Naming Your Computer Files Well
It is so completely strange to me that really odd naming conventions for computer files continue to persist to this day.
I have probably over 10,000 documents on my computer (Word documents, spreadsheets, keynote presentations, PDFs, and so forth). If I followed the usual naming conventions that most people seem to use, I would be totally lost. I’d never be able to find anything.
For example, one of the things I do in my consulting is write business plans for people. Sometimes, when the client takes the first attempt at writing the business plan, the file will be named something like “plan234.doc.”
It’s as though we think we need to intentionally give our computer files cryptic, obscure, hard-to-grasp names. This, in turn, makes it really hard to find the file when you are going to work on it, since it’s not like it’s the only file you have.
Far better to call it what it is. In this case, the best file name would be: “Business Plan for [Name of Company].doc.” Then, you know what the document is right away when you see it in your files. You don’t have to guess or, worst of all, open it in order to know for sure what it is.
I see this type of mistake made over and over again: people continually give their computer files names that are hard to decipher. I don’t know if the aim is to save space or what; if the aim is to save space, the need to do that went away about 20 years ago. It used to be that file names had to be kept very short, because we were limited to just a few characters. Those days are over.
And, spaces are OK!
In one of the call-out boxes in What’s Best Next, I summarize these principles as one of the immediately-applicable productivity tips I give. Here’s the box:
How to Name Your Computer Files Well
- Give the file a name that actually means something.
- Don’t abbreviate (it makes no sense and makes it harder to know what the file is at a glance!)
- Make the file name the same as the title of the document in the file.
Good name: “Bookstore Procedure Manual.” Bad name: “Bkstr_2305.”
If someone says: “The type of file name you suggest is too obvious,” my response is: That’s the point! If you don’t make it obvious, you’ll forget what the file actually is down the road or the next day. By making it obvious, you save time.
The principle for naming your computer files well is the same as the principle for making websites effective: “Don’t make me think.” That is, minimize your cognitive workload by making the file name something obvious. The aim is to know right away, at a glance, what the file actually is so you don’t have to spend time trying to figure out which file you are looking for after all.