Make Google Drive Your New File Management System

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By Chris Winans

Chris Winans is an organizational geek and guru (a geeku?). His suggestions on how to get more done with Google Docs and Google Drive are in this 3-part series:

Part 1: Google Docs and Drive: What to Love About Them
Part 2: Make Google Drive Your New File Management System
Part 3: Organizing Shared Google Docs

Questions? Just let Chris know via Comments and we’ll get our resident geeku to help you get organized using Google products.

Let’s talk about file management. Clearly there are huge benefits to having your files Cloud-based. Because you can access them anywhere that you have an Internet connection, and if your personal computer decides to spontaneously combust, there’s no worry about recovering your files.

True story: Just last week one of my colleagues’ laptops overheated to the point the plastic melted. No company files were lost because they were stored in Google Drive.

So what’s so great about Google Drive?

Besides real-time updates, sharing, collaboration that I shared in my earlier post. Additionally,  you might be able to finally get rid of that ugly server in the basement? (And the salary you pay the IT guy to manage the server.) You can also:

  • Build the same type of folder structure as you would with your old network
  • Access it on any computer, tablet, or smart phone, wherever you have an Internet connection (Yes! Google Drive has an App for your smart phone!)

Some pitfalls to watch out for, and how to avoid them

If you set up the folder structure and sharing permissions incorrectly in Google Drive, you can get into trouble. Let’s say you’ve been working late on some very important files; you save them in the appropriate folder, and need to access them during a meeting in the morning. But, your well-meaning colleague decides to move the folder into a “better” location. The next morning you open up your trusty Google Drive only to find that the folder AND the file are not where you left them. OOPS. Meeting ruined. Boss angry. Not good. Don’t worry, those files are not gone forever, but you’ll have to do some detective work to find out where the heck they have been moved to. Something you can’t do in a hurry, especially if you have a complex folder structure.

Best practices for file management

folder structureDesignate one person, or a SMALL group of people as administrators of your company’s folder structure. Train them in best practices for file management, so they understand how to manage sharing permissions.

Then have the administrator create a root folder where all the other files will be saved. In the root folder, give only a small group of company officers or personnel edit access. Within this folder, have the various other folders that you decide to create for the company (Sales, Marketing, Operations, Accounts, and so forth).


sub folder structureSet permissions for each of the sub-folders accordingly. For example, the Sales team would have “Edit Access” for the sales folder, but “View Only” access for the operations folder, etc.  (If you decide to set up a folder for Accounting or Human Resources with files that you don’t want everyone to see, just don’t share folders outside of their respective departments.)

Note that any new sub-folder or document you create within an existing folder will inherit the sharing permissions from the folder above it, so you’ll need to set sharing permissions for each folder individually.  The image on the right shows an example of a sub-folder structure within the folder “Meeting Agendas” above.

What about file backups?

By moving your files to a Cloud-based system, you’ve already created a backup system, essentially. You’re trusting that Goolge will protect your files, and I’m willing to bet they’re safer there than doing your own backups.  But, as a best practice, you should also develop a system for multiple backups for worst case scenarios. A few weeks after I moved a bunch of files to Google Drive and gave a presentation about how great it was, I got an error message when trying to access my files.

google drive error

Huh?  What’s this? I thought Cloud-based file management was fail safe!  I definitely had an oh $#!T feeling that made me realize the importance of a secondary backup, even for reliable Cloud-based systems. Luckily, all I had to do was log-out and log back in, but it makes you stop and think for a minute.

Human error also comes into play with file security (you know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever deleted an important file by accident). And if you think you might be able to call Google begging for a copy of “yesterday’s backup,” I wouldn’t count on it … have a look at Google’s file deletion and recovery policy. The bottom line is: use and enjoy the simplicity of Google Drive, but also have your own backup system in case something crazy happens.


googe drive on your computer


To keep your files safe, I recommend setting up an external hard-drive backup at least once every 24 hours. The files kept in your Google Drive can also be set up to live in a special folder within your computer (see screenshot above).  This is a nice feature if you want to work offline–as it enables you to backup your Google Drive files from your personal computer.

The more I use Google Drive the more I like it, and I would definitely recommend it for small-to-medium-sized businesses looking for a way to improve their file management system.

Thanks for reading! If you’re using Google Drive and have additional ideas to share about best practices, I welcome your comments!


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Chris Winans

Chris brings more than 11 years of experience in project management and writes about applying that to web. Over the years, he has worked in many different roles including strategic planning, marketing, sales, accounting, and customer relations management (CRM). Chris' goal is to bring the various parts of the company together for a seamless and high-quality experience for clients. Chris holds a B.A. degree from Linfield College and has studied marketing, web development and digital media. He's also a Google AdWords Qualified Individual. As an avid outdoorsman, he enjoys skiing, cycling, backpacking, and landscape photography. He also enjoys time with his wife and two kids, ages six and eight.

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7 Responses to Make Google Drive Your New File Management System

  1. Chris, I realize the value of online file storage and sharing … and I participate in it daily. Darned if I can get around to liking it, though.

    You’ve inspired me to fire up Google Drive synch on my desktop one more time and see if the process can feel a little less disconnected.

    • I understand what you mean about file management. Cloud-based storage does require some extra steps that can become a bit tedious. On the plus side it feels good to have files secure and in the right place, and it’s a wonderful thing to be able to access files anywhere you have an internet connection.

      I have another post coming up about how to clean up and organize shared Google Doc’s that I think you will like. Stay tuned for Part 3 of the series!

  2. Great suggestions on how to avoid some of the problems that file sharing can cause, Chris. Keeping the folders well organized and giving permission to people in a logical way makes all the difference.

    And while I’ve never had a laptop smoke and melt on me (knock on wood), the last time I had one poop out on me, I was able to recover everything – including the exact document I had been working on when the laptop died – because we back up with Crashplan. It backs up automatically for both PCs and Macs. I like it better than external drives, because we had an external drive freeze up on us, too. I’d recommend it for anyone looking for reliable backup on the cloud.

    Thanks for bringing up this important topic!

  3. Any experience with sub-folder permissions and adding users to the parent folder?

    In your example, say you have a Sales Team folder with all members of your sales team having access. You then have a sub-folders by client, with a subset of the entire team (only the sales team members who are working with that client) setup with permission.

    Now, say you hire a new sales person. In my experience, when you add the new person to the “Sales Team” folder, they are automatically added to every sub-folder below, even though some, if not all, of the folders have more specific permissions set.

    Any thoughts on how to add the new person to their parent folder (and subsequently some sub-folders that are inheriting the parent permissions) without cascading to all sub-folders.

  4. We are in the manufacturing business, so we start of with a client, give a quote, and so on and so on. after the quote is approved we do drawings, specification, manuals, etc. etc.
    We use a system that is a sql database with a front face that automatically create a folder, use a template which you fill in (any type of file, depending on the template), and then when you save the file is saved with it’s own individual number and file name. easy to find, easy to retrieve, easy to to revision control…. nice…using it for 10 years already.

  5. @Trevor,

    Have a look at Powertools for Google Drive, a Recommended app for G Suite, it provides secured workspace and document management on top of Google Drive.



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