Finding files

How to Save Up to an Hour a Day by Finding Files Faster

April 24, 2020

The time you spend finding files on your computer may seem small enough to be negligible. However, according to a study of UK business, 57% of office workers spend an hour a day looking for missing documents and 20% have to recreate documents they couldn’t find. That hour a day is not just inefficient; it’s completely wasted.

To reclaim this time, you need to develop two types of best practice:

  1. Consistent file naming practices
  2. Streamlined file searching practices

In the video below, we explain how these best practices and how to do them:

Folders vs. Search

While not the main topic of this video, your decision to organize your files into many nested folders or put them all in one or a few folders affects your ability to find your files. If you read our recommendations on email, you’ll know that we recommend that you remove your email folders and just have one to three. This is based on research from IBM that showed that people find emails faster using search than “foldering” even when they’re not trained to use folders. Try our productivity app to implement this practice in your email.

It would be natural to assume, then, that you should do the same for your files. But, for a number of reasons, that is not the case. Instead, use a comprehensive folder system for your files. Why organize files and emails differently?

  • Emails contain a number of properties that are easily memorable and also searchable (e.g., who sent it, who it was to, what words may have been in the subject line, roughly when it was sent). In contrast, files are primarily searchable only by their filename. (You can also search by file size and modified date, but who knows those properties off hand?)
  • Many filenames will be very similar to a collection of other filenames, meaning that even an accurate search will likely turn up a handful of results
  • Emails are easy to preview without going through the trouble of opening, making it easy to confirm whether the search result is what you were looking for, while files take a little bit to open and confirm.
  • You often need to retrieve and open or attach multiple related files that may not come up in a single search but would make sense to keep in the same folder.

As a result, rather than maintaining only one or two folders, develop a MECE (mutually exclusive, completely exhaustive) folder system to organize your files. Mutually exclusive means that a file can only obviously fit into a single folder. Completely exhaustive means that every file can find a home in one folder.