The Best Way to Name Your Files (3-Step File Naming System)

The Best Way to Name Your Files (3-Step File Naming System)

– [Scott] What is the best
way to name your files? Let’s find out in today’s video. Hello everyone, Scott
Friesen here at Simpletivity, helping you to get more
done and enjoy less stress. And you probably already know that the way that you structure
your folders is important, but what’s so much more important is how you name your individual files so you can go and find them and retrieve them when you need to. So in today’s video, I’m gonna show you three
different components that you should include
in each of your filenames. But first, I’d like to
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the description below. When it comes to naming your files, there are many different
approaches that you can take, but I think you only need
three key components, a date, a file subject name
and a unique identifier or some other special code. So let’s take a look at all
three of these components, see why they are important, and also look at the different ways in which we can order them. Here you can see in this example I have a few files that
have a date at the beginning and this is great if
you are managing files that need to be sorted
by a particular date. Now it’s true almost every file system will include a last modified date and also you’ll be able to find when that file was first created. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Drive like the example I’m showing you here or if you are on a
Windows or a Mac computer. But in many cases, the last time that the file was edited or when it was created is
not the most important date so you may want to include
something more specific. I’ll give you an example. I give a lot of presentations and so for me I don’t care so much as to when it was last modified or when I first created that file. What I’d like to know is when
did I last present that file. When did I actually deliver that as part of a speech or as
part of a live workshop? So I will often include a date at the beginning of those files. Now we wanna go one step further and make sure that we list
our dates in a proper order. Here you will see I have things listed in year, month and then day order and we’re using two digits
for both month and day. Now this is really, really important. This has nothing to do with
where I live in the world or the country, whatever date format that
your country follows, the reason why we want to
follow year, month, day is because it will always sort properly. As you can see in these
first four files here, I’m starting in 2017 and things are sorting
properly down to 2018 including at the month and the date level. And that’s always going to be the case if we follow this format. Now I’ve seen some people who omit this little dash in between so the numbers are all together. You’ve got an eight-digit number. I prefer to have a small dash in between. I just find it that much
easier for me to read. But as I’ll be showing you a little bit later on in today’s video, you don’t necessarily need
to start with the date. We’ll look at the pros
and cons of having that at the beginning of your filename. Now the second component of this filename includes a subject line and I’m gonna spend very little time here because this really depends
on so many different factors as to what does this file include, what’s the purpose of this file. I think the key thing here is that you should be
adding a few keywords letting you know and perhaps other people that you may be sharing this file with what exactly should they expect
when they open up this file. In this case, I have labeled
this Client_Email_List and you’ll also notice
that I’ve added underscores between the spaces within that filename, but also between the date and the unique code or
identifier at the end. This makes it a bit easier to read rather than this one down
below where I’ve had no spaces and I’ve just got VendorTrainingContract all smashed together. The reason why underscores
are still important in this day and age is that
there are some file systems who may replace a space
with a funny character. You may have come across a situation where a filing system has
thrown in a percentage sign in between any original spaces or they will try and put
in underscores themselves, but if they can’t, sometimes they will simply
collapse those spaces and the entire thing will
end up looking like this with everything jammed together. So you may want to get
used to adding underscores to your filenames. Not only does it make
it easier to read here, but as you share your file with others or as other people share them with you, you can keep that proper
spacing in between. And remember, you don’t
know what type of system where you are sending this file to. You don’t know what they are using and so how it may convert
the name of your file. Now the last component here is what I call a unique
identifier or a special code. And I’ve got a few
different examples here. I’ve got this one which I’ve labeled draft letting us know that
this is the draft version of this particular file. In the next two, I’ve added some initials. So here SDF I can see that I
am the author or the creator or maybe I was the last
person to touch this file so I’ve got my initials at the end. Here I’ve got someone else’s initials signifying that perhaps
they are the author. And then I’ve got one last example here. This one is VER2 as in version two letting me know the version
status of this file. And as you can notice,
I’ve put everything here, this last component in all capitals unlike the subject name itself which is just in regular text. This makes it stand out that much more that I’ve put this in all capitals. I can tell that this is
a different component or an add-on of that filename. Now again, you need to
decide what it best for you in terms of what makes the most sense. Does putting a version number
make more sense to you? Does having the initials of
yourself or someone else, does that make more sense? Let’s take a look at a few
other examples down below here. Here you can see I’ve put
the subject name first, then the unique identifier
and then the date at the end. Now the nice thing about this format is that if I have a bunch
of contract templates or maybe I have a number
of different things that start with contract, maybe this next one is a
contract email template and maybe this is a
contract paper template, something like that, I know that everything
is going to sort properly with contract first within this folder and that may be most important to me. Here you can see I’ve got
the different version numbers showing up next and then I
have the date at the end. Last but not least, I’ve got one last revision or different ordering of
these three components. In this case, I have the
code or unique identifier at the beginning. I’ve got the subject name in the middle and then again I’ve got
the date at the end. And again, this can be
great for sorting purposes. In this case, I’ve got
some purchase order numbers and maybe that’s what’s most
important to me or to my team is that we sort in the
order of purchase numbers. So in this case by starting with that code or that unique identifier, it’s always going to sort properly here and I still have my other
information to the right. So no matter what you do
as a part of your business, maybe you’re an educator, maybe these are just your personal files, I would encourage you to
include these three components, a date and don’t forget that order, the subject name or the filename with some descriptive keywords and then a code or a unique identifier as you can see here at the end or in our examples here at
the beginning of the filename. As it pertains to the precise order, well that’s up to you and it
may also depend on the folder that you’re keeping these files in. I hope you enjoyed today’s video and I would love to learn from you. What do you think of
these three components and do yo have some additional ways in which you order your files? I’d love to hear from you so
be sure to leave your answer in the comments below. I hope you subscribe right here to the Simpletivity YouTube channel. Please give this video a thumbs up and don’t forget to leave me a message in the comments below. Remember, being productive
does not need to be difficult. In fact, it’s very simple.

