How to organize your Dropbox mess once and for all

Dropbox has rolled out new automation tools for users. Image: Dropbox

Dropbox is one of those huge, ubiquitous apps, like Gmail, or iMessage, or Spotify-which is constantly adding new features. But if you don’t use the service on a daily basis, you might miss out on some of the added tools. The most recent Dropbox upgrade is worth paying attention to because it gives you a better way to manage masses of files more easily.

We’re all looking for better ways to organize our digital stuff, be it emails, photos, playlists, or important documents, and that’s exactly what a new Dropbox feature does called automated folders is designed to do. Once the folders are set up, the files sent to them can be automatically named, sorted or converted as needed.

It’s easier to understand how it works once you’ve tried it. to unlock Dropbox on the web, navigate to where you want your automated folder, then click Create folder and automated folder. You will be prompted to name your new folder and choose the type of automated processing you want to apply to the files in it.

Automated directories can be created on the web. Screenshot: Dropbox

You have six choices: sort files into month and year folders, rename them, extract them, or convert them to images, videos, or PDFs. For example, choose the latter option and all files added to the automated folder, from Word documents to JPGs, will be converted to PDF format using Dropbox’s integrated conversion tool.

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Choose your automation, click Next and you can customize it. The options you see here depend on the automation. For example, if you are renaming files, you can set the template for the renaming (for example, you can start file names with a date and include the name of the parent folder.

The automation you’ve chosen will be applied to new files no matter how they were added: through the desktop client, through the mobile apps, or through the web interface. You can change the folder’s settings by clicking the three dots next to it in the web interface and choosing Edit Automation.

Tags are another way to keep your files organized. Screenshot: Dropbox

In the same dialog box, you can temporarily pause the automation, if necessary (via the Active/Pauzed toggle switch), or remove it completely (via the trash can icon), although the folder and files are preserved. You can also add another automation by going to a folder and clicking the three dots at the top and then Add Automation. The same option allows you to turn an existing, regular folder into an automated one.

One automation promised by Dropbox and mention in the supporting documentation is the ability to automatically tag files when they are added to a folder. This option doesn’t appear to us at the time of writing, but hopefully it will appear soon as it appears to be one of the more useful automations Dropbox could offer.

You can also organize files using one-time routines. Screenshot: Dropbox

You can also add tags manually via the Dropbox web interface. Select a folder, a file or a group of files and you will see a Tags field on the right: Enter your tags here and press Enter after each. The benefit of adding tags is that it makes it easier to find your files later, especially if files related to a particular topic or idea are spread across multiple folders in your Dropbox account.

The Dropbox web app has a better search function than you might have imagined (use the search box that appears at the top of every screen). You can narrow your results by folder or file type, and if your search terms match a particular tag, you can select the tag below the search box.

There is another related feature that Dropbox has added that calls organizing multiple files. It automatically sorts files into subfolders based on dates, keywords, or how often you interact with them. You can organize multiple files in any folder that isn’t an automated folder via the web app: click the three dots at the top, then choose “Organize Multiple Files” from the list.

There is an automation dashboard for managing your folders. Screenshot: Dropbox

Some of the options you see correspond to the automated folder options. You can choose from Inactivity, Month, Year, Keyword and Smart move. Dropbox doesn’t say exactly how the smart move option works, but at least you can preview the “smart” suggestions on the next screen before they’re applied.

You also get a few customization options. For example, you can choose the keyword you want to sort by, or the length of time that counts as “inactivity” (either 30 days or 90 days). However, the multi-file organizing feature is more of a one-time operation: once the organizing is done, it’s done. The same rules will not be applied to files added to the folder in the future, although in the case of the Month and Year options, you will be given the option to add the automation.

To facilitate the management of your automated folders, you can view them all on one screen through the web portal. Click on your profile picture (top right) and then on Automations, or go directly to to see them. You can see which folders are affected and which automations are being applied, and pause, restart, edit and delete them if necessary.

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