7 Tips to Clean Up Your Digital Files

Digital records management isn’t something we spend time thinking about until we need to find a file. We spend far too much time searching, wondering where we would have thought to save the file when we were working in it. Frustration sets in as we jam every term possible into the search bar and still we have to sort through file after file to find what we need.

I personally despise wasting time looking for files. It’s one of those delays that drives me nuts mainly because it’s so easy to prevent.

If you’re relating to this, don’t worry – most people do. We’ve become disorganized digital hoarders. With endless storage capacity and search functions, we aren’t as discerning about what we’re saving and how it’s organized.

The good news is there’s an easy way to reverse the chaos and clean up your files. Before you get overwhelmed by the sheer volume that you need to deal with, remember that amazing progress can be made 5-10 minutes at a time. That brings us to the first tip.

1. Start small and start somewhere. Utilizing the tips below, chip away at your file management. Start by reorganizing one project or client folder, your desktop, or the files you access most often. When you find a spare few minutes, instead of scrolling social media, move a handful of files around. Little things make big things happen.

2. Use as many folder as you need. A good rule of thumb is if you would put the physical information together with a paperclip or staple, then they belong in a folder together. And don’t be afraid to go a few folders deep. A folder called “Products” isn’t going to make it easy to find what you need. And on that note…

3. Organize folders by how you will RETRIEVE files. We make the mistake of saving files where it makes sense to us at the time. Put yourself in the mindset of naming and saving based on what you would think about when looking for the file later.

4. Use numbers to change the folder order. File storage view defaults alphabetical order, which may not be the order you need to see content in. I’ve seen people use symbols to put priorities items first (which is great) but there’s also another way. Using 2-digit numbers (ie 01, 02, 03…) will easily put files in a new order. For example, while running a large offsite meeting, I needed to save the individual Powerpoint slide decks in a share folder. I wanted the files to be in order that each person presented so I used numbers to dictate the order. Worked like a charm!

5. Use highly descriptive names. In our fast pace, we don’t pay much attention to how we name our files. Think about it – how many times have you sent or received a file with a generic name like “Jen Presentation.” Super helpful, right? Then you dig through the files and have to open at least four different one to find what you’re looking for. Instead take the time to change titles of folders and files to highly-descriptive terms. The author or subject name should always be in the title of the file and bonus points if you include a version or date designation. For example, “J Lawrence File Management Blog Article 102019.” At a glance, I know who wrote it, what the title and content is, and when it was written. Boom!

6. Save files where they belong the first time. Stop the chaos before it starts. While convenient and highly tempting to save your files to the desktop or download folder, what you’re doing is creating a pile habit. Have you ever had a pile of papers on your table/desk/counter that you’ve intended to file later? What actually ends up happening? The pile gets large and large until you get so frustrated that you can’t find what you need. Additionally, you’re only adding more locations where a file may be hiding. Instead, create a habit of saving files where they will live from the beginning and you’ll preserve your sanity.

7. Archive intently by subject or date. We don’t need to keep all files forever so take deleting and archiving into consideration. Regularly go through your files to delete what you no longer need. At the end of a project, delete unnecessary working files and keep just the final product. You can also incorporate deleting and archiving into your spring cleaning. The key is to only save what you absolutely need. Also, archive in a way that’s easy to retrieve, for instance by grouping projects together by client or year.

Ready to get started? Awesome – begin with 5 minutes today. Rename a few folders. Build a new folder structure to move your mess of files into. Just get started.

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