74 thoughts to “The Best Way to Name Your Files (3-Step File Naming System)”

  1. Hey Scott! You suggest three different ways of ordering the information titles. Do you use just one method or do you use different ways for different kinds of documents or for different purposes?

  2. I usually put something like: ClientList_dec2018.docx or ClientList2_roughdraft2018.docx for my naming conventions. Yours sound good too but it will take practice for me to get it. Mine works. Though others I have business with, put spaces in. It's way too hard for me to find it on my computer when l download their files.

  3. What a coincidence. Just today I recommended your name file system with ISO 8601 date in a big project. Just as you showed it. The project manager was immediately convinced. Thank you for great content.

  4. I started using (on this last quarter), for my school documents (I'm a student), this method:
    uID = School Unit ID (in the case it is 3u)
    subject = The subject (Mathematics, Geography etc.)
    topic = The topic of the document.
    The problem with it is these dots, because they can cause problems on some files, Also, the files are a bit confusing to look.
    Next year I'll use something like you said, thanks for the tips!

  5. Hi Scott. I've used the yyyy-mm-dd for a long time. Now you've shown how I can improve on that too. And the underscores advice is very sage. Thanks.

  6. I've been using the 'yyyymmdd_identifier_nnnn' file naming convention for a long time. Made files easy to find and sort from the UNIX shell. Great video. 🙂

  7. Thank you for the video.
    I would add how much important is formatting for automation / scripting / AI / BI or getting prepared for future automation.

    Your formatting is quite ready for that as long as no mistakes are accidently typen.

    A simple script could recognize the date easily, and for parsing through text, it would identify the tagging (unique id) as a text string with all vowels.

    I normally use a character to distinguish between the different sections for example:


    Subject_ExampleNumber2-#[email protected]_at_Lapland_Meeting-[2018-12-14]

    both are easy to parse.

    Also, when users keep following a formatting system, it is quite easy to automate the migration of old data to a new Formatting system.

    Keep up the good work and keep productive 🙂

  8. I use that date format in all my file names. Here's the AutoHotKey script for inserting today's date automagically when I enter zd:

    SendInput, %A_YYYY%-%A_MM%-%A_DD%


    or with a Win-D keystroke

    SendInput, %A_YYYY%-%A_MM%-%A_DD%


  9. good video lesson .. by the way, to easily organize files of different types, I use FolderChanger.. google it, works great

  10. This for the info. Somehow it helps me how to create a better file name and better ways to find it in a short period of time. This a lot

  11. Your advertisement in the YouTube video sucks the big one. I don't want to be forced to hear another ad on top of the one I'm forced to hear just to watch your video. NEVER AGAIN!!!!

  12. I'm on a Mac. Using Mac's <<Automator,>> I wrote my own app which adds the date at the beginning of the name. A full document name might read like TUE 25-DEC-2018 NAME.doc I, then, have the folders set to list files by date.

    I also have a smart folder which will list all of my new (or recently modified) documents going back two weeks. There is also a tag named <<Pinned>> which keeps the document listed in that smart folder regardless of how old it is.

