Project over budget? This simple fix can help save you thousands.

Are you that person who has a problem keeping their files in order? You know what I’m talking about… your computer’s desktop is covered in documents. Maybe you find that your files are routinely named “Untitled.doc” “Untitled-1.doc” “Untitled-1-final.doc”.

Starting to sound familiar? A little too familiar?

Bad habits like this can bloat your project budget—big time.

The good news is: You’re not alone and developing tidy project file habits can save you hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars in unforeseen project costs.

Do I have your full attention now? Great.

There are times when projects go over budget for entirely preventable reasons having solely to do with the chain of productivity. When one person in the chain is disorganized, we all suffer.

When you get the invoice, (and your eyes bug out), that unproductiveness suddenly has a stark reality in the form of dollar bills.

Someone usually gets talked to about why the project has gone this far out of the budget. And no one wants to tell the people in charge of the money that this could have been prevented because of a ridiculously simple internal procedure.

SO HOW DO YOU FIX THIS SNOWBALL OF PREVENTABLE BUDGET BLOAT?

#1. Stop naming files “Untitled”.

I know it’s tempting and I’ve even done it myself a few times. It’s quick, you’re in a hurry, Microsoft defaults to “Untitled” and you don’t have to think of a few meaningful words to refer back to because your brain is so damn fried already.

How quickly can you tell which file is the one you need?

How quickly can you tell which file is the one you need?

The thing is, if you name your file something ambiguous like “Untitled” then you might as well kiss it goodbye forever because you’re not going to find it again. It’s going to go live with the other “Untitled” files and probably a few lost socks from the wash.

When you make a significant change to a file, it’s a good practice to save it with a version number. If you want to get really specific add a date in there. Man, oh man, is this helpful because you’ll never have to guess what version that file is, when it was last edited, or who was the last person to edit it.

Ever get a file that looks like this before? “Meaningful_File_Name-102616-CCv2”.

I know that when I was starting out I got some files like this and I was all, “Whoa, jerks, what’s with the dumb numbers in the name?”

To decipher the weirdness: those numbers are the date that the file was worked but without slashes, because computers won’t let you put slashes in the file name. It has its reasons. The other things are the editor’s initials and the version number.

#2. Create dedicated project folders.

I’m pretty sure I heard you say “duh” just now but you don’t get to say that if you have files flopping all over the place Miss “Final-Final-v2-Final”.

These are actual file names from projects I've received.

These are actual file names from projects I've received.

Create a folder and give it the name of your project (preferably the name that you use for billing). Genius! I know.

So what do you do to keep that folder from looking like a file party is going on in there? Create subfolders.

Assets: anything that is an image.

Source files: original files like, other presentations, word docs, excel spreadsheets—things that aren’t a font or an image, or the file you’re working on.

Old: old versions that you feel like you can’t part with, don’t feel like you have to collect them all.

#3. Save your project folders in your computer’s “Documents” folder.

Both Mac and PC computers have a central “Document” folder that you can store all of your project folders. Saving your files here will keep your desktop from being cluttered and looking like a teenager’s bedroom with dirty clothes and socks laying around.

Do this and you’ll no longer be desperate to find files relevant to the project.

Think of the time you’ll save on every. single. project. when you’re so organized you find everything in a flash! That’s exciting stuff. Not only will you keep your project’s budget from bloating but you’ll be able to do things like… take lunch, get out of work on time, see your kid’s play or game.

Organization=life! Think of it as The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Your Files). Get all Marie Kondo on your files’ asses!

Listen, I know that this sounds overly simplistic but if you’re not already implementing this kind of system this is going to save you a lot of time and money. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, until you do it and find out that it is actually A BIG DEAL. It’s work/life changing.

Runaway billing is totally preventable. Do this, and you’ll look like the hero of the day to your designer and your finance department.

If you think I'm joking, take a look at what someone named their boat.

This boat is definitely owned by a graphic designer who retired handsomely off of redundant file naming.

This boat is definitely owned by a graphic designer who retired handsomely off of redundant file naming.


Do you have any other file wrangling strategies? I’d love to hear from you by replying in the comments section. Know someone who would find this post helpful? I’d be grateful if you’d pass it along by sharing it with them.

Cindy Caughey

In Good Company Design, Barnstable, MA