Electronic filing is not hard to implement! But if you are like most people I know, you hate filing, and so, for you, it never becomes a priority. There are always 1001 more important things to do. Until that one day, when your boss asks you for an important file or document, and you have no clue where to find it! And even though you ask yourself a million times “why didn’t I?”, it hardly solves your problem! This is where the little guide to digital file management will prevent this scenario from playing out again in the future!
But where do I start, you may ask?
It’s easy! Simply follow the simple steps below.
1. Designing Your File Plan
The secret to ensuring that you can quickly find that important file when required is to create a file plan. An easy way to understand this is to think of an old-fashioned filing cabinet and then apply the same principles to your electronic filing system. Your “filing cabinet” is your top folder, the “drawer” is the sub-folders and then you have all your electronic files within the “drawers”.
Important tips to remember:
1. Your file plan should follow a logical sequence.
Folders should be clearly named so there is no uncertainty about what files should go into a specific folder.
2. Less is more.
The goal is to be able to find the file you are looking for with the minimum number of clicks.
3. DO NOT create a folder named General, Miscellaneous or anything similar. The goal is to be specific, and this will make it too easy for you not to make a decision and just dump files in these folders – leading you back to the same embarrassing scenario that have you started this exercise in the first place!
How do you prevent your file plan from becoming too bulky?
This is where your naming convention comes in.
2. Naming Convention:
This is the guideline you will create to ensure that you will name all your files according to a specific standard. Most importantly, this will establish rules about how you deal with date formats, specific order you will use etc.
1. It lessens the need for a lot of different folders. Windows Explorer easily sorts files alphabetically or numerically. And depending on what criteria you use at the beginning of your file name, it is easy to find files in a folder. This lessens the need for various folders.
2. It avoids duplication of files if the same standard is consistently used.
3. It makes retrieval faster and more efficient.
4. If it is implemented right through the organization, any employee can easily find documents or follow the guideline to start filing efficiently. This is especially helpful if the files are used in a shared environment (e.g. Share Point), with different users accessing the same environment.
Examples of naming conventions
1. Date Formats:
YYYYMMDD – 20181004 or YYYY/MM/DD – 2018/10/04
2. Order of Elements:
Supplier Name – Invoice Number – Date – JNStationery 149328 20181207
Site Name – Issue Number – Date – Grayston 492 20180809
The first element is the one that you will be most likely to use when retrieving a file, so you can also start with the date, instead of the Supplier Name as in my example above.
The best way is to disregard the conjunction, e.g instead of naming as The Nu Colour Tiger, name Nu Colour Tiger. This prevents a lengthy list of files starting with the that you need to look through to find the file you need.
Other examples of conjunctions is and, because, but, for, if, or, and when.
4. Include a leader zero: This ensure correct chronological order. Instead of 1, 2, 3 etc., use 01, 02, 03, 04 to ensure correct chronological filing once you reach 10. If you expect to have more than one hundred files use 00.
More useful tips can be found in this article: Tip Sheet 6 – Naming Conventions for Electronic Files and Folders.
The last step is to create a filing process that you can easily incorporate in your daily workflow to ensure that electronic filing becomes part of your daily routine.
3. The Electronic Filing Workflow:
1. Attachments in Emails:
If you deem any attachment in an email important for future reference, you should use the “save as” function to immediately save the file in the relevant folder, using the appropriate naming convention. The “preview” functionality in Outlook, is a time effective feature, making it easy to establish the importance of an attachment without even having to open the document.
2. Hard Copies:
Allocate a specific time in your calendar on a weekly basis for scanning of hard copies. A straightforward way to make bulk scanning easier is to use coloured paper as separators. You insert these colour papers after each set of pages that needs to be scanned together. Comes scanning time, you can then just scan one section at a time.
Just remember to always do double-sided pages separately, as you will need to change the settings on your scanner accordingly.
Most high-end bulk copiers have various settings to make this process easier.
2.1. Scan as single pages:
If you have a lot of single pages, you can put all of them through the scanner at once, and it will be saved as separate files. If you scan to email, all these files will be sent to you as different attachments in one email.
2.2. Scan as PDF document.
In this scenario, all the pages per section will be saved in a single pdf document. If you scan to email, it will send you one email per PDF document.
2.3. Scan to your flash drive:
If your scanner gives you the option, always scan to a flash drive. The options for 1 and 2 will still apply, but you can scan all the files to a single folder on your flash drive. It is then quite easy to rename them on your computer and copy to the relevant folder in your file plan.
(Caution: always copy in case your connection drops and you lose your files in the process)
Although this seems like a lot of work, it makes it much easier to handle queries, as you don’t have to look for the hard copies and scan it, before you can send out the information required.
I hope that following this little guide will enable you to impress your boss with how quickly and efficiently you can retrieve and provide him with the files he requires at short notice.
Not convinced yet? Read my article about the benefits of electronic filing!
Please let me know in the comments which of these steps you are planning to implement or if you are already doing this, how it has improved your work efficiency?