I have said over and over that having a naming convention for your files is the biggest thing you can do to be able to find your paperless documents when you need them.
The best way (in my opinion) to approach this is to start with your new files coming in. Get your workflow sorted, come up with your naming convention, and go. Initially, don’t worry about those documents you already have scanned.
Then once you have things rolling, you can decide if it makes sense to rename your old files.
Know Where You Are Starting From
The ease of your historical renaming project will depend a lot on what your existing file names are.
For example, if you have a bunch of files called XYZCorp contract.pdf, you have more to work off of than a bunch of files called contract.pdf or 201203231155.pdf. You want to take a look at what existing data you can use.
You may be surprised at what information that you have. Maybe your existing filenames aren’t useful but the folder they are in is. You can use that.
Decide Cost vs. Benefit
You could manually go through every PDF you have from the past ten years, and maybe it is valuable to you to do so. Or you can use some tools to get your historical names good enough, and just worry about having things perfect for the new files.
I can’t tell you which approach is the best for you, but don’t let stressing out about the decision hold you back from taking action.
Use A Bulk Renaming Tool
There are tools out there that can make bulk renaming fast and easy. If you have a tool that has worked for you, leave it in the comments.
A personal example. When I first started going paperless, I named all my files like this:
Later on, I decided I wanted to change it to:
I did not have a bulk renaming tool at the time, but I did have Hazel, so I created a rule that went through my document archive and renamed it appropriately.
Tools like these make it fast and easy to do some pretty complex bulk renaming actions.
As you can see in the above image, you can rename by replacing text, insert information at a specific position in the filename, add numbers, datestamps, rename based on tags, and many other operations.
Here’s an example of the sorts of things you can do with text in your filename:
Here is an example of how you can add a date stamp to your old files:
Earlier I mentioned that even if you don’t have helpful file names, you may be able to use the folder name. Here’s the setting for that:
A Renaming Example
Here’s a simple example. Let’s say I have a bunch of files I want to rename. They’re project based and I want to do the following:
- Add the date stamp in the YYYY-MM-DD format to the beginning of the file. I’ll use the create date for this.
- Rename the file with the client name. In this case my file name doesn’t have the client name, but the folder name does.
Here are the “before” files:
I’ve created my rules and dragged in my entire Projects folder. You can see that it is (thankfully) giving me a preview of what it is about to do:
Here is the “after”, with the files all renamed:
A simple example, but you get the idea of what is possible.
Again, there are many tools out there that will do all or some of this. I have heard that Bulk Rename Utility is a good free one for Windows, and starting with Yosemite you can even do some of this in the Finder.
However you do it, going through and applying your naming convention to your old files will take some work, but will pay off when you really need to find that PDF from six years ago.