Thursday, September 26, 2013

Organizational Tip #3 - Organizing Folders and Files

Finding the best way to organize files is not always easy, even when they are electronic files.  While everyone has different types of data to organize, there are some strategies we can use to make storing files easier. The files we have at home and work are very different, but using a similar approach can help us find files faster no matter where we are.  The less time we spend looking for files the more time we have to do things we want to do. 

First, create a new folder to start with, a home folder to house all of your other folders. If you prefer, you can create this inside of your My Documents folder or on your Desktop for easy access, whatever makes the most sense to you so you can get started. 

Second, take a look at some of your existing folders and the files in them. Decide what kind of information you really have. How would it make sense to split up the information?  For example if you are a teacher, it might make sense to create folders by class name or section or by student depending upon what grade level you are teaching. If you are a bookkeeper it might make sense to create folders by customer names as well as laws, and a folder for document templates. If you are a manager for a department of any type you would likely have folders for policies, projects, staff, budgets, meetings, and more.  The idea here is to pick broad categories that represent a large amount of your files because you will break them down into smaller categories inside these broad category folders. 

Once you have decided what makes the most sense for categorization, create your folders. Then, move all the files and folders you have that relate to this category inside the folder. You can select in bulk by using the keyboard shortcut Shift + left click to select the first then last item in a list which will grab all items in between. If you want to select multiple files and folders in a list that are not grouped together, use the keyboard shortcut Control + left click to select each file and move all at once. 

Now that you have your folders and files sorted out, look at what you have and decide once again which categories will make the most sense to create.  For instance, in a meetings folder you might have attachments sent out for meetings, agendas, as well as final meeting notes. Each of these folders will help reduce the amount of scrolling to find a single document.

One thing I try to always keep in mind at this level of folder creation is how important it is to separate the documents  from year to year, and how many documents will be created each year in that category. In other words, does it make sense to create a folder based on the year before creating the sub-folders?  Using the example above, do you have enough meetings each year for it to make sense to first create a folder based on the year first?  If so, create the year folder then create the 3 sub-folders inside of each year folder. This will make sense in some cases but is not necessary for all folders. The more files you have each year the more this strategy makes sense and keeps files more organized than having one folder with hundreds of documents. The main determining factor for using years is how many of these files will you generate each year, and how many files do want to scroll through when looking for a single file?  

Once you have your sub-folders, move your files into the new folders. Each time you create new categories you will find each folder is much more manageable, easier to navigate, and requires less time to find a single file.  The key to organizing your files is to create new folders. When you are using a computer new folders can be created in just seconds and files can be selected and moved all at once in groups.  This means organizing your files can literally be done in minutes instead of the hours it would take to create and label physical folders and appropriately moving the documents. 

The process of reorganizing files can seem intimidating at first.  However, once you get started the process will go fast.  If you continue the process each time you create a new file, you will save time each time you need to find a file. 

As always, good luck and happy organizing!

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