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     Organizing Your Electronic Files

Have you ever wasted valuable time looking for a document on your COMPUTER? You know it's "there somewhere" but you just can't seem to find it. You eventually remember to use the Search function, but it takes a long time because you have so many files on your computer, and if you have a large number of documents containing the KEYWORD in question, you spend even more time opening and closing each one until you locate the one you need.

This problem can be avoided by taking the time when saving your work to place it in an appropriately named FOLDER. Many users automatically save their work wherever the program suggests -- it may be buried deep within the program file on your hard drive, it may be in the My Documents folder, or if you occasionally remember to save your work in a specific folder, the program may revert to the last folder you used. Some will suggest that you save all your Word documents in one folder, Excel spreadsheets in another, and so on, but will you always remember which program you used to create a report? What if you have many TYPES of files related to the same project? Wouldn't it make more sense to keep them together?

It is helpful to think of the My Documents folder as a large filing cabinet. Hopefully, you don't just toss all your papers into a drawer in your cabinet! Instead, you set up file folders to represent the different CATEGORIES of information that you store, and you can do the same with your computer. For maximum efficiency, the folders within your My Documents folder should parallel those in your PAPER filing cabinet. Your thought process when filing or retrieving information will then be consistent, whether you are looking for a paper file or an electronic one.

To get started, create folders within My Documents to represent the different types of information you wish to store. These will probably be the same as the sections of your office filing cabinet and may include Clients, Financial, and Marketing. You will likely have additional categories SPECIFIC to your business.

Within each folder, create SUBFOLDERS for organizing files within each category. These should parallel the individual file folders within your office filing cabinet. For example, under Clients, you will need a subfolder for each of your clients. If some of your subfolders contain a large number of documents, you may wish to break them down into another level of subfolders, however, your goal is to make things simpler for yourself, not more complicated, so be careful not to overdo it.

When saving your work, make sure that you are saving it to the appropriate LOCATION. In addition, take a moment to make sure that the file name will allow you to easily RECOGNIZE it when you need to refer to that document again. For example, if you have created a resume for your client, John Doe, you may be tempted to name it simply "resume" since it is within John Doe's subfolder. However, if you have many documents named "resume", there may be occasions when you have several of them open at one time (perhaps you need to use ideas from each one), and by assigning each a unique name such as "Resume - John Doe", you won't accidentally make changes to the wrong one. Windows allows file names to be up to 255 characters, so why not take advantage of this?

If you already have a large number of documents saved in the main My Documents folder, you may not have time to organize them all into your new subfolders right away. You can streamline your system by moving them all into a new folder called "OLDER Documents" and move them into the appropriate folders as you use them again. Another option is to copy your older work to a disc, remove them from your hard drive, and copy them back (to the appropriate folders, of course) only when you NEED to use them again. This option has the added benefit of freeing up hard drive space, which may improve your computer's performance.

The above steps become even more important if you are working to reduce the amount of paper in your office, as you will rely more heavily on your electronic filing cabinet for information retrieval. Remember that today's technology was designed to STREAMLINE your work and simplify your life! Take advantage of its power and use your time for more important things like working on client projects, or finishing early so you can be with friends and family!


Janet Barclay, Master Virtual Assistant and founder of Organized Assistant, provides administrative assistance and website services to coaches, professional organizers and other small business clients. Learn more about Janet and her business by visiting her website www.organizedassistant.com and her blog www.janetbarclay.com.

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