Just like any other place where you keep your stuff, Google Drive can get messy. You make a file or two, import a couple of document from Gmail, accept a shared folder, and before you know it, the whole place is a disaster.
You can organize files in your Google Drive by putting them into folders and using other tools, both conceptual and actual, to ensure you can always find what you need. These tips and points of advice will show you how to organize files in Google Drive, and they should also work well if you’re using Google Drive for Work.
You can view files and folders in Google Drive a bunch of different ways. For instance, you can display everything in a list or grid view, as well as set the line spacing to be comfortable, cozy, or compact. Decide how you like to look at your Google Drive by playing around with the settings until you’re happy. I like list view with comfortable spacing, so that’s what you’ll see in most of the screenshots here.
Don’t overlook the left side rail. A lot of people focus on the center of the screen when they look at Google Drive. When it comes to organizing your folders and files, however, be sure to make sure of that left rail. You can see your folders and subfolders easily and reserve the center of the screen for the contents of whatever folder you choose to view.
Create a skeleton of folders for yourself using whatever structure and names work best for you. How do you organize your files and folders in other apps? What comes to mind when you think about some document you need? The best way to figure out how to set up your folders is to answer those two questions.
For many people, what comes to mind first is the content of their work, so they use thematic names such as Project X or School Work for folders. Personally, I cling to dates. When I need to find a file, be it a piece of writing or a picture, I always think about when I created it. As a result, I use dates heavily in my folder and file naming conventions. For example, I have folders for 2019, 2018, 2017, and so forth. I also use numbers that correspond to years and months. For example, 1906 means the year 2019 and the sixth month, or June. When I look at a folder that begins with some numbers, I know exactly what they mean, and it helps me find the files I need quickly.
I’ve seen some people online recommending that you add an emoji to your folder names to give you more visual cues. Don’t! Emoji don’t always convert to other formats well, so when you try to create a shared link to a folder or export it, the images can break it.
Subfolders are an organizational windfall. Make them and use them! They help you sort and classify your files into smaller and more specific groups.
If you’ve created folders but are stuck trying to figure out which subfolders to make, then perhaps you don’t need them yet. You might also make a folder called DONE or OLD so that when work is completed or a folder is out of use, you can drag and drop it in there.
Colors are a great visual cue, and Google Drive lets you add custom colors to your folders. Right-click on any folder, either from the sidebar or main window, and choose Change Color. Then select the color you want.
A trick that I use is to make my active folders green. Sometimes I have folders or subfolders that sit idle for a while, but one or two folders among them are still in use. I highlight the active folders in green and leave the others gray. That way, when I want to jump right into my work, I have a green light guiding me toward the folder that holds my works that are in progress.
Google Drive lets you add a star to files and folders. You do it the same way you add a color: right click on the file or folder and choose Add to Starred.
I recommend adding a star to frequently used files. That way, you can pull a list of all the materials you access regularly, no matter where they are in Drive, by clicking on the Starred heading in the left rail.
Take a look at the header in the left rail called Shared With Me. Click it, and a mess of files and folders may appear. Don’t worry too much about them. If there’s anything important in that batch of stuff, there are three useful things you can do with them:
Add a star. Adding a star to a file that’s been shared with you does the same thing as adding a star to one of your own files. It makes it appear in the list of Starred content.
Save to Drive/move to a folder. Another option is to add the file to your Google Drive and put it in a folder. You can right-click on the file and select Move To. Then, in the window that appears, navigate to the folder where you want to keep this file. Another option that does the same thing is to select the item you want to save and then click the Google Drive icon in the top right portion of the screen. You then have an opportunity to move it to the folder of your choice. Either way, you effectively create a shortcut to the shared file from the new location you choose. The file is still shared with everyone and still belongs to the original owner.
Make a copy. If you make a copy of a file that was shared with you, the new copy becomes yours.
When you remove a file or folder from Google Drive, it goes into the trash, and it stays there until you take out the trash. The longer you let trash build up, the less likely you are to have total faith that everything in it should be utterly destroyed, and then you’ll hang onto your trash even longer. Do yourself a favor and empty the trash from time to time. It will help keep your Google Drive storage space at an accurate level, and it will help your sanity as you try to keep an organized account.
For more on how to make the most of Google Drive, you can also read PCMag’s story, Google Drive Tips You Can’t Afford to Miss.
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Jill Duffy is the deputy managing editor of the Software team at PCMag. She has been writing for and contributing to the site since 2011, covering productivity apps and software, as well as technologies for health and fitness. She writes the Get Organized column, with tips on how to lead a better digital life.
Her latest book is The Everything Guide to Remote Work. Follow her on Twitter or get in touch on the Jill Duffy contact page.
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