Google Drive – Creating Order Out of Chaos

“What’s Google really good at?”

That’s a question I ask all the time when working with people on features in Google Drive. “Search” is, of course, the most common answer. So, when managing lots of files in your Google Drive, don’t forget about the search bar at the very top – that’s how I find my files quickly and with little effort. Read on to find more strategies for file and folder management in Drive.

Building an Effective File System

When most users first convert to a new system, like Google Drive, assume that old strategies and habits are the way to go. Many make tons of folders, folders within folders, and so on, without even thinking about why, or if that’s the best way forward. Every time I set someone up with a Google account, I ask them to think about how they use files and folders currently, and how it might be time for a change. Oftentimes, it’s hard to rethink workflows, like how to store files, but with a little coaxing most find that doing it the Google way works just a little better. So, what’s different about files and folders in Google Drive?

For starters, Google uses search in the background to power your file system. That means that everything is indexed, even stuff you might not think of. For example, not only can you search for titles of documents, you can also search the content, kind of file, who owns it, and more.

 Start off by making fewer folders than you think, and then, stick to the one sub-folder rule. That is, don’t keep adding subfolders within sub folders – soon you’ll have a real mess on your hands, and you’ll never find the files no matter how organized you feel. I know, there are plenty of people out there that feel that organization is key to success, and it is — but in the case of Google Drive, less is more. The key is to do more with search instead of relying on figuring out which folder to look in.

Fig 1. – Notice I only have one sub-folder in the structure for Branditarians (a client of mine). No more. If I did, it would only confuse me, and I’d waste time trying to find the file I needed. Here, all I have to know is the name of the project (and most projects only contain about 20 or so files), and I can browse those files in a second.

Searching Your Files Effectively

So how, exactly, does search work? Well, for starters, you can search for more than just the title of the document. Before we get too far, a few words about titling documents: clarity and precision are key.

Keep in mind that you are part of the indexing that Google does for you, so if your files are named “test doc 1” and “random paper”, then you’ll never find them, regardless of how well you think you’ve searched – they’re buried among all your other poorly named documents!

Instead, try being very precise with the naming, and adopt a naming scheme to go along with various projects. For example, when I work with the teachers and students at my district, I suggest students name their assignments like this: Period (class period) Last Name (of the student) Name of assignment.

Here’s an example:

5 Johansson My Favorite Animal

That way, when the teacher goes to find documents later, all he or she has to do is search for either the period number, or the last name, or the name of the assignment, and all three will yield a good result. Now, combine two for a higher degree of success, like ‘5 Johansson’, and you’ll have all the documents from that student. Smart, right?

Why not do the same in your personal Google Drive, and start planning for when you have to retrieve a document a few weeks out. The above is just one example, and you can certainly come up with your own way, but standardizing the naming convention of your files is a first great step towards a smart filing system.

Okay, so speaking of search, how do we do it? Start by typing in your query in the search bar at the top of the Drive interface. Notice that you don’t want to go all the way to the top in the Chrome Browser – that would send you to a Google search on the internet, and away from your files. The same search bar appears in Google Mail and Calendar, too, for the sake of convenience.

Once you’ve entered your query, like ‘ipad’, you’ll notice that Google auto suggests some hits for you already. In the case below, it’s mainly Presentations. What if I know the document I’m looking for is a Spreadsheet?

Fig 2. – Searching in Google Drive is one of the quicker ways of accessing files, especially if you know a few things about the file, and most of the time you probably do.

Searching for a kind of file, or by file type, is a snap. Simply click the dropdown arrow to the right of the ‘x’ in the search bar for the ability to limit your search to a specific kind of document. Just select the kind of file, such as “Spreadsheet,” and Google limits your search to just that.

Fig 3. – Your search brings up a few documents, especially after you’ve been using Google Drive for a bit. Keep in mind these hints – a bolded title of a document means you haven’t seen the latest edits. You can also get a glimpse of who owns the document (maybe someone shared it with you?) and when it was last modified. If you know the document was modified last week, for example, it should be pretty simple to find what you’re looking for.

So, the next time you’re starting a document in Google Drive, make sure you think about setting yourself up well to search for it later. It really pays off! I always take an extra second or so just to think about it and make sure I’m naming the file correctly.

Remember, you can always rename a file halfway through working on it to make it more precise. Make sure you create your files and file system to work for you, and not the other way around. And sometimes, that means being gutsy enough to say ‘no’ to sub folders when you don’t really need them, or adding a few description variables to the name of a file. No one has ever been fired for finding an important file just in time for the meeting, right? Why should you waste time searching blindly when you can pull up files in the blink of an eye?

Should you forget the basics along the way, like how to color coordinate your folders, or how to rename files, just check out a lesson from Synergyse’s ever-growing library of in-dash help videos and tutorials. I love how easy it is to quickly review skills I don’t use every day, or find new uses for old workflows. You can thank me later!