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How to Name & Date Computer Folders & Files For Fast, Effective Organization

Computers and Technology: Personal Tech • Published: February 16, 2010

Effective storage of your computer data is directly tied to the way you assign names to files. Knowing how the computer sorts files based on the date format is also a huge time saver. No one teaches us this, so we need to get it somewhere. This is the place! Having a reliable system that you use consistently throughout your computer will save the average person literally hundreds of hours annually.

Microsoft Office Online (2003) says: “Statistics show that you can reduce the amount of time you spend finding and filing data by as much as 50 minutes a day by having an effective reference system in place.

That’s a whopping 300 hours a year! (Above, when I said “hundreds of hours,” you thought I was exaggerating, didn’t you?)

So it’s worth taking the time to implement a strong computer filing system.


When naming a file you create, include specific details that will be meaningful to you in the future to remind you of the file’s content or function. For example, a weak filename would be “agenda.doc”; a better name is “091207_Christmas_Party_Agenda.doc” – the date is given in order of year, month, day (Dec. 7, 2009) for optimum sorting purposes, and an appropriate description of what’s in the file is used so the file doesn’t have to be opened to discover its contents.


Why should you list dates by “year, month, day”? Files and folders are sorted alphanumerically by computers, so you will benefit most by naming files with numbers for dates rather than names. This list demonstrates what happens with various date options:

3-09……………When sorted follows “10-09” (the computer thinks “1” comes before “3,” so it doesn’t sort properly).

May 2009……..When sorted follows “June 2009” (“J” precedes “M” – doesn’t sort properly).

06-2009……….When sorted follows “05-2009,” but also follows “05-2010” (sorts properly for year 2009, but not for following years).

2009-12-07…..When sorted follows “2009-12-06 and anything prior (yr., mo., day sorts properly).

091207………..Also sorts properly. This is the preferred date format in the computing world. If your files precede 2000, then you’ll have to use the 4-digit year (“1999” comes before “2000,” but “99” comes after “00”).

Some people ask, “Why put a date in the file name when the date can be seen in the ‘Details’ display of folders and files?” The obvious answer is the date displayed by the computer may not describe the date of the event, but rather may be the date the file was created or last modified. Another answer is that you may want to sort a long list of files by date and it’s easier to look at one column instead of two.

To demonstrate how a computer stores and sorts files or folders, let’s say you went to Cedar Point Park, OH for a vacation on July 29, 2005 (which I really did and you can see my sub-folder of pictures from the article I just mentioned). How you setup the date is critical to the entire system, since the computer sorts in an unfriendly, robotic fashion. You have flexibility here, but it’s important to decide on a system and stay with it. You can’t label with months first, because the computer automatically sorts alphabetically, which means your months would be in this order:

April August December February January July June March May November October September

Not very helpful, right? Instead, to work within the computer’s parameters, you could put 2005 and then the month and date, in this order:

2005, July, 29th

So it’s year/month/date in computer language. (The year 2010 will follow 2005 with this system.) That’s probably the best way, but I prefer to shorten it, to make it look like this:

05, 07, 29

That’s “05” for 2005, 07 for July (the seventh month), and 29 for the day. When you put them all together, it’s:


Then I add the description after the date:

050729 Cedar Point Park OH

The system works by using the date as the sorting mechanism, then adding to the date a description of the activity or event. You have the freedom to add as long a description as necessary for you to identify the event.

It will take you a little time to get used to the year-month-date format, but once you do you’ll never go back, because it’s so logical and easy to remember.

Happy Filing!

For a real-life example of the effectiveness of the information above, see my article, “The Ultimate Computer Organization System For Your Digital Photos.”

John Gordon Cini is The Technology Doctor and author of the book “Computer Chaos Control,” which:

  • shows you how to store EVERYTHING on your computer so you can find files fast,
  • explains how to setup folders for all your programs, and
  • gives you a system to sync folders across the programs you use most often (such as internet, email, songs, videos, and word documents).

Learn more about the book at

(c) Copyright – John Gordon Cini. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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