Spending lots of time finding a file isn’t particularly the greatest fun for a busy business owner. Nevertheless, we all have been through this already, and sometimes, there comes this point in life when we know we need to change something. We need to change a routine or maybe even an attitude – just to be able to deal with our tasks more easily and seamlessly or even for the fun of it.
Organizing files and managing data are the main topics of this article. If you are spending lots of your time looking for a particular file on your computer, or having trouble remembering where you have put a certain file, then this article is for you. If you wonder how to organize your folders and your email inbox in such a way that in the near future, you can find any file and any message quickly and effortlessly, you may also want to read on.
Not being best friends with technology often means getting and staying organized with your digital data is a big issue. It may not look like it, but if it’s your goal to set up a scalable and sustainable business, then you do have to spend some thoughts on an effective data management plan.
File Organization on your Computer
How do you organize files on your computer? Do you have a system in place that would make it crystal clear where to store any kind of file?
When starting your business, in a relatively short time frame, there will be hundreds of tasks coming your way. Most of them will be much more important than learning how to use a file management system. However, having some kind of system already in place that lets you move forward with grace and ease would be extremely beneficial. It will save you time and nerves, and when you hit those bumps that every entrepreneur hits at some time, at least it wouldn’t be because you cannot find the files you need so urgently.
All right, so the first step would be to come up with an idea for a directory structure that is not only logical for you and your business processes, but also somewhat easy to maintain.
The directory structure as it pertains to the organization of files into a hierarchy of folders is something that applies to your computer files as well as to your email inbox. In general, it should be uncomplicated, and it should be able to grow with growing demands.
Why should you use folders as an organizational structure?
Using folders as an organizational structure helps users to keep track of where something can be found. Folders provide an ideal tool for managing the data itself. They can be used to stack files up so that you can back them up, validate them, and restore them in the event of a problem.
Is there a better way to organize your directory structure?
From what I have seen and learned so far, I’d say there is no “one size fits all.”
There is certainly, however, some kind of setup that will be valid for the majority of business owners. It’s a mixture of administrative, organizational, and client-related tasks that are reflected by the directory structure.
A Template of empty Subfolders
When doing service work for clients, it would be best to set up a structure that is divided by clients. This is usually the area of your business where you will produce most of your files and documents, and having a folder structure for your client-related work will allow you to sort files away quickly and find them again with almost light speed.
The structure will depend on what your business model is about. Below are, however, some ideas for folders that you might find useful.
My recommendation here is to create an empty group of folders and subfolders that fit your administrational and organizational purposes, and save it somewhere as a dummy folder.
This way, you can – whenever you get a new client – quickly create a folder structure you are familiar with and set the foundation for organizational efficiency.
Tips for the Setup
Setting up an organizational structure of files and folders is ideally done at the beginning of your business venture. Should you have missed it back then, don’t worry, you can still do it. If you are in this situation, I have a tip for you.
Given you have some structures or maybe even no structure at all, and you know you need to get organized and change things, what’s the best way to get started?
Instead of sorting through your messy structure and spending lots of time moving existing items around, choose a cut-off date, at which point the old location becomes a read-only archive. Any changes or additions must be made in the new location.
Organizing your Gmail Inbox
If you are using Gmail or Google Apps for your business’ digital communication, you will have already realized that there is no such thing as folders in Gmail. Even though it might look as if there were, the feature is actually called labels. Labels work similar to real folders, can be designed in a tree structure and may appear as if they are folders, but they are not.
Gmail’s labels achieve the same thing as folders: they bring some order into your inbox. The difference with labels is that a message in your inbox can get more than one label, while a file can be placed only in one folder.
If you would want to place a file into two separate folders, you would have to duplicate it and place it into the different orders. The problem with this is that you will eventually forget which of the duplicated files you want to keep working on, which is a recipe for disaster.
If labels in Gmail are used intelligently, you can leverage your internal structure and enhance your internal organization. Because any given message thread can have more than one label, like “urgent”, “April 2015”, “work”, “print”, by using Gmail’s integrated search function, you can quickly find any messages ever labeled this way.
When used in conjunction with Gmail’s filtering tool, you can set up rules for incoming mails that get labelled upon arrival – before you even get a glance at it. This way, you can reroute certain messages to skip your inbox (like newsletters), mark them as important (messages from a certain sender), forward them to other email addresses, or send automated responses.
Every business and every entrepreneur is at a different stage. This makes it difficult to advice the perfect tool or technique that is a right fit for all.
I know a lot of tools and I am constantly amazed at what gets developed and becomes available. Every month, I am discovering new gems that I share in my Business Tool Clarity Session. These are sessions in which I help entrepreneurs understand which tools would be a good option to employ for the tasks they are facing. At other times, I help them to put the pieces of their personal puzzle together.
Should you decide to take responsibility for your technical needs, I am happy to be of service for you. Get in touch with me. I will do my best to find great options for your individual setting.
Did you find this useful, or do you have any experiences with your file organization you want to share with us? Did you run into any problems you still don’t know how to solve efficiently? Please leave a comment below.