Thankfully, our friends at All About Ease Organizing had our back, and after 3 very intense days, everything was in its place. It was some of the most productive and effective time we’ve spent in this office space yet, and the efforts pay off daily: we’re happier to open the door in the morning and more productive when we get down to work. Having such a welcoming, tidy space in our offices got us thinking about turning our attentions toward our digital office space – the dark, scary corners of our computers’ hard drives, the 10-folders-deep labyrinth of our client files on Dropbox, the external drives we use for Time Machine backups, and the ancient files in cold storage in AWS buckets.
Even if your business operations aren’t primarily conducted via computer, there’s no escaping keeping digital files, for ongoing use or future referencing. Whether your current situation is more like a dusty shelf stacked with file boxes that just need some revisiting, or it looks like a digital version of an episode of A&E’s Hoarders, there’s no time like spring to roll up your sleeves and get everything tidy. Use these tips to help you make a place for everything and put everything in its place — we promise that you’ll be glad you did!
Start your tidying process by getting out your trash can
Even if you don’t have your head wrapped around how you’ll organize your files, the best place to begin is by identifying what you can get rid of. Here are some ways to quickly identify which files you should keep and which you should discard:
- Sort by date: Look at the date modified or created for each file and determine if you have used or accessed the file within the past year. If not, you may be able to discard it. This works especially well with files in your screenshots folder, your downloads, or your desktop.
- Search for specific keywords: Use the search function to search for specific keywords related to the file’s contents. If you can’t find any relevant information, it may be safe to discard the file.
- Check file size: Sort your files by size and look at the largest files first. Large files may be video or audio files that you no longer need.
- Look at file extensions: Some file extensions are more important than others. For example, .doc or .pdf files are more important than .tmp or .bak files, which are often temporary files created by the operating system.
If you end up with a bunch of files that you don’t know what to do with, drop them into a temporary folder so that you can address them later; your goal right now is to quickly clear out the cobwebs! There’s nothing quite as satisfying as the sound of your computer’s trash can emptying. Our VP of Barketing can confirm this — she knows that whenever she hears that sound, the workday is done.
Now that you’re organized… what’s next?
Establish a naming convention that works for you and your organization
The best naming convention for organizing digital files depends on your own needs and preferences. You’ll want to consider who else will need to access the files and how others might search for them. This can be a similar activity to identifying SEO keywords, and it will be specific to your and your organization’s needs. One of our favorite people in the touring business is an absolute drill sergeant when it comes to the document naming conventions her team uses, and boy oh boy does it pay off when you’re combing through stacks of receipts looking for the one that’s missing from your financial reports! As you come up with your own rules for file names, here are some general guidelines that can help:
- Be descriptive: Use descriptive and meaningful names for your files, rather than generic names like “document1.doc”. For example, use “2022-Annual-Report.pdf”.
- Use dashes instead of underscores or spaces: Use dashes in file names. Underscores, while visually useful, are read by some systems in such a way that it can make editing file names difficult (i.e. the file name 2022-Annual-Report.pdf allows for a doubleclick on 2022 to just highlight 2022, while double-clicking on 2022 in 2022_Annual_Report.pdf will highlight the whole phrase. Spaces, while the intuitive choice, can cause issues when working with some software or files stored in the cloud. Our experience has led us to use dashes for everything!
- Include date and version information: If you have multiple versions of the same file, include the date, time, and/or version number in the file name. For example, “2022-Annual-Report-v2.pdf” or “2022-Annual-Report-02011721.pdf”
- Use consistent naming conventions: Use the same naming conventions consistently across all of your files. This will make it easier to locate and organize your files in the future.
- Format dates and times consistently: the most useful-in-the-longterm date format will be year-month-day (2022-02-01 or 20220201); if you need to add timestamps to the file name, we recommend using 24-hour time (i.e. 1721 versus 0521PM). That allows you to easily sort file names in chronological order.
