Tips and tools for eliminating duplicate files

By Greg LaFollette, CPA/CITP, CGMA

As professionals, most of us have our digital work files well organized. Our personal files? Not so much.

I am no exception. My "professional" files are very well organized, but with my personal files, I get sloppy. Documents here, pictures there, videos somewhere else.

In addition to storing documents locally on desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, more families are storing files on cloud-based options like Dropbox (see "Expanding Your App-titude: Online Storage/Synchronization: Dropbox, et al.," JofA, Feb. 2015) while using online backup systems like CrashPlan (see "Expanding Your App-titude: CrashPlan," JofA, Aug. 2017) to provide protection for the loss of files. Unfortunately, neither solution solves the organization problem.

For example, we often encounter a file management nightmare with a particular type of document being filed by topic while revisions or updates to the same document end up filed elsewhere, perhaps by date, type, or occasion. This often results in duplicate files located throughout your "system."

The goal of a good file management system is to ensure that you can find not only the file you want but also the "latest and greatest" version of that file. Global search, especially via Dropbox, is truly wonderful, but it's certainly not as good as going directly to the file.

These five suggestions may help keep your files easily accessible:

  • Have one place for all documents. Place all documents under a single "root" folder. My root folder is labeled "Dropbox" and is automatically synchronized to the cloud.
  • Create folders in a logical hierarchy. Think of your top-level folders as the drawers of your digital filing cabinet. And then be specific in naming your subfolders.
  • Use nested folders. Create other folders within these main folders as the need arises. For instance, your folder called "Banking" might contain subfolders called "2020," "2019," and "2018." If you elect to use monthly nested subfolders, consider using "01" and "02" as that sorts more logically than "Jan" and "Feb." Avoid complex, deeply layered folders. The object is to group files, not to have every file in a separate folder.
  • File as you go. The best time to decide where to file a document is when you create it. Use the Save As function to appropriately name and immediately file it in its correct home.
  • Eliminate duplicate files. A program such as Ashisoft Duplicate File Finder, which I use, searches your entire system (local and cloud) for duplicates and presents them in a convenient way for you to manage. You can pick among many choices of where to scan, what to scan for, etc. There are many competitors in this space, and quite frankly none is much better, or much worse, than the rest. It's a utility — but a needed one.

Duplicate file finder applications and websites include: Ashisoft Duplicate File Finder, ashisoft.com; Auslogics Duplicate File Finder, auslogics.com; DigitalVolcano Duplicate Cleaner, digitalvolcano.co.uk; dupeGuru, dupeguru.voltaicideas.net; and Easy Duplicate Finder, easyduplicatefinder.com.

Greg LaFollette, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is a strategic adviser with CPA.com, the commercial subsidiary of the AICPA. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, a JofA senior editor, at Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com or 919-402-4056.

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