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How to Organize Your Google Drive

Google Drive is a fantastic productivity and collaboration tool. But there are limits to how useful it can be… especially when it gets disorganized.

When you’re forced to wade through a cluttered Google Drive looking for that one document you need, everyday tasks become stressful. You lose valuable time hunting down information and start feeling worried that you’re missing something. You try to recall if the document you’re looking for is in “My Drive”, a shared drive, or maybe even the “Shared with me” folder.

If your Google Drive currently resembles a digital dumping ground, you probably know you have a problem. But do you know how to fix it?

When you tame the chaos and organize your Google Drive, it becomes easier to find and share documents… and that means you can get back precious time in your day.

In this blog post, learn the 8 best ways to organize your Google Drive.

1. Use folders as your foundation

A great first step for fixing a cluttered Google Drive is to organize your files into folders. These folders should map closely to how you work and the information you need to find.

Think about the broad categories of your work and/or life: what are the containers you need? For example, maybe you need a folder for client work or a folder for financial reports.

A word of caution: getting too complex with multi-layered folders tends to only add to the stress. No one wants to manage tons of folders!

Once you have your folders set up, take the time to assign your files to the correct folder. While it may feel like a tedious task, it will save you time later.

And while you may have less direct control over shared folders, you can control how they show up within your drive using the “Add shortcut” tool. More on that later.

2. Create the top level of your filing system

As you’re setting up your folders, it’s worth thinking about how you want to group items together. Creating “bulk” folders, or the broadest category folder, and then having subfolders beneath that level, can make it even easier to quickly find what you’re looking for.

For example, you might decide to organize the top level of your system by year.

You’d set up your top-level folder “2022.”

And then below that, you might have various subfolders: “Team meetings”; “Taxes”; “Financial Reports”, etc. Each of those subfolders might have its own subfolders, and so on.

Next year, you have an easy template to create your next top-level folder by copying the same architecture you’ve already created. (Pro tip: you can simply “make a copy” of your existing 2022 folder and then delete the files within so that you have all your folders and subfolders ready to go.)

You may prefer to have topics as your highest level (e.g, taxes, financial reports) or maybe your top-level is clients. Remember: create a system that will make it easy for you to find what you need, every time.

3. Decide on a standard naming convention

How often have you come across a file labeled something like “marketing plan” or “ClientX notes”? Vague and disorganized file and folder names can make it difficult to quickly scan and find what you’re looking for. Even Google’s powerful search function can’t save you from poorly labeled files.

This problem only compounds when you’re working as part of a team, where shared folders can turn chaotic fast. Just because a filename makes sense to one person, doesn’t mean it will make sense to everyone.

One of the most common naming problems is names that are too vague or overly general. When this happens, files and folders can end up with too many similar names, making it hard to find what you’re looking for.

There are three major components to a strong naming system:

  • Consistency
  • Conciseness
  • Keywords

For example, if your team has a shared folder for a particular client, your naming convention might be: Documentdate-ProjectName-keywords (E.g. 20210615-ProductLaunch-planning)

And of course, with your organized folder system, your file will already be in the right client/project folder too!

4. Take out the trash

Garbage day is nobody’s favorite day of the week. But if you want to organize your Google Drive, it’s important to regularly clear out old and irrelevant files. Old takeout containers in your kitchen make it hard to cook your next meal, just like old files in your Google Drive spike your stress and slow you down!

Of course, there’s nothing worse than deleting something and then finding out three weeks later that it’s exactly the document your boss wants to see. (We’ve all been there!) So if you’re concerned about sending your files to the trash, you can create your own “Archive” or “Trash” folder where you can safely put documents. Then if you want to later, you can go through and clear out any files that you’re certain you don’t need.

5. Star key files and folders

Did you know that you can “star” files and folders in Google Drive by right-clicking them and selecting “Add to Starred”? This adds the file or folder to the Starred category, which can be found on the left-hand navigation panel.

Why star folders and files? Because it’s a great way to quickly access the files you use most often. For example, if you have a project tracking document that you update several times a week, you may want to star it. This saves you from clicking through your folders every time you need it.

Of course, avoid adding too much to your starred category or this will lead to its own cluttered mess! Focus on starring the content you use the most often.

6. Color code your folders

This tip is straight out of grade school, but don’t dismiss it right away. Many of us learned the power of using different highlighters or stickies when we were young, so why don’t we apply the same principles now?

Google Drive lets you choose from 24 different colors to help distinguish your folders from one another. As many of us are highly visual, using this feature can help you quickly find what you’re looking for.

This strategy is even more powerful if you can connect the color to the content of the folder. For example, your taxes folder for each year can be green (because, money!). If you keep this code consistent across all your folders you’ll easily remember that whenever you see green, that’s where your tax documents are.

7. Make shortcuts

We mentioned the little-known “Add Shortcut” tool up in step 1. This tool is great for helping you stay organized if you’re working as part of a team on a lot of shared files.

When you navigate to the “Shared with me” section of your Google Drive, you’ll see every document and folder that you’ve been granted access to. After all your efforts to clean up your own Google Drive, this will likely look like chaos.

Google Drive shortcuts make it possible to organize your shared files.

To add a shortcut for any file or folder, you can hit shift+Z or right-click and select “Add Shortcut to My Drive.” You will then be prompted to select where you want the shortcut to live. Pick whatever folder makes sense within your system.

The great news is, this allows you to access the original file, not simply make a copy. That means you don’t have to worry about changes made in the shared drive not showing up.

You can add shortcuts to any type of folder or file, not just shared ones. If you have a file you’d like to have filed in more than one location, this is a great feature.

When you’re busy, it’s easy to let organizing your Google Drive fall to the bottom of your list. But with a little time (and the right tools at your side!) a stress-free Google Drive is possible!

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