Document your organizational process for your future self
Now that you have your old files trashed, cobwebs cleared, and a straightforward set of rules for file names, this is a great moment to start documenting your thought process. For some of us, that might simply be to remind our future, forgetful selves of our original plan; for others, it will help to move that institutional knowledge out of your brain and into a central place where others can reference it. You can start out just by taking messy notes, but eventually you should formalize those notes into a guiding, authoritative document stored in a central or cloud location so that it can be repeatedly referenced, and updated whenever necessary.
Start moving files into their appropriate folders
Like with file naming conventions, when it comes to your folder structure, consistency is key. Creating consistent folder structures — and documenting those structures for future reference — will allow you to build out a file storage structure that, year after year and project after project, starts to train your brain to know exactly where to look for information.
In our recent mastermind on this topic, Laura Grant, who works at a very large corporation with tons of colleagues, mentioned that she’s found it helpful to create folder templates or “directory templates”. To do this, create an empty folder – with empty child and grandchild folders, if necessary – and store it in an easily accessible place where you can use your computer’s duplicate/copy function to easily pop up a new folder structure that is all set up to accommodate new files as you generate them. This works really well for file categories like taxes/bookkeeping, website content, or personal photos.
Zapier has a really great post on this topic, Find Files Faster: How to Organize Files and Folders that’s definitely worth digging into if you find yourself needing inspiration. In our post-zoom discussions on LinkedIn, Laura shared these tips from Canto on strategies for organizing visual assets (like stock photos) that aren’t necessarily best-organized by date or name.
Map out a schedule for future file backups and cleaning efforts
With Project Management tasks at the heart of the work we do for our clients, we are naturally driven by to-do lists and calendar reminders. We’ve found it incredibly helpful to turn those to-dos and reminders onto our own, internal work. By programming reminders for our future selves to do housekeeping tasks like cleaning out the screenshots folder, organizing our downloaded stock resources (like photos and templates), and moving old project files off of our computer, we’re able to stay on top of those tasks before they become overwhelming. One month of screenshots is much easier to review and delete or file than one year!
How often you should review your digital files to organize and tidy them depends on the volume of files you have and how frequently you create new files. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to review your files on a regular schedule, such as once a quarter or once every six months. This will help you keep your files organized and ensure that you are not storing unnecessary files. The frequency of your review will be entirely dictated by how frequently you generate new files; the most important thing is to find a review schedule that works for you and stick to it, so that your digital files stay organized and manageable.
Consider using a task management system in conjunction with your new filing system
Our to-do lists are near and dear to our heart, but as our business has grown, it’s become clear that we’re completely hopeless at doing those to-dos unless we write all of that down in such a way that something else is doing the remembering for us!
In our recent mastermind, Kristin Longnecker, a VP of Marketing at a mid-sized PR company, sang the praises of using Asana and building workflow templates for tasks like this. Additionally, in Asana, or any task management tool worth its salt, you can set tasks up to be recurring on a specified basis, so that when you mark a task as completed, a new task is generated automatically for the next time that to-do needs attention. You can also easily adjust due dates on one task to accommodate your own schedule without disrupting the overall recurring tasks rhythm.
At Berry Interesting, we use a tool called Teamwork for managing all of our tasks for both internal and client-specific work. Recurring tasks for endeavors like spring cleaning our files have been invaluable; once that work is on the schedule, it is less at risk of being forgotten or bumped for something more important.
You don’t have to try to get your digital files under control alone!
Getting your digital files organized is absolutely something that you can delegate! Finding a VA or an organizing consultant who works with digital files is, at the very least, a quick google away, but you’re likely better off getting a word-of-mouth referral from a friend. Whomever you work with, make sure that they’re not just organizing the files you currently have but are also giving you a roadmap for maintaining that organization in the long run.
The goal is to create a system that saves you time and brainpower so that you can be more efficient when working in your digital spaces. Once you’ve got that system in place, sticking with it will be the easy part!
If you’re curious about how Berry Interesting Productions can support your business over the long-term, Drop us a line or book a consultation directly with our fearless leader, D’nelle. You can also sign up to get emails from Berry Interesting, and we’ll keep you in the loop.
You might be interested to know that this post was created with the help of generative AI tools like ChatGPT. Find out more here.