You are working on your computer putting together a new Facebook ad campaign for your brand. Then the deceptively easy to answer question pops up: ‘Where are the photos I took last year at my launch party?’. And the search begins…
Working with gigabytes or terabytes worth of data is less of a headache when you have an easy to navigate folder structure. Whether you manage your own files or share information with your team, the first step to making your work efficient and productive is to set up a clear folder map. Top three reasons you should organise your files into an intuitive system are:
- Faster and more efficient work
- Clarity of navigation for new users
- Ability to back up new files on top of the old ones, rather than having to back up the whole file folder from the beginning
The following article is based on my experience with managing large volume personal and professional file libraries. It will provide you with guidance and tips on how to set up an organised and safe folder structure for your small business on Windows OS, which you can later maintain and backup effortlessly. Let’s dive straight into cleaning up your file system!
#1 Decide where you store your files
For most people, it’s obvious that they store their most important files, including business ones, on their computer drives. This is the most convenient option, however, complications arise when the computer breaks or you need to start sharing your files with somebody outside your home network.
Not to mention that computers of regular users are incredibly prone to hacking because we visit different corners of the Internet compared to work time browsing.
The first question every small business owner needs to ask themselves is:
Do I divide personal and work folders?
Yes, this is the first question! Here is why:
Small business owners often start off with working on personal computers and, due to convenience (and limited resources combined with a heavy workload!), rarely care to separate their work and personal files on their machines. As a business owner you do need to reconsider this approach, not only in terms of protecting sensitive business files, client information, logins and assets from being accessed via personal computer but also in terms of making a clear-cut division between your work-life and off time.
A personal computer is, in fact, used for personal things and we are way more demanding of it than of our designated work laptops. We make it the centre of our virtual lives but what will happen when it gets damaged by a family member or taken on holidays and stolen?
The answer to that one question will also guide your choice of data vehicle for your business.
If you own only one computer, then I suggest you consider hosting your business data on a cloud. I have two computers – one is used as a portable writing machine and stores no files, the other is my work computer. It was important to me to have access to my files regardless of which laptop was in use. I also wanted to share files with my clients without having to play the e-mail game.
I purchased space on Google Drive couple of years ago and have been a faithful GD user since then. The benefits of using Google cloud storage for your files are:
- Security against cyber attacks as well as data loss
- Work sharing
- Incredible features for Google Drive users
On a side note, if you will host your website and domain with World4You, you will receive 10GB cloud storage for free together with Domainserver 2017 package (starts at € 2.99 per month).
If you do not want to completely switch to cloud storage, you can decide which assets have to be accessed by co-workers/clients and move them to the cloud, leaving the rest on your hard drive.
Really important step about which I learned in an episode of Hackable podcast: do not install Google Drive App on your computer to sync locally stored files with the cloud. If your computer becomes the target of, for example, ransomware, which works by encrypting files to make them unreadable until you pay and receive a special key, your safe cloud mirror folders will be replaced with the infected ones after the first automatic computer-to-cloud sync.
You will most likely still store your files on your computer for accessibility reasons and I suggest to limit whatever you store locally to just the files you need and nest them in a designated folder (which is: not on your Desktop). For example, I store design elements on my computer as the file contains 100GB of data and I need access to it every day – downloading elements would take too much time and bandwidth. However, I do not store invoices or sensitive documents on my computer. I keep that backed up to an external drive and on a separate cloud storage.
Tip: Take a piece of paper and draw the infrastructure of your folders starting from the device you will host them on, the type of files you will put there and where each data bank will be backed up to. Save this file in your business administration folder and update it regularly.
#2 Categorise Your File Folders
You decided where you will store your files so now it’s time to clean up the actual file system.
The regular folder structure is simply a hierarchy cascading down from the generic term to more detailed content. There is no golden rule for how to categorise your files – this is as personal as taste in music goes, and should be based on the way you work.
