Welcome to Day 3 of the 5-Day Digital organization Challenge. If you haven’t yet, are sure to set up your Sidebar Favorites from Day 2. They’ll be handy as you work through the rest of the challenge.
This challenge is all about removing Time Squanders — those 5-10 minute activities that don’t seem like much at the time but add up to 1.5 hours a day or more every single day. Day 1 and Day 2 gave you tips to make your digital organization life easier, and it will be the same with Day 3, though it might not seem like it at first.
Give Your Files, Notes, and Photos A Good Name
The most common question we get about digital organization goes something like this:
”What’s the best folder structure to use for my information to keep it organized?”
An organization structure is helpful, and (spoiler alert) we’ll be talking about that later in the challenge, but it is not the most powerful thing, in our opinion.
In our opinion, having a good name is the MOST important part of any organization system!
- Having a good name means you can search to find it later, no matter where you’ve saved it.
- When you’re looking at a list of items, you can see right away what it is. You don’t need to open things up or flip through previews.
As you can see, having a good name can forgive a multitude of organizational sins, and the better you name something, the less work you need to do later to organize.
Naming an item takes 2 seconds at the most, but it can save you huge amounts of time later when you need to find the item — a no-lose productivity investment.
How To Give A Good Name
Back in 2011, I went to San Francisco and attended the very first Evernote conference. One of the speakers was friend-of-Asian Efficiency and former Evernote employee Brett Kelly.
He was talking about naming Evernote notes, but he said something that has stuck with me ever since:
When you are giving something a name, you want to think of your future you.
Think about it: when you are naming something, you know what it is (after all, you’re the one saving it). But how about in a year? In 2 years? In five years? Are you going to know what Apple Receipt or Meeting Notes is?
When you’re naming something, you want to think, “What are some words that I might use to look for this in the future?”
Don’t be afraid to use a long name. Even four words is great — whatever you need to use to make it clear to you in the future what it is. The extra second will pay off for years to come.
Another tip: we like to start our names with a date. Yes, your platform will probably have a “Created Date” or a “Modified Date,” but we like to have it right in the name. This is the most future-proof and straightforward solution, and as a bonus, your items will be naturally sorted by date.
We talk about this in detail in our Easy Organization System course as well.
Some Naming Examples
Let’s say we have a bank statement for April 2021 for our Citibank Joint account.
We could start with the date:
- 2022-10-30, or
- 20221030, or
- 2022-10, or
You can see there are several ways you could write the date. It doesn’t matter which one you choose — it is 100% up to you — the important part is that you are consistent.
Then we could think to ourselves, “what would I use to look for this?” Probably “Citibank Joint Account”.
So in the end, the name would be:
2022-10-30 Citibank Joint Account.pdf”
You will want to have a standardized client or vendor name in your invoice, so you can jump to it, no matter where it lives.
2022-10-30 XYZCorp Invoice.pdf
Similar deal with meeting notes. An Operations Meeting notes today could be:
2022-10-05 Operations Meeting Notes
If your meeting was about something major, you could enhance it:
2022-10-05 Operations Meeting Notes Ecommerce Project
If your meeting was with or about a client, you would want that client name in there:
2022-10-05 XYZCorp Status Meeting
You will want to have things like location and a simple description in there. Something like:
2020-09-08 Revelstoke Vacation Halfway Hot Springs
If you have many photos from that event, you can get away with just having numbers at the end. No need to go overly crazy individually naming each one.
You Can Use Your Name Anywhere
The best part of a simple naming convention is that you can use it anywhere: with your files on your computer or mobile device, with notes in your note-taking app, or with photos. You aren’t tied to one system’s way of doing things.
- Go to your Dropzone that you created on Day 1. Do you have any items there? Use your new naming convention to give them a simple, descriptive name.
- If your Dropzone is empty, find some recent files, notes, or photos from the last day or two and give them your new name.
- Let us know in the comments when you’re done, and share some examples of your new naming convention.
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Hi, having attended to many AE seminars in the past about the organization and the self future proof hay in the stack finding, I already have a solid workflow about naming/renaming files.
Being mainly using iOS devices as main computer I can’t leverage the power of automation that you can have with softwares like Hazel and Keyboard Maestro.
