For all the things that computers allow us to get done faster, document management and file management – or more precisely, the lack thereof – is one aspect of computer use that can really slow you down, especially without the right file management software solution in place. Don’t be a victim of poor file management. Whether you use a Mac or PC or whether you live off the files housed on your corporate file server, here are the top ten file management mistakes to avoid:
1. No File Backup There are islands of data out there in the computer world with no backup and systems set up to backup only while your computer is connected to the corporate network. It is hard to overstate the importance of backing up your PC, Mac, and file server. Losing files to a virus, power surge, computer theft, IT mishap, or a spilled cup of coffee should not also mean the loss of all your critical data. If manual backups are too much work or keeping track of external drives is what is keeping you from backing up your files, you should know that automatic file backup services like Syncplicity exist and are simple to set up and use. Save yourself the frustration and cost of losing a hard drive or computer and set up an automatic file backup service that does the work for you, ensuring that your files are never lost again.
2. Not Synchronizing Files across Multiple Computers A decade ago, it may have seemed incomprehensible that both business and personal users would be managing multiple computers, servers, laptops, and mobile devices as the norm. The reality is that most people now use several computers, servers, and mobile devices in the course of day-to-day work, which is leaving more users with the challenge of managing files across multiple devices and servers. How do you ensure that the latest version of the file you need is on the computer in front of you, no matter where it was that you originally saved it? How do you avoid the common work-arounds, from check-in/check-out solutions to emailing documents to yourself? Good file management these days means automatic file synchronization, which requires some form of software or software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution. Manual synchronization is too risky and time consuming to be anything more than a temporary solution. Finding a solid file synchronization solution is critical for good file management.
3. Generic File Names “Untitled” may be a popular title for works of art, but when it comes to computer files, “untitled” is not a good cue for remembering the contents of a business document. Avoiding generic file names may seem obvious, but it is important to remember how easy it is to name a document by the category of work that it fits into, “marketing-campaign.ppt” or “email-to-customers.txt.” The issue is that when working on a project, it is easy to think about that project in the context of what you are working on that day or week: “This week, I have to write up a marketing strategy document, respond to a customer service issue, and prepare a new email campaign.” The problem is that three weeks later, when you are looking at files called marketing-strategy.ppt, customer-issue.doc, and email-campaign.txt, how sure are you to remember what those documents contain? Worse, what if you guess incorrectly and assume those files are related to other projects you were working on, say, last year? Thinking of file names as a memory cue rather than the category of work that they fall under is the best way to get yourself into the habit of creating specific file names. Try setting up a naming system for your files like:
[year.month.day]_[category]_[project name].[file extension]
What is important is that you stay specific and remain consistent about using your file naming approach.
4. The Curse of Incomprehensible File Names This problem arises most often when downloading online documents: 8n20cncjsksf6qi432f.pdf may mean something to a computer somewhere in the world, but what matters most is what ‘8n20cncjsksf6qi432f’ means to you. When you are busy downloading online reports with random strings of letters and numbers for file names, be sure to rename the document to something you understand before too much time passes. Making a habit of changing these horrendously unhelpful file names to something humans can read will save you time later and keep you from having to re-download a file that you may already have.
5. A Desktop for All Your Files If your computer’s desktop is your catch-all for new files – downloads from the web, pictures from Facebook, letters to your business colleagues, copies of hilarious email chains – you may be a digital hoarder. A computer desktop should be treated like a real desk. A desktop lets you temporarily set a file down that you may have pulled out of your file cabinet, but at the end of the day, the file needs to go back to its usual storage place. Otherwise, your desktop quickly becomes cluttered with all kinds of files that you may rarely need.
6. DDSD: Delayed Document Save Disorder If you enjoy working for thirty to forty minutes on end editing a spreadsheet or word processing document before saving your work, you may be a victim of DDSD: Delayed Document Save Disorder. You should be especially concerned if you keep your computer or laptop’s power chord within kicking distance of your feet. You work hard to transcribe your brilliance into your computer documents so do yourself a favor and preserve your ingeniousness by saving work in progress. Consider getting in the habit of regularly hitting Ctrl-S on a PC or Command-S on a Mac as you create and edit your documents. It’s never a good use of time to have to recreate an entire document from the ground up – which is to say nothing of the frustration that comes with it.
7. Underutilization of Subfolders Dropping dozens upon dozens of files into one massive folder may make it easy to know where a file is housed but may not make it easy to find once you get there. Try to anticipate what you need in terms of organization when you set up a new folder to help keep you organized at the outset. For proposals and presentations, consider creating ‘Draft’ and ‘Final’ folders to help you sort completed documents from works in progress. Using subfolders will help keep like documents together and reduce the amount of time you spend sorting through a pile of miscellaneous files later on.
8. Redundant Master File Folders ‘Biz Docs,’ ‘Documents,’ ‘Work Documents,’ and ‘Docs’: which one has the sales document you need to send to your regional manager? When you set up master folders – folders like a Documents folder that house most of your core documents and file folders – you want to be sure that those folders remain your primary go-to folder for storing all your documents. This is especially critical when these folders reside on a shared server or corporate intranet. When you start creating multiple master folders without a clear distinction between what the purpose of that particular master folder is, like Sales Data and Sales Metrics, for example, you can end up splitting similar documents between multiple masters. When in doubt, keep it simple and clean. Keep your master folders specific and make sure that you adhere to the purpose that that master file is supposed to serve.
9. Email Attachments as a Substitute for Backup This is a particularly easy trap to fall into given how often most of us leave our email accounts open at work: you need to quickly back up a file or work on it from home later, so you email it to yourself. What makes this a poor replacement for a comprehensive file backup solution is that most email programs provide no easy way to let you look at your attachments without opening each email first. Worse, most programs make it extremely difficult to search for attachments, so retrieving backed up files in this way usually means having to manually sort through emails one by one to locate just one document, and the longer a backup file sits in your email, the longer it usually takes to locate it. No matter how careful you are to sort emails into appropriate folders and keep your inbox organized, email programs are not set up as a file management application so using email as an ad hoc file backup program is almost never a good idea.
10. Storing Key Files on a Thumb Drive Thumb drives are the new floppy disk, and while there are a few things that thumb drives may do well – like making for extremely fashionable key chains – thumb drives are not a good place to keep the one and only copy of must-have files, like PowerPoint presentations for that conference you’re heading to. We’re still surprised at how many well-meaning people out there try to use thumb drives as a non-virtual virtual folder for important documents. Unlike actual virtual folders that backup and store key documents in the cloud, and save and track versions, non-virtual storage devices like thumb drives have key vulnerabilities, including their ability to get lost or damaged. The most common violation is opening and editing documents directly on a thumb drive without first creating a local copy on your computer hard drive or file server.