As an online entrepreneur, you spend a lot of time on your computer, which means coming up with a sustainable, sensible organization system for all of those files you deal with on a day-to-day basis is absolutely essential, but it’s something a lot of people struggle with.
If you made all the great plans and goals for 2018, but opening up your computer on January 2nd made you want to run for the hills, then girl, I’ve got you! It’s time to tackle your digital files once and for all and get them as organized and manageable as the rest of your business.
STEP 1: ASSESS YOUR STORAGE SITUATION
Before you can start doing anything to organize your files in a more manageable way, you have to start by figuring out where all of that information is going to be stored.
Do you have multiple computers? What about hard drives? Cloud storage? Is everything going to live in one main spot and be backed up from time to time? Will certain hard drives or cloud systems be used for back up only or other storage as well?
Figuring out your storage situation first is essential, because it means you’ll be putting the right files in the right place the first time.
If you wait until you’re actually organizing things to figure out what’s going where, you could waste countless hours moving files back and forth between different folders or hard drives to get everything where you want it to go.
STEP 2: SET UP YOUR FILING SYSTEM
Once you’ve figured out exactly where everything is going, you have to figure out how it’s going to be organized.
In my experience, there are two primary ways you can go about organizing files — by topic/category/project or by date. Though everyone is different, I’ve most people (myself included) use some combination of both of these systems.
To figure out which system works best for you, ask yourself this question: when you’re looking for a particular file, what do you remember about it first — when the work was done or what the work was related to?
If your answer is when the work was done, use the date as the primary filing designation.
If your answer is what the work was related to, use the project or topic as the primary filing designation.
If your answer (like me) is both, it just depends on the situation, assess each grouping of folders — personal stuff, business stuff, etc. — individually and determine whether a date or topic designation makes the most sense.
Here’s an example of what some of my project based organization looks like.
To help keep this all straight, I recommend grabbing a piece of paper and writing out the general file path each of your files will follow when all is said and done. That means if you organize your work stuff by project and by date, your general file path might look something like this: WEDDINGS —> YEAR —> MONTH —> COUPLE’S NAME.
And here’s what my (mostly) date based organization looks like.
STEP 3: SEPARATE THE MUST KEEPS
I know, I know. You thought the next step was clearly going to be deleting a bunch of stuff. We’ll get there, just be patient!
Especially as a business owner, there are always going to be files you need to keep on hand for posterity’s sake, future reference, legal purposes, or just to be that super amazing business owner who still has the files from that one client’s wedding five years ago who lost all of their stuff in some crazy disaster.
To make the process of getting rid of all the unnecessary junk go super smooth without you having to worry about losing any of those important files, create a folder on your desktop labeled IMPORTANT (or “must keep” or whatever you prefer) and put all of those must keep items into that one folder.
You’ll get to organizing all of that a little later, but knowing all those super important items are safe and sound makes the decluttering process way easier.
STEP 4: CLEAR OUT THE CLUTTER
Now it’s time for my favorite part of the whole process — decluttering!
I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand clutter. It stresses me out like nobody’s business, which is why I make it such a high priority to keep every area of my life as clutter free as possible and that includes my digital files.
Part of the reason I think so many of us have such a difficult time organizing our digital spaces, be they files on hard drives or emails in an inbox, is because they’re overstuffed. We make the mistake of thinking that just because the space feels like it’s unlimited (or actually is, in some cases) that we never have to delete anything.
Friends, it’s time for a major truth bomb: if you don’t need it, it’s still clutter, even if you have the space.
I totally get that for your business, you’re gonna need to keep a lot of files on hand, but that doesn’t mean you need to keep everything! And when it comes to other files, it might seem like you need it, but I promise, you don’t need to keep every assignment from every class you took in college. (Yes, I actually had all of those on my external when I cleared it out in 2016.)
Before you begin decluttering, create a second folder on your desktop labeled TO KEEP. As you go through each folder, drag the stuff you definitely want to keep (but didn’t fall into the “super important” category) into this folder. This will separate out that stuff and give you a clean visual start when you’re actually organizing your files.
Now go ahead, start deleting! (I promise, it’s super liberating.)
With all that clutter cleared out, your super important files still safe and sound, and your other files set aside, you get to go through and actually organize all of them now! Woohoo!!
Grab your piece of paper with all those written out file paths, pick a category, and start organizing.
Start by creating all of those lovely file paths on the storage system of your choice, then go to your IMPORTANT and TO KEEP folders, and drag and drop those pared down files into their respective locations.
Depending on how much info you’ve got on your computer, this can take quite a long time. I’m pretty sure I spent 8+ hours redoing my hard drive when I decluttered it back in 2016. But trust me when I say it is totally worth it.
Hooray! You have officially gone through, decluttered, and organized all of your digital files. If your hard drives looked anything like mine used to, that is definitely something worth celebrating, friend!
Before you begin that celebration there’s one final, super essential step to actually keeping these files decluttered and organized — coming up with a maintenance plan.
Simply put, your maintenance plan lays out how and when you’re going to assess your digital spaces to ensure they don’t get crazy out of hand ever again. At whatever interval you implement your maintenance plan (I do it once a month as part of my monthly duty day), I always recommend including three elements: decluttering, archiving/organization, and hard drive back up.
Doing those three steps every month or every couple of weeks ensures you’re clearing out unnecessary files, archiving the ones you do need, and backing it all up so you never have to worry about losing any of it.
And there it is, friends. Your step-by-step guide to whipping those digital spaces into tip top shape. Happy organizing!