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TIP: Add the date to your file name (even if you don’t like numbers)

TIP: Add the date to your file name (even if you don’t like numbers)

decorative image: list of file names

A little trick in naming your files and folders can help you save precious time and mind space. 

It’s an inherent part of life as an editor to shuttle files back and forth with clients and colleagues (unless we collaborate on Google Docs…but that’s for another post).

But I don’t like to waste my time staring at multiple files, trying to figure out which one is the latest. So here’s my trick.

Put the date into the filename

It’s quite simple: Put the date into the filename.

(And yes, you can click on “sort by date” in your file manager, so that maybe the version you need appears towards the top of the list. Or MS Word offers something called “Versions”—but it seems to significantly bloat up the file size. So I still prefer my way 🙂 )

I’ve seen plenty of people, especially those who are number-averse (and I fully sympathize with that aversion, believe me), who put the dates in their filenames like:

Important manuscript name, Aug 3rd 2018.doc

This certainly tells you something useful, but you still have to read each filename and process it consciously in your mind to figure out where that date lies on the calendar.

What you need to do is to use a format that will make the files line up in order of date, even when sorting by name.

Date formats around the world…yes, this is relevant

Graphical representation of the different date formats in Europe, US, and Japan and Hungary.
Idea from: Expat Gone Foreign – there’s a great graphic there but I didn’t want to infringe on any copyrights!

Think about the different conventions used around the world to write dates.

Americans write in the order of month-day-year, so you get:

AMERICAN: October 28, 2018 and 10/28/2018

Europeans (except for Hungarians, as I learned) go in order from small to big with day-month-year:

EUROPEAN: 28 October 2018 and 28/10/2018

But the one we want to use is the way the Japanese and Hungarians do it: year-month-day:

JAPANESE & HUNGARIAN: 2018 October 28 and 2018/10/28

The TIP: Put the numerical date in the file name

So here’s the trick.

When you make different versions of the same document, keep the core document title the same, and then simply add the numerical date in the Japanese/Hungarian order:

Important manuscript name 20181028.doc

You can make it slightly easier to read by adding hyphens or periods:

Important manuscript name 2018-10-28.doc

You can also put the date at the front if you prefer:

2018-10-28 Important manuscript name.doc

Remember, you want to be able to see at a glance which is the most recent. So make sure you keep the core of the title—the “Important manuscript name” bit and the location of the date “2018-11-05″—unchanged.

It won’t work if your files look like this:

2018-10-28 Important manuscript name.doc
Important manuscript 2018-10-30.doc

Keep the core the same:

Important manuscript 2018-10-28.doc
Important manuscript 2018-10-30.doc

You can also add other info, but always after the core (in bold):

Important manuscript 2018-10-28.doc
Important manuscript 2018-10-28 edited.doc
Important manuscript 2018-10-30 en comments.doc
Google Drive folders in listed by name: 1703 (as in March 2017), 1704, 1705, 1706. Also has the month name to make it easier to read (1703 March).
Works for folders too. Here we keep it simple: just the year and month, so it lines up in order.

This works like a charm in Google Drive too.


To easily keep track of your files and versions, decide the core filename and tack on the numerical date, ordered year-month-day.

Even if you’re number-adverse, it’s really not scary. And just remembering this will make your life a lot easier!

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Don't let the marked-up text distract you: Using tracked changes when working with an editor | The Clarity Editor

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