Your digital mess

It’s 1985. You insert a five-and-one-quarter inch floppy disk into the disk drive of your IBM PC and type in the command to save your word processing document in MS-DOS. You give it the filename “ANRPTDFT” and hit ENTER. After waiting several seconds, you take the disk, labeled “ANNUAL REPORT” in black magic marker, out of the drive and place it into a large plastic filing box on your desk, which is filled with other floppy disks labeled “BUDGET” (written in pen over another previous label that has been whited out), “MEMOS,” and other similar titles.

How things have changed! Back then, you were only allowed computer filenames with eight letters, so “Notes from my lunch meeting with Bob about the Parker contract.docx” was definitely out of the question. You had to develop you own secret code or clever abbreviations for everything, and hope that you remembered later that “ANRPTDFT” meant “annual report draft”—if you could find the giant floppy disk on which it was hiding.

Today’s computers give us more flexibility, but aren’t without their own problems. Files can be stored nearly anywhere, and that means that sometimes we still forget where we saved things, or we let Windows save a file to some obscure directory in the bowels of your hard drive. (My apologies to Mac users…but you get the point.) Worse yet, we save things to our desktop, which soon becomes a confused mess of icons, or dump everything into “My Documents”, turning our work into a long list of unsorted files in which personal and business projects are mixed together in a really bad digital gumbo.

The answer is to create a file system that works for you—one that helps you find your files quickly and logically. The best file systems will fit you like a glove, to the point that you can say “Now, if I were me, where would I have filed that?” and sure enough, that’s where it is. Here are some tips.

  1. Create a file system that fits your business. Do you organize your work by client? By month? By project? By department or business function? Start at the highest levels by basing the filing system on how you actually run your company.
  2. Break it down from there. If you work on a client-by-client basis, then create a folder for each client. How do you interact with your clients? Do you work with them one project at a time? If so, then create project folders under each client’s main folder. Suppose you meet with your clients monthly for an inspection of their facility. Then you’d create a folder for the year, and under that, the month.
  3. Don’t skimp on words. Windows, Macs and all modern operating systems give you lots of characters for filenames. Use them. If you have to decode your filenames, you need to be more verbose.
  4. Be a sorter, not a dumper. Avoid the temptation to dump files onto the desktop. Like real estate, it’s all about location, location, location.
  5. Use shortcuts to find commonly used folders. Again, most modern OSes will place recent or commonly used folders in your directory tree. Take advantage of this feature to save mouse clicks. For example, turn “my documents/clients/jones/Harrison building/hvac/contract draft revision.docx” (that’s about a half-dozen clicks in Windows Explorer) into one click by making certain folders or even the document itself a favorite if it’s used often.

There are lots of ways to organize files on your computer. The key is having a system and sticking to it. Remember—a cluttered desktop is the sign of a disorganized company!

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