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Friday, July 21, 2017

Organizing Your Electronic Documents

Written by  John Redmond-Palmer

Remember the days when everything was paper and you had file cabinets to organize all that paper, or it was in boxes with no organization? Today we likely have those same disorganized drives on our electronic devices. With all these electronic documents, I find having a good organizational system for them is essential. Not only does it make it easier to find things, but it helps reduce recreating things because you cannot find them.

My full-time job is as a school librarian, some of the most organized places in society. Whether the library uses the Dewey Decimal Classification System or the Library of Congress system, they all start off with a big subject area, and then drill down, allowing anyone familiar with the system to find the books they want. Similarly, your electronic file structures need to start off with general categories, using folders within them to organize even further.

The first thing to do is map out your basic file structures. This needs to happen before you start, or you will end up doing a lot of extra work, when you find you need to make a change. The key to success is not to overthink the system, and to keep it simple. Some sample categories could be home, photos, personal, financial, taxes, and groups you belong to.

In a functional system, your main “documents” folder has folders, each with either other folders or files in them. Let’s say you have a resume to file. To file it, you may want to go to the main documents folder and create within it a folder called “Personal.” Within that folder, create another folder called “Job_Search.” Within the “Job_Search” folder, you create two final folders: “Resume” and “Cover_Letters.” Now you can easily find the resume by going Personal > Job_Search > Resume.

An important thing to remember when creating folders or file names is to avoid using spaces between words or digits, and use an underscore “_” instead. While many newer versions of programs like Microsoft Office have been allowing you to use spaces, many programs do not, and will have problems handling those files and folders.

I recently discovered a new program called FileCenter, that one of my clients uses. Their home version helps you to create a file structure and organize your files. The home version costs less than $30 per machine. One of the great features of FileCenter, is the ability to scan documents directly into a folder as a PDF. While paper will never completely go away, this can reduce your paper clutter substantially. Let’s say you are at a conference, and they give you a Powerpoint packet and you have written notes all over it. You can scan the packet with your notes directly into a folder you created with other materials from the conference, such as the actual power point. This groups things together appropriately, and those pieces of paper can be recycled. FileCenter also works with cloud storage. The best tip for success is to pre-plan your file structure before setting up FileCenter.

To organize your photos, whenever possible, I recommend creating a folder within the “Photos” folder for each event the photos relate to. This won’t work for everything, like portraits, logos, etc, but you get the gist. It’s best to always rename photos from your camera or phone to something that tells what the picture is about, as their original file name will be something like photo0001.jpg. When other people see them, they will have more meaning. For example, my grandfather loved slides and one thing that was very important to him was organizing his slides and writing on each slide exactly what it was about. This has been a tremendous help for my mother today as she digitizes them

If you are not sure how to go about organizing your electronic files, contact me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and I can consult with you.

John Redmond-Palmer can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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