What is the best way to organize document?

Productivity 11 ideas for how to organize digital files Microsoft 365 Team J

What is the best way to organize document?


11 ideas for how to organize digital files                                             Microsoft 365 Team                         June 15, 2021

Imagine that youre getting ready for work in the morning. You need to find something to wear, so you open your dresser drawer and discover three socks, a hat, and a sweater. You open another drawer to find an old holiday costume. It takes so long to find an outfit that youre stressed out and running late.

Your clothes are probably more organized than that, but your files might not be. Its just as frustrating and time-consuming to find the documents you need, when you need them. In fact, 57 percent of U.S. office workers say one of their top three problems is quickly finding files and documents, according to a recent survey.

Good news: You can save time and learn how to organize digital files with a few best practices. The key is to decide on a system, communicate it clearly to everyone in your organization, and be consistent.

Heres your guide to organizing digital files.

#1. Set goals for digital file organization

Organizing digital files can take over your life if you let it, so start by getting specific about what you want to accomplish. That way, youll prevent the project from taking more time and resources than you want.

Start by asking who, when, and how:

  • Who needs to understand your digital file organization system? The obvious answer is everyone, but consider the needs of people who arent very tech-savvy and those who will only be accessing your files occasionally.
  • When will you start this, and how much time can you spend?
  • How will you know youve succeeded?

Heres an example: All 22 employees need to understand our new digital file organization, but especially the writers and graphic designers, since they create the files. The office manager will start by spending one Friday afternoon on this, followed by an hour or so each week. Well know if it worked if its faster and easier for project managers to find the latest files for client projects.

#2. Prepare and get input

Talk to the leadership team at your organization so you understand their priorities. If you have time, get input from everyone. Here are a few questions to start with:

  • What do they like and dislike about the current computer file organization system?
  • Whats confusing or difficult to find?
  • What are their suggestions for how to organize digital files? Whats worked well for them in the past?

Along with their input, heres what else you need:

  • Tools: Your computer and online file-sharing software. Its best to store files on a cloud-based server, rather than on-premises, because its easier for everyone to access.
  • Supplies: Paper and pen for jotting down notes or reminders (optional).
  • Time: At least two hours, unless you have very few files. You dont have to do it all in one sitting, thoughbreak it into chunks so its more manageable.

#3. Delete and archive first

Theres definitely an argument for saving everything just in case, especially tax-related documents. But if you have duplicate files or documents youll never reference again, delete them. Delete files before you start filing so you dont waste time organizing them, just to delete them later. If youre not sure whether to keep them, put them in a folder titled Archive.

#4. Organize digital files by name, date, project, or department

Now youre ready to start organizing, but how? The best way to organize files on a computer will vary based on your organization and its needs. Decide whether it makes sense to organize files by name, date, project, or department. After that, shared drive folder structure best practice is to start with your broadest categories for your main folders, and then get more specific with subfolders. Heres what that could look like.

Organizing by name

Best for: Organizations that mainly identify projects by the clients or organizations name, such as a marketing or advertising agency.

Pros: Names are less ambiguous than other categories, such as industry or product type. Its easy to find the right folder when the client contacts you.

Cons: It can be confusing if the client or company changes their name. It can be difficult to remember when you worked on a certain project at a glance.

Organizing by date

Best for: Organizations with large amounts of files tied to time periods, like a financial services business.

Pros: Its easy to focus on a specific time period, such as the quarter or fiscal year.

Cons: Its harder to find projects based on other categories, such as the type of project.

Organizing by project

Best for: Organizations with lots of cross-departmental collaborationfor example, a project manager, writer, and graphic designer work together on every project.

Pros: Its easy to find everything related to a project, including a variety of file types, because its all in one place.

Cons: It can be hard to find related projects unless you include that in the file naming structure. For example, an ad agency could include the clients industry in file names, along with the project name, so searching is easier.

Organizing by department

Best for: Organizations where departments are fairly siloedfor example, theres little interaction across finance, sales, and customer service.

Pros: Each team knows where to find their files, so searching is faster.

Cons: When departments do collaborate, it can be confusing deciding where to save files.

#5. Choose a file naming convention

After youve decided how to organize digital files, decide how to name them. Avoid vague file names like draft1.docthe more specific you are, the easier searching will be. Ideally, your file names should be detailed enough that you know exactly what they are at a glance.

