Ultimate Guide To Organizing Digital Files: Part 1 - Folders & Tags

Monday, March 14, 2016

A 3-part series for teachers (or anyone with lots of digital files) about organizing all your digital files. Part 1 has suggestions and tutorials on creating folders to sort files in an easy-to-find way. SUPER helpful and organized!

Hello Friends!

If you're anything like me, you often find yourself getting lost in the wonderful world of TeachersPayTeachers, Pinterest, and the hundreds of wonderful blogs available in cyberspace. A freebie here, a freebie there, a cart full of resources from your favorite sellers. Download, save to desktop, download, save to desktop, rinse and repeat. Before you know it your desktop looks like an explosion of ZIP files, PDFs, Word and Powerpoint documents, and any other magical resources you found along the way. YIKES!

Don't worry, take a breath

The good news is that there are several ways to organize your files so you can find exactly what you need, when you need it. As with any organization project it takes a small investment of time to get everything squared away, but it's worth it when you don't spend half of your lesson planning time searching for files.

In this series I will be sharing some different methods of organizing files. No single method is the perfect, everyone-must-do-this way. These ideas are what I have found helpful after lots of trial and error. You might copy one of these methods exactly or find a little inspiration in each one. The key is to do what works for you and makes your life easier. Let's get started, shall we?

Unzip those files!

Before you start sorting through your files you need to make sure all the files you want to organize are extracted from their ZIP folders.

What is a ZIP folder? 
Files can be 
big, so in an effort to make files smaller and quicker to download, people will often compress several files into one ZIP file. This image shows how I created a ZIP filed for my Autumn Composition Starter Cards. There are several components to the download, so all the files on the right are put into one folder (highlighted in blue) and compressed. Now they're all bundled up in one quick-to-download file! You can see the zipped folder below the highlighted folder with the icon of a piece of paper with a zipper on it (clever, eh?) and the file extension .zip.


How do I unzip a ZIP file?   
Simple. Double click and, voila, you've got a folder!

Now we sort...

Here's the fun part - creating your own folders! A folder is exactly what it sounds like. Think of how you organize your hard copy materials. You probably have random print-outs and copies you've collected throughout your career and you've most likely sorted them into folders or binders based on themes and categories. You can do exactly the same thing digitally using folders.


Take a look at your files and find common themes or concepts that you can group your files by. Perhaps you have several materials pertaining to a specific melodic or rhythmic concepts and you've found a ton of lesson plan templates. Fantastic! These are two distinct categories that should be grouped together.


Create a folder by right clicking anywhere on your desktop and clicking "New Folder". Now you'll find an "untitled folder" on your desktop. Click on the title once, pause, and click again. This will highlight the folder name so you can rename it whatever you want. (Double-clicking quickly will open the folder. This is why you need to pause between clicks. You may also find a "rename" option if you right-click on the folder.)

Drag and drop the files you want into the folder by clicking on the file and holding down the mouse while pulling it to the folder icon. Let go of the mouse button and it will drop into the folder. If you've done this correctly you should be able to open the folder and see all your files!

(NOTE: I personally like to organize my files on my desktop. It's easier for me to visually process, but you can follow this same process in your finder window if this is easier for you.) 


Did you know you can create folders inside folders? I love doing this because it saves me from having a long list of folders. I like to create a very broad folder such as "rhythm". Within the folder I will create other folders labeled with specific rhythmic concepts or grade levels. Within that I'll break it down further into categories like "lesson plans" or "games". Think of it like a filing cabinet. Your drawer is labeled with your broad category, your hanging file folder tabs are labeled with sub-categories, and the folders within are very specific. 

The picture above is an example of how I use sub-folders to organize materials. (This is organized in Dropbox, which I'll talk about in Part 2 of this series.) The first folder, "23Concepts" is everything I have to teach 2nd and 3rd grade material. You'll see in the middle that I've broken it down further into types of materials like "Songs and Presentations". Inside this folder I keep my list of songs for each concepts along with the PDF presentations I use to prepare, present, and practice these concepts. 

You can create sub-folders the same way you created your other folders. Right-click on your desktop, create and name your new folder, then drag and drop. You can also open up your folder in the finder window, right-click, and create a new folder.


Decide where you will keep your folders. Your desktop, documents folder, a flash drive, or an online file hosting site such as Dropbox or Google Drive (more on these in Part 2) are all great options. Jennifer over at The Yellow Brick Road (btw, she's awesome and you should follow her if you don't already) shares a really neat idea for organizing your folders on your desktop using a custom desktop image (freebie included!). Remember, it's all about what works for you!

For the Mac users out there...tags!

If you're a Mac user like I am, you have another handy tool called "tags". Tags are labels for your files that you can search in your finder window. What I like about tags is you can give your files multiple labels. Sometimes you have files that can fall under several descriptors. This is where tags are very useful. Although I prefer folders for most of my files, I organize my clip art using tags so I can search keywords. It has been a HUGE time life-saver!

To tag a file, click the file and hit command + I or right-click and choose "Get Info". In the space where it says "Add tags..." start typing the name of the tag you would like and click "create new tag". You can assign as many tags as you would like. As you create tags you will see them pop up in a dropdown menu when you click "Add tags...". Simply click whatever tags you want.

Your tags will now show up in the sidebar of your Finder window. See how I've created tags for artists, colors, style, theme, and type of clip art? No matter what I need, I click the tag and see everything I've sorted into that category! SOOOOO incredibly helpful.


 Go forth and organize!

Now that you're an expert, carve out a little bit of time to organize those files! I promise you it will be worth it and save you an incredible amount of time in the future.


Now it's your turn...

Do you have a tried-and-true method for organizing your digital files? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!


  1. Thanks for the shout-out! These are great tips. I keep my folders on my desktop too, and subfolders are great for keeping it from looking too cluttered��

  2. Oh Wow! I had NO idea about the tag thing! Yipee!!! Great post!


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