File Management Done Right

Digital file management is one of the most crucial aspects to successful business management and is often overlooked or left to the individual to personally manage. Not only is there room for a discussion on the merits of certain methodologies, it is possible to create very specific systems and standards that are both highly efficient and user-friendly.

You can begin creating this system by, first, determining who your audience is; who is creating/accessing these files and how should it be structured to benefit them? The following question will get you started; I am/We are ____________-centric. This question has broad application and allows for an equally broad range of responses. It can be directed to any individual or group of individuals working with personal or professional files. Are you project-centric? Client-centric? Family member-centric? Your answer, quite simply, becomes your top-most folder level in your digital file management system.

With this new top level folder, you’ve established the core of your new digital file management system and all of your subsequent files and folders will trace back to this top level folder. Which brings us to the next question; how do we name these folders? If you’re client-centric, you could simply use the full client name. However, lengthy client names can quickly become sticky and there are advantages to creating and instituting abbreviations. To start, abbreviations can more easily be carried over to separate filing/storage systems. Chances are, your accounting software will accept a four letter abbreviation more easily than your 15 letter client company name, and using the same client identification across multiple systems establishes a welcome consistency. Abbreviations also take up less character space. Just because Vista allows 260 and Leopard 255 characters for a file name (careful, that includes the path, too!), conversation like descriptions as file names are not terribly efficient. We’ve all known “that” co-worker (where all 73 files of their files in one folder show up as “this picture is…end.jpg”) and realize it’s something to be avoided. Finally, standardization creates recognition. Going forward, searches returning anything with a four letter abbreviation, for example, is client related, and won’t be confused for a file description, extensions, etc.

Now, if we’ve got clients, we’ve got jobs; which means jobs folders are the next, natural folder level. Similar to using full client names for client folders, we could use job descriptions as the primary identifier in job folder titles. But descriptions are messy and, more importantly, they’re subjective. One of the goals in creating our system is to avoid subjectvity in naming and organizing. Some additional guidelines for creating a coherant digital file management system are the following:

1. Creation of acceptable and accessible abbreviations
2. Creation of meaningful context from limited character combinations
3. Creation of objective and succinct descriptions
4. Limitation of redundancy
Using these guidelines, your project folder list (and working files) might utilize job numbers, acronyms, prefixes, restricted two word descriptions (that are universally agreed upon), and/or any combination of these or similar distinctions. Whatever kind of home you create for your files, the best thing you can do is be consistent with how you create it and make it accessable for its users, both current and future ones.

Greg Anderson is art director at Thesis, an award-winning design firm in Three Oaks, MI. This article is excerpted with permission from Anderson’s piece This Might Be a Test on the firm’s Statements by Thesis blog.




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