There’s a question I’ve been asked time and time again in the years since I started Less Doing, and that question is some variation of the following:
How do I organize my file hierarchies?
It’s a good question and one that has two different answers—there’s one answer for email, and there’s another answer for everything else.
As it pertains to email, you’re all probably familiar with my opinion:
There should only be THREE folders in your email:
But as it pertains to everything else:
Your Hard Drive…
Or—if you’re old fashioned—your filing cabinet…
I’ll simply say this:
You never want to have too much or too little in any file or folder.
To get specific, I quantify too little as less than 20, and too much as more than 100.
When your file or folder has less than 20 items in it, you need to consolidate. Move those items into a similar filing category that can accommodate an absorption.
When your file or folder has more than 100 items in it, then you need to BREAK IT DOWN…by date, subject, file type, it doesn’t matter—do what you think is best.
Obsession with organization is inefficient, but so is sloppiness. When it comes to filing finding the balance is key, and I believe that balance starts with my 20/100 rule.
If you find yourself frequently struggling with file hierarchies and organization in general, here are some additional rules to live by that I highly recommend…
The longer you take to address your filing/organizational problems the worse they’ll get. The worse they get, the more inefficient and frustrated you’ll become.
Categories within the umbrella of your hierarchy are great as long as they aren’t too broad (“documents”) or too specific (“Receipts – April 1st through 7th 2014”). I recommend filing by general topic categories, and going from the broad to the more specific (“Finances à “Receipts” à Q1 2016”).
Remember the 20/100 rule applies to subfolders
The 20/100 rule doesn’t just apply to individual files, it applies to subfolders as well. If your umbrella category is “Clients” but more than 100 different client subfolders fall within that categorization, find a way to break them up, like “Clients 2015” and “Clients 2016”.
Whether you find yourself naming individual files or important folders, keep names short and sweet. Don’t take that as a license to forgo detail or specificity, but long names are going to be more of a hindrance than a help, guaranteed. This is especially true if the files/folders named are going to be shared (like a company Dropbox account).
Whatever system you ultimately elect to put in place, it’s important to practice consistency. The rules you create for structuring your file/folder hierarchies need to be just that—rules. Without a diligence and repetition, your dream of having an organized, highly-efficient filing system will never be realized.
Getting organized is never easy—I had to almost die in order to realize the value of organizational efficiency—but it is 100% worth the effort. Try implementing my 20/100 rule today and I promise you’ll start reaping the benefits sooner than you think.