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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
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
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
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


Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
@lorraineball First probably depends on the business. But second is likely training, especially with regard to sales. - 4 weeks ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

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