How to become a file management Ninja

In this week’s Wrap-up I’m going to delve into a unique way to manage your folders and files on your computer. This is relevant to anyone who uses a computer, creates and retrieves files, or organizes digital files and folders. I have been using this system for about 5 years now, and have found it a good way to store and find information.

The traditional way to store files is by lumping them into one folder, or nested folders, no matter what type of document they are. For instance, if you have project folder, you would store anything that pertains to that job under one folder, such as 14101 Jones Addition. That folder will get pretty full by the time you finish the project. And it will take a little time to find the information you need because there are so many different folders under the main project folder.

What if you separated all your folders by the type of file it contains? That’s a novel idea for most of you, but I’ve found it works really well. I spend a lot of time at the computer and need to find and access many files each day. I read something about this type of system years ago, and decided to try it myself. I have customized it so that it works well for me, and you’ll have to do the same. Whatever system you use, it needs to make sense to you and your associates. If everything in the office is set up in this manner, it is quite easy for anyone to find a piece of information when they need it. 

Ready to get started? 

Basic File Management

The most fundamental part of a file management system are the files and folders. Folders are the same as a physical folder. It holds pieces of paper, which, digitally, we call Files. A digital folder can hold an endless amount of nested folders – the folders that reside under a primary folder. The purpose of the nested folder is to further inform and organize your files. Here’s an example, starting at the primary or root folder, where each “>” indicates a nested folder:

ABRC Project Documents>14101 Jones Addition>Contracts>Proposals where ABRC Project Documents is the primary folder, and all the rest are nested folders. 

Under Contracts you might have Change Orders, Pre-Construction Conference, and Proposals. 

Organizing your folders and files

Another rule to live by is to keep all files in a specific folder. This may seem like a lot of trouble, but it takes little time and saves lots of time later. 

By the way, all the screenshots you see in this article are on a Mac; the structure will be very similar on a PC. The system I’m introducing you to will work on any computer. 

So far so good. You now understand folders, nested folders, and files. 

The biggest difference

All folders begin at the root drive. For most of you on PC’s it will be called a C: drive. Under that are the User files, which are the files that can be accessed by the person who is logged in, e.g., Adam Smith is the user and is logged in and can see his folders and files on the C: drive. 

It is at this point that you have to set up your folders. Your system may have already populated some of your drive with folders such as Documents, Shared, Applications, Music, Pictures, and Movies. PC’s would like you to put everything in the “Documents” folder – videos, documents, pictures, etc. I prefer to create most of my own folders outside the Documents folder. The only folder I use in the Documents folder is one I made, and that’s the RSS Docs folder, which strictly contains anything that is a document.

Here’s a sample of the root folders under my User name that I propose.

Root folders

  • Our websites
  • Associations
  • Audio files
  • Books and eBooks
  • Documents>”Your” Docs
  • Drawings
  • Dropbox
  • Equipment
  • Finances
  • Home Inventory
  • Images
  • Marketing
  • Movies>”Your” videos
  • Music
  • OneDrive (if you use Microsoft Office)
  • Pictures
  • Presentations
  • Spreadsheets

The details

  • Our websites – You probably have one or two websites. There is a lot of information you need to store for each one, such as support files and back-up folders. 
  • Associations – information in folders such as NARI, NAHB, Chamber, etc. 
  • Audio files – any audio file excluding music. If you have a podcast, those audio files would reside here. I keep audio books here, educational messages, inspirational messages, podcasts files, saved phone calls, and miscellaneous audio.
  • Books and eBooks – these you be PDF books, eBooks, etc. 
  • Documents>Your Docs – this one is extensive. I’ll show you screenshots below. Basically it contains anything that you consider a document, such as letters, contracts, articles I want to save, legalities, books I’m writing, and article ideas.
  • Drawings – this could be project design drawings, client’s sketches, sectional templates, hand drawings that you scanned in, etc. 
  • Dropbox – your Dropbox primary folder. Set up a similar folder structure here. You do use Dropbox, don’t you? If not, set up a free account right away. It will prove to be very useful to you.
  • Equipment – information about equipment you own or rent.
  • Finances – you could keep your accounting files and other files that relate to your accounting, finances, loans, etc. 
  • Home Inventory – this is personal, of course. It could be the inventory in your office too. I use a Home Inventory app that helps track all the stuff we own.
  • Images – this folder may seem a little ambiguous. After all, there is a Pictures folder below. Images are photos or screenshots that I use on my website for  advertising, marketing, and my websites. It contains icons, banners, headers, buttons, and much more. Of course it has a Miscellaneous Images folder where I dump all the rest of the images that are hard to categorize. The Images folder  does not contain personal or company photos, such as project photos or company picnics. 
  • Marketing – Information about your marketing, strategies, ideas, campaigns, etc.
  • Movies>”Your” videos – this folder has a lot of nested folders under it. I’ll show you the details below. 
  • Music – All music, including the iTunes Media library. But not the Audio files I mentioned above. 
  • OneDrive (if you use Microsoft Office) – another cloud drive that may reside on your hard drive. Again, set this folder structure up the same as on your desktop or laptop. 
  • Pictures – This is where I keep photos of projects, family, architecture, my home, and my travels.
  • Presentations – any Powerpoint or Keynote files
  • Spreadsheets – all spreadsheets, including estimates.