I already have introduced in my professional and personal digital life the ISO date prefix name with files in the form of yyyy-mm-dd – Filedescription Name.
In addition to that I have all my life and any analogic and digital tool divided in 3 domains:
1 Personal – Color code Yellow
2 Professional – Color code Blue
3 Family – Color code Green
This color coding is transversal to anything from my Calendars, Task Manager, Mail Inboxes (I use colored emoticons before the name like:
This applies also to file tagging to add a more context based search of files and avoid being distracted from the domain I am focusing into.
This Shortcuts performs a series of automation using metadata in the multi choice menu:
It can be triggered with the sharesheet command that it’s contextual with the file type.
Regarding Invoices, documents, scans and reference material I usually do this:
1. Choose the print function
2. Pinch-expand in iOS will automatically print as
pdf the selected file.
3. Use the sharesheet option to run my Rename
Every recurrent invoice like energy bills, internet services, utilities, recurring fees have their metadata inside the option to choose.
So if it’s a phone bill it automatically saves the file in the right folder and with the right name with only a couple of clicks and without getting trapped in folders.
Something like that:
2022-10-25 – Vodafone – Phone&Internet Services – Invoice Period Sep-Oct.2022
Adding more complexity to that, when it’s a pay-per-use invoice, the Shortcuts prompts me to add Invoice number, period and consumptions like KWs or SFCs so the relevant data get saved in my Airtable Expenses Database, also attaching the renamed file, for future analysis and comparison.
If it’s another type of document it prompts me to input a description and I always have the option to choose the folder and the tag to apply for unusual or first time kind of documents.
The archiving phase, at least for me needs to be the path of less resistance, I don’t want a pinch of my energy spent on thinking how to name and where to save a file or a document.
Even acknowledging the time squander avoiding embedded in archiving and referencing, I needed to invest a couple of hours programming a Shortcut because for me the archiving it’s a really annoying part of the process, mainly because I get prone to get distracted and to get lost down the rabbit holes.
I added my financial statements with date convention 20221108-Bank Month Statement. Good tip~!
Today was my favourite day of the month – EXPENSES CLAIMS (said nobody ever!). I used yyyymmdd_receipt_company or yyyymmdd_invoice_company as my convention to name the various PDF receipts or invoices.
Going forward, meeting notes in EN will be “yyyymmdd Acme Corp Meeting Notes”.
Web clippings will probably require a bit more thought & flexibility .
My naming convention for academic journal articles:
Paper title author journal year of publication
Cascading expert failure Jon Murphy Journal of Institutional Economics 2022.pdf
Started today! Today's conference notes are titled 221110 with wording that follows it so I can find it later. Will be including the date more consistently going forward.
I use format yyyy-mm-dd.
In project folders, I normally have the date last in the file name, to sort the files by kind and not date. It is easy to sort by creation date anyway, when needed.
For template files I normally skip the date part.
For pictures I only have the date and a number, I don't add additional text for all photos. Only sometimes if the photos are important for a project or something.
I believe I can improve and be even more consistent on naming convention.
I have tried to improve my naming conventions but I need to be more consistent.
Yes, I use the date, written as 2022-11-10, for example, for all filings.
I have been using two standard naming conventions: Date after subject (name_yyyy-mm-dd_description) for financial files so they sort by category; and date first (yyyy-mm-dd_description) for other types of files.
This has been working for me EXCEPT when I forget how I named previous files. For instance, uppercase versus lowercase letters, plural/singular, or misspelled words. Any recommendations for a cheat sheet and where to store it?
I already use standard file naming convention: subject of the file and date as YYYYMMDD, e.g.
Family Expenses 20221031
I have 2 questions:
1) For photos its still a little bit complicated due to huge number of photo files. Is it worth to use hashtags? Or is there any special hint for photo-file naming?
2) Is it still useful to use in the file name _ instead of space?
I already do this, but I like to put the date at the end so that the files sort first by content/subject and then by date.
Pay pal statement arrived today so I gave it this title:
2022-11-09 – pp$ statement
The pp is for Pay Pal and the $ sign indicates which account—I have two—it is in which currency. With the date and word statement I know which statement it is for which month.
