Creating New Routines (Part 3)

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about routines. I blogged about some of the ones I've implemented this year – like my cleaning routine and some of the systems I've put into place to stay caught up on my reading log, bullet journal, planner, and digital life. One of the biggest digital things I've been focusing on is digital photo organization. It was such a source of frustration for me that I decided to write a post with more of a deep dive into how I've finally found a system that works for me in the hopes it might help someone else! 

Organizing my digital photos has been a goal of mine for years. But the longer I procrastinated, the more overwhelmed I felt and less I wanted to do it. I told someone last year that it was something I needed to do but never seemed to make progress on. "Why do they need to be organized? Why do you care?" they asked. At the time, I didn't really know what to say. Was it just something that I felt like I should do but didn't really need to? Then, as I was working through my PowerSheets prep work, I finally answered the Why? and moved it from a digital to-do to something that mattered. For me, it's the idea of recording and preserving our family memories

Growing up, my parents always had albums full of photos that we've loved to look through – from their lives before us and on through our own childhoods. If all the photos I have of my boys live on my phone, they'll be looking at a screen instead of poring over the pages of a printed book. If the photos live on my phone, I have to trust that it won't get broken or lost. And once I get the photos off my phone, if there isn't some sort of organization then I won't know where to find that photo from my son's birthday or that video of his first steps and so on. The point isn't getting organized because I feel like I should – for me, it's taking care of something that I treasure.

Before I share the steps I've been following, here's what I needed to get started:

1. An external hard drive.
I've read that you should look for one with at least 1TB of space. I've owned mine for a while, so the first thing I did was clean off any files/data that I didn't need anymore. Then, it was ready to go! Because I'm organizing and storing photos/videos from the past 13 years + any in the future, I didn't want them saved on my laptop because they take up a ton of space. I don't need immediate access to any, so it's easy to just grab my hard drive when required.

2. Additional storage space in the cloud. 
I don't want all my digital content tied to one physical device, just in case it's accidentally lost or damaged. But I don't want them solely stored in the cloud either! So, for me, the combo works best. It gives me more peace of mind to know they're in both places. Here's a Consumer Reports article about cloud storage options. I use a paid version of Microsoft OneDrive. Just look into whether the service you choose restricts image quality!

3. A system for my file folders.
And finally, I wanted to decide on a system before I got started. Here's where I ended up:

If you open the Photos folder on my hard drive, my folders are organized by Year > Photos or Videos > Month and then files are named for the date taken. I have created an additional folder, within each year, for my favorite Photo Book selections but I haven't actually tackled that project yet. Getting all my photos sorted is the first step!

Now that I've shared what I did to get started on the project, let me talk about my routine.

1. Cull photos/videos on my phone weekly. 
Before I had kids, I didn't take an overwhelming amount of photos. After? Yeah.... about that. And instead of taking one quick photo, it's usually a bunch of them in a row before I get the one that I want to keep. I haven't always been great about deleting all the outtakes and can easily add hundreds of photos to my camera roll in one week. Factor in taking bookish photos for Instagram or the blog, and the number only grows! 

One of the reasons organizing my digital photos always overwhelmed me is that I didn't regularly delete any. When it would cross my mind to backup my photos, I'd just download everything from iCloud, drag them to a folder, and never look back. I'd end up with a folder full of outtakes and random screenshots that I had no desire to keep. So, the first step in my new system is to cull the photos on my phone at the end of every week.

Every Sunday, I'll take a few minutes to delete anything I don't need to keep from the past week. At the same time, I'll add photos to some specific albums on my phone: Bookstagram, Monthly Recap, Quick Lit, 2020 Calendar, and To Print. If I took a photo of a book while out shopping, I'll add it on Goodreads and delete the picture. And so on with screenshots, too! This single habit has made the biggest difference in how manageable this project now feels.

But what about the photos I already had on my hard drive from years past? Culling them was still my first step! I went through and deleted everything I didn't need to keep so that I only spent time naming and organizing the photos that I truly wanted to save. Over the course of a few weeks, I culled photos from 2007-2015 and then 2018-2019. Why did I skip 2016 and 2017? They have the most photos, by far, and I just haven't gotten to them yet! 

2. Download the photos/videos from iCloud at the end of every month.
Now that I cull the photos on my phone weekly, it's so much easier to log in to iCloud on my laptop at the end of the month and download that month's photos. It takes less time for them to download, and now it's less overwhelming to sort and rename everything I've downloaded. One month at a time made the most for my routine since that's how my folders are organized, but you could do this more or less frequently depending on your needs. 

3. Rename the photos and videos by date taken.
This is the most time consuming part of my process, but it's a step that I'm committed to. When I download photos from iCloud, the file name is something like IMG_4158. And I honestly hated it so much! If I used a Mac shortcut to sort my photos by name, they weren't always in chronological order. I often have photos in my camera roll that my family has sent me, so those image numbers can be vastly different from the photos I've taken myself. 

Another issue? My laptop would show that the Created and Modified date for any given photo was the day I'd downloaded the photo – not necessarily when it was taken. If I was adding stuff to  the Photos app on my laptop, they would be organized correctly because the correct date was in the photo's metadata. But when I'd add them to my hard drive or a cloud storage system, it thought they were all taken on the same day. So frustrating!

