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How to organize your Google Drive: 5 tips and tricks to know

If you want to improve your daily Google Drive efficiency, these five tips can help.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
colorful folders
MirageC/Getty Images

It's back to school time and that means homework. You'll be writing papers, collaborating on documents with your fellow students, and even possibly turning in assignments from Google Drive. If that sounds like your typical educational workflow, you might want to consider getting your Google Drive account better organized before the homework starts piling in.

I've come up with a few tips and tricks to help you do just that. 

Also: How to find files faster in Google Drive

Before I get to these helpful tips, you should know that these aren't about the individual apps within Google Drive (Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms). These tips are about Drive itself and getting the most out of the platform. 

With that said, let's get to the tips.

How to organize your Google Drive

1. Organize your folders

Organizing your folders is a must. If you simply save everything in the root directory of Google Drive, you'll wind up with an absolute mess on your hands. Even if you create folders to house documents, if those folders have zero organization to them, you'll spend more time searching for files than you do working with them. 

Also: How to use Google Drive as your virtual backpack

Say, for instance, you have specific classes or study groups you work with. You might create a folder for Class A, Class B, Class C, and Class D, or Group 1, Group 2, Group 3, and Group 4. If you work with both classes and study groups, you might create a folder called CLASSES and one called STUDY GROUPS and then create subfolders called Class A, Class B, Class C, Class D, etc. (or just name them for specific classes, such as English, Math, Science, Literature, etc.)

Here's how I set up my Google Drive hierarchy:

Client > Year > Month.

So, I might have Class A > 2023 > September. Within the July folder, I add all of my content/documents/etc. for that month. This layout makes it incredibly easy to know where everything is in Drive without having to think about it.

2. Color code your folders

To simplify the folder hierarchy, I color code each of my folders, so all I have to do is look for the color instead of the name. 

To color code a folder, right-click the folder in Google Drive and select Change Color > COLOR (Where COLOR is the color you want to set for the folder in question). 

The Google Drive folder color picker.

Changing the color of my ZDNET folder in Google Drive.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

3. Make use of the Activity Sidebar

Given how much I use Google Drive, I sometimes need to get really quick access to a document that I recently worked with inside a folder. Let's say I've writtem a piece for English LItand I need to check something in the document quickly. If I open Google Drive and select the English Lit folder, the Activity pane will switch and display only the recent activity associated with that folder.

Google Drive recent activity on display for a specific folder.

The recent activity in my ZDNET folder.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

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

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

I have certain documents that I have to refer back to regularly, but these are scattered throughout my Google Drive folder hierarchy. I don't want to have to search for those documents (because that's a waste of time). Instead, I star those documents so that all I have to do is then go to the Starred folder to surface them. 

Also: How to automatically convert Google Drive uploads to Docs format

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

The Star icon within a Google Drive document.

The star icon can make it considerably easier to find a document.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

To access your starred content, just click the Starred entry in the left navigation of Google Drive to reveal every document you've added to this folder.

The Google Drive Starred entry.

The Starred entry in the Google Drive left sidebar.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

5. Use the Advanced Search tool

Finally, try the Advanced Search tool. The regular Search feature in Google Drive is pretty powerful in and of itself, but you have to know exactly how to use it. Of course, you can always use the standard search bar, but you have to know what you're doing. For example, you could search for a PDF file that contains "google drive" in the name (or content) with a search string like this:

google drive type: pdf

Or maybe you want to search for all PDF files that were created prior to 2022, which can be done with:

type: pdf before: July 2020

There's also an easier way to do a detailed search. Instead of having to learn the ins and outs of the text-based search, click the Advanced button (the icon at the right edge of the search bar) and, when the pop-up appears, start to narrow down your search by selecting a file type, an owner, words within the file, a name for the file, a location, modification date, approvals, shared with, and follow up.

The Google Drive Advanced Search tool.

The Google Drive Advanced Search tool makes it easy to search using very specific criteria.

Image: Jack Walen

And there you are, my friendly Google Drive users, five tips that are quite simple to implement and that will go a long way to making your Google Drive experience exponentially easier. Best of luck with your classes.

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