Organized Data: How to name files, folders and photographs
Some call me OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), when it comes to naming files, photos and folders, but I like to call it: organized.
This is a peek into my world of data organization.
I started using this system sometime after college.
Before, my files were a bit of a hodge-podge mess all over the place: Untitled 1, Untitled 2, Blablabla.
Then when I graduated, I realized I had to deal with a lot more files than before, and I had to be a lot more organized especially in naming folders for projects.
Here are some of the tricks I use when naming files and folders for anything I do:
USE NUMBERS IN THE BEGINNING OF THE FOLDER NAMES
Everything sorts alphabetically, and it’s kind of annoying if you are on a project and you think in a sequence. For example, folders look like this if you don’t use numbers:
Therefore, I name folders with numbers at the start like this:
I always use double-digits, because I rarely hit 99 folders, but I do go over 10 folders on occasion, and if you only use single digits on a PC (not on a Mac), it makes the 10. Folder go just below the 1. Folder.
ALWAYS HAVE AN ARCHIVE AND AN ADMIN FOLDER
This is inevitable.
You will end up with so many files, you will need 2 generic folders to help throw the excess you don’t need to look at in there.
- Archive: These folders are for things you need to keep, but don’t need to look at
- Admin: These folders are for things like manuals, how-tos, blank forms, templates
You can name them:
The “_” symbol before the name, trumps any numbered folder. It’s nice to put Archives or Admin stuff at the top so it’s easy to drag and disappear.
KEEP YOUR FOLDER NAMES SHORT AND SWEET
Keep them descriptive and useful, but not verbose.
Toronto Dominion Canada Trust? Name it “##. TD”
The shorter your folder names, the better it is for your file name.
I call President’s Choice Financial “##. PC”
NEVER GO MORE THAN 4-FOLDER LEVELS DEEP
I hate, Hate, HATE projects that have more than 4 folder levels deep.
You can’t find ANYTHING.
This is what a proper 3-level folder structure looks like, which is the rule you should generally follow:
1, 2, 3.
The 4th is if you REALLY need it.
But if you need a 5th folder level, then you need to create an entirely different set of folders at the first level, or find a different way of sorting it.
I’ve been on projects with 5+ folder levels and this happens:
- stuff get lost in the confusion
- people don’t bother clicking 10 times to get anywhere to really stick to the system
- you can’t copy the folders in a backup because the file name is TOO LONG
When you go to make a 5th folder the next time, do everyone a favour and slap yourself before doing so.
ALWAYS NAME YOUR FILES SOMETHING DESCRIPTIVE
It didn’t bother me much before, but it does now.
I am really after people on my project when they leave files named “Untitled” somewhere.
People know when I’ve gone into their files or folders, because it comes out with a name afterwards.
NEVER LEAVE A BLANK SPACE IN FILE NAMES
Blank spaces on PCs, turn into %20, because it’s a stupid operating system that has no idea how to create a proper ‘blank space’ in a name.
It sometime causes headaches when you copy or upload files, because of that %20 crap, so to avoid this, ALWAYS use underscores ” _ ” or dashes ” – ” in between parts of the name.
NEVER. LEAVE. A. BLANK. SPACE.
I can’t tell you how many times this has caused me a headache on a project for whatever reason.
You are allowed to leave blank spaces in folders, however. 😛
NAMING FILES LIKE BANK STATEMENTS
Depending on what you’re naming, it will change, but I generally follow this structure:
Main Category_Sub Category_Date*
*Date looks like: Year–Month #–Month Name–Day
Note that I am using ” _ ” a lot in this to be cleaner and to sort between the categories.
I use a ” – ” for the date because it’s a category with sub categories (yyyy/mm/dd), and the ” – ” in between denotes that.
How about an example?
So let’s say you have a bank Statement from TD Bank for the 21st of January 2013. It would look like this:
Main Category = TD because it’s TD Bank that is the institution
Sub Category = Statement because it’s a bank statement
Year = You need to put the year in front, so it sorts by year without you doing anything
Month # = Since a month name like “JAN” sorts alphabetically, I put the month # in front like “01” to help it sort better
Month Name = This is not necessary if the Month # is enough for you, but I like looking at the month name, even if it’s redundant
Day = I don’t always put this, but if there are a lot of statements in a month, I do, to separate them out
Come up with a naming system that suits YOU so that you’ll keep using it.
Don’t make it complicated if you don’t have/want to (e.g. adding dates or month names)
Again, NEVER LEAVE A BLANK SPACE.
If you want the main category to say: “TD Bank”, then write it like this: “TD–Bank”, with a dash in the middle.
HOW TO ORGANIZE FOLDERS IN GENERAL FOR YOUR LIFE
Like a budget category, it depends on what you do, so it’s quite personal.
I suggest the following folders in general:
_Backups: Back up your files, throw them all here
01. Budget: Obviously. I name and keep all my budgets by year (2012, 2013, etc).
02. Taxes: I like having folders by tax year (2012, 2013), and putting all documents in there.
03. Banking: I have folders by country and then by bank or money institution.
04. Credit Reports: I have folders by country
05. Bills and Receipts: Sometimes I keep these if they’re important.
06. Government: Anything to do with healthcare, license plates, health cards…
07. Insurance and Wills: Scanned wills, photographs of my things for insurance by year
08. Career: Resumes, interview prep notes, anything I’ve prepped for in the past
09. Education: Certificates, notes from college
10. Programs: Any program you’ve purchased and their serial numbers
All of the above only works if you actually name your files like how I mentioned above. That way, you just need ONE folder to hold multiple bank statements from different banks, and it’ll all be pre-sorted by file name without needing multiple folders.
Plus, it’s easier to see that “Statement” is from one bank or another, if you name it with the bank short name in front.
HOW TO ORGANIZE THOUSANDS OF PHOTOGRAPHS
When you get things like photographs, it can get trickier, and by trickier, I mean I get lazier.
I take thousands of photographs when I travel, and I am not keen on naming any of them individually unless I really like it, and want to send it to someone.
However, for my own purposes, I am content to leave them named as IMG_#####.
Note: I use PICASA (free Google product) to organize all my pictures.
What I like about Picasa is that it creates folders right on your desktop, you can see thumbnails and you can use their Quick Photoshop-like filters to do things to your pictures in seconds.
Take for instance this picture I took in Evora Portugal, of an Art Installation in 2012.
Photo of an Umbrella Art Installation in Evora Portugal, 2012
I keep two sets of major folders:
Originals and Selections
In my already-sorted-through-image folders, it looks like this:
I sort through by major countries/continents, then cities in each country.
If I get more than 3 cities in a country, even though it can all be put onto the same continent, I create a new folder just for that country.
In my original photograph-image-folders, it looks like this:
I use a 4-level folder naming convention here:
1st Folder: Pictures
2nd Folder: 03. Trips
3rd Folder: Portugal, Evora (2011)
4th Folders: Each sight / site / grouping of photos
All my pictures are organized in this manner, and it makes it easy to see what you have, and the cities are organized like this:
Country, City (Year)
I visit cities multiple times, so I like to know what year I saw what.
Other times I don’t quite care, like in Canada. I am less interested in what year I was there, because I’m always there.
If we dig deeper into that Portugal, Evora (2011) folder, this is what you’ll find – my 4-level folders:
That’s not all I do (yes, it gets better… or worse, depending on your perspective), but it’s a good overview to get started on thinking about how to organize your data.
Any tips on organizing data and files that you’d like to share, or ask about?