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10 File Management Tips

File Management Basics for Electronic Files

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Computer file management.

Being able to find files makes you so much more productive.

Image (c) Natalie Avakian / Getty Images

Thought file management was just for paper files? Think again. It's just as important to keep the files on your computer and/or mobile devices organized and up-to-date. Just as with paper files, the goal of computer 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. These file management tips will help you keep your files accessible:

1. Organize by file types.
Make applications easier to find by creating a folder called Program Files on your drive and keeping all your applications there. For instance, the executables for Word, PowerPoint and Simply Accounting would all reside in the Program Files folder.

2. One place for all.
Place all documents in the My Documents folder and no where else. So whether it’s a spreadsheet, a letter or a PowerPoint presentation, it goes into My Documents. This will make it easier to find things and to run backups.

3. Create folders in My Documents.
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 need arises. For instance, a folder called “Invoices” might contain folders called “2013”, “2012” and “2011”. A folder named for a client might include the folders "customerdata" 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.
Do not use spaces in file names, keep file names under 27 characters, and use all lower case. So a file named for a client should be jackdawson rather than Jack Dawson. If you break any of these rules, be consistent about it.

6. Be specific.
Give 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 "overdue081212"; rather than something like “letter”. How will you know who the letter is to without opening it? See the next point.

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. Do not delete business related files unless you are absolutely certain that you will never need the file again. Instead, in your main collection of folders in My Documents, create a folder called "Old" or "Inactive" and move old files into it when you come across them.

10. Back up your files regularly.
Whether you're copying your files onto another drive or onto tape, it's important to set up and follow a regular back up regimen. See The 3 Steps to a Successful Backup System for more information.

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.

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