Architect. I bet you had a good little laugh with this post’s headline and feature image. And why is that? Is it because you did that too and got away with it at some point in your career? Cool! Oh, wait, are you still doing it? Well, not cool anymore. 

With firms gradually embracing the new normal office setup of a blended on-site and remote work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be times when no one will be physically around to tell you which “final” file amongst the bunch is the latest one. While it is true that you can quickly check the date when the file was last modified or coordinate with your colleague via instant messaging, it does not change the fact that it is a hump that you need to get over first before commencing the task assigned to you. If your office manager does nothing to address the ever-existing file naming woes, the fraction of time spent by team members merely asking around which file they should be working on will soon pile up. And how many hours could that be? It’s difficult to quantify. Nevertheless, they could have spent that time on more productive work.

What if you are a sole practitioner? Do you even need to care about it when you are the only person responsible? The answer will depend on the professional you are asking. If having multiple “final” files does not bother you that much – maybe because you got used to and have learned your way around it – you will get by just fine. But remember, you wear multiple hats when engaged in solo practice. You are a one-person team, and often, the dividing line between your personal and professional life becomes too thin to non-existent. Deadlines, paperwork, and errands will stack up at some point. You certainly do not want to deal with file confusion when that time comes. So yeah, if you ask a sole practitioner like me, having a file naming standard is a must. I don’t see it as a choice but a necessity. 

I believe revisions are inevitable in the industry we choose to belong to. There’s nothing we can do about it. We just comply when it occurs. But file naming is a different animal altogether. It’s “the elephant in your computer,” if you will. And yes, we can, or should I say MUST, do something about it.

First and foremost, never put the word “final” on any file name. That is the problem to begin with. Now, there will be two solutions to this – short-term and long-term. The short-term is the “band-aid” solution, so to speak. Conversely, the long-term will involve looking deeper into your workflow and operations.    

Shot-term solution

This is simple. Create a SUPERSEDED subfolder in your project folder. When you need to update any file, create a numbered and dated subfolder inside it, then copy and paste the file therein BEFORE making any changes. This will steer you away from saving the file with another name, thus preserving its original filename (light bulb moment!).

Superseded subfolder inside the Project Folder

When you need to refer to the old version, look it up in the Superseded folder. The file in there serves as a backup. Do this several times then it becomes muscle memory. That easy.

Long-term solution

This one will need more time and commitment to accomplish but has the most benefits. No matter what type of workflow you employ, you should develop the following:

  1. File naming convention, and
  2. Pro forma filing directory

The file naming convention is a document that stipulates in detail the manner of naming all the files created for and originated from your project. At the same time, the pro forma filing directory is a preset structured folder with subfolders dedicated to such files. They go hand-in-hand and form part of your back-end operations and will be implemented office-wide. Every time a document is created or comes in, you’ll know what to name it AND/OR where to put it.

Sample filing directory

The contents of the file naming convention document and the subfolders that will comprise the pro forma filing directory entirely depend on your workflow and operations. That is the challenging part because you need to sit down, reflect, and dissect the process of how you do things in the office, much like a manual of procedures. Then develop your standards from there. There’s no right or wrong in doing it, and you can continually improve it later as you see fit. So go carve out some time to develop your standards. You’ll be more efficient in your work when you have them. I can attest to that.


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File naming standard is a must regardless of the size of your office and the process you go through to get the job done. What kind of solution you want is totally up to you. I suggest that you go for the short-term first, then work your way to develop the standards later. The sooner you do it, the better. Either way, you could end your file naming misery once and for all. 

Do you have a better idea or got some suggestions? I’d like to learn from you. Let me know in the comments.

Need extra hands to develop your office standards? We can do that for you, and more. Send a message to [email protected].

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