Managing Your Electronic Files
So you thought file management was just for paper files?
Think again. Keeping computer files organised and up to date is just as important. The aim of your digital file management system is to be able to find what you’re looking for, even if you’re looking for something years down the track.
It doesn’t matter what kind of business you are and whether you need information by date, alphabetical by client, or industry type. A solid computer filing system will put everything on your system close at hand.
And no matter what your size or industry, there’s a lot we can all learn from each other, so here are some filing tips that help both M.B. Secretarial Services and our clients.
Save documents in one place
It might be My Documents, it might be a folder of your own making called ‘clients’, ‘2013’ or ‘$100-500’, but save all your documents in one place. It makes it easier to find the document you’re after no matter how old they are.
A subfolder for everything
Think of your main folder as a filing cabinet, full of drawers to arrange and organise files. Subfolders are the hanging files in each drawer. For example, M.B. Secretarial Services’ system environment has a ‘Clients’ folder, and a subfolder in it for each client labelled with the client’s name. In each of those, there’s another subfolder relevant to the project or work that client engages us for.
Modern computer systems can handle a filing system as complicated as you care to deploy, so folders within other folders dozens deep is no problem.
The above system will be organised but large depending on the size of your operation, so properly naming things is critical. Keep names short and specific so you can recognise what you’re looking at without having to open the file. A folder full of files called ‘11th October’, ‘projections’, ‘for J’ etc., will be a meaningless jumble in a few weeks.
File as you go
The best time to store a document in the right place is when you create it. Many applications save to the desktop by default. Consider using ‘Save As’ and navigating to the relevant folder instead. If you do save to the desktop, file it straight away before you start working on it. You might like quick access to live projects on the desktop by creating shortcuts, but at least you know the real folders and files will be in the right place.
Schedule a time every week, month, year or however often is necessary to go right through your system and delete superfluous files you know you don’t need any more (see naming conventions, above). But be careful – if you’re in doubt about a specific file, a good rule of thumb is to keep it. If you’re still unsure, just make a folder called something like ‘archive’ or ‘old’ somewhere else and give yourself a grace period before you empty it.
Accidents and disasters can happen, from accidentally moving something to the trash before you delete it to a power surge frying your hard drive. You’ve heard this a million times but back up, regularly. Ask yourself how much work you can afford to lose without tearing your hair out (or losing time – or money!). If it’s only a day, back up every few days. If it’s weekly, maybe once a month is all that’s necessary.
You can use external storage devices or there’s a host of online backup systems that send all your data to the cloud. At M.B. Secretarial Services we do both, backing up to an external drive and using Dropbox Cloud Storage, which synchronises data across all our computers and devices.
Backups will also be kept as streamlined (and cheap, if you’re considering an online service) if you follow the above points. Stripping out files you don’t need regularly will mean less data to back up and putting everything in one folder means you don’t have to search your whole system or network or data to back up.
Many of us use the computer more than any other tool today, but we’re not all software engineers or programmers. You want to get the most effective productivity out of your computer and not get too bogged down in its electronic innards. After all, you have another business tool to take care of that’s much more important – you.