file finder tipsOne of the most interesting things I see as a time management coach is how people work on their computers. During my coaching sessions, both in-person or on the web, I get to see people’s computer screens, how they use their computer and how they organize their computer files.

And what I see is scary.

People seem to be spending ages trying to find where they saved a file. One woman spent 20 minutes trying to find something she wanted to show me!

So I decided to put together these file finder tips to help.

Tip #1: Stop Digital Filing

Back in the old days of filing paper (yes, I am that old) we had banks of filing cabinets. Each filing cabinet had a category or theme such as Clients, Marketing, Administration, Personnel, etc. You physically took the paper, put it into a file folder, labeled it and then filed it (hopefully) in the right cabinet in the right order.

To retrieve the paper, you had to find the right file cabinet, then the right section and folder and hope someone else didn’t misfile something, have the file out, or that it wasn’t in a stack of huge folders just sitting waiting to be filed.

Then came computers. Since the old way of filing was what we knew, we worked the same way. We created digital folders and a complicated hierarchical system to sort and hold all these documents. Our file folder system looked something like this:

  • Documents
    •  Clients
      • ABC Company
        • Correspondence
        • Invoices
          • 2001
          • 2002
          • 2003
          • 2004
        • Catalogs
      • ACME Shipping
        • Correspondence
        • Price Sheets
        • Invoices
          • 2001
          • 2002
          • 2003
          • 2004
      • Borg Transport
    • Financial
      • Tax Returns
        • 2001
        • 2002
        • 2003
        • 2004
      • Accounting
        • 2001
        • 2002
        • 2003
        • 2004
  • Pictures
    • Christmas 2005
    • Family 2006
    • Vacation 2007

This was an INCREDIBLE amount of work. But we seem to do this every day – carefully putting a file somewhere we hope we can find it again. But, by doing this, we are totally missing the potential power of computers to search thousands of files in seconds…

Tip #2: Search Instead of Sort

Think of how we use the Internet. All those web sites reside on servers around the world. But, if we want to research a health issue like Diabetes, we don’t look in a directory under Resources, then Health, then Conditions, then Diabetes. Instead, we just type “diabetes” in a search box and our favourite search engine delivers the information in seconds. Some of us are better at this kind of search than others – you can read my article on Internet Search Tips on better ways to search the Internet. But for the most part, Internet search is fast and easy.

We are really good at searching this way on the Internet, but for some reason, we fall back on the old way of accessing our files based on primitive paper filing systems.

We need to learn how to search our hard drives and cloud drives the same way we do the Internet. On Windows 10, the search box is on your task bar at the bottom left. You can either leave the search box open or minimize it to a magnifying glass icon. Either way, you just click on the search and start typing.

file finder tips - windows search

Here are the results of a search on my hard drive for “Christmas.” As you can see, it finds pictures, music and files with that keyword.

christmas search

This search comes up in seconds. And it doesn’t matter what folder it is in. I could actually dump everything on one huge folder and search would find it anyway.

Tip #3: Choose Better File Names

To make sure search works well with your files, it is important to choose good names for your files. Lets say you have an Excel spreadsheet you create each year for tax purposes, Under old hierarchical filing rules, you might have a folder called Taxes laid out like this:

  • Folder: Taxes
    • Folder for each Person:
      • Dave
      • Susan
        • Folder for each Year: 2015
          • File Name: 2015.xlsl

The problem is that if you search for “tax” this won’t show up. So you would want the file name to be something like susan tax 2015.xlsl. This way if you search for “susan tax” or “dave tax’ you will get the right file.

Tip #4 Tag Files

If you use Microsoft Office products, you also have the option of “tagging” your files. For example, let’s say you just did an excellent consulting proposal for ABC Company. You would label this “abc company proposal jan 2016.docx “or something like this. This works well and you will be easily able to search for it. But let’s say that you think this would be a good proposal to use as a template for future proposals. Using the tagging option for Office you could also tag it with the tag, “proposal template.”

To do this, ensure you have the “details” pane turned on in your file view and click on an Office document.

office tagging


Tip #5: Learn How To Improve Your Search

If you aren’t getting the search results you expect, here are a few tips to use within Windows File Manager:

  1. Use Operators – you can use AND, NOT and OR to expand or restrict the search parameters
  2. Filter – You can filter the search by most date modified, tags,  or  by file type such as picture, document, etc.

file finding tips - modify search

More Help

In conclusion, I suggest you stop wasting your time filing digital documents in digital filing cabinets and learn a new habit of use search instead. With a little file naming “best practices” in your office space, your documents will be easy to find and you and your team will save a lot of time.

I hope you found these file finder tips useful. If you need more help, just contact me.

-Garland Coulson ” Captain Time”