For example, the top tier of my folder structure is divided into three folders: Life, Work, Side Projects. This is based on how and when I use my files, as well as divides up my files into three nice chunks I can safely back up to different platforms. The same folder structure is copied across all of my data storages, helping me maintain order. When I download files from my cloud, I immediately drop them into one of the three folders.
Tip: Create one folder structure and apply it across all devices you own. It will make it easier to remember where you drop your files, what to back up and, if you switch computers, what needs to be moved.
The easiest way to categorise your files is to think about their purpose or ownership.
For example, you are a shop owner, who is cleaning up resources on her work computer. You could decide that you want to have six main folder groups:
- Business Documentation
- Social Media
Another example: you are setting up a new file system for you, your Designer and your Assistant. You might want to base the root folders on the ownership of the files:
- Your Name
#3 Go as Detailed as You Want
I don’t think there is such a thing as ‘Too many folders’. If somebody wants to create a folder for every single file they own it’s fine. Problems start when your new system takes more effort than the actual work you need to do.
You might choose to use year-month-date named folder structure, which is my favourite because it helps me speed up my backup routine. Or you could keep branching out to as many sub-folders as you deem necessary based on the category of your files:
- Social Media:
Designers will diligently document their projects in separate dated folders but people like me will save their designs in folders based on the purpose of the design file, for example, all social media adverts will go into one folder regardless of when they were created. Think about the easiest and most logical way for you to save and later find your files.
Whenever possible, create folder structure templates. If you are blogging for your business and create a new folder for each post, your folder template for blog posts could contain:
- Blog post:
In terms of business folder structure, you should definitely templatise tax year folders!
- Add folder icons to make your folders easy to recognise. Right-click on the folder you want to personalise, click on ‘Customise’ tab and select ‘Change Icon…’. Select your preferred image and save!
- Pin your popular folders to ‘Quick access’ panel. Right-click on the folder and select ‘Pin to Quick access’. Now it will appear in the list on the left in your File Explorer window.
- Pin frequently used files to Windows taskbar, which is the bottom file strip in Desktop view. You can do so by dragging and dropping folders onto Windows taskbar.
#4 Name Your Folders Right
I see the tendency to either be very generic or too specific when naming folders. The rule I use is the further down subfolder path you are, the more detailed names become. However, don’t get too elaborate with the names of your folders or single files – a good idea is to code your folders based on simple criteria, such as:
- Project name/code/acronym
- Project number
- Purpose (for example, ‘FB’ for all Facebook-related folders)
Tip: You can hashtag your projects to make them easily discoverable in the folder search. While Windows folders can be searched by keywords, you can create custom filters by adding codes to your folders. For example, all of my website related files are tagged with ‘#AKP_WEBSITE’. The name of my design folder will be as following ‘AKP_WEBSITE_Design’.
Don’t fall into the trap of keeping everything saved aka being the hamster:
- Avoid backing up Word files of your blog articles to your computer – if you regularly back up your blog and server files, this data is already saved.
- Delete copies of social media posts you have already published.
- Archive. Consider archiving folders from previous years to a secure backup drive.
#5 Stick to your system
Once you spent time making sure your folders are neatly tucked into their designated homes, make sure to upkeep your files.
Say no to messy desktop and put your files wherever they are supposed to go immediately. Save them directly into their dedicated folders and keep the structure maintained. It takes 1 minute to do so and will save you hours in the future.
The same goes for creating generic mixed files folders – steer away from dropping files without categorising them properly.
It’s also a good idea to plan a maintenance hour each month – for example, schedule your back up in Google Calendar, update the list of folders and their content in your administration document and archive old files.
Maintaining a clear and cohesive folder structure, which makes it possible for you to find files, organise them and back them up fast is a luxury you can afford. I hope this simple guide to the organised and safe folder structure on Windows will give you a gentle kick to start thinking about the way you can make your small business administration easier!