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On computers, we often sort files by date to organize or search for files based on the date of the file. It’s a great way to quickly group a large number of items by month or year.

When files are copied or moved from one device to another, sometimes the new location will show a date that the files were added to that device, rather than the date the files were originally created. This was a common problem when people would save files to disc formats like CD for sharing or archiving.

In the 1990s, as CDs became increasingly used, it was common to enter the date in the naming of a file as a reminder of the original date for the file, such as Garden Club Meeting Minutes – May 1997.

This really helped to more easily identify file dates.

Also, since computers don’t allow two files with the same name in the same folder, having some unique way to name files was important. Adding the date became an easy way to create a unique file name.

In modern computers, when you take a screenshot, the date is automatically included in the file name in the form of year, month, day, and time (in 24-hour format). This ensures they are always sorted by date and time.

Three File Dates

There are three significant dates and times recorded for files on a computer:

  • CREATED. The date a file is created can be very important to us. If a file is altered, copied, or moved, it may get a new date assigned based on that modification, but the original created date can help us place a file in time. The original creation date for a file may get lost in some circumstances if files have been re-created for the purposes of a backup. This is why it is always important to include the date in file names.
  • MODIFIED. A file we create initially is given the date and time when the file was made. However, as we update the file, and modify it, the file gets a new date and time. The default date showing for files is usually the date last modified. This is a useful date because if the files are sorted on the date modified we can see the files we’ve created or updated most recently.
  • OPENED. The most recent date and time a file was opened might be helpful to refer to if you want to see a group of files you have recently referenced and opened.

To view these different dates, choose the detailed list view of files which shows the file name, date, and size. For the column headings, right click and select any additional file information available such as date created or date modified.

On Apple computers, there is an option to view and sort by Date Last Opened, Date Added, Date Modified, or Date Created. A file from some source that you copy and put on your desktop will retain its original date created and date last modified, but on your desktop it will be considered “new” since it was recently added to the desktop. This makes it easy to copy a group of files, each having different dates and times of creation, to the desktop, and having them organized by date added which would group them together as recent (recently added)

Date Systems

The most visually recognizable date system is probably day month year, such as 7 Sep 2021. The advantage of using a three letter month is that the abbreviation is accurate for various languages. The month of June, for example, is Junio in Spanish. If the common abbreviation of Jun is used, then it is more easily read by those of other languages. Using the Day Month Year format is also helpful because the month and day are not confused. When we write, 7 Sep 2021, we know we are referring to the 7th day of September. However, if we write 9/7/2021 some people would read that as the 9th of July. Other people would read it as the 7th of September. Different cultures use a different placement for day and month.

So, for purposes of easily identifying a date, spelling it out is helpful. However, with computer files, it is nice to be able to quickly and easily sort files by date. The date system mentioned above would not result in files being easily sorted chronologically. Instead, if for every file you create, you begin the file name with year month day as a number such as 20210907, all of your files when sorted will always be in date order. In addition, when you search your computer for 20210907, you will immediately find all files with that date code, making it very easy to find files on a specific date.

In some circumstances you may want to have several files with the same name from the same date. In such situations, you can use a date and time method of yyyymmdd-hhmm or something similar to that. As long as you are consistent the system should work. If you use a 24-hour time format then you are assured that the AM times come before the PM times. A variation on this would be to use a two letter designator as the day of the week, so 20210907tu0900 would be Tuesday 7 Sep 2021 at 9:00 AM. The simple numerical date and time system becomes very easy to type and recognize once you use it frequently.

Organizing and Naming Folders and Files

As long as you have a very organized folder system, then it should be easier to find files.

Folders are an exception to this practice. With folders you may want to have an A to Z topic-based listing of folders, then within those folders, some more A-Z folders as sub-topics.

So, a top-level folder might be “Garden Club” and within that folder you could have “Meeting Minutes” and within that folder, a file might be named “20210907 Minutes.”

This hybrid of using alphabetical naming, and then files with dates, is a great way to organize all your data.

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