As a freelancer, you have to be flexible and you’re used to adapting to other people’s working practices and systems. You also have to be able to juggle projects and deadlines and communicate effectively with a number of clients. This means, if you’re not organised, you are likely to waste time searching for files, lose important documents, or give a poor impression to your clients.

This could lead to you missing deadlines, losing clients and ultimately not fulfilling your earning potential.

Keeping your digital working environment clean and tidy is all-important. A tidy hard drive is a tidy mind. It will help you think more clearly, save time, and work more efficiently. All of which leads to a bigger paycheck at the end of the month.

So here are five steps to help you organise your digital filing system for maximum efficiency and peace of mind. You should tweak the specifics depending on your preference and type of business, but here is a framework to build solid foundations including tips for how to maintain a clean data storage system going forward.

5 Steps to a Better Digital Filing System

It can feel like a waste of valuable time to be fiddling around organising your files but if you think about it in terms of the time wasted every time you search for files, it adds up pretty quickly. Give yourself a good few hours or even a whole day to get your system organised and you’ll be sure to recoup this investment in the long run.

Step One: Choose Your Storage Method

You need to decide whether to primarily use your hard drive for storage or use a cloud storage provider. These days you can easily use a hybrid system, but you want to make sure you’re not running them in parallel while not keeping them both consistently updated.

As a freelancer, you probably may work a lot on the go, switching from mobile devices to your laptop, and working by turns at home, in coffee shops, or at co-working spaces. It makes sense to have the flexibility of a cloud storage provider so you can access your files wherever you are. It also allows you to access your other cloud storage providers within the same system so that all your data is available from one place and from all your devices, wherever you are.

However, working on public wifi networks comes with data privacy and security concerns so you need to make sure you use a cloud provider, like Treasure, that takes your data privacy seriously while allowing you to access your files from all the major cloud storage providers from one dashboard. Treasure offers up to 50GB of free encrypted storage when you sign up for an account and refer your friends.

Using a folder on your desktop that is synced with your cloud storage system means you can work seamlessly on or offline and your files are organised in the same way.

Step Two: Preparing Your Existing System

Ideally, you want to start with a blank slate. If you have a new computer, if you’re willing to backup your existing files and start from scratch, or if you are using a cloud storage system, you can skip to Step Three. But if you want to reorganise your hard drive, it’s best to start with some cleaning.

Bring in the Bots

First things first, run software that crawls your hard drive for installers, duplicates and other unnecessary files. You might be surprised how much space this frees up, decluttering your system as it goes. Here’s a comparison of de-cluttering software solutions that you might find useful.

Manually Delete Files

Just like the garage or shed that piles up with boxes of old clothes, toys, and obsolete gadgets and toys that you look at, so too does your desktop or downloads folder. Set aside a block of time to go through and delete any apps you don’t use, or files that you don’t need. You might be surprised at how liberating this feels.

Step Three: Categorise for Speedy Location of Files

Files are the smallest unit of digital stuff that we deal with — the equivalent of a paper document or printed image. Having loose files on your desktop or root folder is like having loose pieces of paper littering your desk or crammed into a drawer. That’s no way to live.

The specifics of how you organise and name your folders will depend on you. But as a rule of thumb, all files should be contained at the end of a chain of folders and sub-folders. Start with the most abstract categories and move towards more specificity until you get to the files themselves.

General Category — → More specific categories — → Files

Use a naming system that makes sense to you and be consistent. For example, organise all the photos in one folder by date or location, but not a mix of both. You can also use keywords that you associate with the file so that you can use the search function if you can’t locate it by browsing. And using specific names that describe the contents of a file, like Scan of Passport rather than IMG-1437.pdf, will save you precious time when looking through your folders.

Step Four: Maintenance

Once you have a good system in place, it’s much easier to keep everything organised. Remember to keep your naming conventions consistent as you add new files. And put away new files you create or download into the appropriate folders.

Inevitably, you will find that some files end up littering your desktop or in your downloads folder. Set a time once a week to quickly go through these files deleting or filing them away to keep your digital desk clutter-free. Just like IRL, you should also regularly bring the cleaning bots back in and also go through and tidy up manually, perhaps once a month. The more you do this, the quicker it is each time.

Step Five: Use and Improve

As you use your new system, you’ll think of ways to improve it. You can keep implementing new ideas and making changes so that you’re always improving file management.