September Tech Challenge: Organize Virtual Files

This month we bring you tips for organizing your virtual files and documents to minimize digital clutter and stress!

Recently, I spent a happy half-hour re-organizing my OneNote notebooks. It had been on my to-do list for a while, but kept getting delayed in favour of more “urgent” items.

I discussed my accomplishment with a colleague who agreed that the urgency to organize files and documents is low since she’s never NOT been able to find something she needs. But, she also agreed that there’s a difference between being able to find what you’re looking for, and being able to find what you’re looking for quickly and without stress.

The “without stress” caveat is what really motivated me to start cleaning up my files. When a client messages me, “Can you send me the latest version of XYZ?”, I respond with, “No problem!”, followed by a smiling emoji who looks smugly in control of all their documents. What the client doesn’t see is me frantically searching for a paper bag to hyperventilate into while my brain is screaming at me, “WHERE IS IT? YOU DON’T KNOW WHERE IT IS, DO YOU?! YOU’RE NEVER GOING TO FIND IT! WE’RE ALL DOOMED!”

Ultimately, the stress is a bigger time and energy waster than the searching itself. So, with the goal to reduce stress (and save the paper bags for the kids’ lunches), I’ve gathered a few tips on how to best approach organizing virtual documents and minimize digital clutter:

Choose one location for each project or client

Do you have files, documents, and notes for a single project spread across Sharepoint, Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, your desktop, your downloads folder, your iCloud Drive, your Notes app… This is a good time to choose one file management system in which to store everything to do with that one project, and move it all.

files on a digital screen being collected in one folder

Gather all your files, documents, and notes for one particular project or client, store them all together in one location, and give each file and document a name that makes it easy to identify what’s inside

Organize the files in that location in a way that makes sense to you

The first time I opened OneNote, I was excited to make use of this new, uncluttered space. I dove in and started creating notebooks like I was Hilroy® preparing for a back-to-school sale. Before long I had created ten different notebooks for one single project. Trust me when I say that’s too many notebooks.

file organization

Organize your digital files in a way that makes them quick to find

It’s OK to jump into a new file or document management system with both feet and try it out. But if you’re subsequently looking at your files with no idea what’s in half of them, it’s time to analyze how you’re using this system by asking:

  • How can I organize my files and documents in a way that makes sense to me and makes them easy to find?
  • Am I using a naming convention that quickly identifies the contents of each particular file and document?  (Tip: Make the file name descriptive but relatively short.)
  • Do I need a separate folder to archive older items?
  • Are there any classification features of this file management system, such as labels, icons, or colours, that would better help me identify a file’s contents?

Stay on top of it

Once your file management system is organized, review it frequently to make sure it’s still serving you and use that time to also deal with any digital clutter:

  • Weekly: Check your desktop, downloads folder, and email for documents that need to be moved, renamed, and stored with other project files. Also use this time to delete and unsubscribe from any email newsletters or notifications you don’t read or require.
  • Monthly: Delete any photos on your phone or computer that aren’t worth keeping. At the end of each year, find the photos that best tell the story of that year and make a photo book.
  • Quarterly: Check for any documents you haven’t opened in over 90 days and consider archiving them.

It can feel like an overwhelming task when you first get started, but take it folder by folder and soon you’ll be enjoying the extra time and sense of relaxation that comes with knowing that you can always find what you’re looking for. Good luck with this month’s challenge, and we’ll see you in October!