Last week, a client reached out urgently to me to follow-up on a project we were both working on. I had saved the document that included my notes on my computer, but for some reason, I couldn’t find it. I searched using a number of different search terms but to no avail. Grr.
Frustrated, I went back to my calendar to identify the day we spoke and searched that specific date and alas, I found it. The file had been saved in the wrong folder but now it was found.
Generally speaking, I am an organized person. However, despite my efforts it can be hard to get everything perfectly organized. Perhaps you can relate. Years ago, I had an IT consultant by the name of Kurt Majikowski teach me a trick to naming files so that they are easier to find and more useful. It was that nomenclature that helped me find the missing file in a quick manner. I have been using this method for years and found it to be incredibly helpful in keeping me and others organized.
How I Name My Files
Here is the basic format and a few samples:
YYYY-MM-DD.CATEGORY Descriptive File Name
2019-05-19.MG Hendrickson Gift Proposal – Scholarships
2019-03-04.FIN 2020 Budget Draft for FUND
2017-12-21.MED Flu Vaccine Protocol
The format starts with the year, month, and then date. This is what actually helped me find the file. As an additional benefit, computers keep files sorted in chronological order by entering the date in order from year to date.
After the date comes the broader category, department, project, etc. that the file belongs to. At Dickerson Bakker, I will often put client initials there. When I was executive director of a free clinic, we used categories like MG for major gift fundraising, MED for medical, or FIN for Finance. Make a set of standard, recognizable categories for your work or department.
Descriptive File Name
The date and category are definitely helpful, however, having a descriptive file name is the most critical. It is not uncommon to run across files like “Letter.docx”, “Spreadsheet.xlxs”, or “Presentation.pptx”; these types of names don’t do anything to help others, let alone the author, know what is in it. Instead, take a moment to be descriptive enough that both you and others can know the file contains. These days, file names can be longer so add a few extra words to make it quickly identifiable. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of thinking about others who might use the file. At DB&A, we used to send proposals that had the client’s name and the type of proposal. The file name was meaningful to us, but not to the client. We have since changed how we name our proposals so that they make sense to the client as well.
Everywhere I go, nonprofit leaders seem to be slammed with work. Simple things like naming files in a clear and consistent manner can increase efficiency to open up time for more important priorities. Incremental improvements through tricks like how to name a file can free up time to make work more manageable and more effective. So, give this file nomenclature a try; you may find it helping you in a pinch someday.
P.S. I saved this blog “2019-05-20.BLOG Naming Files Effectively.docx” in case you need to find it.
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