Digital Detox: Organizing Your Documents & Files

organizing your files

organizing your files
Ah, documents. The most serious part of your computer set up. They may not be the most fun type of file, but they certainly are important and constant maintenance is a necessity to keep outdated files from piling up. Organizing your files as you go can help you maintain a clean desktop, clean hard drive, and your sanity.

Desktop and Folder Organization
Everyone has their own system for organizing files. Here are some of my general guidelines and what works for me, but you may not find them optimal for your own set up. Take these ideas and run with them!

Naming systems // Most of my folders have been given a no-brainer name; I don’t want to waste time trying to decipher what the contents of a folder are. There’s really no trick to this process, but if you get into folders that need to be organized sequentially like photographs, or blog posts, you might benefit from coming up with a naming formula. For instance, you might choose to organize your photos by date, to have a chronological record of pictures. I’m more likely to remember what year something happened in, versus what month, so I start my folder name with ‘2014.03’, the year first, so that I can easily find what I’m looking for. Alphabetize, put things in numerical order – whatever floats your boat!

Tags // The latest OSX update gave Mac users perhaps the most helpful feature, in my opinion: the ability to tag your files. Just like I would color code my Filofax or daily planner, I’ve broken my documents down into main categories (e.g. ‘blog’, ‘career’, ‘writing’, ‘teaching’, etc.) which allows me to categorize and search for specific files much more efficiently.

Hierarchy // Just like with my tags, my ‘My Documents’ folder is broken down into smaller sub-folders: ‘Blog’, ‘Personal’, and ‘Professional’. I find that all of my documents fit into one of these categories, and each main folder is subsequently broken down even further. File your documents into their respective folders in a way that makes sense to you. Step back and think about what folder you would look for ‘post drafts’ in 8 months down the line – it should be logical!

Easy access folders // I keep my most used folders right on my desktop for easy access. This requires that I be a little bit picky; I don’t want to deem every folder important and clutter up my desktop, but I find it easiest to keep folders for projects I’m in the middle of, or those I need frequent quick access to within reach. Things like a folder for weekly Things I Love Thursday pictures lives on my desktop, as does my resume when I’m in the middle of revising it. During the months of March and September, I keep my #30Lists pdf on my desktop too, so that I have all of my log on information at my fingertips.

Security and personal documents // As wonderful as the cloud is, I prefer to keep my super-important personal information on my hard drive only. Things like archived taxes, scans of my identification, clearances, etc. are documents that I keep close tabs on. As nice as it would be to have access to these files from anywhere, I’d rather take the extra step of having to boot up my laptop than risk my security.

Cloud Services
There are so many cloud services nowadays that you more or less have your pick. I’m a fan of Google Docs’ simple layout, and its ability to integrate with my Google account. While nothing in this section is necessarily Google Docs-specific, the basic principles should easily transfer to another cloud service.

I love that I can save documents in the cloud, which frees up space on my computer for maximum running efficiency. I don’t know if I’ll ever be completely reliant on the cloud (see ‘security’ above), but I’ve been moving most of my documents to the cloud lately.

Sync your files // Most cloud services allow you to access your files offline, which comes in handy if you’re out and about. How I work has changed over the past year or so, which means I don’t always have my laptop on me to access all of my files. The cloud works with my changing work habits to ensure that I have access to the documents I need, be it on my phone or my iPad. I’m still not the best at making sure I don’t have duplicate files saved on Google Docs and on my desktop, but I’m working on it.

Desktop organization applies // Organizing my files in Google Docs isn’t much different from how I organize them on my desktop. The added bonus is that I can actually see the drop down hierarchy in Google Docs, which is sometimes just what my brain needs. Another bonus? Being able to quickly view your most recently opened/updated files.

Migrate working files to Evernote // I’ve come to use Evernote almost as a replacement for bookmarks. If there’s a file that I’m constantly updating, I need access to on the go, or is only temporary, I keep it in Evernote. Blog drafts, for instance, I find easier to work on in Evernote; the Blogger app isn’t my favorite, and I don’t have much of a need to keep a permanent Word document on my hard drive (once it’s written, it gets uploaded, and I don’t have much use for the working draft any longer).

Maintenance
Create a schedule for maintaining your documents. It doesn’t have to be frequent if that doesn’t suit your computing style, but it should be consistent.

I do one major clean out a year, where I go through old files and delete what is no longer relevant. The more you stay on top of things as you go, however, the less pile up you’ll have down the line.

Archiving // If you have files that you know you want to hang on to long-term, but don’t require frequent access to (old tax returns, I’m looking at you), you might consider buying a dedicated thumb drive to organize your archived files.

As with any system of organization, not everything here will work for everyone. Even my methods of organization change and transform as I enter new stages in my life. Play around with the tips here to come up with an organization system that suits your needs. Tweet me your tips, or leave a comment below!

Stay tuned next month for a guide on tackling your social media!

Digital Detox is a monthly guide to organizing your digital life and keeping your technology in tip-top shape! You can view past installments here.