There might be a way to change both of these settings on my phone or laptop, but I was never able to find one. I'm not the most tech savvy person! If I can't find it with a quick Google search, I've reached a dead end. So, I decided to address this issue by using a consistent naming convention for all my files: Year-Month-Day_Image Number. So, two photos taken on February 1, 2020 would be named: 2020-02-01_01 and 2020-02-01_02. 

Here's my view when I'm organizing my photos at the end of the month. I've added a yellow circle around the date I downloaded the photos and a red circle around the date the photo was actually taken. The latter is the date I reference in the file name. However, I can only see the download date with videos. So, I typically just refer to my phone for the actual date it was taken. If you know what I'm doing wrong there, please comment. Haha! 

4. Sort photos and videos into folders on my hard drive.
The hard part is finally over and it's all downhill from here! Now that my photos and videos are renamed on my desktop, it's time to sort them into the folders I've already set up. I'll plug in my external hard drive and drag all the videos into the corresponding month's Video folder + all the photos into that month's Photo folder. But I do save blog/book photos in different folders because I prefer having them separated from my life and family stuff.

5. Back them up in the cloud.
Once they've been added to my hard drive, I'll upload them to Microsoft OneDrive. I use the exact same file folder system there, so I don't have to do anything new. They do have an app where I could automatically backup my camera roll to the cloud, but I prefer doing it manually at the very end of my organization routine. This step doesn't really require any work since I just select my files and wait for them to be uploaded. Whew!

6. Keep only favorites + necessary on my phone.
At the very beginning of my process, I culled all the outtakes on my phone. But what happens at the end? It's time for one last cull. Now that I know everything is backed up to my hard drive and the cloud, I delete most of the photos off my phone. One reason I got so behind on this project in the first place is because I'd look at my camera roll, see that it had something like 11,000 photos/videos on it, and would immediately feel overwhelmed.

Let's be honest: I don't need immediate access to most of the photos I've taken. Do I want some favorites so I can look at them whenever I want? Of course! My oldest son, for example, loves watching the videos of himself that I've kept on my phone. In addition to favorites, I'll keep what's necessary – like the photos I've yet to post on Instagram or still need to edit (in the Color Story app) for a monthly recap or Quick Lit post, for example.

That's where the Flic app comes in! I could use this in my weekly photo cull, but I prefer going a little slower during that step so that I can review the photos in more detail. But when I'm ready to delete stuff quickly, Flic is a lifesaver! You swipe left to trash a photo and swipe right to keep a photo. I can quickly and easily cull photos – the swiping process makes it a breeze! And I love seeing how much storage I'm freeing up along the way.

The basic app is free, and you can access all your camera roll photos right from the app. You'll get reminders each month to clean out old photos, too! Worth noting: I did pay to upgrade to Premium. It was only $1.99 and allows me to Flic an unlimited number of photos, see photos sorted by month, and see completed months checked off. It was absolutely worth the price! If you only get one tip from this post, I hope it's to download this app!

And finally, here's the step I'm planning to add to my routine:

7. Design a calendar and/or album throughout the year.
Although I haven't implemented this step yet, I have to thank Angela from Musings of a Literary Wanderer for the suggestion. On my January goals post, I asked about routines that make your life easier. Angela commented:
I'm a huge believer in taking pictures, creating a tangible memory, and especially printing them! I make an album for my husband and me each year. I start it in January and add to it all year long, so by the time December 31 comes, it's all ready to be ordered!
How brilliant is that idea?! Once I'm finally get caught up on organizing photos (only two years left!), then it will be time to make photo albums for those years. While I can't do much to make that process less daunting, I can ensure it never happens again using this strategy. I'm already doing it for the photo calendar I make every year, now I just need to figure out where I want to design and print the albums. Any recommendations?

As you can see, my process is a little bit extra. I certainly don't have to rename all the photos. But honestly, I'm glad that I do. I love how neat and tidy the folders and their contents look! While I'll never truly be "done" since I have to repeat the process monthly, I never imagined I'd see the end in sight with all my photos I've taken in the past thirteen years. It's a relief to know it's almost done – and to finally find a process and solution that works for me!

How do you organize your digital photos?
What makes the process easier for you? 


  1. Thank you for the shout-out! I'm glad the idea will be helpful for you in the future. I tend to organize my photos by season, and special events like trips get their own albums. I save all my photos (from my camera, at least) on my computer and then upload to Shutterfly, and from there I can easily make my albums or other items! I always try to add to my to-do list to upload the pics from my phone to Shutterfly, too, since I'm taking more photos lately with that than my cameras.

  2. I love this idea. I am going to try and implement this but I am at the point where it already feels daunting. I am going to start by culling my weeks photos and then add in current week, plus one old week and see how that goes. I am going to start using chatbooks to make my albums. They will integrate with instagram or your phone and they can auto populate albums weekly, monthly, or yearly for you to edit or create. It seems pretty cool!

    I really love your routine posts. :)

    Michelle @ Book Briefs

  3. Looking forward to try your routine, and I think it can really help me too.

    --- CHI Siding

  4. I actually started being more mindful of how I organized my photos last year, and it definitely resulted in my 2020 photos being filed away neatly! I have to work backwards through the last decade (so. many. photos.), but I do something pretty similarly to what you've detailed here.


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