Five Keys to Long-Term Project Organization

In the early stages of working for yourself or growing a small media company, it’s easy to skip thinking about long-term file storage. After all, everything fits on your internal drives, or on an external or two at the moment. And few of your projects ever need revisiting anyway. So what’s to worry about?

The reality is that when you can’t find a file, it’s as if it doesn’t exist at all. At some point in the future, the internal drives will get full and the externals will multiply like tribbles. And increasingly you can’t find older files in a timely manner any time you need to retrieve something from an older project. It’s now costing you time and money to have a discombobulated system.

The sooner you can prevent this problem the better. Even if you already have a helter-skelter system the sooner it is organized the easier your post-production life will be and the faster you’ll be able to archive projects. Here are five keys to getting your project files organized and stored for the long-term in a way that ensures you can find things easily when you need to:

Key 1: Identify the Primary Way You Approach Looking For Files

When you’re looking for project files, do you approach your hard drives looking for a specific year of when the work was made? Do you look for files by client, then specific project? If you can figure out how your brain wants to search for files after the fact, you can organize your long-term files in a way that will enable you to search naturally.

Key 2: Build It On Paper First

After identifying how you like to search, build the file tree on paper. I like to use a spreadsheet, using the columns to represent the file structure and then color-coding things that are nested within each other so it’s easy to see. This is exceedingly helpful when re-organizing a group of files. Once it’s on paper, it’s a relatively simple matter to move files into the new structure based on where the spreadsheet directs.

Key 3: Keep a Similar Nomenclature

In the beginning of storing files, it’s easy to name folders at random. This works for a while, but it’s easier to find something later if the folder names help things show up in a similar fashion. In my files, I strive to keep my nomenclature the same: “Client-Name_Client-Project-Name_Year” This helps me keep everything done for a client in the same place, but quickly identify which project is which. Later, when I go to place working files in long-term storage, I know what year each project was done in.

Key 4: Keep All Files for a Project In One Folder

The fastest way to get a project ready for long-term storage is to keep everything used to create the project in one folder to begin with. If you’re not already doing this, read my older article on Project Automation and why you should keep a project’s files in one folder. Keeping your file structure the same within each project folder is helpful too.

Key 5: Get a Big Enough Repository

Long-term storage over multiple hard drives is certainly possible. But why would you want to? With so many excellent large storage systems available, there’s really no reason why you should keep a box of hard drives in your closet. A large, single storage device is easier to manage than multiple hard drives, doesn’t require as much monthly maintenence, and with built in redundancy, drive failure and data loss is mitigated.

There is much more to successful data management, but these are a few keys to help you get started in the right direction. Because remember: if you can’t find it, it doesn’t exist.