Keeping Electronic Files and Folders in Order

Those of you who, like me, came of age just when personal computers came on the market will remember when file names were limited to eight characters. For example, you might give a list of charitable expenses for last year’s tax return a name like “CHARXP22”. It could be challenging to make sense of these names when you looked at them months or years later.

Happily, those limitations are long gone. We can have much longer names and we can include spaces. Now, such a file could be named “Charitable Expenses – 2022”. However, with all that flexibility comes other challenges. We have so many more files than we used to. How can we keep them organized?

If you look at a list of files or folders on your computer – either in Finder on your Mac, or File Explorer on your PC – your computer will automatically sort them. Usually it’s by file name, but you could sort them by date or by file type if that’s the way you want to see them. But sometimes that’s not the way you want to order them.

I’ve used a simple trick to keep my files organized the way that I want to, and not the way my computer wants to. That trick is to add a number in front of the file or folder name to sort it the way I want.

Here’s an example. I regularly download my photos from my iPhone to my PC. I put them in folders by year and then by month. However, if I just name the folders by month, they will sort alphabetically like this:

  • April
  • August
  • December
  • February
  • etc.

But that’s not the order I want to see. I want to see them in the natural order in which they enfold during the year. I accomplish that by adding a two-digit number in front of the month, so that they sort like this:

  • 01 January
  • 02 February
  • 03 March
  • 04 April
  • etc.

I still have the easy-to-read month in the folder name, but I provide a way for my computer to sort them alphanumerically.

Using naming tricks like these can ensure that you see your files and folders the way you want to see them.

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