today’s question: “how do you organize your files?”

i wish i organized my life the way i do my files. my hard drive so clean and easy to navigate with everything in it’s place. i learned to organize the hard way. nobody taught me in college how to save my work (or i just wasn’t paying attention that day). i can’t even look at my school folders. it’s a disaster. files are labeled with “untitled-1” and everything is outlined.

i divide up my initial folder by working, finished and killed.

  • working – currently still working on. i will leave projects in here until the project is paid. i highlight it in green for clarification. i will also highlight in red if it’s due soon or yellow if i have some time.
  • finished – all done! just drag the folder from working to finish. don’t copy.
  • killed – project was terminated and never finished for various reasons.

within working everything is labeled with a date and project name. i like to see things in chronological order. within each project folder i have, contract/invoice, process, final and deliver. in process i have all my assets (any scans, inspiration or images) and design (all of my explorations). if i’m doing a lot of versions i sometimes group them into rd 1, rd 2, rd 3 so my design folder doesn’t get crazy. the final folder has the final file unoutlined with a PDF for quick reference. deliver has all of the outlined files for my client.

for storing my files i keep them on my computer hard drive and back up on an external. i use this one. it’s so small and fast. sometimes i will use the external to copy files from my desktop my my laptop but that does get confusing. you never want to save over the latest version with an old one. when i release big files to clients i use yousendit.com. there are free ones like sendspace.com and sendyouit.com but i believe there is a size limit on what you send. i use google drive for personal things and have never used drop box but i’ve heard great things.

(illustration by katie evans. read more freelance advice posts are over here!)


Add your own

    Becky says:

    All about this. I never would have thought to ask about file organization, but this is probably one of the best life hacks (can I call this a hack? I know it’s just sorting) I’ve read in a long while.

    Wow, I wish I could organize like this…and my husband probably wishes I could too 😉 I started finally backing up my files after losing everything when my MAC crashed. And I mean everything…

    xx Ashleigh

    Kari says:

    LOVE this. I am terrible at organizing things in real life, but my folders are spotless. Your tips gave me some great ideas for my design projects. I love it.

    alicia says:

    Same over here, I wish my DESK was as organized as my files. I’ve always had a bit of system going on but never as fleshed out and perfect as now. I am so proud of myself!! Haha
    It’s pretty similar to yours. Great tip on having one called “finals” and one called “deliver”, I currently have them combined.
    I’ve started using abbreviations for projects recently. So although stuff is organized by folder, the files have names too. Wild Rice becomes WR and ShopUniques becomes SU. I find the abbreviations super helpful for invoices and spreadsheets too.

    KAIT says:

    this is great! i’ve been hoping that you would provide an advice post on file organization – thanks for the tips!

    Jensen says:

    Ah, I’m always looking for better methods for organizing files (I must’ve been sleeping through that day in school, too). Thanks for this! Also a huge fan of Katie’s!

    stacy says:

    YES! I just moved my office and need a new system. very inspiring and the timing is perfection! thanks for sharing. : )

    Dayna says:

    Oh, thank you so much Katie!! I have always wondered how the professionals do it, how often they backup, if I am doing something totally bonkers crazy with my files… etc. Anyway so helpful and useful! Thanks girl!

    Eloise says:

    This is so tidy! Im such a lazy that when i need a new folder i name it something along the lines of “adhfkahdk” which means finding it again is a mission and a half! Talk about a bad habit!

    xx Eloise

    Kathyrine says:

    Both in real life and on my computer my things are in a kind of organized chaos, haha. I feel like everything for me is in place, but if you asked someone else to find something they’d take an hour or so.

    Great advice, maybe I’ll use it for some digital spring cleaning.

    Ciara says:

    Glad I’m not the only one really OCD about my file organization methods. I host all my files on dropbox though. I work between my iMac and Macbook Air and it’s the best way I can stay consistent and not have to worry if I brought my thumb drive with current files. It works like a charm too. 🙂

    Jen says:

    Silly question, but what do you mean when you say a file is outlined vs. unoutlined? Otherwise, I love your tips!

    Lindsay Ware says:

    This is so helpful! Thanks!

    katie evans says:

    jen, when you release files to your client or printer you should always “outline” the file. i do it to prevent anyone from changing my artwork but you should also do it in case the person on the other side doesn’t have the font you used. if they open the “live” file and don’t have your fonts it will default to Myriad and we don’t need that in the world.

    double check that the file you’re about to outline is saved in the “deliver” folder and not your process or final folder.

    in illustrator: select your text and hit COMMAND + SHIFT + O (the letter).
    in indesign: same as above. COMMAND + SHIFT + O. you have to do this to each page within your document though. not sure if there is a command to do your entire document.
    in photoshop: select your text layer(s). layers > rasterize > type.

    Caitlin says:

    I LOVE when designers share their process on file organization – the non glamorous part of the job but it is OH SO importante! Just like you, I never learned these VERY necessary skills in school and was basically left to my own devices for years. I finally have an iron clad organization system (very similar to yours) and I really wish someone would have enlightened me years ago!

    Thanks again for the fabulous advice!

    Danni says:

    I can not tell you how much this makes me happy. I have a very organised desktop and my fiances drives me crazy. I love organising things!!

    Anonymous says:

    This is great! Especially for someone like who, who can’t seem to locate anything when I need it 🙂

    Sarah says:

    Oh, this is a really great idea for creatives. I’ve worked at agencies over the years and been appalled by how disorganized a lot of the creative work can be. I organize my folder by client name, and create Active and Complete/Killed within the client folders. For each job I create within my client folders, I organize by Comps (rough), Layout, and Mechs (Mechanicals, final files), I also include folders for inspiration or copy that’s going to go into the design later. Keeping everything really organized makes juggling a lot of projects soo much easier, it’s well worth the 5 minute commitment up front to know exactly where your files are later in the process!

    Beck says:

    Is it strange that I find this flowchart incredibly satisfying to look at? I’ve just in the last few weeks gotten hyper-organized with my computer files, and it’s a lifechanger.

    Laura Barnes says:

    I’m not exactly sure where to ask questions.. but here’s one (or two) I’d love to see answered! How do you market (on a budget) and how do you get involved on fun or dream projects? I’ve put in the time, I’ve graduated, I have my degree and I have some business. But it’s not enough business and I need more! I’m not sure how to really market and get myself out there. AND how do you get involved on fun, cool, styled, projects.. the online magazines and blogs?

    I feel like someone just peeked into my desktop! My files – desktop, Dropbox, Google Docs – are all organized in this fashion. Consistent naming, consistent versions – makes it easy for me and the client to reference all works in progress. Creating business systems can be a little rough, but once you hit your stride it’s amazing how much more you can accomplish by having the system in place.

    Jules says:

    I’m still trying to figure out what works for me. I have such a hard time with organization…it just doesn’t come naturally to me, unfortunately. I do like the way you’ve set things up although I can see myself already attempting to follow this and then failing at it. So, I suppose it would go in the “killed” section. 😉


    Jules of Canines & Couture

    Bethany says:

    Can I just say, I LOVE YOU!?! It really touches my heart to see experienced, professional designers & creatives collaborating and sharing their tips. Thanks!

    Thank you for posting this. I am starting over and my A.D.D has made my organization a big job. I appreciate this a lot.

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