    As for organizing, each year has its own folder and each month has its own subfolder. Since this is a Mac, I heavily use tags, smart folders and aliases (shortcuts).

  13. nice, to the point , easy to understand video, liked the logic… why dont they teach this in school… i know many of us gets this with experience… but still…

  14. I use the first method as a developer. What do you you for directory structure? I use 26 directories, one per alphabet letter.

  15. As for dates…
    I only use two digit – YYMMDD – which gives EVERY DAY a unique NUMBER, more concise, and allows for NUMERICAL sorting within my PROGRAMMING VENUES…

  16. if your hdd crashes and you try to recover the files, often what you get are files named in a 8.3 format, wich is the DOS name format because one thing that is lost with the hdd structure is the file table index that stores the relationship between a long file name and the DOS filename. So.. you end up with a lot of files like '123456~1.ext'. I think that it'll be better to use the code or description first or you end up with a lot of files that only have partial dates as names…

  17. Sorting work well on America date. I live in a country which use British date. Sometimes very confusing which digit is the month. I prefer writing out month in word

  18. As many programmes – access, excel, etc can read folders andn split text by seperators, it's worth considering a special character to do this between then 3 fields especially as then subject can be varying lengths

  19. Good video, critical for people to manage and save time and mind confusion. I use format YYYYMMDDhhmmNameOfFileEasiestForYouToRememberInCamelCase. What do you do with files received, which often have a messy file name? I tend to change it to my file format, however others know the file name as the original messy file name.

  20. If accessed on a small (phone) screen the entire file may not show up causing the visible part to provide insufficient information. For that the repetitive information needs to come later in the mane.

  21. I use the concept of increasing specificity L-R. General category first, more specific category, then specific, then date in yyyy-mm-dd. Alpha-numeric sort brings all related files together. Since greater than 8-bit filenames.

  22. Files and folders are so 20th-century. I feel blessed to use macOS, where these problems are gone. We have Spotlight, tags, smart folders and many (most!) programs use their own libraries inside the program to make the underlaying filesystem transparent.

  23. Naming files with dates and descriptors like "draft" or "final" is a terrible idea when it comes to collaboration. It can be extremely difficult to merge changes over time. It's much better to use a version control system like SharePoint for files or Git for code and let the VCS do the heavy lifting as well as supply roll back capabilities.

  24. What a great way to organize files! It really helps me to practice using underscores and dashes while naming. NOW MY FILES ARE SYNCED! I used to just randomly smash on the keyboard to create file names because I didn't think to properly name files. 💯🗄🗃

  25. I definitely like to use the YYYY-MM-DD format in the file name. I, too, include the dashes for readability. But I haven't been using the underscore between words. I have occasionally encountered the problem of special characters being inserted, but mostly in personal use and not in my work situation. It's strange that even after a few decades of computer use, coming up with a distinct file name strategy is still important and useful.

  26. Too many keystrokes and too long on name lengths. No need for 2019-01-25 when 190125 will do the same job. You will quickly get used to the shorter date designators.

  27. If tagging was not an easily lost extended file attribute and truly cross-platform we could concentrate on readable and short file names and get all the organisational benefits of tags at the same time…

    But watch all OS and cloud companies concentrate on "sexy features" that raise heads for Average Joe instead of making lives easier for people who are willing to invest time wisely once at the save file dialogue.

    It's much nicer to throw data mining at cloud users and tell them it's for their own organisation. Now, give me the option for either and it's fine, but leave out proper local and power user features and I get salty.

  28. If only everyone used this process. I have been using Y-M-D naming forever. Makes it so easy to find things and keeps folders in order.

  29. I like this idea but it is a lot of work. What I would like to see is an inventory system of documents. That gives each doc a number, as it is created, and logs it in a list. I think programs started out doing this but it disappeared.

  30. Great 👍 It validates the way I used to keep date year in front. But that was only year and month. Adding date and underscore helps further.

  31. I've been in IT for over 30 years and most people make mistakes or have inflexible schemes. I find that writing 14jan.19 or 19.14jan or 19.jan14 is better and much more flexible since sometimes you need the year at the beginning and eliminating ambiguity is necessary to do this.
    Writing the first 3 letters of the month is also what many banks recommends for checks.

  32. I sometimes use a number at the beginning when I want the files or folders to display on a set order e.g., 1. Setup 2. Project paper work, 3. Project plan, 4 Deliverables, etc.

