How quickly can you find an electronic file? Are your files scattered throughout the computer in any number of places such as the hard drive, documents, the cloud or portable storage? Electronic folders that are not filed in their right locations can be just as messy and cluttered as paper folders.
So much of what we do today is electronic that we need a plan to organize electronic files similar to the way we organize paper files. While many offices still rely on paper to some extent, we are gradually moving away from paper to storing documents electronically which is a compelling reason to set up a system to organize electronic file folders.
There are numerous benefits of an organized electronic filing system. Here are some of the reasons to act now and get your computer files in order:
- Saves you time when you can find what you need quickly and easily, even years later.
- Easy to maintain.
- Helps you be more productive, and look more professional, especially when your boss needs a file now.
- Keeps documents current because the system identifies which documents can be disposed of and when.
- Saves physical storage space and money by reducing the number of filing cabinets and office floor space needed.
- Uses your time more efficiently by reducing the time you, or an assistant, spends retrieving and re-filing physical records.
If you share files with others, here are some advantages to having organized file folders:
- Team members can access shared folders and find what they need quickly, without interrupting anyone.
- Document ownership is easy to determine.
- Fewer copies of documents need to be printed as long as you, and the other team members, can access the document easily on line.
- Less printing = less paper clutter.
- It is easy to edit a document and share it with others.
- New employees can be brought up to speed quickly.
Tips to organize your electronic filing system:
- Make sure that the electronic filing system meets the needs of the office, that all documents have a place in the system and that everyone understands and buys into the system.
- Create a flow chart (electronic or paper) showing the type of information that will be available and the departments or people needing access to specific files.
- Set up a system everyone will be comfortable with and will use.
- Mirror your paper folders using the same headings and topics as your paper system. The more similar the two systems, the better.
- Be consistent about naming conventions. Set up files, folders and subfolders that everyone will find meaningful and easy to understand.
- Limit the number of clicks to three: file, folder and subfolder. There is no need to go any deeper. Note: whatever filing name system you choose, it needs to match your needs and/or the group’s needs.
- Use a hierarchal system to organize files instead of a horizontal one. Group all projects and files relating to a particular project, person or thing together instead of using separate folders. For example, a hierarchy for a client file folder might look like this:
- File: Clients
- Folder: Individual Client Names
- Subfolders: Descriptive topic names such as communication, contact information, taxes by year, etc.
- Follow file naming conventions including client account numbers and revision date. Use underscores, not spaces. For example, an individual client name may look like this: tomjones_3579_11-30-14. Keep file names under 27 characters, all lower case.
- Use the same format for dates. The key is to be consistent.
- Add as much information into the file name as possible so it will not be necessary to open it. Be descriptive. An example of a subfolder under communication might be: casesummary1114 (for November, 2014). Don’t just put in “letter.”
- If others also work on the document, add your initials at the end.
- Avoid abbreviations and codes that are not immediately obvious to everyone.
- Set up an index for quick reference, particularly if you use shortened versions of words such as DFT for draft or CTR for contract. Make sure that information is readily available to everyone with access to the file folders. If an abbreviation is not necessary, do not use it.
- Delete previous revisions once document is final.
- Create a records retention schedule based on function and date to ensure that outdated electronic documents are disposed of when they are no longer needed.
- Be ruthless about the documents you save. The more data on the computer the more difficult it is to find necessary documents.
- Move frequently-used files to the top of the file folder list by adding an “a” or ! (any symbol works) at the beginning of the file name.
- File as you go. Do not wait until you have a long list.
- Clean out your file folders at specific times (after a certain number, every Friday, etc.)
- Back up files regularly.