Where Did I Put That @^%*#%! File?!

nofilesmThere are few things in life more frustrating that trying to find a file you created a while back for an immediate need. At times like that you really wish you had an organized filing strategy. In this article I will discuss file organization strategies for customer data although the strategies can be applied to any type of file organization. The most common strategies for customer file organization are:

  1. Anything Goes
  2. Descriptive File names
  3. Customer Defined Folders
  4. Function Defined Folders
  5. Single Folder with Intelligent File names

Anything Goes

This strategy is usually employed by people who do not believe in putting data in defined formats. Usually this is the type of person who has a very cluttered desk but can find things quickly when asked for them. Basically all files are named based on the whim of the moment and everything is put in a single folder such as ‘My Documents’. Finding files becomes a function of the person’s cleverness and PC savvy. The person’s main strategy for finding files is to start sorting the folder by date, name, file size, or some other characteristic, or do a search of file names, and/or content based on a character string or word that is in the file. This methodology works well for some people but is very confusing and cumbersome for those not familiar with the creator’s naming and filing logic.

Descriptive File Names

This strategy is the next step up from ‘Anything Goes’ on the ‘file organization ladder’. In this strategy, files are given descriptive names so they can be identified at a later date. Typically there is no defined file structure; all files are in one folder. When a person is searching for a file they will usually sort the folder by file name and look for the file description they are after. Aside from being somewhat cumbersome to navigate, the other problem with this system is that the file names will often be truncated by Windows Explorer and the Name column will have to be manually extended to read the entire file name.

Customer Defined Folders

A more organized strategy for filing customer data is to use Customer Defined Folders. The benefit of this methodology is that it is easy to determine where a particular customer’s information is, but navigating through the individual folders will be more or less cumbersome based on the file naming conventions employed by the file creator. If there is no logic to file naming, this methodology can be marginally more useful than Anything Goes, especially as the number of files for a customer becomes large. Another issue with this methodology is that you will have as many folders as you have customers, consequently saving files can be very cumbersome and prone to errors of file placement. This strategy can also be modified for use with vendors, etc.

Function Defined Folders

Function Defined Folders is a strategy similar to Customer Defined Folders. The benefit of this methodology is that it is easy to determine where specific activities (Invoicing, Estimating, etc.) are for customers, but navigating through the individual folders will be more or less cumbersome based on the file naming conventions employed by the file creator. If there is no logic to file naming, this methodology can be marginally more useful than Anything Goes, especially as the number of files for an activity becomes large. Another issue with this methodology is that you will have as many folders as you have activities you track, consequently saving files can be very cumbersome and prone to errors of file placement. As with Customer Defined Folders, this strategy can also be employed for vendors, etc.

Single Folder with Intelligent File names

This strategy combines ease of filing to a single folder with quick file identification. With this methodology you have a single folder for large groups, i.e. Customer, Vendors, etc. Within these folders you store all files that are relevant, but you give the files intelligent names so that you can quickly find files after they are created.

Example of an intelligent file name: AAABBBMM_YY111.xxx

Where: AAA – Group designation, it can be as many characters as you need to delineate among your customers, vendors, etc. – Al Johnson Auto – AJA; Bill James Carpet – BJC; Carol Webber CPA – CWC; Debbie Wellness Catering – DWC etc.

BBB – Activity designation, it can be as many characters as you need to delineate among your activities – INV – Invoices, EST – Estimates, SPC – Specifications, etc.

MMM – Month Abbreviation – Jan; Feb, etc.

 _ – underscore between month and year

YY – Last two digits of year 111 – to designate multiple iterations of the same file type in the same month, use only if needed

xxx – file suffix – xls – Excel; doc – Word etc.

You could have the same file name with multiple file types. Example: AJAINV01_10.xls – spreadsheet detailing invoice costing calculations AJAINV01_10.doc – Word document sent to customer AJAINV01_10.pdf – Image of invoice signed by customer With this strategy a name sort of the folder should enable file identification Of course, these various strategies can be ‘mixed and matched’ to meet your organizational needs.

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