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They say variety is the spice of life, but when it comes to online document storage and organizing information on the computer, variety can really make a mess of things. I’ve often seen the “Documents” folder used as a jumbled catch-all for everything from recipes to confidential employee files.

Storing documents in this fashion can be problematic because it’s tedious and time-consuming to sift through mixed documents in a large single folder, and it’s difficult to find what you need when you need it. Disorganized digital documents also slow you down and negatively impact your productivity.

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Here are five ways to organize digital documents so you can find what you need quickly and easily.

1. Resist the desktop.

Nothing makes eyeballs go crazy like a computer desktop covered with icons. How the heck do you find anything when you save everything to the desktop? Zoinks! When saving documents, please, I beg you, resist just letting them all go to the desktop. Granted, your computer desktop is a great temporary home for documents in transition or ones you’re working on, but clear it off regularly. Another reason to keep your desktop clear is because icons require resources to load and refresh, so keeping your desktop clutter-free will improve your machine’s performance, too.

2. Keep them together.

No matter what file type you’re storing, (.docx, .xls, .pdf) it’s a good practice to keep all your documents together in the “Documents” folder. Consolidating into a single folder reduces the number of places you need to search for an item, plus backing up documents is simpler when there is only one documents folder to select for backup either in the cloud or on an external hard drive.

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3. Create folders and sub-folders.

In the grocery store you have departments and sub-departments. The Produce Department comprises the sub-departments of apples, oranges, pears and bananas, for example. Use the same method to sub-divide your “Documents” folder into more manageable groups of information. Create a framework of sub-folders within “Documents” and give each folder a meaningful name so you don’t have to guess what each folder contains or have to open it to find out.

4. Name documents consistently.

When filing resumes or client files for example, create a last-name-first naming convention and stick with it. For invoices, you may want to name your files by invoice number, by the client’s name or by the billing date or use a combination of multiple data points. For example, when I write a Manilla blog post, I save it using this naming convention:

06.03.13 Organize Digital Files

The first data point in the file name is the date and the second data point is the title of the blog post. I can tell when I submitted the article and what the title is, all without having to open up the document. Note: If you choose to name files using multiple data points, be sure to keep the points in the same order and consistently formatted for efficient sorting and retrieval.

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5. Include metadata.

Metadata is just extra information about a document, such as keywords, a description of the document contents, and who created the document. This additional data comes in handy when searching for the document later. To add metadata on a PC, right click on a file name and choose “Properties.” In the pop-up window, click on the “Summary” tab, and you can input as much data into the fields as you’d like. On a Mac, right click on a file name and choose “Get Info.” At the top of your info window, you’ll see an open space called Spotlight Comments, where you can add any additional information about the document.

Boost your personal productivity by implementing these simple tips for storing information. You’ll save time locating information, keep your computer organized and you’ll never have to re-create documents you already have but can’t find.

Monica Ricci founded Catalyst Organizing Solutions in 1998 and has been helping people change their lives ever since.

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