10 File Management Tips to Keep Your Electronic Files Organised

10 File Management Tips to Keep Your Electronic Files Organised

Keeping your electronic documents organised can be quite a chore. In addition to storing documents locally on desktops, laptops or mobile devices, more and more businesses are using the cloud for basic business applications and file storage.

Further complicating the storage issue is the need for many businesses to share documents between employees. Within an office, this is typically accomplished by using a file server or network-attached storage device (NAS).

The result of all this can be a file management nightmare with some of a person’s documents stored in the cloud and some locally, and even individual documents stored only in one place or the other.

Organisation Is the Key to Electronic File Management

Wherever the documents are stored it is important to keep them organised and up-to-date. The goal of electronic file management is to ensure that you can find what you’re looking for, even if you’re looking for it years after its creation.

Most business folks have at one time or another been in the embarrassing position of having a customer call and not being able to quickly locate the relevant invoice or other important customer documents. Equally annoying is scrambling around at year-end trying to find documents on company accounts for the accountant or even worse, the taxman.

Proper organisation of digital documents is especially critical in a shared environment – if one of your employees is absent (temporarily or permanently!) you should be able to easily locate any documents created or managed by that person.

The potential loss of data issues with disgruntled, departing employees is one more reason to protect your business data.

These file management tips will help you keep your files accessible:

1. Use the Default Installation Folders for Program Files

Use the default file locations when installing application programs. Under Windows, by convention application program files reside under the (Drive Letter:)->Program Files directory. Installing applications elsewhere is confusing and unnecessary.

2. One Place for All Documents

Place all documents under a single “root” folder. For a single user in a Windows environment, the default location is the My Documents folder.

In a file, sharing environment try to do the same. Create a single root folder (called “Shared Documents” for example) and store all documents in subfolders inside the root folder. Having a single location for all electronic documents makes it easier to find things and to run backups and archives.

3. Create Folders in a Logical Hierarchy

These are the drawers of your computer’s filing cabinet, so to speak. Use plain language to name your folders; you don’t want to be looking at this list of folders in the future and wondering what “TFK” or whatever other interesting abbreviation you invented means.

4. Nest Folders Within Folders

Create other folders within these main folders as the need arises. For instance, a folder called “invoices” might contain folders called “2018”, “2017” and “2016”. A folder named for a client might include the folders “customer data” and “correspondence”. The goal is to have every file in a folder rather than having a bunch of orphan files listed.

5. Follow the File Naming Conventions

Some operating systems (such as Unix) do not allow spaces in file or folder names, so avoid this if your computing environment is mixed.3 Instead, use the underscores as a delimiter (e.g. Doe_John_Proposal.doc.) Other characters such as / ? < > \ : * | ” ^ are also prohibited in file or folder names under Windows.4

Use descriptive file names for easy identification and retrieval but don’t go overboard – file/path names have length limits that vary between operating systems.

Under Windows, the maximum full path length for a file (e.g. the drive letter + folder names + filename) is 260 characters.5 Use common abbreviations wherever possible, such as Jan for January or Corp for Corporation.

6. Be Specific

Give electronic files logical, specific names and include dates in file names if possible. The goal when naming files is to be able to tell what the file is about without having to open it and look. So if the document is a letter to a customer reminding him that payment is overdue, call it something like “overdue_20180115”; rather than something like “letter”. How will you know who the letter is to without opening it?

If you are sharing files via email or portable devices you may want to have the file name include more specific information, since the folder information will not be included with the shared file.

For example, if your document resides in My Documents\Invoices\2017\Customers\Doe_John_20180416.doc and the file is shared or emailed all the recipient will see is the Doe_John_20170416.doc and may not be able to tell that the file is a customer invoice without opening it.

7. File as You Go

The best time to file a document is when you first create it. So get in the habit of using the “Save As” dialogue box to file your document as well as name it, putting it in the right place in the first place.

8. Order Your Files for Your Convenience

If there are folders or files that you use a lot, force them to the top of the file list by renaming them with a ! or an AA at the beginning of the file name.

9. Cull Your Files Regularly

Sometimes what’s old is obvious as in the example of the folder named “Invoices” above. If it’s not, keep your folders uncluttered by clearing out the old files.

10. Back up Your Files Regularly

Whether you’re copying your files onto another drive or tape, it’s important to set up and follow a regular back up regimen.

Good File Management Makes Finding What You Want Easy
Managing electronic documents should be part of an overall document management strategy for your business. A proper document management plan should include all aspects of handling documents, including storage, retrieval, backups, and security.

The search function is a wonderful thing but it will never match the ease of being able to go directly to a folder or file. If you follow these file management tips consistently, even if you don’t know where something is, you know where it should be – a huge advantage when it comes to finding what you’re looking for. Good file management practices will ​save your business time and money.

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