Organize Your Google Drive, Change Your Life.

A love story (with 5 Steps to Organizing your Google Drive), by Mr. Graham.

Since “Mr. Graham’s Easy Classroom” is supposed to be a “Tips and Tricks” website/blog/resource, I’d like to give my first “recommendation” in the world of technology and education. I want to open with communicating that much of the digital help I’ll present circles around Google Apps and how to make them work effectively and efficiently.

5 Steps to Organize yo’ Self!

To me, being digitally organized and savvy starts with Google Drive. If you can get a decent grip on how to be virtually arranged in a streamlined way, you’ll save hundreds of hours when planning, looking for documents, and even designing worksheets.

The following is presented in two parts: My “relationship” with Google Drive, and 5 Steps to set up and systemize your Google Drive to help you in the future. A 6th Step will give you your New Habit – my recommendation to you on how to maintain your order.

My Relationship with Google Drive

Growing up, I was never the most organized. As any typical snotty-nosed, sports-loving boy, I didn’t pay much attention to where I left things or when I left them. I was just more concerned about doing other things than living to the maxim of cleanliness, and I knew I was too much the idiot to aspire godliness. 

I frequently misplaced pencils, forgot chores, and left my belts on my pants, which, somehow, still drives my mother crazy any time that we revisit that point in history. My room was rarely tactfully organized, even in college. In my head, I knew where everything was, or how my bed should be made, but I felt like I functioned better with the freedom of not having to be tightly bound to “oppressive rules and regulations”. 

At least, that was my excuse for being disorganized and forgetful. Someone told me that “disorganization is a sign of higher ‘intelligence’, because the individual knows it’s a waste of time to spend precious minutes on trivial things, like making a bed or organizing a binder.” That didn’t help my Modus Operandi, to say the least. 

I was content to live my life in a slightly muddled state, thinking that it just wasn’t in my DNA to be completely orderly and organized. When I decided I wanted to pursue education, I wasn’t worried about my somewhat disorderly habits, either: I’d seen plenty of high-functioning teachers who had exhibited marginal chaos around the edges. I figured that since I could rely on my memory (and self-proclaimed “intelligence”) in my personal life, why would being a teacher in the classroom be any different? 

My ignorance became very apparent. 

Within the first 2 weeks of teaching, I had created or borrowed a vast number of documents and ideas. My list of items to keep track of grew at a rate that my “ignorance” (formally known as “intelligence”) couldn’t keep up with. I had hard copies, digital copies, borrowed copies, and lost copies of things that were important for running my classroom smoothly. I realized that I was primed for a little more chaos than the competent teachers I had used as my inspiration, and most likely more than I could handle. Much more.

And then, I met Google Drive.

Cutting the drama, I knew my disorganization was a roadblock to my teaching; I either needed to hunker down and get organized, or accept the prospect of looking for a different type of work by June. Google Drive was the answer. It was time to get orderly.

It took a lot of work, I’m not going to lie. I spent a total of about 3 weekends heavily organizing my Google Drive: getting documents in order, removing files that weren’t important, and creating a system that would be sustainable for me in my profession. Over Christmas Break, I revisited my Drive and sifted through everything again. 

By the end of the year I had developed a new M.O. for my online resources; I had abandoned my physical filing cabinet, and transitioned to essentially having all of my teaching materials were now virtual. Every subject was accounted for, as well as non-academic items like student awards, seating charts, parent communication. And now, every 2 months (or when I want to avoid unloading the dishwasher), I try to tidy up my Drive if there are any loose files, old documents, or delete-able items.

I can honestly say that Google Drive has helped me in my teaching life in significant ways. It’s a home for all of the things I like to do in my classroom; it’s where I keep my anchor chart examples, literacy lessons, math centers, reading levels, writing exemplars, schedules, links, lesson plans, videos, forms, unit vocabulary packets, graphic organizers, ideas, announcements, student grades, award certificates, data teams processes, district projects, end-of-the-year activities, nametags, and much, much, much, more. 

I probably have over 2,500 files that I’ve created. Basically, if my Drive got hacked or deleted, I’d have to hack or delete myself. Every good love story needs a little suspenseful drama, right?

How To Organize Your Google Drive

The system I created for myself has been influential in the amount of time I save. Why? Because unlike my personal life, I know exactly where each and every document, lesson, or spreadsheet I have ever used is located. I also can find what I did, when I did it, and in turn, this saves me hours of re-creating something I already have, or trying to re-use something that just didn’t work. 

Because of this, I’ve developed an easy process for keeping my Google Drive organized. I have helped other teachers get their Drives in order. In fact, this Mother’s Day was celebrated by me sitting down with my mom and categorizing all of her school curriculum that she’s been working on over the last few years (I wonder where I got it from..?). 

