Create an Effective Folder System for Documents

Something about my brain helps me stay organized. I like things to have an assigned spot because I know where to look for them when I need them. A cluttered room turns my brain to mush and weighs me down. I can’t focus in a messy area, so it’s a good thing I have a private home office space where I spend most of my day and kids’ stuff aren’t welcome. (Kids and spouse, however, are always welcome.) My house isn’t cluttered, but it doesn’t take much to make me squirm.
FoldersI’m the same way about my computer, its folders, its screen space. My filing system hasn’t changed much from the first time I settled on one.
While modern versions of Windows do a better job of using a similar system and helping you save files to the Documents-type folders, some apps continue to post files wherever they like or in its own folders under Application Data. Some web browsers send downloads to the Desktop, which eventually clutters it.
My Desktop currently has two columns of icons and I make sure it stays that way as the Desktop has only frequently used apps that don’t start without my help. For example, I don’t need the anti-virus app on the desktop because it always runs. I also don’t need Adobe Acrobat on the Desktop because I rarely start the program. When I do, accessing it from the Start menu is fine. Usually, I click on a PDF file and that loads Acrobat. I use shortcut keys to run Word, Excel and other frequently accessed apps. Those don’t appear on the Desktop.
Yes, I use all methods for opening apps and files. Start, Desktop, Quick Launch, shortcuts. Everything has its place and I try to avoid having duplicates such as Word on the Desktop, Start and Quick Launch. It appears in none because I use a keyboard shortcut.
Three Rules for Writing Work Documents

  1. All content in the Documents folder. This applies to everything, not just writing work. Content includes Word, Excel, backups for money apps, text, web pages, pictures, pdf, smartphone backup files, videos, music, emails, family tree and cookbook files. This makes backing easier when it’s all under one giant folder instead of all over the place. Windows has improved this by creating a Library of My Pictures, My Documents and My Music. Each time I load a new app, I check the options to make sure it saves all data files somewhere in Documents instead of Application Data.
  2. Folder for work. All business work goes in the “Freelance” folder.
  3. Subfolders in work folder. Each client gets a folder. If a client has clients, I create subfolders for the subclients. For example, I do content work for B2B Company that includes writing emails and landing pages. B2B Company has its own clients. The work I do for B2B Company is mostly for its clients and sometimes B2B Company itself.

Folder System
The folder system looks like this:

  • Freelance
    • B2B Company
      • Marketing Automation Company
      • CMS Company
    • ePublisher Company
      • Computer Hardware Company
      • Health Services Company
      • ePublisher Marketing –> I do content for the client, but I make sure the subfolder has a different name.
    • business-related, blog and guest blogs I do for others
      • Receipts
      • Blog posts
      • archived –> When I create archives for old stuff, I give them a unique name as I try to avoid having two folders with identical names. Sounds trivial, but makes a difference especially when searching.
  • Emails
  • Education: volunteer as I often volunteer for schools and school work – both as a student and educator
  • Finance: Quickbook and Money original and backup files.
  • Pictures
    • Family
      • Kid 1
        • 2000-2005 (from early to pre-digital camera days when I had fewer digital photos)
        • 2006
        • 2007
        • Repeat for all.
      • Kid 2
      • Kid 3
      • Husband
      • Me
      • Print: I have professional printers print select photos. My photo printer does a nice job, but not to the same quality as professional services. I have family albums (real ones complete with plastic pages) and people look through them all the time. When I download new photos, I put the ones I want to print in this folder for the next time I order prints.
    • Friends
    • Others
  • Music
  • Textfiles: This is the personal version of “Freelance” folder that contains stuff related to my kids and non-business content.

Some people opt to do it the following way and it works. I had already created my system before this setup came about.

  • Documents
    • See above system. It’d fall under here except for pictures, music and videos.
  • Pictures
    • See above system for pictures.
  • Music
  • Videos

I rarely use the search feature to find files. Yes, it takes a few clicks through folders and subfolders to get to the document I need, but I find them quickly. Without those subfolders, I’d be looking at a long list of hundreds of files.
How do you organize your many files?

2 thoughts on “Create an Effective Folder System for Documents”

  1. Bill, thanks for an important note so others know about it! I rarely use this as I could easily get sucked in trying to do this for all files. That’s why I work hard with file naming, folder naming and organization.


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