One of the simplest and most forgotten aspects when doing your thesis is the organization of the folders and documents on the computer. Whenever you have to search for a document you can’t find or have to make unnecessary clicks to access a folder, you’re not as productive as you could. You’re wasting precious time that you could spend doing something that helps you advance your goals. Your time, once used, you can never recover it and if you don’t do anything with your file organization methods, you will continue to consume your time simply by digging. Your list of documents will only grow steadily, so now is the time to do something about it.
You shouldn’t sacrifice your time searching for important files. You should be able to find a file in five seconds, not five minutes.
Organizing doesn’t have to be difficult
Let’s look at some of the best practices for organizing files and creating an archiving system for maximum efficiency and productivity.
A digital filing cabinet
The idea of an archiving system dates back to the old days of the filing cabinet and paper folders. The advantage of the original paper filing system was that you had to really think about where to place the files so that you could easily locate them when they were needed. When files are digital, you can’t see or touch them. It is too easy to have files scattered throughout your computer.
Since this is a digital and non-physical mess, you often don’t realize you have a problem, until you do! You don’t feel the pain of a disorganized system until you can’t find a file you need.
Although search is a powerful tool, you need to have a basic organizational structure so you don’t have to rely solely on search.
The goals of a digital filing system
There are three general goals for your file organization system:
Ease of Archiving – You don’t want your file system to be a huge hierarchical maze. You want it to be quick and easy to save files so your system doesn’t cause friction.
Easy to find – You want your system to make it easy for you to find the file or folder you need, either by rummaging through folders or using search.
Reusable – Whenever possible, it is convenient to use reusable templates and naming conventions, which support the above two goals.
Some simple rules for organizing your files
Let’s start with some simple rules for managing your files and folders.
Don’t put files on your desktop
Your desk is supposed to be clean. It should also contain the trash can or recycling bin, and that’s it. Sometimes, it can be helpful to put one or two files on your desktop to store temporarily if you query them regularly and don’t need to archive them yet.
Limits folder creation
When creating folders, think about the minimum. Most files can fit somewhere in your hierarchy if you’ve done a good job of initial mapping.
In general, it only creates new folders if you find that you repeatedly return to save similar files in the same place, only to find that it doesn’t exist yet. You’ll know when it’s time to create another level in the hierarchy instead of creating an extensive multi-layered tree before you need it. You want your file structure to be as simple as possible.
Name your files and folders strategically
One of the goals of organizing our archives is “Easy to Find”. A key way to achieve this is to think a little about how to name your folders and files.
It doesn’t have to be complicated at all. Try to imagine the circumstance in which you will need it and what words you are likely to use when trying to find it. Think about saving your thesis. Do you think thesis.pdf is a good name? Probably not. ThesisOrganizational Climate.pdf is not better.
So when you’re going to name that phone bill, think about how you could look it up. Probably:
By date (Thesis of July 20201)
By type of document (Organizational Climate Thesis)
So a good name would allow you to look at the files in a folder and then see what each file is without opening it. It would give you things you can use to search.
So a good file name, in this case, could be 2021-07-10ThesisClimateOrganizational.pdf
The same concept applies to folders. It is not useful to have a bunch of folders called Thesis within other folders. It would be better to call the Juan López Thesis folder (even if it is inside a Juan López master folder) so that you can use that name to search later. This way it is much faster and easier to access with the keyboard.
Dropbox and file sync
Sync services (including those built into macOS and Windows 10) are amazing tools for accessing your important documents between different devices so you can be productive wherever you are. They are also great for sharing digital files with others.
One of the most popular is Dropbox, but many people use iCloud Drive or OneDrive, Box and Google Drive are also popular.
The structures and strategies we talk about here can be used on your local file system, or they can be synchronized with the cloud if you place the folder structure in the special folder of your chosen service.
The Documents folder
Whether you’re using Windows or Mac, you’ll most likely use the /username/Documents folder on your computer. (Of course, if you use Windows, the bar is a \ instead of a /).)
If you do personal and work tasks on your computer, you’ll need to create two folders to separate personal items from work items.
If you use Dropbox, it might look like this:
If you don’t use Dropbox, you can do so in a similar way:
Now, the way you organize your personal folder depends above all on how you mentally divide your life. A very basic division could be Education, Employers, Family, Finance, Health, Home, Shopping, Travel, and Vehicle.
Next, there could be a moderate number of subfolders under these. For example, if you manage your children’s and parents’ information, you can split Family:
If your mind goes down this path, you could also make a division into areas of life, such as:
The general rule of thumb is to choose a folder structure that suits the way you organize things. If you use a task management system, it’s probably not a bad idea to mimic the structure you use there as well.
Your business documents and the way you organize them will depend to a large extent on your occupation, sector, company and job.
If you’re in a large organization, you’re likely to work from a shared drive, in which case the directory structure is usually quite defined, so you don’t have to worry too much.
If you’re a small team or organization, it can be helpful to work together to create the file structure. People on the team are more likely to be involved in the decision-making process.
Whether you decide to store some files locally or if you don’t work from a shared drive, it largely depends on what you do. For example, in the case of your theses, your directory structure could be organized like this.
Save search time by using subfolders
The thesis would have subfolders related to the different chapters of it, the interested parties or to whom it is reported. The /file folder is the place where finished projects are moved when they are finished.
/analysis of results
How you organize the directories related to the thesis depends on how you decide to divide your work into chapters.
Once you start analyzing how you work with files and folders, you’ll realize that you have certain folders and subfolders that you use over and over again.
It can be very useful to pre-create a folder template with the structure you want to use. Then, whenever you come to a new review, you can simply copy that folder template.
The benefits of organizing with templates are as follows:
Save time. With a few mouse clicks or keystrokes, you have your entire folder tree created.
