File and find it again?

Over the years, I’ve collected an awesome “toolbox” of files—spreadsheets, procedures, articles, marketing ideas, pictures, etc. I bet you have, too. Here’s the problem: it can be a challenge to find those files when you need them. If your desk is messy, I bet your computer desktop is even messier. And the company “shared folders” may be a total disaster. A friend just described her company’s shared folder. This is a partial list of the subfolders within:

  • Current
  • MISC
  • Marketing
  • Company Picnic Recipe Roundup
  • Jobs
  • Bill’s Jobs
  • Client Jobs
  • Old Jobs
  • 2011 Jobs
  • Suzy – DON’T TOUCH
  • Job Pictures (which contains no pictures, but does have the Picnic Recipes in it.)

Without a plan, your electronic folders and files are bound to be disorganized. Mine were. I’ll share the procedure I use at my company—many of my clients have adopted it, too. If it takes you longer than two minutes to find a file, read on. This system isn’t perfect and you are welcome to adapt it; however, it may just save you loads of time and reduce frustration.

Create main folders to match the organizational chart

For the shared drive, Google Drive or Dropbox work great. Create folders for each of the main managerial positions on the org chart. For example: President, Marketing Manager, Financial Manager, Warehouse Fleet Manager, Sales Manager, Service Manager.

Then, for each position on the org chart, you can create a subfolder under the “senior position” manager folders. For example:

  • President – Executive Assistant
  • Marketing Manager – Customer Service Rep
  • Financial Manager – Bookkeeper, Human Resources, Compliance Officer
  • Warehouse Fleet Manager – Shop Runner
  • Sales Manager – Comfort Advisor, Install Field Supervisor, Installer
  • Service Manager – Service Field Supervisor, Service Tech

In each folder, put the files that will be used by the people in those positions. You could create additional subfolders. For instance, in the Service Tech folder, you could stash the Service Tech Manual, the Pricebook files and any other files the Service Techs need. You could also add a subfolder for their Job Photos.

Shared folders are a good idea, but they do require good procedures and training to make sure everyone is using them the same way. However, if your Comfort Advisor keeps all his customer data on his computer, and then leaves, you may find yourself in a tough position.

Storing files in folders like this can work for 80 to 90 percent of your files. You might also create a folder that is not to be shared—like the one called President—and in that you can put confidential information. You might also keep a separate file for Operations Manual Masters, so that the team can’t inadvertently delete or overwrite the content of a file and lose important original forms.

Naming procedure for files

A solid naming convention also helps you find files more easily. Yes, search features are great, and you will still want to use the search bar. But search won’t fix a confusing list of folders or keep you from creating redundant files. Try naming your files like this: BSP_mm_Name_Of_File_YYMMDD.

Use two or three letters to identify your company. BSP could stand for Bob Smith Plumbing. Using a naming procedure helps you weed out old files. A year from now, you could delete most of the files that don’t have the BSP identification.

Follow with two letters for the main folder. Files stored under the Marketing Manager main folder could be identified with "mm." Financial Manager could be "fm," and so on.

Name the file. I use underscores between characters because I am a little dyslexic and can’t see spaces very well. Having no spaces helps me maintain the procedure. This is optional.

Date the file. Use two digits for the year, two digits for the month, and two digits for the day. So, 9.24.2015 would be 150924. Each update to a file of the same name will line up right below the earlier version when you change the date.

You can include the file name in the header or footer. If many of your forms are printed, the file name in the header will tell you exactly where that file is saved, and the date will help you determine which form is the most current.

To be tidy, pick a font and point size and stick with it for everything. Like Calibri font, 12 point, justified left. Some creative types at your company may love to use all caps, lots of colors and fancy formatting. This creates a circus train effect in your manuals and systems. Keep it simple and consistent.

If this looks like some work, it is. Sorry. It took some time to scramble things up and it may take some time to sort out your folders and files.

It helps to have a passionate early adopter of the system. Is there a Type A personality on the team who loves organization? This is the person with a label on his or her label maker. The one who lines up all the food in the breakroom fridge according to date and owner. Go through this article with that person and map out your “Folders and Files Organization Project.” Work together and create the new main folders in Google Drive or Dropbox.

Click, hold and drag existing files into the main folders. As you do, be willing to delete files you know are old and useless. If you are not sure, you can dump them into a folder named Archive. As you open files to use them, rename them with the new file naming procedure. Don’t bother going through and renaming them all at once. Do it on the fly.

Save some files as PDFs, so team members can’t mess with them—like your operations manuals. Spreadsheets can be protected in such a way that the formulas are protected, and the data entry cells are left open.

Arrange a training session with your team, and review new folders and the file naming procedure. Revisit the procedure in subsequent meetings. Forever.

This project will require relentless discipline and even then, you’ll find an occasional rogue file. Keep after it. It’s worth it.

“The only institutions that last a long time, do good and useful work and are profitable, are those that are, and have been, well organized. You get the feel of this immediately whenever you visit such a place. In organization there is always strength.” – George Matthew Adams 

Ellen Rohr provides “in the trenches” insight that business owners can relate to. Comments? Questions? A different view? Reach her at 417-753-1111 or You can also join the Bare Bones Biz community, at, for free tips, problem-solving webinars, money-making tools, and lots of love.

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