How to organize your Google Drive with these 5 tips


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I rely on Google Drive. I use it every day and put it in and out of it from morning till night. Since I spend a lot of time working within the cloud, I have come up with some “tricks” to make my experience more effective and efficient.

Before I get to these helpful tips, know that these tips are not about individual apps within Google Drive (Documents, Sheets, Slides, and Forms). These tips are about Drive itself and getting the most out of the platform. So, if you’re looking for tips specific to one of the included tools, you’ll want to keep looking. However, if you want to improve your daily work on Drive, you are in the right place.

With that, let’s get to the tips.

Tip 1: Organize your folders

This should go without saying, but organizing your folders is a must. If you simply save everything to the root directory of your Google Drive, you will end up with an absolute mess on your hands. Even if you create folders to house documents, if these folders have no organization for them, you will spend more time searching for files than working with them.

Let’s say, for example, that you have specific clients or projects that you work with. You can create a folder for both Client A and Client B and Client C and Client D or Project 1, Project 2, Project 3 and Project 4. If you are working with both clients and projects you can create a folder called CLIENTS and one called PROJECTS and then create Subfolders called Client A, Client B, Client C, Client D, etc.

Here’s how to set up the Google Drive hierarchy:

Customer > year > month.

So, I might have Client A > 2022 > July. Inside the July folder I am adding all the content/documents/etc. for that month. This design makes it super easy to see where everything is in your Drive without having to think about it.

Tip 2: Color your folders

To simplify the folder hierarchy, I color-code each client folder with a color icon, so all I have to do is look up the color instead of the name. To color-code a folder, right-click on the folder in Google Drive and select Change Color > Color (where COLOR is the color you want to set for the folder in question – shape 1).

Google Drive folder color picker.

Figure 1: Change the color of my ZDNet folder in Google Drive.

Photo: Jack Wallen

Tip 3: Take advantage of the activity sidebar

Due to how much I use Google Drive, sometimes I need really quick access to a document I’ve worked with recently inside a folder. Let’s say I wrote a piece for ZDNet, And I need to check something in the document quickly. If you open Google Drive and choose the ZDNet folder, the Activity pane will toggle and display only the last activity associated with that folder (Figure 2).

Displays recent Google Drive activity for a specific folder.

Figure 2: Recent activity from inside my ZDNet folder.

Photo: Jack Wallen

I can click on any of those listed documents to quickly open them and do what I need to do.

Tip 4: Use the Star feature for quick access to important files and folders

I have certain documents that I have to refer to regularly but they are scattered all over the Google Drive folder hierarchy. I don’t want to search for those documents (because this is a waste of valuable time). Instead, I star these documents so that all I have to do is go to the starred folder and find them.

To star a document, you simply have to click the star icon directly to the right of the file name (Figure 3).

Star icon inside a Google Drive document.

Figure 3: The star icon can make it much easier to find a document.

Photo: Jack Wallen

To access starred content, simply click on the starred entry in the Google Drive left navigation (Figure 4) to detect every document you have added to this folder.

The starred entry in Google Drive.

Figure 4: The starred entry in the left sidebar in Google Drive.

Photo: Jack Wallen

Tip 5: Use the advanced search tool

Finally, never hesitate to use the advanced search tool. Google Drive’s regular search feature is pretty powerful in itself, but you need to know exactly how to use it. Of course, you can always use the standard search bar, but you need to know what you’re doing. For example, you can search for a PDF with “google drive” in the name (or content) with a search string like this:

Or maybe you want to search for all PDFs created before 2022, which can be done with:

Type: pdf Before: July 2020

There is an easier way to do this. Instead of having to learn the ins and outs of text-based search, click the Advanced button (the icon on the right edge of the search bar) and when the popup appears (Figure 5), start narrowing your search by selecting the file type, owner, words within the file, file name, location, date modified, approvals, share with, and continue.

Google Drive advanced search tool.

Figure 5: Google Drive’s advanced search tool makes it easy to search using very specific criteria.

Photo: Jack Wallen

Here, friendly Google Drive users, are five tips that are easy to do and will go a long way to helping make your Google Drive experience exponentially easier.