Start with the broadest category at the beginning of the file name, like the year or department, and then get more specific.

  • If youre organizing by date, your file name structure might be YYYY-MM-DD (year month day), followed by any other details you might search for (for example, 2021-06-26_Contoso-Suites_social-media-ads).
  • If youre organizing by name, project, or department, start with that, again followed by anything you might type in to search for it (for example, Contoso-Suites_social-media-ads_2021).

Those file name examples use underscores (_) and hyphens (-), but you dont have to. Its OK to use spaces in file names, but some organizations dont, because you cant have a space in a URLyoull get an error message. If youre naming files that will go on your organizations website, such as your logo, avoid spaces and special characters. Whatever you decide, just be consistent.

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#6. Establish a system for version control

Weve all been there: Do I use final_reallyfinal_2.doc or THISONE.doc?

The easiest way is to only use one file, saved on a shared server (instead of someones local computer), so everyone can collaborate in real time and theres no confusion about which file is the latest one. Use word processing software with tracked changes, so you have a record of everyones edits.

Another option is to establish a clear order of file name endings and ask the whole organization to stick to it. This is useful if you want a separate file to mark each stage of a process, but it does lead to more files. Heres an example:

  1. First draft: client_project_draft.doc
  2. Revisions from client: client_project_clientedits.doc
  3. After incorporating revisions: client_project_revision1.doc, revision2, etc.
  4. After client signs off on edits: client_project_final.doc

The trick is to not label a file final until it really is. Give the client a time limit on revisions, if possible, to avoid a never-ending revision cycle.

#7. Organize images

There are several ways to organize images, such as by year, event, project, or department. It might help to use the same digital file organization system for your photos, but you dont have to. If your business attends a lot of events, consider creating folders for each event type, such as each conference. That way, if an event is annual, its easy to see what images you used in previous years all in one place.

Heres an example:

Just like with your other files, decide on an image naming convention and stick to it. Be specific and descriptive, so searching for images is easier. Include the year, month, and day in the file name (for example, 2021-06-26_spring-tradeshow-booth-backdrop.png). And its worth repeating: save images to the cloud or make a backup copy on a flash drive.

#8. Manage leadership-only or confidential files

Build data protection into your digital file organization strategy. Set sharing settings on files and folders so that people outside your organization (like clients and contractors) can only access what they need.

Some software gives you granular control over file sharing settings so you can:

  • Set passwords for files and folders.
  • Give read-only access.
  • Prevent people from downloading files.

Establish a system for which sharing settings to use on which files. Share those guidelines with your team and post them somewhere convenient for future reference. For folders with leadership-only access, remember to revoke access as soon as an employee leaves.

#9. Organize large amounts of files by years or quarters

It can be overwhelming to organize thousands of files, but there are tools to help you. To sort files, open the folder containing all the files youd like to organize, right-click within the folder, select Sort by, and then select how you want to sort the files: by name, date, type, size, or tags.

Then its easier to organize computer files from a certain time range. Move all of them from one year into their own folder. If you like, create subfolders for each month or quarter.

If you need to rename a lot of files, there are apps for bulk file renaming, some of which are free. Then you can add details to file names, such as the year.

If you have too many year folders, you can always create a folder titled Archive for folders from more than a few years ago.

#10. Tell your organization how to organize digital files

Make it easy for your coworkers to name files correctly and save them in the right place. Heres how:

  • Have a quick meeting about the new computer file organization guidelines, with time for questions at the end, or send an email with instructions.
  • Post the guidelines to your organizations group chat app.
  • Create a template folder and subfolders that people can refer to as an example.

Make sure everyone knows to back up their files regularly. Save files to the cloud so theyre accessible anywhere. If people must save files on their computers, make sure they save a backup copy.

#11. Maintain your system

You might excel at organizing digital files, but others might not, so try not to stress about it. Schedule recurring file maintenance time to move misplaced filesand gently explain to people what the correct location is. Or designate someone on your team as the go-to person for all file-organizing questions. Encourage people to ask first, rather than possibly saving something in the wrong place.

Check in with your team by  to see whether your organization system is working and adjust as necessary. Finally, congratulate yourself on finishing a daunting project that will save your organization a lot of time!

Next steps

Communicate and collaborate on files with a free group chat app, or get started right away with a comprehensive suite of business apps to help you stay organized.

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