  33. I've been looking for a discussion like this related to music production files. Maybe it doesn't change much from these ideas. Would love finding more about ideas like this.

  34. I have had many years of computer experience, I'm an original Google user. I have learned many things thanks to your videos! Thank you for not having a mindless YouTube channel. Channels like yourself gives me hope for the world ! Although I wish YouTube had an donation hope and once reaching your goal would remove sponsor ads lol

  35. I have a file called : Layout_V4_final revision final 2019-02-1 LAST VERSION – CLIENT LAST REV – Pink Cat picture added per request 2019-02-8.PDF

    Then actually the cat have to wear pink

  36. Thanks for validating the file naming scheme I have been using to help me give order to my paperless office. I didn't want to lock my files into a third party file management solution, when I could store them locally or in the cloud, and search for them with Windows Explorer.
    As you have suggested though, you need enough information in the filename to find it when you need it, so the three parts to the filename makes total sense. But it takes discipline and consistency, so once you are set on a scheme, you need to adhere to it.

    I use the NameThatFile application to help me do this. Typing filenames every time can result in typos, so NameThatFile generates the name from customizable lists with clicks of a mouse. It can include a date exactly as you have outlined in various positions and accommodates most of the schemes you suggest. It also enables you to sort your files into folders and subfolders according to the parts of the file name.

    More people should simplify their file naming with your useful scheme.

  37. Suggestion re version identifiers: Your examples are VER2, VER3, etc. We use 2-place #’s: v01, v02, etc. so that Version 10 will sort after Version 9. (It happens. Not often, but it happens.) Else, Versions 10 & 11 would sort like this: VER1, VER10, VER11, VER2, VER3, & so on. We have used the 3-component method for quite some time, and it works well. Well, OK, about as well as document storage using file names (instead of document library metadata) permits. Good video. Thanks for posting it.

  38. Another method is putting numbers such as 01) when you're trying to guide people to which folder/file to read first in your folders. So, it looks something like 01) Agendas and Minutes 02) Compliant rates 03) Bylaws and organizational structure and so forth Always enjoy your video clips

  39. When I have a mass of files to rename and organize, what program do you recommend to rename in batches and to organize in bulk?

  40. These are not the best methods. The dash takes up too much space and can be replaced with a dot. No need for all four year digits either. Ex. 12.31.19 or 2019-31-12. Way too many inefficiencies here to mention.

  41. I wish there was an editable date column in Windows file system. That way you could sort by date or sort by file name (subject only). I'd use the date column for the date a scanned letter/receipt was produced or a version date for multiple versions of files.

  42. So you use the same exact system as how to archive, great minds think alike, coincidence, or some "inspiration" taken from videos of times gone by?

  43. I use similar systems to you. I believe that the vendors should offer more flexibility in the naming of files such as a multi-part name that can be sorted on the different parts as desired.

  44. I know it's been a while since the last comment, but I also use a different method for naming files and folders.
    I usually use an "_" or a "#" before the name of the file/folder, so it will be prioritized among the other files.
    Also, there is a difference in the priorities of the two characters, as the files starting with a "#" will be on top of the files starting with an "_", and these files will be on top of all others (despite the priority rule for folders and files).

  45. I use dashes instead of underscores. Underscores combine 2 words to one. If you use a local search it's better to have the words separated.

  46. first two digits in a year seem kind of unnecessary. Yeah, 2017, but just 17 before a month is just fine. How many 17s do you think there will be in your life.

  47. I keep journals or logs on a few items, so have a journals folder with subcategories under them, such as general, pets, garden, exercise, etc. Then, for the file name, I use journal_general_2018_05 or journal_pets_2019. These are short and sweet home files and I had hoped to find an improved system here. But, Your video is best for businesses. If I put in the name of the month (which I started with, then ditched), the sorting isn't in chronological order. I wish I knew how to use macros better, because I'd love to be able to hit a button to type out the first 8 to 10 characters of a file name. Now, I have to cut and paste or type it all out. For some files, if I use a MS Word document (vs. Notepad or WordPad, which use far less space), I might capitalize the important part/name of the file and treat it as a master file. Because it is so long and I don't yet know how to use or make headings, I use ++++++++++++ or ============= lines near the top 1/8 or so of the doc and cut and paste the important items to put there Those lines are either put in bold and/or highlighted…then I organzie those items by subcategory. EX: health disorder> causes>treatment> symptoms> etc….I'd appreciate any HOME filing nuts to throw suggestions at me. My system is inconsistent, as am I…and it and I need improvement.

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