Get your digital organization together.

Phones, tablets, computers, and TVs take up an enormous percentage of the average person’s time, especially as digitized and remote work links everyone to more than just entertainment. The average adult spends around 17 hours looking at a screen per day, according to research by Study Finds. Digital devices connect you to your world, your work, and everything in between.

How to efficiently organize digital files.

Because we use our devices so often for so many different purposes, digital detritus can pile up, slowing down our devices and our workflow. Keeping your device organized can reduce stress and save time. It can spare you the wasted time and frustration of losing track of digitized important documents. Here are eight tips for keeping your digital files in order.

Example of standardizing digital document types with Adobe Acrobat

1. Make a plan to organize your digital files.

Before you begin organizing digital files, take a moment to think about your personal organizational needs.

Everyone will have different priorities for their file organization. A freelancer will have totally different files to organize than a student. The freelancer might need to keep her projects in better order and a student might need to figure out how to access his notes more easily.

Everyone will also have different amounts of organization to do. A high school student may be able to organize his files in one or two evenings, but an accountant may need to spend more time organizing her files. The best way to start is to step back and get an idea of what your needs are.

If it’s too much to tackle all at once, set aside specific times for digital file organization and start with your priorities. To determine your priorities, decide which files you need to access the most often and which you have the hardest time keeping organized. The most important files to organize are where those two problems intersect.

You can also imagine what you would like your workflow to look like and think about where there are delays or bottlenecks in your workflow. It might help you to write down your priorities before you begin. If you’re struggling to answer these questions, try to keep them in mind while you’re working and naturally accessing files.

Questions to determine organizational priorities:

  • How do I usually use my files?
  • Which files do I need to access most often?
  • Which files are most disorganized?
  • Where do I experience delays in my workflow?

2. Make decluttering part of your routine.

If you’ve had your device for over a year, you’ve almost certainly accumulated some clutter — old unused files, downloads, cookies, and other unnecessary data. Take time for regular reorganization. Cleaning your files can go a long way in keeping your devices and organization systems usable.

When you’re decluttering your home documents or work-related files, ask yourself these questions about what to keep and what to trash:

  • Is this a duplicate file?
  • Have I opened this file in the last year?
  • Is there a newer or updated version of this file?
  • Is this file corrupted or incompatible with my current software?

With sentimental documents, such as pictures, it can be harder to make these decisions. This is where investing in a flash drive or external hard drive — or even cloud storage — can come in handy. That way, you can keep your old, personal files easily accessible, without taking up storage space on your device.

3. Name digital files clearly.

A clear naming scheme makes files easier to locate and helps you know what exactly you have on a hard drive.

Be consistent and logical when you choose a naming convention. Including dates in file names could help keep everything ordered chronologically. You could also include keywords indicating certain kinds of documents that will make them more easily searchable in the future. You can also add tags that you can organize and find your files with.

The important thing to remember is that the naming convention must be uniform, especially with files of the same type. Once you start one scheme, make sure you stick to it.

4. Standardize your document types.

Changes in software or operating system on your devices can create compatibility issues with files. For example, switching from Windows to Mac OS can change how your files appear when you try to access them and cause formatting issues. By standardizing or converting your file types after an update like this, you can ensure they’re optimized going forward.

Converting your files can also help you save space. Converting a PowerPoint to a PDF can reduce the file size by compressing animations or transitions, preserving the essential content while saving on valuable storage space.

If you’re storing files that you hope will last longer than any of your software, you may want to convert PDF to PDF/A. PDF/A is best for archiving files that you don’t need to encrypt or edit, but that you want to last a long time. Even images (like pictures of a document or an old journal) can be converted so that they can be retrieved with the perfect formatting long into the future.

A person standing in front of a computer reviewing digital documents

5. Merge documents strategically.

Many documents are important to keep as part of a larger set of data, but you’ll never access them individually. Merging several documents into one can help keep important files together. For instance, you can take tax documents from different years and combine PDFs into one file. This ensures these documents are always together, saving you space as they make searching for them easier.

Merging documents that you typically access at once can make everything feel more accessible since it can reduce the layers of folders that you have to click through to get to your file. It will also make naming these files much simpler.

6. Use folder nesting systems.

Folder nesting systems group similar files together and create subgroups that make searching for files much easier.

For example, say you own a bakery that makes cupcakes, cookies, pies, and cakes. You can create a high-level folder for each type of baked good, and then store things like recipes, ingredient costs, vendors, price sheets, and marketing material in separate sub folders. This creates a nest system where you can intuitively navigate between the different types of tasty treats without having to go through each file individually.

When you make a nesting system, consider which categories will be most useful for you to access at once. In the baker example, the system described would be best if you tend to work on one baked good at a time. But if you tend to work on all of your marketing at once, all of your recipes at once, and all of your pricing at once, it might be better for your high level folders to be labeled by task and then to designate what type of treat you’re working on with the names of your subfolders.

With a little bit of extra thought, your nesting systems can not only keep your files in order, but make your workflow more efficient.

7. Zip it up with zip folders.

A zip folder, or zip file, is a way of making a file smaller by getting rid of certain types of redundant information. Compressed zip files are small and easy to store and share. They’re also easy to uncompress. Unzipping a file usually just takes a click or two.

Because they do take a couple of extra clicks to access, you’ll want to consider zipping the files that you don’t access on a regular basis. Zipping is a great option for files you want to store. It can also help you share files by making them smaller.

Another option after converting them to documents is to compress PDF files individually, making them easier to store, upload, and share. This bypasses the need for zipping and unzipping files to access specific docs. Since you don’t have to unzip a compressed PDF, this is a better option for files that you need to access regularly.

8. Invest in file organizing software.

If you’re not interested in manually organizing your device’s files, you can invest in file organizing software. File organizing software applies tags to file types, which automatically groups them in nesting systems. This software can help you stay consistent with naming conventions and organizational schemes with little manual effort.

Staying organized is the key to unlocking the full potential of your device and productivity. Whether you’re trying to improve work from home productivity or on the road — or simply want your device to work better — these tools and tips can help you maintain your important files in an efficient and accessible way.

A free app like Acrobat Reader can help you access and view files on your phone when you're on the go, so you can stay on top of your work.

Keep exploring