Professor, Student

File Management System for School (Students or Teachers)

So many classes, so many years of school. How to manage all these files? Should we even bother?

When I was in high school, one of my teachers said it was a good idea to save the work we do. We may be able to reuse some of it in the future. While I did save everything, I realized over the years that it would be hard for me to find what I’m looking for a lot of the times.

I have also learned over the years that it is a good idea to keep revisions of the documents you work on. Many times, I liked to restart a problem or writing from scratch to avoid making mistakes I made earlier. But then I wonder, did I make the same mistakes I did earlier? Same thing can hold for other types of documents or work. Hence, keeping revisions of documents helps you be able to look back to keep useful work and make sure you’re not repeating the same mistakes.

Do people really needs tips on how to manage their files? Maybe everyone already has figured out their system and know how to manage their files. But in case my tips are helpful to anyone, I’ll share my system with things I’ve learned are helpful.

10 Tips to Manage Your Files for School (as Students or Teachers)

1. Start Now!

If you already have lots of unorganized files, use the below tips to organize them now. As soon as you download or create a file, name and put it where it belongs immediately. The more you procrastinate, the harder it becomes to make and maintain your file management system.

2. Categorize, Categorize, Categorize

Create folders for every group or subgroup of files or folders. Though, do so according to your preference and what you find helps you find your files easily or retrieve the information you need easily.

For instance, I like to have a folder for the school year, semester, course, then major groups, such as assignments, exams, lecture slides, etc. For the assignments, I don’t create subfolders, so that I can easily look back at previous assignments. But for projects, I might (if they are not exactly related and consist of a lot of files).

When a folder starts to feel overwhelming with files, and I can’t find what I’m looking for easily enough, then that means I need to create subfolders and further categorize the files.

3. Name According to How you Remember Things

What does this mean? It means, if you might not remember exactly which class’s work you might want to look back at, but you remember it was a class you took during the first or second year in college, then it would be helpful to categorize accordingly. This is how I remember things, so I have folders named: <School Abbreviation>Year<#>

Then I have subfolders for the semester, and then courses. Again for courses, you can use a naming convention that you will remember: either the department abbreviation and course number (such as, COSC101) or an abbreviation of the course name (such as, IntroToJava).

4. Name According to How you want to Order Things

While naming files and folders, it’s a good idea to think about how you want to name them so they are in a specific order. For instance, if you want to put a description of the assignment in the title, it’s a good idea to start the file name with HW1. Keeping the naming convention, all of the assignments will be in order, even if you add a description or title of the assignment in the name.

If I have files or folders that don’t have a certain grouping name (this especially happens for my research-related data analyses files – I’ll share this in the future), then I like to name files starting with the date using the yymmdd format. If I want to order folders by semester, which I sometimes do, I use the following naming format: <yyyy>_<#>_{Fall, Spring, Summer} where # is 1 for Spring, 2 for Summer, and 3 for Fall. In other cases, I’ve used numbers or even letters to have folders ordered in specific way (for example, 0_<name> or A_<name>).

5. Avoid Spaces

When trying to manipulate files, make or create scripts, or even use other applications, I have found that avoiding spaces in the folder or file names reduces potential problems. To separate words or information of the file, I use underscores (_), dashes (-), periods (.), camel or Pascal case (Where you use upper cases for words, such as “IntroToJava”. Camel case has lower case for the first word and Pascal case capitalizes the first word, too. I personally like Pascal case better.).

6. Keep Versions of Files

As I’ve said before, I have found it very useful to keep separate versions of files. Many times, I liked to restart a problem or writing from scratch to avoid making mistakes I made earlier. But then I wonder, did I make the same mistakes I did earlier? Same thing can hold for other types of documents or work. Hence, keeping revisions of documents helps you be able to look back to keep useful work and make sure you’re not repeating the same mistakes.

Note: naming the files so they follow a specific order is important when keeping versions of files. Especially if you are doing work with other people and want to maintain the order of your files. For a class I TA with a co-TA, I usually put the version of the file after the document type label, and initials of the person making the changes at the very end end. For example: HW1_<optional title that cannot change through versions>_v1_<initials>_<optional metadata or notes>. This way, the files are first ordered by type, then by version.

7. Add Notes or Metadata to File Names

While keeping versions of files, especially, it’s a good idea to add notes or metadata to the file names. For example, “test”, “bad”, “UsedWrongEquation”, etc. I also use Apple’s labels to mark which version is a throwaway (usually the red label) and which one is the keeper (usually green).

8. Use File Naming Convention Consistently

Once you have figured out how you want to name your folders and files, make sure you are being consistent! This will help you find your files, either manually or by using tools like Alfred!

9. Backup your Files!

Of course, you should backup your files regularly. The laptop’s or computer’s hard drive could crash, some unexpected problem or situation could cause you to lose access to your files! If you have backups, then you might be able to regain access to at least most of your files or somewhat recent versions of your files.

Using cloud storage systems generally provides almost immediate backups of your files. The storage space is typically limited and your files are at risk of being intercepted or hacked.

You can get large amounts of storage capacity on hard drives for fairly cheaply (especially compared to several years ago). Unless you always have your hard drive attached to the computer/laptop, the back-ups will only be as recent as when you run the backup.

A good solution is to use a combination of Cloud and hard drives to back up your files. If anything you have is sensitive, then make sure you don’t put it on the Cloud and back it up to only a hard drive.

10. Delete Unneeded Files!

Sometimes, we store too much. And it creates clutter! If there are files you are sure you don’t need on your Desktop or in the Downloads folder, or any other catch all place you may have, delete them! This clears space to save necessary files, and helps you more easily find the files you do need.


I hope you have found my tips useful and that you start organizing your files now. The earlier the better!

Here are some other articles that talk about file management systems, that may be of interest to you!


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