Some screenshots

Have you noticed the difference in this system yet? Instead of putting the estimate, project pictures, drawings, contracts, and work orders in one place, you break them up into easily found parts, based on the type of file they are. To better explain how to set this up, let’s look at Documents.

Organizing your Documents folder

As you can see, I’ve got a lot of folders under Documents. The first thing I did was add my own document folder to the system-created Documents folder, called Docs RSS. Now all my documents are under Docs RSS. Since I write for a lot of blogs, you can see a lot of Docs for “…” folders. 

Opening up Docs for ABRC (A Better Remodeling Company©), you see a single folder called ABRC Project Docs. You probably will have many more of course. Next are the project folders. I use a very simple but effective numbering system for jobs. The first two digits are the last two digits of the year, and the first job of the year is always 101. If you have more that 99 jobs per year, just change the number to 1001 or 10001. The reason for the numbering system is that the file manager, when sorting alphabetically, will always keep your files in chronological order. The 14100 Folder Template holds empty folders you can copy to your next job so you don’t have to make them all over again. 

Organizing your Projects folder

The next set of nested folders are all the types of documents you will need to track this job – Contracts, Design Notes, Lead Information, Purchase Orders, and Work Orders. You should make a folder for any type of document you need to file that pertains to that project. You might add a folder called Subcontractors and a nested folder under that, Certificates of Insurance, with their certificates of insurance copies in it.

Breaking down Contracts further, you see all the types of contracts used in the project  – Change Orders, Pre-Construction Conference, and Proposals. Again, add any additional folders you may need. 

More Project folders

Finding files

It’s easy to find a file quickly this way. If you need to find a proposal, go to your document folder, the projects folder, the project folder, contracts, and then the type of contract you are looking for. In this case it will be in the Proposals folder. 

Set up all your file structures, on all your devices and computers, in this manner. 

If you are showing a prospective client photos of your past projects, the photos will all be in one group, and easy for you to go from one project to the next. Need to find a Powerpoint presentation quickly – look under Presentations. Want to find an eBook you set aside to read later, look under Books and eBooks. A marketing video you saved for later, look under Movies>”Your” Videos.

This takes a lot of guess work out of the file management. Almost anyone with a basic knowledge of computer file management, will know where to put a file; or to find one when they need it. 

Helping you manage

I hope that helps you manage your files better. I tried it and like it. I don’t think I could go back to the old way. And changing to the new system wasn’t that hard either. Just go to a folder and sort the files by Type or Kind, and then drag the group of files to their new destination.

There’s a lot more I could show you about efficient file management, especially on the Mac but we’ll leave that for another time. If you have a question or suggestion, don’t hesitate to send me an email. This information could be very helpful to someone who doesn’t necessarily have a system, so please share this with them. Here’s the share link you can copy and paste to share –

If nothing else, this Wrap-up emphasizes the need to manage your files. With some practice and a good process, you can become a file management Ninja. 

Wishing you the best of fortune, Randall

This article was written by Randall Soules, business, adviser, educator, and creator of the Scientific Remodeling System, showing you better ways to advance your business, raise your profits, and improve your life, through the use of superior remodeling processes. If you would like to discover better ways to run your business, click here.  Feel free to contact Randall by using the Comment form below or the Contact Us tab on the site’s menu bar.

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