Updated: Aug 17
Everyone and I really mean EVERYONE has struggled with virtual file organization at some point. There are just so many options for where to save your files! We personally have battled with multiple cloud storage options and embarrassingly disorganized folders. This led to inefficiencies and lost time when we were looking for what we needed or trying to figure out where to store something.
If you too are struggling with this issue, we’ve compiled the tips we’ve found helpful in getting our virtual file storage systems in line and efficient.
Set up one Location for All Documents
It’s so easy to have files in a multitude of locations with Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, your desktop, etc…. It’s time to move everything you use to one location. This will ensure you go to the right place to find what you need and it simplifies your life which is always a good thing.
Our favorite cloud storage options:
Google Drive - If you use other Google applications, this is ideal. They give you 15GB’s of free storage (that’s a lot!) and it’s fairly inexpensive thereafter. You can also save items into Google Drive directly from Gmail and other Google applications. The search capabilities are strong and sharing documents with others is extremely easy. Personally, we are not huge fans of the interface but the quality of other features overrides this drawback.
Dropbox - This storage option only gives 2GB’s of free storage but if you set up Dropbox as a special folder on your desktop, it is the easiest and quickest to use of all cloud storage options in our opinion. With dropbox as a folder on your desktop, you can save items to the folder and they update in the cloud. This saves you steps along the way.
Create a Hierarchy of Files
Think big picture when you are creating your file folder categories. Ideally, you should keep the number of files at each level within the hierarchy to a minimum as it can become harder to find what you need quickly and will be even harder to decide which buckets to put files in when you have too many. You also don’t want to nest too many files within others. A system like what you see below would mean clicking 7 times on folders to finally access the document that you want and that is just too many clicks.
Think about how many files you need to store. If you really don’t have that many files and don’t plan on needing to store that many in the future, your hierarchy should be simple. If you have a plethora of files in many categories that will need to be stored, this step is highly important and we recommend taking the extra time to get it dialed in before implementation.
There is a balance of creating the right folders that meet your needs and creating efficiencies for yourself in being able to access and file away items. We find this to be the hardest part of the whole process since it takes some stepping back and looking at what categories you need in your life or work.
Nest Folders Within Folders
As you can see from my listing of file folders below, you can nest folders within other folders. This hierarchy allows you to find what you need quickly from smaller lists within other smaller lists. It’s overall less overwhelming to use.
Number your Folders for your Convenience
This is a great tip that we didn’t start doing for our own folders until recently and we love it. We suggest numbering or lettering your file folders in order of use. This way, the most used folders are at the top and will take less time to open when you need them. This is again, only really important if you need a plethora of folders.
To the left is a sample hierarchy that shows three 1st tier business category folders. Within each 1st tier folder are 2nd tier subcategory folders. Some of those 2nd tier folders also have 3rd tier subcategory folders within.
As a general rule, I would try to stay away from nesting more than 3 tiers.
Start from Scratch with Updating you File Folder Hierarchy
It can get really messy trying to set up a new hierarchy of folders without doing a few steps first.
Saving everything in your current folder system to a new folder labeled OLD_FILE_SYSTEM2020 or whatever is easy for you to use to differentiate.
Once all you see in the root folder is the one folder with your old files, you can start creating the new file hierarchy that you want to move forward with. You will do so in the root folder, separate from the folder labeled OLD_FILE_SYSTEM2020 that contains your old system.
Open OLD_FILE_SYSTEM2020 and move files that you will still need from your old file system folder into their new places.
Take care not to move over anything that you will not need. Delete completely useless documents and duplicates and leave anything in the OLD_FILE_SYSTEM2020 folder that you want to archive. Archiving is a great way to get the clutter out of your way but allows you to keep records of the files in case you need to reference them in the future.
Name your Files using a Standard Format
Pick one format in which to use to name all your files. This will help with recall and standardization within the folders. You also want to make sure you choose names that are specific that you can remember and which logically will come to you if you are looking for a particular file. Dates can be good to add to your files as well if you have multiple files with similar names.
We suggest something like: VirtualFileMgmt_BlogPost_08.06.20
Using your Search Functions
If you have properly done the above step, naming files logically and with names that you will be able to recall, you can use the search function in your file storage application to find what you are looking for. This can save time if you have files embedded in folders within other folders.
Review and Declutter your Files Regularly
Regular upkeep is imperative to making sure your file system doesn’t get away from you again. We suggest reviewing your categories monthly and purging old files and archiving at least quarterly.
Backup your Files
If you have ever lost files, you know it’s the worst! To save yourself trouble if this happens to you, get in the habit of backing up your files on an external hard drive or in a separate cloud storage application weekly. If you are not the type to remember to do this, we suggest using a service provider like Carbonite to automatically back up your files daily.
If you would like help setting up your file hierarchy or determining what the best plan is for your individual needs, we are always happy to help!