Do you have an organized filing system? If you haven’t started one yet, you’re in luck! If you already have one in place, keep reading because I’m going to help you organize it a little better. How? All through the use of folders. It may sound simple but the tips I’m about to share have worked for me for years and even helped my clients. First, let’s talk about the system you might want to use.
Which filing system do I use?
There are tons of programs out there to help you sort and organize your files electronically. Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive are the top three and they are all pretty similar. They all allow you to store documents, pictures and other files in one place and can keep them secure. Additionally, they have free versions and paid versions, if you want more storage space. Choosing the right program to use can be answered by asking yourself one question – Do I already have an account with one of these programs?
If you have an Outlook account, chances are you have access to OneDrive. It’s the electronic storage system for Microsoft users. Most employers use Microsoft for their employee emails and in some cases, they offer OneDrive, as well.
Who owns Google Drive is pretty obvious but many Gmail users don’t necessarily utilize their Drive space. I have multiple Gmail accounts and therefore have multiple Drives to store all the documents I might need at any given time.
If you don’t have a Microsoft or a Gmail account, then Dropbox might be a good option for you. The good news is, these three platforms all work the same so they’re all user-friendly, expandable and can come with you anywhere you go. If you need more storage than the free version that’s offered, do a comparison. Each platform charges a fee for extra space and the more you pay, the more space you get. Google Drive allows extra storage for as little as $1.99/month and at that price, it’s kind of a no-brainer.
How do you organize the filing system?
The easy answer is by using folders. Before you go creating folders, all willy nilly, keep reading.
There are main folders and sub-folders. Main folders are the highest-level folders you can have in an electronic filing system. They’re also known as Root folders (more on that in a second). Think of them like categories. Some examples of main folders can be Household, Business or Recipes.
Sub-folders are more specific layers within the main folders. Think of these like Branch folders (hang on just a bit longer). Examples of sub-folders can be Household > Finances, Business > Marketing or Recipes > Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner.
Now for the analogy you’ve been waiting for. The program you choose to store all your files in is like a field of trees. The main folders are the roots and the sub-folders are the branches that stem from those roots. Are you starting to picture what your filing system looks like? This is the easiest way to visualize your system and create it in a way that makes sense for you.
How many levels of folders should you have?
If you picture a field of trees, you might be seeing an entire forest with tons and tons of trees. While it can be beautiful, it can be hard to find the exact tree you’re looking for. The same goes for your filing system. Having too many folders and sub-folders can be challenging. My recommendation is to only go one or two levels deep.
Main Folder / Sub-folder / Sub-folder
Examples of this would be Household > Finances > Mortgage or Business > Marketing > Social Media Content. With this method, you’re using folders, keeping them organized and your files can still be found easily. The reason you don’t want to use too many sub-folders is because if you go too deep, documents become very hard to find. It’s like you’re looking for a needle in a haystack.
If for some reason you must go beyond two levels of sub-folders, create an appendix of your system. Open a Word doc or an Excel file and write everything out. The main folders, the sub-folders and the type of files housed within each should be clearly written on this appendix. The one thing you have to keep in mind is that someone else needs to be able to understand your system, without a lot of instruction. Yes, if you get hit by a bus, someone is bound to take over.
What’s the best option for sorting folders and files?
The folders you create can be sorted in a number of ways – Date Created, Date Last Used, Alphabetical, etc. I always recommend that filing systems be sorted by alphabetical for a few reasons. The first is that it’s much easier to read through your list of folders. Our brains are trained to read ABC, not SEZ. The second is that sorting your files alphabetically allows you to be more productive. Why? Because you’re identifying the folders and files you want to use quicker. Plain and simple, sorting alphabetical is a logical sorting method.
However, if you are in a business that has to access folders and files by most recently used, then THAT is more logical for you. The example that comes to mind is someone that’s keeping spreadsheets of data that are time-sensitive. If that sounds like you, sort your files in the way that makes sense for YOU! Without seeing your system and understanding how you use it, I can’t tell you there’s only one way to perform a sort. Ultimately, there is no wrong way to sort your filing system. There is only a better way and that’s determined by what you do and how you use your files.
How should you name your folders and files?
I’ve seen so many clients that save files using the computer generated file name and then time and time again, they can’t find what they’re looking for. Doing this wastes time, energy and forces you to recreate the wheel over and over again. Instead, think logically.
Create the folders and save the files with names that make sense for you and for what the file is. Instead of saving your income and expense report with the name Excel 12345, save it with the name 2022 Income & Expense Report. Not only will you be able to find it again easily, you won’t have to open the file to figure out what it is.
I want to leave you with a few last reminders. THINK LOGICALLY! When choosing names for folders and files, when choosing the platform to use and even when choosing how to sort your system. Don’t overcomplicate it. And make sure you have a way to bad up your system. If your computer crashes or your phone gets hacked, you still need to be able to access those files.