How to Organize Google Docs in Google Drive (So You Can Actually Find Them Again)

Nelson Joyce
May 3, 2018
How to Organize Documents

“Ugh, where is that document?”

“My Google Drive folders are a total mess.”

”I have no idea what I named that thing or what folder it’s in.”

“I know someone shared that doc with me, but I can’t find it anywhere.”

If you’re like most people, you probably experience one of the above scenarios weekly, if not daily.

Let’s admit it, managing and sharing Google Docs in Google Drive sucks.

Regardless of whether we use Google Drive, Dropbox, Quip, or plain old Word docs, (or some combo) we waste a lot of time searching and asking one another for documents. In many cases, we already have access to them or have received them in the past. Here’s a guide on how to organize Google Docs in Google Drive so you can actually find them again.

Why Document Sharing and Management is So Hard

There are a lot of reasons why the status quo is broken. Let’s dig into the factors that make it difficult:

Document “Lifespan”

There’s no good way to distinguish between documents that are evergreen and those that are ephemeral. For example, the file that houses your company values has a different longevity than a project plan for upcoming UX research. Aside from seeing when something was last updated, there are limited options for differentiating between different lifespans.


Currently, there aren’t many ways to communicate the importance of a document; a customer case study is in a different class than a page of notes from a content brainstorm. Most document management and sharing platforms offer limited options if you want to mark or pin something as important. Even if you star a document, it doesn’t then live in the top of its folder. Plus, it’d be nice to add a little more commentary about why I categorize something as important.

Search Stinks

This varies depending on what tools and applications you use, but in general, it can be pretty hard to search for a document or piece of information you need. This is further complicated by the fact that you have to remember or randomly guess at the name of the document.

Furthermore, you can’t search Google Docs from Slack, which is a bummer, given that so many of us spend a lot of time there.

If someone asks me in Slack to share something with them, I have to leave Slack, go to Drive, search for the doc, get the link/add the person as a collaborator, then go back to Slack to share the link/let them know I added them as a collaborator. That’s a lot of steps!

Minimal Visibility into Doc Changes

What if I make an important change to something in my doc? How will anyone know about it? Unless I share that doc with everyone again, people have no insight into the fact that things are different from what they last read in the doc.

Contextual Information

How often do you get an email notification about a shared Google Doc, and the email contains zero information about what the doc is or why the person shared it with you? In my experience, people only “Add a note” about 20% of the time. Perhaps others have had better luck with their colleagues, but I’ve been fortunate to work with some pretty awesome people; I don’t think they are less considerate than the average person.

Ideally, when you share a doc, you communicate the important “meta information”: what the doc is, why you created it, how and when you may need it in the future. But even if you do take the time to include that in the note, the meta information goes away if I later share the doc with someone else in the future. I have to write it all out again! Plus, the information merely lives in the recipient’s inbox.

Alternatively, all the meta information could live in the header of the doc itself, but this has shortcomings as well. The recipient has to go to the doc and open it to get this context. Ideally, this contextual information would be visible without going into the doc, so you can more easily find what you’re looking for.

How to Share Documents Better

Instead, you may want to look for a Google Docs wiki to house your documents.

For example, using Tettra I recently built slides for an upcoming webinar and wanted to share them with a teammate. Rather than simply sharing my Google Slides with someone, Tettra lets me include the contextual information alongside the slides. This helps the viewer better understand what the goals are and when I need feedback. Thanks to the new Page Sharing feature in Tettra, I can also share this with my webinar collaborators at ClosedWon and Drift.

When Shauni asks about the webinar in Slack, I can share this with her right then and there. Forget about the context switching, multi-step process described above. Instead, I’m going to search for the info and share it with the channel: two steps, no context switching.

For the weeks leading up to the webinar, this Tettra page is pretty important, so I’m going to pin it at the top of the marketing category. This helps me access documents that I use frequently, and it lets my colleagues keep a finger on the pulse of what’s most important this week in the world of marketing and sales. But this information and these slides are also ephemeral; I’m going to unpin it after May 10th to make room for other documents.

Bonus: Solving the “Bus”/Lottery Problem

If my documents were merely in Google Drive or Dropbox without this context, what happens if I’m hit by a bus?

Or to put a more positive spin on this, what if I win the lottery and decide to move to Hawaii tomorrow? My colleagues would have a tough time knowing where to find the slides, the relevant dates, and the info for the webinar landing page.

When an employee leaves a company, the manager often inherits that person’s computer, files, and Drive folder. As anyone who’s ever experienced this know, it’s a disaster.

You don’t know the person’s foldering structure, (if you’re lucky enough to see one). How much easier would employee turnover feel if documents were curated in a logical way and supplemented with contextual information?

My colleagues might be slightly less jealous of my Hawaiian adventure if they didn’t inherit a messy swampland of a Google Drive folder. And I could enjoy my piña colada just a tiny bit more, knowing that they can keep things going without me, thanks to a more sensible document sharing process.