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File operations are necessary chores for anyone with a computer: Moving, renaming, deleting, copying, and pasting files are all tasks that will need doing to keep everything organized, but they’re not much fun (and can take up a considerable amount of time). However, if you use Dropbox, you can get some of this manual work done automatically. The file syncing and cloud storage app comes with an automated folder feature, where specified actions are taken on files as soon as you drop them into a designated folder.

For example, you can have all the images that you put into a particular folder converted into the same format and renamed to follow the same naming scheme. It can save you a significant amount of time—we’ll explain how it works below.

If you’ve not yet signed up for Dropbox, you get 2GB of storage space as a free user; paid plans start at $9.99 per month for 2TB of storage. Automated folders is a feature available to every Dropbox user, whether they pay for a plan or not.

Creating an automated folder

To create an automated folder in your Dropbox, you need to log into the web interface. Navigate to the location where you want the new automated folder to live, then choose Create, Folder, and Automated Folder: You’ll then be met with seven or eight ways to automate the folder (file tagging is only available if you’re on a Professional plan).

Click on any automation option to see a preview of it, and to set its options. For example, if you select Choose a file format to convert audio files to, you’ll have to pick the type of files eligible for conversion and the format you want them converting into. Whichever automation you choose, you can also decide whether or not to apply the same rules to any subfolders that are created.

Dropbox automation

There are several automations to pick from.
Credit: Lifehacker

The Choose a category to sort files by and Set a rule that renames files options are interesting: The former lets you automatically put files in subfolders based on their date, name, size, or extension, while the latter can be used to rename files in a standard way based on a certain set of criteria, which could be a keyword in the file, the date it was uploaded, or even the camera model used in the case of a photo.

So, for example, you could have all the photos and videos snapped on your phone sorted into named folders, based on the month and year they were taken. Or, you could append the word “final” on to every file moved to a folder, to confirm that it’s the version that’s ready to be shared with other people. There are lots of possibilities, which you’ll see as you play around with the feature.

Dropbox automation

Each automation comes with its own rules.
Credit: Lifehacker

Automations can be combined together as well—just click on the Add step button to add a new one. You might want to convert files to PDFs, for example, and then apply some kind of renaming or subfolder sorting automation to them too. You’ll also see a Save as template option, which lets you save automations you think you might want to use again in another part of your Dropbox.

Click Save and the automation is saved and applied. It will then be applied, using the rules you’ve given, to any file that arrives in that folder, whether it’s uploaded directly to the web, synced from another device, or whatever. Shared folders can be automated too, which means any file added by anyone with access to the folder will have the same rules applied to it.

Automated folder options

As well as creating new folders with automations, you can also add automations to existing folders. Navigate to the relevant folder from Dropbox on the web, then click the gear icon that appears next to the folder name, just to the right of the main navigation bar: Click Organize then Add automation to do just that.

You can go to the same menu in any automated folder if you want to make changes to the way that automation works—click the gear icon, Organize, and Edit automation. Any changes you make will then be applied to items added to the folder in the future and won’t affect the files that are already in there.

Dropbox automation

You can add automations to existing folders too.
Credit: Lifehacker

On the same panel that pops up when you want to edit an automation, you’ll see you can use the toggle switch up at the top to enable or disable the actions being taken—handy if you want to put a temporary pause on the automation you’ve made, for example. You can remove the automation by clicking the trash can next to the toggle switch.

As you navigate around Dropbox on the web, you’ll see that these same options to add or edit automations appear if you click the three dots next to a folder—so you don’t necessarily have to go into it to make changes. You’ll also see the option to add an automation when you try to create a standard folder.

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