Ready to convert to digital record keeping?  The first step is to develop a naming protocol for your computer files.  (Just so you know, files are the computer counterpart of paper documents.)  Once you develop and master a standardized way of naming your files, you will easily be able to find any document among hundreds, even thousands, of files in a single folder.

You may be tempted to just follow a workable system you’ve already set up.  But not every part of your current paper system will translate well to digital storage.  Open the cabinet (or box, or whatever) in which you store current  paper files, and note what you see there.  You probably have a way of subdividing the storage with manila folders within green hanging folders.  The good part:  subdividing can help you when searching for a particular document–it quickly narrows the space to scan so that you can find it in a hurry.  (If you’re like me, hurried searching is the norm.)  But in a computer, that kind of subdividing (folders within folders) is not as helpful, because you have to open one folder, then find another folder inside of it, open that folder, then search for another folder…and so on.  By the time you’ve clicked to open 2 or 3 folders, you’ve lost track of what you’re looking for.  Better to limit clicks to get to any eventual document to just 2 clicks at the most.  The naming protocol will take care of the rest.

The naming system I “invented” to store client folders lets me find everything I need quickly while the client and I set together and chat.  I can find things we worked on weeks before in an instant, allowing me to tie together seemingly disjointed ideas and mini-discoveries.  (Sessions can take many directions, but they are always interconnected, it seems.)  I name each file as follows:  Last Name (First letter in caps), First Initial(s) (caps), abbreviation of file type in lower case, and the date in year-month-day format:  Driscoll J pn 12.1.14

This naming protocol can be applied to any kind of file, not just my files.  If you’re a musician, you might want to store tracks or variations (called the “mix” Dana tells me) for a single song in a client folder.  Your ideal file name would then be the client’s name, the abbreviated song name, an abbreviation indicating “track” or “mix”, and the date.  Same thing if you’re an antiques dealer–you can name digital photos of each piece with first the antique category which you can abbreviate (uph, acc), followed by the name of the antique (1965 chair green stripe), and the date purchased.

As a general rule, each file name is built upon categories you would use to sort paper files, going from general to specific.  That way, when you open a folder, the wealth of information is all there; document types ordered alphabetically, and documents of a type (like, say, psychotherapy notes) neatly organized by date.  If you have a great number of documents and are looking for something recent, you can click on “date modified” near the top of the window, and the most recent document will appear at the top of the list.

A word of caution:  although naming documents the way I describe will save you time in the long run–careless naming will not.  A document with even a single letter or digit missing will put it out of order because your computer can’t generalize the way you can.  Remember the old saw:   “garbage in, garbage out”.

I’d like to give you all the fine points, but why don’t you give it a try first?  Then under comments, let me know where you get stuck.  If I can, I’ll help you out.  With any luck, others will write and share what works for them, too.  I envision a community of readers with perfectly organized digital files and lots of free time for things you find exciting!

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