If you are running your own business, you could be juggling a diverse range of tasks at any time of the day involving customers, record keeping, suppliers, production and marketing. The ability to locate your files and data is essential for anyone who uses a computer. On a typical day, you can deal with many different files. You may refer to and edit old ones as well as create and store new ones. What are the rules for creating and storing up your files? How do you keep your files safe? Here are a few questions to ask yourself as well as some tips to assist with better file management.
Have you got a style guide to follow when creating documents? Do you have a set of templates for documents you create often?
Templates and style guides enable you to maintain consistency in documents you create. Taking the time to set these up will not only save you time when creating files, it will help to present a professional image in outgoing business documents and communication.
How do you name your files? Does your filing system take into account multiple versions of the same file?
Some operating and backup systems do not allow spaces in file or folder names. Instead, get into the habit of using the underscore or hyphen as a space between words (for example project_x_brief_ver_002) other characters such as |\*^?/<>$: should also be avoided as these have specific meanings in computer operating systems. Some backup systems don’t recognise file names with these characters.
Use descriptive names for files to enable easy identification. The goal when naming a file is knowing what the file contains without having to open it.
Don’t make file names too long. File/path names have length limits that vary between operating systems.
Use a consistent method to name your files and folders.
Rather than continually editing the same file, it may be better to create revised versions so you have a backup of your progress. Include the version number at the end of the file name such as v01. Change this version number each time the file is saved. Resist naming the last file FINAL in case one final edit needs to be made and then you may need to name it FINAL_2.
How do you organise your files on your computer? Have you an efficient system so you can retrieve data easily?
Create folders in a logical hierarchy then create other folders within these folders. For example a folder titled Clients you might have multiple folders such as Jones, Smith, Andrews and within each of these you might file documents under 2013, 2014, 2015 etc. Within each of these folders you could store files in folders such as Correspondence, Project X, Project Y, Images etc. and each of these may also need to be further broken down into subcategories. The goal is to have all files in folders rather than having a long list of orphan files. However, use common sense with this process as having a large number of folders with only one or two file in each may not make for easy file retrieval.
File as you go. The best time to file a document is when you create it. Get into the habit of putting files in the right place straight away to avoid a mess.
Online file storage services such as Dropbox allow you to share files easily as well as enabling you to access your files from multiple devices (PC, tablet, smart phone etc) as long as you have access to the internet.
A good filing system is able to grow to meet future needs. This means you may choose to add folders such as ARCHIVE or PAST CLIENTS where you can move older files to prevent the list of folders in a section from getting too large.
Data protection is crucial for protecting your business. Is there a security system at the premises where you conduct your business? What would you do if your computer was stolen?
Securing your place of business with an alarm, window locks etc is one way to help keep your computers and documents safe.
Do you have an effective backup procedure in place?
Back up all your files regularly. If the hard disk dies or is damaged by a power surge, your files could all be lost. The basic rule for file protection is that if losing the files will interfere with doing business, back them up. There are many backup software programs available that allow you to set a schedule that will archive your data automatically so you can backup your computer files to external hard drives and/or cloud storage.
So whether you have just purchased a new computer, are starting a business or are snowed under with a computer full of files that are in need of some order, give some thought to your document management. A document management system can be set up in a relatively short period of time. The key is implementing it consistently over time to ensure you can work more productively and with less stress.