anyone have issues. Clear documentation can help ensure that everyone is working off the same version, both literally and figuratively. Try not to get annoyed if people don’t understand your system, or mess up at first. Explaining concepts is key in this moment, and enables people to understand why they’re following the rules versus knowing they should.
Make sure to check-in with everyone using the system, and get their feedback. Is there anything that needs changing? Does everything function as expected? Be open to critique and adjust as needed.
Whether you’ve just started your file organization project, are in need of an audit, or are just plain old procrastinating, we’re here to help. Contact us today to learn more.