Organizing Google Drive Pt 1: Folder Organization

Chris BoulangerChris Boulanger | September 21, 2015

This is the first post in a series on organizing Google Drive. The idea is to help you get familiar with best practices, and with Google Drive specific features, so you can design the best system to manage your team, your organization, and your sanity. See all the posts in the series here.

You can see big gains in efficiency and agility when you migrate file storage, sharing and collaborating to the cloud. But you need to build a solid file and folder organizing system to capture and maximize those gains.

Start by Focusing on Folder Hierarchy

“Files are fleeting, but folders are forever,” said no one ever. Yet, it’s sort of true. Files get moved, copied, renamed and deleted all the time. But folders stick around.

Good folder structure means you have repositories that align with the user roles, usage, importance, formats and lifespan of the files they hold. You can use as few or as many folders as you like, but you have to get this alignment right.

Here are a few folder hierarchies that are flexible, yet robust enough to address most organizing needs:

Department Folder Structure: Department > Category > Sub-Category > Item

DCSI-folder-hierarchy_webIn most organizations, a good way to organize is [Department (D) > Category (C) > Sub-Category (S) > Item (I)]. This type of hierarchy is logical and very linear, so it works for almost any scenario. That said, you can end up with a lot of extra Category or Sub-Category folders if people don’t agree on what category something falls in or if they don’t stick with a framework.

As a rule, use this when you’ve got a consistent set of categories and are storing iterations of the same content. A perfect example of this is an accounting department that is creating monthly, quarterly and annual reports.

Tip: Have a few whiteboard sessions with your team before building anything. If you get their buy-in early, then you’re more likely to stick with it and keep things orderly.

Asset-Centric: Topic, Format, Item

TFI-folder-hierarchy_webWith a File-Centric approach, we strip away departmental and other contextual elements to focus on what we’re trying to store. Use [Topic (T) > Format (F) > Item (I)], where T is the top-level organizing principle (user, theme), F is any number of subfolders for different filetypes, and I is any number of files (of the same type) being stored.

The upside is that you can customize folders to best fit the formats including things like metadata, access, and views.

The downside is that you are stripping away context: you need to know the file type from the start, and you’re going to want to consider file naming and metadata carefully (e.g. creation date, author) to make this work.

As mentioned, this is great for archivist or digital asset managers who don’t need to regularly retrieve the files. With other types of departments, this might only get used on special projects.

Tip: Including metadata like the author and last-modified in views will let you sort and scan by those attributes. It’s a great way to make this structure more user-friendly.

Projectized: Client > Project > Sources > Drafts > Finals > Items

CPSDF-folder-hierarchy_webIf you work in advertising, design or marketing, then you are probably using something like [Client (C) > Project (P) > Sources (S) > Drafts (D) > Finals (F) > Items (I)] where you silo files based on the client, then break organization down further by the project and stage of production. The key thing here is maintaining at least 2 item folders at the bottom of the hierarchy: one for Drafts and one for Finals.

This structure works for both internal and external teams, and it doesn’t matter if your clients are different companies or different departments. It’s also very good for transferring materials around for reviewing and approval since you can limit transfers (or access) to only the materials needed at that point.

The main downside is that this hierarchy doesn’t play well with the needs of other business areas: you could put SOWs, invoices and contracts in the same client folder, but the organization, sharing, and workflows would quickly become complicated. Better to let the creative stuff live by itself and make separate folders for the business documents.

Note: I use something similar to this to manage web content at AODocs. For copywriting (like this blog post), we do reviews and collaboration online, so we usually collaborate until we get the draft to final status instead of keeping a draft copy. However, I do still keep separate folders for sources, drafts, and finals of images and other media where you can’t use document versions control to rollback.

Tip: Make sure you keep drafts and finals separate. If necessary have multiple draft folders, but only the true (reviewed, approved, signed off) version should go in the Finals folder.

Purposes & People Determine the Best Folder Organization

You can do anything you want with your folder hierarchy, as long as it works for your organization. A small business might be better off choosing one approach and sticking with it while a larger organization will use a mix of these on a department-by-department basis.

The key thing is that the users know where to put their files, and know where to look when they need something. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find the right system for you.

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