Saturday, July 21, 2007

e-filing for dummies

I came across a product on the Sympatico homepage today that I'd never heard of before: Organize My Electronic Filing Cabinet for Dummies. Right now they're offering the basic package as a free download, and for $29.99 you can upgrade to the professional version.

I don't own this product, nor am I necessarily endorsing it, but I can imagine that it might be helpful for people who are overwhelmed by their electronic files.

It looks like the Dummies program offers a basic template of file categories, into which you can sort all your personal, household, and business electronic files. It also claims to be customizable, which in my eyes is a good thing. I have never met anyone who could get along with a "standard" organizing template.

How can you create something like this for yourself?

Start by browsing through your electronic documents. Write a list of all the document categories you can think of. My list would include the following:
  • Alexander technique
  • downloaded program updates
  • financial
  • images
  • music
  • POC
  • Word documents

Within each of these categories I may have several sub-categories, with documents from a variety of applications (Word, Excel, Finale) in each folder. Under "financial," for example, I have separate folders for all my different businesses, a folder for my personal finances, a folder for resumes and CVs, etc.

Under "personal finances" I have more sub-folders, including bank accounts, budgets, correspondence, gifts, income, income tax, and research on big-ticket items I'd like to purchase.

You can see why it's imperative that a filing system be customizable. No two people are the same, and we all have unique organizing needs.

Once you've come up with your own list of the types of documents you store, divide them into broad categories (like my first list), and subdivide them as necessary. You can choose to keep your lists alphabetical, or in any order that makes sense to you.

When I was reorganizing my e-mail folders in Outlook Express this past winter, for example, I tried a few different categorization systems before settling on something that actually corresponded to the way my mind filed all the categories inside my head.

I started with an alphabetical filing system - in fact, I still use that for my online e-mail accounts. I can quickly transfer new e-mails from my inbox, or access old e-mails by finding and clicking on the alphabetically-filed name.

For Outlook Express, however, I wanted something more structured. I spend most of my e-mailing time in OE, and I refer back to old e-mails all the time. I chose several broad categories:
  • Alexander technique
  • business
  • church stuff
  • clients
  • computer
  • e-newsletters
  • friends
  • POC
  • volunteering

Within each folder (which I always keep in the expanded or "open" position) I have an alphabetical list of the different recipients, and I store all their e-mails (and my responses to them) under the recipients' names. Filing new e-mails is quick and easy - I just drag and drop.

The hard part comes when you have to actually transfer files to the new filing system - especially if they're scattered all over your hard drive. Yes, it can be time-consuming to put everything where it belongs. But the end result will be a filing system that works much more efficiently, and hopefully makes your life easier in the long run.

My biggest challenge as far as e-filing goes is choosing good names for my document files in the first place. Back in the days of DOS, it was a lot trickier - nowadays file names can be much longer, and the file extensions (.doc, .jpg, .xls) are tacked on automatically.

Should you file by date or alphabetically, though? Or a combination of both? I need to do a major sort of my own Word files - I have too many documents mis-labelled with the date before the subject (i.e. letter.20070721.mom, rather than letter.mom.20070721). In this case, it's more important for me to have similar files grouped together by subject rather than date.

I can't emphasize enough: Organize your files in a way that makes sense to you. Only you know how your mind works. Only you can decide the best system for your own needs.

1 comment:

asad safiq said...

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