Here are the steps we used to get her Drive in tip-top shape, and it’s the system I use in my own account. If you’d like to simplify your digital library, follow these steps, and stick to the “New Habit” at the end.

1. Create 2 New Folders: The YEAR (2020-21), and “OLD

Doing this will help you get started, and is an important first step to digitally organizing your files. It might not seem like it, but now, you have a simple system to focus on your current year of work and “keep” any old items you might not need anymore.  It keeps your “real work” clutter-free.

If you ever need to refer to an old item, it’s tucked away in the correct file. Now, with your outdated items in a safe place, you don’t have to get rid of potentially valuable content and you can reference them if necessary! (I’ve done this multiple times with spreadsheets, notes, or outdated math documents.) 

Bonus tip: If you want to get really fancy, you can organize your “OLD” folder as well! Start with creating a folder from each year you have taught, then follow the next steps.

2. Go into the new “Year” Folder. Make a “New Folder” for EACH Subject

These subject folders seem pretty “no duh”, but they will only work for you if you stay vigilant for when you create/move files around in your drive. If you’re a Middle/High school teacher, do it by class or Grade Level, whichever you prefer. (See Your New Habit

I also have individual folders for other education-specific items, like “Parent Stuff”, “Sub Plans”, “Field Trips”, “Classroom Setup”, and other items. In fact, here’s a picture inside my professional Drive. Notice how each subject is accounted for, as well as other folders that have their own organizational purposes!

3. Create “sub-Folders” within your Subjects.

It’s up to you with how specific you want to get. The goal of this project is to go from general to specific. Personally, I go into each Subject folder and create folders that are more distinct.

What my Literacy Folder looks like.

Items or topics related to Literacy also have their own folders, as you can see. My Small Group resources, DRA info, and Graphic Organizers (check those out at my Etsy Store here!) have their own spot in my Literacy folder.

It’s like Inception, but with folders. For example, In my Literacy folder, I have a different folder for each Unit. Within those Unit folders, I have folders for Focus Wall, Slides, and Worksheets for each lesson. Within the Slides folder, I have the individual Literacy Slideshows. (If you’re interested in my template, check it out here!)

What’s inside of my Unit 1-B Folder. Nearly all of my Subjects/Folders look like this!

The more specific you can be, the better! Because when you’re looking (or planning) for something, your folders will guide you (and your documents) where to go.

4. Move your current files to the correct place. 

This will take time! Don’t give up, please 🙂 Some Drives are messier than others; some Drives have a long way to go. The important part here is to make sure each file is given their most logical resting place.

A couple easy ways to do this is to “right-click” the file, select “Move To”, and allow your map to guide your file to its home.

Another method is found on the left side of your Drive. In the margin, click the little arrows to expand each folder fully. Then, when you have your file that needs to move, drag it to the left side and drop it into the correct folder!

Bonus tip! If you have files that could belong in two different folders, make a copy! This isn’t very common, but sometimes I’ll have a copy of a coloring page that belongs in “March” of my “Art” folder also have a place in “Unit 3A” of my “Literacy” folder. It’s ok to have multiple homes; do what works best for you! 

Method 1
Method 2

5. Carry Over Your Material Each Year!

At the end/beginning of a school year (depending on how you operate), simply change the name of the 2020/21 folder to the next school year, and move any outdated, unnecessary files into your “Old” Folder (if “OLD” is organized, you’re already a step ahead!). 

Doing this will allow you to repeat what has worked in the past, while having a framework for introducing new material in the future. Having a living, breathing (ok, too far) Drive is essential for staying organized – and it’s a pretty easy system once you commit to it!

6. Follow the New Habit

Your New Habit: From now on, any time you create a new document, do it from the correct folder! This is CRITICAL. You are no longer going to “Docs.google.com” or “Slides.google.com” to make a new item. In fact, NEVER do that; if you do that, those files are created individually and then just thrown into your Drive, all haphazard-like. From now on, click all the way to the place your new item belongs, and then create it from there. 

For example, if I want to make a Vocabulary Quiz, I go to my Year > Literacy > 2B > Vocabulary > Quizzes. Then from this folder, I create a “New Doc” from the top left. (Fun fact, I’d probably create a New Slide because I can customize those better, but I’ll talk on that later.)

Bonus tip: If you download, or have a document shared with you, move it to the correct folder!

With intentionally dedicating time to my easy process, you will feel a new sense of organization in a place you might not have had before. It will yield hours and hours of saved time as well! I bet any teacher would rather spend their time connecting with a student or enjoying a few more minutes of their prep than looking for “that one page we did last year”.

Being digitally orderly is now more vital than ever in the educational world.

Without Google Drive, I honestly don’t think I would have made it as a teacher. And, oddly enough, virtual organization can change your entire teaching experience. I know it has changed mine.

And they lived happily ever after.

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