Best practice tips for controlling your digital files

how to control digital files
By Alex Burden, Student Blog

29 March 2018

Have you ever felt like you’re drowning in digital files of endless ‘untitled’ documents or IMG5677… from three years ago? Here are our suggestions for keeping what you need, where you need it, and when you need it.

This is especially important ahead of 'World Backup Day' on 31 March 2018, when the world is reminded to take some time out to check their system restore points and copy their important desktop files to an external hard-drive.

1. Clear down your files

There are several methods to get your expanding desktop under control, including the ruthless ‘delete once actioned’ process, but this will take a while, or no time at all, depending on how many files you tend to accrue!

First thing’s first: if you have any cleaner systems such as CCleaner or similar, run these to clear down missing files, duplications, and cached memory. The more dedicated and determined of you may even indulge in a complete file defragmentation of your computer to clear down any corruptions.

If you have files from several years ago that you probably won’t use, but would like to keep, you’ve found your first candidate for your archive folder. You can mass-sort files by file extension, which will make it easier to identify ways to clear down – if you know all of your videos and images are not work-related, then clear these down to a temporary ‘audiovisual’ folder to sort later.

If you end up with a folder of files that just don’t seem to fit anywhere, temporarily store these in a ‘To Sort’ folder.

You are aiming to identify the folders you need for work and study, and separating these from any quagmires of holiday photos, P2P files, and old university essays!

If you end up with a folder of files that just don’t seem to fit anywhere, temporarily store these in a ‘To Sort’ folder, and attempt to tackle them at a free weekend. Remember that most documents will go to your ‘downloads’ folder, C: drive or desktop when saving them to your computer, so these locations tend to be the most crowded.

2. Agree a method for naming files

The ISO 8601 format is extremely useful for keeping files in order: for every new file you create, start it with the date of YYYYMMDD (or year if the document will be frequently updated throughout the year), followed by a clear description.

For example: 20160919_StudentBlog_Planner.xls.

By adding the date in this manner, you will be able to discern the correct period it has been created on, rather than the date is was last saved / updated or even copied to another location. It will also allow for clearer sorting in the folder as numerical data appears before alphabetical file names.

The same method can be applied to actual folders, similar to the PRINCE methodology for project document control. On paper, write down what files you need to keep and how these could be organised by number for priority or relevancy.

For example:

  1. Study documents
  2. Communications (such as emails, digitised letters, and so on)
  3. Timetables
  4. Ad-hoc requests or projects
  5. Archive

Within these folders, you can sub-divide as needed:

  1. Study documents > a. TC, b. TPS, c. TPE.

You can insert an initiation document into each folder that describes the most recent amendment or addition to the folder if you are looking for tighter control over your files. You can also keep a note of when files can be deleted or archived.

Exadox has produced file naming conventions to get the most out of your files at a glance, while the University of Edinburgh has detailed ways to manage records through filename.

Your workplace will most likely have a filing or naming convention in place to control document and process flows, but these are also great tips for arranging your personal folder or your personal computing system.

3. Sort your backup!

Now that your files are organised and bringing a new found clarity to your desktop, look into establishing a regular back-up. Most computers will allow you to back-up on the internal hard-drive, but it’s a good idea to connect an external solid-state drive or hard drive and sync your back-up to the external hardware.

You will need to remember to connect the drive before the scheduled sync, but this healthy digital habit will avoid any panic if your computer’s drive should fail. And if you don't remember to regularly backup, then make a note to do so every 31 March - World Backup Day!

Top Tip: Don’t use incredibly long filenames

If you have a complex filing system then please be aware that each subsequent file or folder that is added to this will take you nearer to the maximum character length. Avoid repeated words or unnecessary information as this will prevent you from saving documents to the computer.

A filename is generally restricted to 255 characters, while a file path is limited to 32,000 characters. Best practice is to keep pathways to 260 characters, however.


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