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Using The Right File Name Transforms Productivity

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Every file on your computer has to have a name. Selecting the right text might seem like an easy task, but bad filenames are actually a major problem.

We have reported on some of the problems with disorganization and it’s effect on workplace productivity. The source article included a striking quote:

Some 43 per cent of middle managers and 48 per cent of junior managers have had to phone a colleague, customer or supplier to ask them to send a copy of a document or email because they could not find it on their system.

The most significant factor in misplaced documents is also the easiest to fix: using intelligent file names. Here are three key points to keep in mind when deciding what to type in that dialog box:

  1. Remember the Stakeholders – You might know exactly what final report.doc means, but what about someone else who runs across this document?
  2. Note the Sequence – If you maintain multiple files that are similar in nature, such as weekly reports, invoices, receipts, versions or pages, use a consistent structure in the file name.
  3. Take Advantage of Hierarchy – A computer folder can store thousands of documents, but that will make it hard to find anything. Create subfolders to help organize content.

Here are some simple examples to consider:

Original file name: my resume.doc
Comments:
Whose resume? This will only confuse recruiters—who will have many resumes with this exact filename!

Improved Version: Resume for John Doe.doc
Comments: Much better! This way your resume can be easily found.

Even Better Version: Resume for John Doe - June 2010.doc
Comments: This is fantastic, because it reinforces the temporary nature of a resume. The recruiter may ask for a new one by December!

* * *

Original file name: order_17.xls
Comments:
Although we know this is an “order,” the number seventeen has no meaning.

Improved Version: ABC Enterprises-Jan 5, 2010.xls
Comments: This at least indicates the name of the client and the date. But if there are multiple orders, we cannot sort by date easily.

Even Better Version: ORDER 2010-01-05 N-0017 [ABC Enterprises].xls
Comments: Multiple similar file names can be sorted by name, which also sorts them by date. The contents of the file are also completely clear.

* * *

Original file name: updated report FRI EDITS!!.doc
Comments:
This file name is just sloppy. It’s impossible to tell the intended audience for the document, or where it fits in the revision cycle.

Improved Version: competitor-research (updated at may 7 meeting).doc
Comments: Now the purpose of the file is clear, and it’s evident when it was last modified.

Even Better Version: [INTERNAL] Competitor Research [DRAFT 7-MAY-2010].doc
Comments: The use of capitalized words in brackets highlight important text, such as indicating that this file should be kept internal to the organization and that it is not a “final” version.

One more bonus piece of advice: don’t trust the “Date Modified” field. It’s too easy to open a document just to view it and accidentally hit the save button. If the date a file was modified or submitted is important, put it in the filename. Here’s a visual example of some of these problems:

improving productivity using file names

A good filename makes all the difference!

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter

@robbyslaughter

Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. https://t.co/lJk8tIwe9q. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
Exhibit C: It was an option. It was even on the receipt. https://t.co/jgCabMuZdr - 3 days ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

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