According to one study done a few years ago, knowledge workers spend from 15% to 35% of their time searching for information, and this stat is only going to get worse in the face of the enormous, and growing, volumes of digital information we’re all accumulating.
If you create a standardised file naming system today, whether you are a large or small business, you will set yourself up to better manage and organise that digital information in a way that makes it easy, convenient and quick to access even years later.
To begin with, a good file name should be quick and easy to reference, particularly if you can’t be bothered with (and don’t have the time) to dig through countless folders and subfolders.
There’s nothing wrong with folders and this is most likely a best solution for large organisations, but colourful file names (and folder names) in a clearly defined system will still save you a lot of time looking for documents – as well as making the job easier for your desktop search software.
While desktop search is a good tool, even search software needs specific keywords. A consistent file naming system will give you that.
With everything digital, there are files you make, like the Microsoft Word document you just created, and those you collect from other people. The same system should apply to all of them – rename the files you collect to fit with your system.
Here are some do’s and don’ts of naming your files (and folders), to help you manage and organise your growing mountain of digital information better.
How to create a more efficient filing system
1. Don’t be too clever
Avoid spaces, and special characters like @!$. Keep your file names short to ensure you retain compatibility with various systems.
2. Be specific, colourful and descriptive
Ensure the names you give your documents are easy to understand – something you can recognise instantly, even before you’ve had that first coffee.
Camel Case is a useful tool for naming files. Camel Case refers to making the first letter of each word a capital letter e.g. “CamelCase”. Some people suggest lowercase for everything is best. Dashes and underscores are acceptable too.
3. Avoid code, adjectives and abbreviations where you can
Most especially, stay away from adjectives like ‘final’, ‘first’ and ‘interim’. They’re too generic and mean nothing to no one in the long run. Creating versions of a file is a better tactic.
4. Once you settle on a file naming system, keep it
Make sure it’s a good system and easy to understand. You’re going to want to keep it forever and a day, not just until something better comes along, because that will be very confusing in the long run.
5. Apply a universal system across all your devices and apps
Use a system that makes sure a file is always sorted in the same way no matter where it ends up.
Starting with a client, project name or activity may be the quickest to reference e.g. all of XYZLtd’s work will be found at the bottom of the page, under X. Files that begin with Sales will be found under S.
6. Putting dates at the beginning of your file name is useful
Using dates is one way to make sure that your latest documents — the stuff you’re working on now – are always at the top of the pile.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: Most cloud platforms, including Microsoft, will use the ISO 8601 form of dating, where the month precedes the day — here in New Zealand we will recognise this as the American system. But putting the month first is the international standard.
This means that if you are going to be dating your files, you need to use the dating system that most software will be more likely to recognise, which is the ISO 8601 standard. This means, put the first four digits of the year first, followed by the month, followed by the date – and hyphenate them e.g. 2016-03-17 (2016 March 17)
7. Use version numbering
V1, V2, V3 etc. can be a useful way to order various draft versions so you can go back and reference content that may have been deleted in previous versions. Dating can help with this, but if you’re creating multiple versions over the course of one day, things can get a bit complicated – even with the time stamp each file will have.
Here’s a simple formula you may want to follow:
- Start with the project name, activity name or company name e.g. XYZ, Sales or XYZLtd
- Followed by a description e.g. SalesRoster
- And finally the date e.g. 2016-03-17 and version
According to that formula, a well named file could look something like this:
The reality is that volumes of electronic files (documents, videos, photos, pdf’s etc.) are increasing year-on-year. Cloud based storage systems offer incredible security, back-up and convenience, but putting in place an easy to understand, organised filing system can save you a lot of headaches further down the line.
Check out the Microsoft NZ SMB business blog for inspiring articles, tips and information for business owners, and insights from business experts like Richard Branson.