The Ten Commandments for Better Digital Organization

Ten Commandments Digital Organization

The New Year is fast approaching, so now’s the time to get a handle on all of the clutter in our lives and start the year off on the right foot. This year I’m all about organization — specifically, digital organization. And after spending way too much time at work trying to sort through endless folders and files searching for a particular document, I cried out in desperation, “There must be a better way!” (In my head, of course.)

Don’t do this. Ever. Please.

I volunteered to reorganized some of those folders, and in doing so, I realized that there are a few rules I inherently follow when organizing computer files. If you’re struggling to find your files months later, maybe this could help you out.

1. Thou shalt name thy files and folders in a descriptive manner.

If I see one more “New Folder” folder with actual important information in it, I’ll scream. Same goes for “doc-123015” or folders named after people for no apparent reason.

2. Thou shalt use consistent date formats.

Switching between yymmdd and mmddyy and yyyymmdd for the date will make the list impossible to sort in your file manager (or in your head).

3. Thou shalt use consistent naming conventions.

I’m talking about version numbers, word order, owner… whatever needs to be in the title. If the documents go together, they should look like they go together.

An extension of this: you can use version numbers or dates in your file titles, but not both. You’ll lose track of your version control and make a mess for everyone. That means:

  • Do this: “File Name – 01012017”, “File Name – 01022017”
  • Or this: “File Name – v1”, “File Name – v2”
  • But not this: “File Name – v1 01012017”, “File Name – v2 01012017”

4. Thou shalt name subfolders concisely.

If you have a folder called “Project A”, and then a subfolder containing all of the legal info for the project, call the folder “Legal Info” (or whatever). Don’t bother calling it “Project A Legal Info” or “Legal Info – Project A”. It’s unnecessary and makes your list of folders cluttered and hard to scan. Plus, if you have to send the path to the folder to someone else, “Drive Name:\\Project A\Legal Info” makes perfect sense.

5. Thou shalt not need to scroll through the list of files in a folder.

If the list of files (or subfolders) extends beyond a reasonable-sized window, you need to divide those documents into categories of some kind, and place those categorized groups into appropriately-named subfolders.

Disclaimer: when it comes to folders full of pictures, you can usually disregard this commandment. If you’re looking for a particular picture from a vacation out of a pool of hundreds, you’re probably just looking at the thumbnail anyway, so it’s not worth going crazy with categorizing. The same goes for anything clearly labelled by date or another numbering system.

6. Thou shalt not create a folder for one document (or no documents).

Maybe this sounds counter to the previous commandment, but a “category” of one isn’t a category at all. Either broaden the scope of the folder so that more documents fall into the category, or bring that document up a level.

7. Thou shalt not create a shortcut to a folder… and store it in the same place.

Why is this a thing? This is common sense, right? Maybe it was just a mistake, but I keep seeing it and it kills me every time. Shortcuts have to save you time to be shortcuts.

8. Thou shalt not save everything on thy desktop.

In my opinion, the desktop is for commonly-used applications/programs and shortcuts to commonly-accessed folders that are otherwise properly stored in a hard to reach place (e.g. you’re currently working on a particular section of a project and don’t want to have to go down five levels of subfolders to find your files every few minutes).

Another potential use is for files that you need to access right away, but don’t have time or the need to store it somewhere logical. If you needed to send that file to your coworkers yesterday, it’s probably best that you don’t spend a lot of time finding a good place for it in your folders. When you do have time, though, either delete it or put it away. The same goes for shortcuts or programs you don’t use much anymore (see the next commandment).

9. Remember the organizational “Sabbath” day.

By this, I mean that every so often (monthly, or whatever works for you), you’ll need to go through your folders again to make sure everything is in order. Some of the categories you used to create subfolders may not make sense anymore, or may need a shift. I also do this, to some extent, with my email folders, which helps declutter my inbox and my mind.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s organizational paradigm.

Just kidding.

That about covers it. Of course, it’s all up to your discretion… but if you want happy coworkers/family members/other people that share files with you, give it a try!

What are your digital organization tips?