Reinforces consistency. You know your folders will always be named the same way, which means you’re more likely to keep things in the right place, and it makes it much easier to quickly find things with search.
To create a folder template, simply configure your sample folder structure. Then, when you need it, you can copy it to Finder on macOS or File Explorer on Windows and paste it into your new client or project folder.
Shortcuts and favorites
Do you have specific folders that you access all the time? Instead of always having to rummage through your file structure to get to it, you can drag the folder to the Finder or File Explorer sidebar. This will create a shortcut to that folder, giving you one-click access.
Pro-tip: This feature is great for those folders you need to access permanently, but it’s also great when you’re working on a project. Drag your project folder(s) to the sidebar while the project is running and you want to quickly access the folder, and then when you’re done, you can delete it. Shortcuts can be temporary.
If you are one of those who use the keyboard, learn to use an application launcher such as Alfred or LaunchBar on Mac or Listary on Windows. You can start typing the name of the folder you want and, with a few taps, jump there.
We’ve talked about this before in the article, but once you’ve set up your folder structure, you can get a big productivity boost by setting up an automated organization tool like Hazel on Mac or DropIt on Windows.
If you have to organize files that are recurring and you can think of a way to create rules for them (for example, “it’s always called xyz” or “it always contains the text abc”), you can use these tools to autoarchive the documents for you. All you have to do is scan or download the document, and your tool will rename it and take it to the appropriate folder.
10 File Management Tips to Keep Your Electronic Files Organized
Keeping your electronic documents organized can be quite an arduous task in today’s “connected” world.
In addition to storing documents locally on desktops, laptops or mobile devices, more and more companies are using the cloud for basic business applications and file storage.
If shared mobile access is required, documents can be stored in the cloud and shared by assigning access permissions.
The result of all this can be a file management nightmare, with some of a person’s documents stored in the cloud and others locally, and even individual documents stored only in one place or another.
Organization is the key to electronic file management
Regardless of where documents are stored, it’s important to keep them organized and up to date. The goal of electronic file management is to ensure that you can find what you are looking for, even if you search years after its creation.
Proper organization of digital documents is especially important in a shared environment: if one of your employees is absent (temporarily or permanently) you should be able to easily locate any documents created or managed by that person.
These file management tips will help you keep your files accessible:
use the default installation folders for program files
Use the default file locations when installing application programs. On Windows, by convention, application program files reside in the directory (Drive Letter:)- > Program Files. Installing apps elsewhere is confusing and unnecessary.
One place for all documents
Place all documents in a single “root” folder. For a single user in a Windows environment, the default location is the My Documents folder.
In a file-sharing environment, try to do the same. Create a single root folder (called “Shared Documents,” for example) and store all documents in subfolders within the root folder. Having a single location for all electronic documents makes it easy to find and back up and file.
Create folders with a logical hierarchy
They are the drawers of your computer’s filing cabinet, so to speak. Use simple language to name your folders; you don’t want to look at this folder list in the future and wonder what “TFK” means or any other interesting abbreviation you’ve made up.
Nests folders within folders
Create other folders within these parent folders when needed. For example, a folder named “University” might contain folders named “2018,” “2019,” and “2020.” A folder with the name of a project could include the folders “theoretical bases” and “bibliography”. The goal is to have each file in a folder instead of having a bunch of orphaned files in the list.
Do not create complex, layered folder structures. Whenever possible, use descriptive file names.
Follow file naming conventions
Some operating systems (such as Unix) do not allow spaces in file or folder names, so avoid this if your computing environment is mixed.3 Instead, use underscores as a delimiter (for example, Tesis_Clima_Organizacional_Anteproyecto.doc.) Other characters like / ? < > \ : * | ” ^ are also prohibited in file or folder names in Windows.
Use descriptive file names for easy identification and recovery, but don’t overdo it: file/path names have length limits that vary by operating system.
In Windows, the maximum length of a file’s full path (for example, drive letter + folder names + file name) is 260 characters. Use common abbreviations whenever possible, such as Jan for January or Corp for Corporation.
Assign logical and specific names to electronic files, and include dates in file names if possible. The goal of 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 addressed to the tutor to remind him that the review has been delayed, call it something like “carta_20200115”; instead of something like “letter”.
If you share files via email or portable devices, you might want the file name to include more specific information, as the folder information won’t be included with the shared file.
Archive on the go
The best time to archive a document is when you first create it. So get in the habit of using the “Save As” dialog box to archive the document, as well as naming it, putting it in the right place from the start.
Sort your files for your convenience
If there are folders or files that you use a lot, force their placement at the top of the list of files renaming them with a ! or an AA at the beginning of the file name.
Delete your files regularly
Sometimes what is old is obvious, as in the example of the folder called “Invoices” above. If it is not, keep your folders clear by deleting the old files.
Do not delete business-related files unless you are absolutely sure that you will not need the file again. Instead, in your main collection of folders under your root folder, create a folder called “Old” or “Inactive” and move the old files to it when you come across them.
Back up your files regularly
Whether you copy your files to another drive or to a tape, it’s important to establish and follow a regular backup regime.
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Barry, Richard E. “Electronic Document and Records Management Systems: Towards a Methodology for Requirements Definitions.” Information Management and Technology 27, no. 6 (November 2014): 251-256.
Duff, Wendy. “Will Metadata Replace Archival Description: A Commentary.” Archivary 39 (March 2005): 33-38.
Leeuwenburg, Jeff. “Metadata and Better Data.” Electronic Records Project Conference, Canberra, Australia, 22 May 1992. Canberra, Australia: Australian Archives, Dept. of Administrative Series, Unpublished paper 22 May 2012.
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