Mailbag: Can You Help Me Organize My Documents?

Jul 18, 2013

Dear Maia, My folder management system on my computer is a bit of a mess.  I have about a million folders on my computer.  I also keep old versions of everything, and it ends up being a lot to manage, especially since I’ve started scanning papers into my computer to get rid of loose papers. Do you have any suggestions for folder management? Should it mirror the folders in my email? In particular, I’m not sure whether to have “project” based folders (e.g. new site development) or “process” based folders (long term to-do lists). I have a bunch of personal stuff on my computer as well (pictures, notes, education articles, etc).  Also not sure what level of “folders within folders” is appropriate.

Barbara X.

_____________________________________________________________________ Dear Barabara, and my other dear readers, Great question. . . I did a bit of quick research on why we even care about this and found out the average worker now loses over two hours per week looking for misplaced documents and emails on his or her computer! And, over 95% of the data we receive is in electronic form! Creating a paperless office / classroom / school / district is a difficult challenge when your electronic directory is not organized and you don’t trust your electronic filing system. Good news: help is here! However you organize your documents, follow the 4-S Rules:.

  • Simple—Is it simple? Have I avoided overcomplicating things?
  • Searchable—Is it searchable? Can I quickly find what I need?
  • Sortable—Is it sortable? Can I tell which thing belongs in which category?
  • Shareable—Is it shareable? Could other people make sense of my system and documents?

We took five steps to clean up Barbara’s electronic documents. We’ll look at Barbara’s documents “Before and After”—which were already in pretty darn good shape! 1. Determine your “drawers.” Think about your computer just like old-fashioned file cabinets, hanging files, and manila paper folders.

*Geeky trick: Barbara inserted numbers in front of her file folder titles to put them in the order SHE wanted them, which was determined by which folders she used the most (rather than the default alphabetical). In Barbara’s case, she thought she would want a drawer level folder for “Professional Development.”

The Before! Potentially too many drawer-level folders, but Barbara is not in bad shape! Some of the folders were too specific to live at this high-level though:

In Barabara’s case, we created six high-level folders, shown below.

  • Projects
  • Organization Tools
  • Reference
  • Professional Development
  • Administrative
  • Personal

The After! Simplified and paired down. Big top drawer topics only!

Teachers might have high-level folders like Lesson Plans, Behavior Management, and Family Communications.  School leaders may have Coaching, Lesson Plan Review, and so on. 2. Create ”hanging file folders” Within her Projects folder, placed at the very top because that is where she goes most often, Barbara created Subfolders of all of her Current Projects and then made a space for her completed work, called “Archived Projects.”

The Project material is still all there for her, but no longer front and center.

Barbara may eventually need to add year-based folders underneath her projects if they look like they will be recurring.  3. Determine your “manila folders” and papers inside. Now on to the manila file folder level. This is where Barbara can get specific about her actual New Site Development work.

Look how she’s done that here with Months for Committee Meeting Materials:

Teachers may have subfolders under Planning for “Biology,” “Chemistry” and “Science Club.” Underneath that, you may have specific weeks or units listed. School leaders might create unique folders for each coached teacher in “Coaching.” 4. Clearly name your documents. Barbara was already in great shape here, but we suggested a few other habits for the future.

  • Eliminate duplicative document names
  • Keep file names under 25 characters
  • Avoid underscores; use dashes instead (this has to do with how search functions recognize words. . . who knew?!)
  • Avoid special characters
  • And most importantly, consistently label for version control by listing the document date in YYYY-MM-DD format and then “v” for version number 001, 002, etc.

BEFORE: Alumni Committee Meeting AFTER: AlumCommMtgAgenda 2013-04-03 V003 5. Clean off your Desktop and Get Documents Out of your Email Inbox. Now that you have places to put things, let’s tackle that Desktop and Inbox. . . You know, the place where you’ve stored quick downloads, random pictures, and those articles you’ve been meaning to read. . . As inspiration, let’s look at Barbara’s desktop before and after. The Before!

Barbara went through the items on her desktop, piece-by-piece.

  • The Word documents got re-named and filed in appropriate folders.
  • The Reading list moved to her Thought Catchers in Outlook
  • The Quotes were moved to a Word document in the Reference folder.  

The After

Barbara, thanks for reaching out. We love what you already had in place, and we’re glad we can help you spend less time searching and more time on the important stuff! Discussion Question: How do you set up your documents? And most importantly, how do you keep them current?