I also named a couple of notes in Apple Notes.
2022-11-09 – Pick up in Hemet on next trip
Dated today when I saw the item on Amazon. Reminder attached to note and linked with upcoming trip to California
Other item was a web clipping to Apple Notes with same date convention, who was speaking, subject being presented and with URL inside the note to click through to watch.
I like the concept of giving it a nice name – meaning a name with which you are nice to your future self!
I have "sometimes" been using this in reverse. I put the subject then the date. Plus I haven't been consistent with the format. I think the way you described this will be a better way for me.
This is great stuff, thank you.
Since I've already been following this particular naming scheme (shout out to Michael Schechter from bettermess.com for converting me!) for about a decade or more at this point, I can't really "take action" on this Day 3 challenge ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ because, well… it's already "done" ✅😁
I started practicing this after reading up on Mike's blog posts re: nvALT. After which, all of my journal entries in that Dropbox folder followed the format of "YYYY.MM.DD – Daily Journal" and any new entries in that text file would start with "## YYYY.MM.DD @ HH:MM:SS – Optional Header Title Here". I had TextExpander snippets created, associated to the triggers ".ds" (which stands for "date-stamp") and ".dts" (i.e. "date & time-stamp"), respectively.
I soon realize that my meeting notes roughly follow the same format so they all got named "YYYY.MM.DD – KeyWord Meeting" and alongside my own notes any significant points of interest raised from other participants were denoted with "HH:MM:SS @namehere" prepended to the start of that bullet point.
Eventually, it expanded beyond just my journal logs and virtually every single text file that nvALT tapped into (aside from older entries that didn't follow this template, that is) was easily accessible in mere moments with it's lightning fast search coupled with date information or keyword info from the title of the file I wanted to surface.
And at some point thereafter this practice just became my standard file naming convention in general, even outside of Dropbox.
To date I still haven't found search in other apps whether Evernote notes or Notion pages or Trello cards or OmniFocus projects etc etc to be as lightning fast as nvALT 😅 But setting the speed performance comparisons between various apps aside, the benefits of being able to tell **at a glance** when I last modified an important file I'm working with or to check when was the last time I reviewed a "dangling" project with no next actions etc etc are… well, they're minor, but continuous. I don't know how else to describe it than that. It may seem inconsequential at first, but over time you'll realize that a significant mental processing burden has been lifted once you know exactly what key numbers or keywords you're scanning for. Prior to this practice, I feel like I wasted a lot more "mental RAM" whenever I'd scan folder contents or lists of search results. It's difficult to articulate, but the efficiency boost is definitely there… I guess I've just come to take it for granted now that I've all but forgotten how much of a (minor, but oh so repetitive) hassle finding stuff was prior to taking up this practice
My most frequent usage of this style currently is when taking video notes. I have a "stack" of media in Notion.so that I periodically update from RSS feeds and Read It Later services (think "tsundoku", but not just books, there are other forms of media too). And any YouTube videos in that list which I pulled out from Pocket or Feedly are eventually given careful consideration at some point during that week/month (as opposed to just languishing in the endless attic that is those aforementioned services).
When I start the process, I rename the title by prepending "YYYY.MM.DD – " to it. This change is to signify that I've committed to at least start viewing this content. And as I skim through it, I utilize snipo.io to append time-stamped notes or screenshots below. And again, the format is "HH:MM:SS – keywords and/or summary go here". This way, when I revisit that database I can quickly scan videos I **actually** consumed and studied in a particular month or year with a quick search, and when I open it up I can click any of timestamps of any of the subsequent entries to jump to that particular point of the video for a quick refresher and/or further expand/elaborate my thoughts on that bullet point.
And I'm sure I'll think of more styles and situations where it's appropriate to apply this approach. After all, we are beings that exist in time and space… so why wouldn't any and all content we accumulate be able to be labeled with quickly searchable and easily recognizable "TIME + PLACE/NOUN/VERB descriptor" titles 🤯
I'm actually doing that for many of my files already. But it's still helpful to read this – and good to know I'm doing a lot of things right! If only I could do as well with my physical paper clutter (heavy sigh lol).