Digital Declutter Day 26: File Naming

The Digital Declutter Challenge is winding down. So far we have worked on clearing, ordering and resting from our many electronic devices. As with all organizing projects, true success comes in creating systems that you maintain over time.

Today we will begin a habit that will help manage your digital life: using a naming convention.

A naming convention is a method for labeling and identifying your digital files. If you work in an office, you may already be familiar with this idea; many companies require employees to name documents in a specific fashion to ensure uniformity across the firm. In simple terms, a naming convention is a set of rules for the way you consistently name all of your documents. Naming conventions provide just enough detail to help you easily find the file you need.

There is no single “right” or “wrong” naming convention, but when I work with clients, I suggest a couple of best practices.

 

1. Avoid special symbols

Computers sometimes incorrectly interpret symbols (e.g. *, % , !) as instructions, rather than labels. Periods are a good symbol if you want to separate elements of a file’s name.

 

2. Put dates at the beginning of files names

It may seem unnecessary to put a date in the name of a document because there is a date associated with each file. However, dating documents is a good habit because it results in your files automatically sorting themselves inside your folders.

For example, let’s say you set the agenda for a PTO Group that meets once a month. Rather than call the document “PTO agenda for January 28 2017,” put the date up front by naming it “2017.01.28.PTO.Agenda.”

 

3. Be specific

Often we name documents broadly, rendering us unable to recognize a document from its name. Take the time to include keywords that will help you recall exactly what the file contains, including categories and types of content.

For instance, rather than “meeting minutes,” name your file “2017.01.28.ABCSchool.Fundraising.Minutes.”

 

4. Be consistent

Once you start to name all of your documents in the same way, you will quickly find that you have a much better idea of what files you have. In addition, well-named files are more searchable, because your search criteria can be more specific.

 

A NOTE ON EXECUTION…

When I work with clients on any project, I always suggest we start with what is current before we go back and review belongings that are old, inside drawers or stashed in boxes. For example, while there may be file drawers full of paper in the basement, it is more important to begin by sorting the stack on the desk and creating a system for the paper that is and will be coming in.

Begin by getting your new system up and running. Once you are working efficiently, go back and review the older material. In other words, don’t worry about how you have named your documents in the past. Begin today by naming each new file you create or download in a timely, specific and consistent manner.

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Have you been using a naming convention? Is this a new idea or one that you’ve been following for years?

26 thoughts on “Digital Declutter Day 26: File Naming”

    1. Exactly, and then you can easily go back and find the one you want. For files that will have multiple versions, you can also add something like “2017.1.27.Palmerlogo.v1” or something like that.

  1. Great advice, Seana! I love that you use a period “.” to separate both the date and words in your file names. I often see paperless gurus use the hyphen “-” to separate the date (“2017-01-27”) and the underscore “_” to separate the name from the date (“2017-01-27_SeanaRocks”). Any thoughts on that? My Fujitsu Scansnap defaults to hyphens in the date but I would love to change that and use periods for both date and name…so much easier! I know that, in the end, consistency is key…

    1. I agree that this is basically a matter of personal preference. I find the periods easier to use an access than the hyphens. Also, sometimes I forget to hit the shift key and then the hyphens and underscores get mixed up. Either is great, as long as you do yourself a favor and use the same notation all the time. I love your “Seana Rocks”… thanks for that Cary!

  2. One of my greatest time savers is the search function on my computer. Having detailed file names helps me locate files more efficiently. I love the tip to put the dates at the beginning of the file name and to start with the year. Now if I could only remember to rename my picture files when I download them. Thanks for the great challenge, Sena.

  3. I used to have a folder for each client on my hard drive. Sometimes it would be broken down into subfolders, but even then, it tended to get out of control at times.

    Now I create a folder for each project which starts with the clients name, then the date, then the name of the project, e.g. Seana 2017-01 Website updates. Once the project is complete, I can archive the folder, but it’s easy to find it again later if I need to.
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    1. I so appreciate the support and input from my fellow organizers who are solving digital problems every day. I’ve learned a lot myself this month:)

  4. I have to admit that while I’m pretty good at naming my files so that I can find them again, I’m not always consistent with HOW I name them. Sometimes there’s a date and sometimes not. But what I am good about it “filing” them in an appropriate, logical (to me) folder so that I can easily find what I need. And then there’s the search feature which I use sometimes too if the file isn’t where I think it should be.

    But particularly if you’re starting from scratch, it’s a great suggestion that you had to come up with a consistent naming convention.
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    1. Organizers tend to be very good about filing documents in folders in logical ways. I love the search function as well, but sometimes I find that I’ve named documents in a very similar fashion so that the search function yields multiple results. A fellow organizer got me onto the idea of putting the year first, and then the month. I love how the files just automatically sort themselves with this technique. That said, any consistent format that makes sense to the user is the best one!

    1. I love that you can just start using a new convention at any point. You may go back and rename old files, but you may not, and either is okay. It is just a smart thing to start and continue with into the future. Can’t believe it is almost February already!!

    1. Files become “out of date” quickly, so if you just start today, the majority of your relevant files will be properly named within a few months.

  5. You are probably using Mac? I am not sure this is still an issue, but when working in Windows it might not be advisable to use periods in file names. The program suffixes, e.g. .jpg are always preceded by a period in Windows, and when you want to easily see the file format, the extra periods might be confusing. Also, for URLs, there might be a problem. I prefer the underscore for easy reading, e.g. 2017-02-07_my_picture_file_01.jpg This naming convention will never break a URL, which might be the case with periods or spaces.

    1. Love the idea of the underscores. A couple of people have suggested that. I can see that it would be good for avoiding possible interruptions with the URL. Thanks for the comment!

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