Raise your hand if you know how to organize digital files. Chances are that you you fumble through folder after folder to find that one photo you KNOW you took.
These days, it seems everything we do is done without paper. Our photos are rarely printed. The bills are sent electronically. Even letters from family and friends and via quick texts or emails. We live in a paperless world (for the most part).
It can seem daunting to determine how in the world to organize digital files. With so much to look at to try to figure out the system, where to store them and whatnot, it can seem overwhelming. Trust me. I get it.
I recently pulled out a box of old CDs. These weren’t from my favorite artists, but rather, were backups of photos of my kids since birth. Now, as many devices are coming with optional drives, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find a medium where these can be played back properly. In order to ensure that I never lose access to these precious files, I had to back them up digitally.
Whether you have files on CDs or sitting on your hard drive or even on your phone, you need to get them backed up. But not only backed up, but organized in a manner that works so you can actually find them when you need them!
This can be a longer task to complete. I worked on this while sitting on my sofa in the evening, over the course of about a week. It was time consuming, but having it done is a HUGE burden lifted off of my shoulders.
This is also another one of those tasks that really doesn’t have a checklist to print to follow. Instead, it is just some simple things to follow to get started.
1. Set up File Folders. Before you begin trying to organize your files, you need to create your folders. The simplest thing to do is to start with a main file. The simplest way is to just make the file for the current year (i.e. 2015 Files). Now, you instantly know that if you were on that fishing trip in June 2015, you can head to the 2015 files folder to track down that photo you need.
Within that main folder, you will want to create additional folders, called sub-folders. These can be set up for the various items you may have. The three recommended would be: Photos, Documents, Finances. You can now move your photos, files and other electronic documents into these sub-folders and they are easily organized, helping you find them at the moment you need to. Of course, you can go even further if you want to get SUPER- organized!!!
For many (me included), one folder filled with ALL of those 2015 photos may be overwhelming. What you can do is create more files under each sub-folder. You can name them what you need in order to find them. For example, under photos you could do folders such as Child’s Name, Birthdays, Holidays, Graduation, etc. This is the best way to organize photos so you can track down that photo from Christmas 2014 when you need to!
Of course, you can also see how I personally organize my photos (if you want to get uber organized like me)!!
Here is a quick chart to show how your file system could look:
2. Naming Files. Simply putting files into your folders may still not be the most efficient method. While a photo with the name IMG_1234 may be fine as it is filed under the right year, it may be necessary to use a more detailed name for documents.
For instance, if you have a receipt for the new lawn mower you purchase in May, you could name the file something like this:
Lawn Mower May 2015
Now, if you need to find the receipt for the lawn mower, you can do so very quickly! Just figure out what type of system works for you and then make sure you use it consistently.
3. Going Paperless. With so much paper, scanning and keeping items digitally can be a much more efficient method to saving your documents. Rather than having a shoebox filled with receipts and papers for the current year, you can scan and add them to your digital files.
Many printers have a scanning option, so you could do this and scan in each document. Just make sure that as each one is scanned you rename the file appropriately (see above) and then put into the correct sub-folder which you have created.
If you want to find another method to do this, you may want to look into a Neat Scanner. These are expensive, but they sure are pretty awesome! The desktop scanner is more than $300, however you can purchase a handheld wand scanner instead for around $130 – $180. This is the method we use and it works perfectly!!!
4. Storing/Backing Up Files. Keeping every single photo, video, receipt — all of those digital files — on your computer is not wise. First of all what would happen if your system crashed? This happened to me not once but twice in the course of 3 weeks. Fortunately, I had backed up my files before hand.
Having been through that, I actually use TWO backup methods, and recommend that others do the same. Just always make sure that if it is not done automatically for you, that you do it manually very frequently.
External Hardrive. This is a small device which connects to your computer. You can then manually back up the files you want onto the drive. There are several options out there but you can find all sorts of different devices (at varying price points) on Amazon. This method is great to do monthly (or even weekly) backups at home.
Online storage system. Many people use Dropbox to store files. This is a great option as you can actually keep these files in your Dropbox folder so that when you make changes, they will sync for you. The only thing with this option is that it only stores the files you have in Dropbox, rather than all of the files on your computer.
There are services which provide automated backup services (I love it when things just work for me and I don’t have to thing about it. Carbonite is one of these companies. You simply connect it to your computer and then, it will back up all files at select times (as you determined). What I love about this method is that you can easily restore any file if you need to for any reason. It is also not kept in your home, so if you lose it due to fire or natural disaster, your files are still available to you. This is a pay service, but if you ever lose your computer, even once, this will certainly more than pay for itself.
USB Drives. If you do not have very many files to store, you can purchase USB flash drives instead. These are a quick way to back up select files onto a drive. I actually do like these for some of your very important documents (such as copies of your Driver’s License, Social Security Cards, etc). Then, keep it in a bank vault or with a family member — away from your home — so if you need to leave or need access, they can get it to you right away.
Computer internal backup. Most computers have a way for you to complete backups onto your hard drive. This can also be helpful in case you need to restore your system to an earlier date in time – without losing any files. This varies based upon your operating system, so you will need to conduct research to see how to do this based upon what you currently use.
Cloud backups. This is common with most devices. You can actually store your information “in the cloud” automatically. You do have to pay for additional storage, but it can be a great way to ensure that what you do on your device is backed up in the case of a damaged (or even lost device). It is also very helpful if you ever upgrade as the cloud can download your data directly to your new device. Check with your provider regarding additional costs.
5. Delete Old Files. Now that your files are all backed up, you can remove them from your computer. There is no need to keep them on your computer or phone as well (especially if you need to free up some storage space).
The same holds true with pictures. As a parent, I know how difficult it is to hit the delete button, but if you have 10 of the same pose and only 4 are actually worth saving, then those additional 6 files really are not anything you will ever want to use anyhow. Delete them and keep only those you really want to save.
Keeping your digital files is important so that you can stay organized and not spend hours searching for the file you may need!