Tuesday Tip: Shorten long filenames

Names. Names should allow us to quickly identify something at a glance. “Tiger”. Yeah, I know what that is. “2012 Taxes”. Got it. “4d0f1bfec91ff2472.doc”… wait, what?!? To make things easier we can create a more specific name, like “BankOne VISA – January 2018 Statement – PAID – 2018-01-15.pdf” This is certainly more clear but such long filenames may not fully display in all applications or on smaller form factor devices. And word-wrapping can sometimes add to the confusion.

Here is an example filename and some thoughts:

2018-01-25 – SkyRocket Technology – Statement of Accounts – Part 1.pdf​

  1. Consider what is ​necessary ​in the title. A name should not be a sentence. It should contain the high points, not the content of the record.
  2. Abbreviate, abbreviate, abbreviate. For example: SkyRocket Technology could be shortened to SkyTech, or even ST.
  3. Remove word padding, like “of”. You could easily shorten Statement of Accounts to something like Acct Stmt.
  4. Use pure numerical values instead of Part N. You could just use 01.
  5. Dates can be written in the European short form: May 5th, 2018, becomes 20180518. It’s not only shorter but also sorts nicely.
  6. In applications like DEVONthink (To Go) you can safely omit the filename extension in the document title. The technical filename is stored separately and is usually not visible.

So that long filename above could easily be expressed as:

20180125 SkyTech Acct Stmt 01.pdf​ 

This is more than 50% reduction , from 72 to 29 characters, and contains the same essential information.

7 Responses to “Tuesday Tip: Shorten long filenames”

  1. Steffi says:

    Hi Jim,

    thanks for the great information on naming file. Every now and then readers of mine asking about naming files and how to structure them. In the help section of my blog there are loads of answer in how to do this.

    Usually, I prefer the current date first and add then a description like this: 20180306_Reference_Title.

    Again, thanks for bringing this important structure to our attention.


  2. darwin says:

    Hi Steffi, concerning your naming: Why do you use the underlines? This seems to me like naming in the old days, when blank space was not allowed. You could leave the underlines and even the blank space so that it would look like: 20180306ReferenceTitle

  3. Jim Neumann says:

    @Steffi: Thanks for the kind words. For my bills, I use a convention of BigElectricCompany_PAID_03052018.pdf, etc.

    @darwin: Your option is fine if it makes sense to you. For some people, having some separation is more visually intuitive. The underscore (or a hyphen) is a good option here. But consider this: Spaces are indeed allowable but they also may need to be escaped if you are trying to automate things.

  4. Robin Kendon says:

    Thanks from me, too, for the various tips in the post. Some I used already, some were new and helpful. Posts like this are great to encourage us users to think about our current practice and look for improvements.
    @Jim Neumann: I use a similar system for my phone bills, but I always use the date format YYYYMMDD, so that it sorts correctly, which makes expenses and tax returns easier…
    A file rename utility would do the trick.

  5. Jim Neumann says:

    Thanks for the encouraging words, Robin.
    I use a MMDDYYYY convention (which also sorts correctly, but based on month), as I just want to see if I paid a bill on a given month. I also take a few minutes in late December and put the years PDFs into a group for that year. Each bill has its own record of the bills paid per year. Isn’t it great how DEVONthink is flexible and accommodates different approaches and working styles!
    On a side note, I’m not sure what you are referring to by, “A file rename utility would do the trick.”, but you should never run a renaming utility on files inside the internal structure of a database or you could cause internal inconsistencies.

  6. Robin Kendon says:

    Thanks for explaning your use, Jim. My remark on file re-naming was for the case that you – or anybody else – would want to change their file naming or sorting system and thus re-name multiple files, which doesn’t apply in your case, as your system works.
    Thanks especially for the reminder about being careful with files inside a database!

  7. Jim Neumann says:

    My pleasure, Robin. I’m glad the post was useful to you! Thanks for chiming in.