How many hours have you spent learning how to organize projects and media assets using that new fancy project management tool? Can you find that file you need in under 20 seconds? I can 😉
There are a couple things that I want to clear up when talking about file organization.
- The file organization should be intuitive and easy to find files for everyone.
- Less is more. Don't add subfolders for the sake of "organization".
- Get files out of your download folder before it becomes a headache.
With all that in mind, let's get started on understanding how I organize my files.
My file organization system
- _Helium - This folder is where I put all my business assets like logos, essential documents, and presentation decks. Using an underscore keeps it at the top of the folder, so I never have to look too hard for these everyday documents.
- Apps - Mostly, this is a place to sync application preference files and app backups.
- Assets - It's a big one. I'll go into more detail later, but this is where I put a copy of all those stock assets, so I don't end up re-buying things that I've already licensed.
- Cabinet - The backup folder for computer, website, and general data dumps.
- Clients - My home base for keeping all the client files organized and shared with the team.
- Deliveries - A place to put those files and folders that you get asked to send out to people but don't relate to a specific project.
- Development - Web development projects mostly.
- Incoming - Using file requests, clients upload files through their web browser, which end up in this folder before being sorted into the right place.
- Learning - I like to keep the notes and resources that I gather from education programs. You never know when that worksheet might be precisely what you need for a project.
- Personal - Personal documents and media files.
- Receipts - This folder collects all my scanned receipts before being input into my accounting software.
- Templates - The extra copies of my folder structures.
Not so bad, right? I tried to make it easy enough to logically separate the different areas of my life without overcomplicating the files, so I wouldn't have to guess which folder something went into.
Organizing projects with a digital filing system
Here's where the system gets a little deeper. To keep everyone on the team organized when shared folders, we've developed a structure for each client and project. This starts with a client and project code used in the folders and attached to all client documents.
The client code is a 3 letter code that is unique for each client. Generally, we use the first initial of each word in the company name. If the business name is shorter than 3 words, we use the second or third letters from the last word.
Vehement Capital Partners would become VCP
Globex Corporation would become GCO
Initech would become INI
These client codes are used alongside the project codes, which are made up of the year, month, and project number (in the form of a letter). The date created based on the proposal usually but could be found on the project approval if we didn't send a formal estimate. The sequence is client code-YY-MM-letter without the dashes.
If the Globex Corporation gave us a project in January of 2021, we would code the first project GCO2101A. The second project in January would be GCO2101B, and if a new project comes in February, it would be coded GCO2102A.
This system presents itself in the folder structure, and orders the projects nicely with the way computers like to sort based on folder names. Inside each client and project are a couple standard folders.
/clients/GCO - Globex Corporation/_Brand Assets/clients/GCO - Globex Corporation/_Documents/clients/GCO - Globex Corporation/_Incoming/clients/GCO - Globex Corporation/GCO9611A - Doomsday Device Investor Presentation
Within the project folder, the standard folders are.
GCO9611A - Doomsday Device Investor Presentation/0_DocsGCO9611A - Doomsday Device Investor Presentation/1_ResearchGCO9611A - Doomsday Device Investor Presentation/2_AssetsGCO9611A - Doomsday Device Investor Presentation/3_ProjectsGCO9611A - Doomsday Device Investor Presentation/4_ExtrasGCO9611A - Doomsday Device Investor Presentation/5_Output
Keeping up with this file structure helps the team know exactly where to look, whatever file they need quickly. It also keeps a consistent system when sharing the files using your favourite cloud platform, Dropbox in my case.
To make this easy to maintain, I use the templates folder to keep a copy of a sample client and project to copy and paste, so all I need to do is rename two folders, and we're in business.
Storing Assets and keeping media files organized
We create so many files, license, or copy that are used across multiple projects. While we try and keep the project-specific media assets inside our project folders, we also keep a copy of stock and other re-usable assets in a central folder.
The assets folder includes
- Graphic Templates
- Presentation Templates
- Sound Effects
- Stock Illustrations
- Stock Photos
- Stock Video
- Video Templates
- Web Templates
- WordPress Plugins
- WordPress Themes
Automate your filing
You're probably thinking that I'm obsessive-compulsive and spend most of my day moving around folders, but I have a secret. I'm actually very lazy 🧐
Hazel is a macOS app that runs in the background and has very sophisticated options to automagically move files based on filters and rules. If you're on PC - sorry about that.
You might spend a day just playing around with Hazel's features, working out how it can organize your life, and it's a day well spent, in my humble opinion. It is a wonderful feeling when you download the stock photo for a project which is renamed and copied into your team asset folder before you even get a chance to open it.
Thoughts on creating your own digital file management systems
You're probably already set up on a cloud-based backup system like Amazon Drive, Box, Creative Cloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, Mega, OneDrive, pCloud, SugarSync, Sync or... all of them. On the off chance that you're not, choose one and do that first.
Hopefully, seeing how I organize my files and folders inspires you to clean up your root folder and figure out something as sophisticated or simple as you need. The key to success for me was to lay out the folder structure in a way that didn't require me to do much thinking, then automating as much as I could so I wouldn't have to do much doing either.