Digital Declutter Day 26: File Naming

The Digital Declutter Challenge is winding down. So far we have worked on clearing, ordering and resting from our many electronic devices. As with all organizing projects, true success comes in creating systems that you maintain over time.

Today we will begin a habit that will help manage your digital life: using a naming convention.

A naming convention is a method for labeling and identifying your digital files. If you work in an office, you may already be familiar with this idea; many companies require employees to name documents in a specific fashion to ensure uniformity across the firm. In simple terms, a naming convention is a set of rules for the way you consistently name all of your documents. Naming conventions provide just enough detail to help you easily find the file you need.

There is no single “right” or “wrong” naming convention, but when I work with clients, I suggest a couple of best practices.


1. Avoid special symbols

Computers sometimes incorrectly interpret symbols (e.g. *, % , !) as instructions, rather than labels. Periods are a good symbol if you want to separate elements of a file’s name.


2. Put dates at the beginning of files names

It may seem unnecessary to put a date in the name of a document because there is a date associated with each file. However, dating documents is a good habit because it results in your files automatically sorting themselves inside your folders.

For example, let’s say you set the agenda for a PTO Group that meets once a month. Rather than call the document “PTO agenda for January 28 2017,” put the date up front by naming it “2017.01.28.PTO.Agenda.”


3. Be specific

Often we name documents broadly, rendering us unable to recognize a document from its name. Take the time to include keywords that will help you recall exactly what the file contains, including categories and types of content.

For instance, rather than “meeting minutes,” name your file “2017.01.28.ABCSchool.Fundraising.Minutes.”


4. Be consistent

Once you start to name all of your documents in the same way, you will quickly find that you have a much better idea of what files you have. In addition, well-named files are more searchable, because your search criteria can be more specific.



When I work with clients on any project, I always suggest we start with what is current before we go back and review belongings that are old, inside drawers or stashed in boxes. For example, while there may be file drawers full of paper in the basement, it is more important to begin by sorting the stack on the desk and creating a system for the paper that is and will be coming in.

Begin by getting your new system up and running. Once you are working efficiently, go back and review the older material. In other words, don’t worry about how you have named your documents in the past. Begin today by naming each new file you create or download in a timely, specific and consistent manner.


Have you been using a naming convention? Is this a new idea or one that you’ve been following for years?