by Paul Lagasse
Whenever I bring up the topic of file management with a writer or editor friend, the usual response involves groans and sagging shoulders. “I know I should do a better job of managing my files,” they will say, “but I have so much stuff. I just don’t know where to begin.”
The problem, I’ve discovered, is that most people think that file management happens at the end of a project. But by then it’s too late. Successful file management involves doing the heavy lifting before you begin. That way, when the project is finished, you can confidently save or discard whole folders in a few seconds with just a click of your mouse.
I recommend setting up a simple, easy-to-manage organizational structure that helps you visualize and impose order. And the structure that I find most useful for visualizing order, which should be applicable in most organizational settings, is based on function.
I’ve identified three broad, interrelated function-based categories for electronic files, each of which has its own requirements for saving and disposal, so that you can treat the files in bulk instead of individually:
- Administrative files
- Project files
- Product files
Administrative files are created and used for various organization-wide management and reference functions. These include contracts, standard forms, policies and procedures, specifications and style guides, proposals, invoices, and human resources records. Administrative files are kept as long as required by law or company policy.
Project files are created for specific activities in support of its business. For writers and editors these include drafts and final versions of published products, templates, illustrations, and supporting reference materials. Project files are kept as long as they are of use.
Product files are a special category of file created after the completion of a project. They are the final products that constitute the library of published and completed products. Product files are meant to be kept permanently.
When you’re trying to decide where to put a certain type of document, it might help to think of these three categories as Before, During, and After. Administrative files are the ones you need before you can even begin a project. Project files are the ones you need while you’re working on a specific task. And the product files are the ones you end up with to show that you did the work. That’s why I mentioned earlier that these three functional categories are interrelated. Administrative files are used to support projects, and project files result in product files.
Once you get used to thinking about organizing files according to their function, you may find, as I did, that you can better organize your whole approach to work. When that happens, you will discover that file management is no longer a chore but an integral part of how you approach your job.
Who knows? You might even end up enjoying it.
Take this system to the next level! Sign up for Paul Lagasse’s Master Class, File Management and Version Control, which runs on January 21, 2016. Can’t attend on January 21? In February, you’ll be able to purchase the recording from our Recorded Classes page.