Amid the crush of everyday business, thinking about how you manage and organize electronic files such as Word documents or spreadsheets can take a backseat. But it’s time well spent—if just to avoid the agony of spending 30 minutes searching your computer for a document.


“The benefits of managing information more intelligently include increased productivity, higher quality, more responsive customer service and faster growth, to name just a few,” says Greg Milliken, senior vice president of marketing for information management platform M-Files in Plano, Texas.


Smart file management means more than hitting the “save” button, Milliken says. It also involves paying attention to security, access permissions, tracked changes, versions, sharing and more. To that end, here are five key ways to better manage your files:


  1. Use clear conventions for file and folder names


Follow consistent policies and templates for naming folders and files. “One main rule here: be informative,” says Nadezhda Knyazeva, marketing manager for collaboration and document management portal ONLYOFFICE in Dallas. Aim to make it clear and concise about what’s in the folder or file. For example, a vague file name like “March Blog Post” should be avoided in favor of a more descriptive one like “managing files blog post,” she says.


  1. Eliminate redundant information


“Inadvertently duplicated documents both waste effort to recreate and confuse employees when found,” Milliken notes. Get rid of old, unneeded files. Don’t download every email attachment. And never duplicate names for folders with different contents.


  1. Limit file access


Control who can download, edit, add and delete information from shared files and folders. Unauthorized access to sensitive information can lead to compliance violations and fines, Milliken notes. “Permissions should be set automatically and dynamically with updates based on a user’s current role, and may even change along the lifecycle of the document,” he advises.


  1. Avoid symbols, spaces and capital letters in file and folder names


Special characters like slashes and colons can function as commands to your computer, so don’t put them in file names. Also avoid capital letters so you don’t have to do case-sensitive searches for file names. And, while longer names can be more informative, don’t get carried away. Keep folder and files names at around 25 characters max.


  1. Consider a cloud-based file management platform


To make file management as stress-free as possible, adopt cloud-based file storage and organization tools that let you easily control file access, automatically generate file and folder names and locate the right file based on contents rather than its name or location. (Dropbox and Google Drive, for example, are two services that allow you to store documents on the cloud and easily control access and permissions.) “The user shouldn’t have to necessarily care where the information is stored,” Milliken says. “They should find it based on the context and its relevance to the task at hand.”


How you manage files affects your business efficiency, and having a smart, well-thought-out system will ultimately save you and your employees time.

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