Creating Order From Chaos: 9 Great Ideas For Managing Your Computer Files

Intro Pic File Cabinet Drawer Full of Files and Folders   Creating Order From Chaos: 9 Great Ideas For Managing Your Computer FilesIt’s frustrating isn’t it when you can’t find that file? When you’ve searched every folder imaginable on your computer, and somehow it got lost….or worse, deleted. Now, there are excellent search tools for Windows that allow you to find your files, but they only work if you know the name of the file. And you don’t want to open up a program to find every file and folder that you need. It’s just nice to have things neat and easy to access whenever you need them.

I’ve put together a list of 9 things you can do to manage computer files and get the most out of your computer. Because that’s its purpose – to be more useful, not less useful. But computers are often more complicated in some ways when they’re not set up and used properly, which is essentially counterproductive.

Start Now — Don’t Put It Off

“This sounds complicated. I’ll do it later”. Don’t let that thought creep in, or you may as well not read the rest of this article. This is more of a “no excuses” tip than a technical idea, but like a lot of things, very little skill is needed to actually be organized and efficient. The biggest resource is time, but even that isn’t required. Instead of telling yourself “I’ll get to this later“, just quickly do it right there and then.

Of course, priorities are always important to keep in mind and this isn’t a time management article. However, it’s surprising how little effort it really takes just to start the process. The greatest resource it takes is just an overall consciousness to put this file or folder in the right place.

Ask yourself this – would you just throw a bunch of files or folders all over your desk at work or home? What about all over your living room, floor, bed, closet… need I continue? The answer is hopefully you wouldn’t. Your computer can be compared to your house. Not just your office or workspace — we do everything on our computers now so it’s important that everything is kept clean, just like your house.

Use Folders… Please!

Let me tell you about a man and his flash drive. He plugged it into my computer once and it didn’t have any folders, just files… lots of files. I’ve already explained why you should organize your files, so I’m pretty sure it’s clear why you need folders. But in case it isn’t, folders are the backbone of organization, but even if you have folders, you can still be very unorganized.

A folder that’s not properly labeled or is in the wrong place is just as bad, if not worse, than files all over your computer without a home (folder).

One Place For Everything

Don’t mistake this with for putting all your files in one folder… or even all your folders in one folder… or worse, the desktop. But you do need a place where you know that you can access your files and folders there. The My Documents folder is the logical and perfect place for this — but again, this isn’t a place for stuffing all your files, this is a home for your folders, which contain your files. Think of it in the sense that you wouldn’t put your folders in the yard, nor would you put your filing cabinet in the yard… you put both of them in the house. Your My Documents folder is your “house” of sorts.

Organize By Category

One way to organize your folders and files is by category, or type. For instance, let’s say you have documents for school, work, personal and professional (separate from work), as well as music, photos and movies. Obviously music, photos, videos and documents should all be kept separate, but organizing goes a step further. For example, you should also organize the types of documents that you have. There’s a couple ways to do this.

You could organize by file type, which I don’t recommend very much. Sure it’s better, but it’s not ideal. It’s mostly used for mass-organizing and “quick fixing” although there’s not much “fix” involved. This method could mostly be helpful if you’re going through things you no longer need at the moment and/or don’t care to get too detailed. It does have its place, and I have some files which I’ve organized this way, but it always leaves you knowing that you need to organize “those files”. For this reason, it’s not a method that I highly recommend — there are better ways.

Organize by type with window   Creating Order From Chaos: 9 Great Ideas For Managing Your Computer Files

You could also organize by what category the file is most relevant to. For instance, a school document should go into a school folder.

Folders Example   Creating Order From Chaos: 9 Great Ideas For Managing Your Computer Files

Organize By Date

Organizing by date is also helpful, but shouldn’t be used solely by itself. The reason being, if you ever perform a search for a file, you might find it in a folder labeled “04-11-2006″. If that’s all you have to go by, you will likely have to open the folder to look at its contents to see what is in it. It can get worse if you file all files this way and have all kinds of types intermingled with each other. Again, this isn’t very organized and perhaps worse than nothing at all.

If you feel adding a date is necessary (which I’ll often do for time sensitive files or files which are updated often, such as a resume), add a description with the date at the end or beginning, depending on your preference.

Don’t Overdo The Subfolders

Subfolders are a necessity to organizing files. It’s one of the great perks that a computer has over traditional filing cabinets. An example of a good use of subfolders would be having your Work folder in My Documents, a Projects folder in the Work folder, “[Name of Project and Date] folder” in the Projects folder, and so on (if additional folders are needed).

Folder Tree Hiarchy   Creating Order From Chaos: 9 Great Ideas For Managing Your Computer Files

However, be conscious of the number of folders within folders that you have because it can be a daunting task opening folder after folder looking for your files. If there are files that you know you need to quickly access, try to keep them only a folder or two away. Part of this has to do with the system that you are creating, have created or are just the most comfortable with, but it also must do with practicality and ease of access.

Naming Files And Folders: Short, But Precise

Another thing that is important to consider when you’re organizing your files is to be as brief as possible, but also as detailed as possible. For many cases, you might be the only one using the folders or files, but if you do decide to share something with someone, either on a personal or professional basis, you want it to be clear to them, as well as to you. You don’t want to have to think about what you were trying to describe in a folder title. Don’t name a folder “school stuff” name it “School” — notice the emphasis on capitalizing things, which also makes things look nicer.

Then under your school folder you can organize things by school (if there’s more than one). If you don’t have more than one school which you’ve attended you might name your folder “School: [Name of School].” If you want to abbreviate your school’s initials, that should be fine as you’ll likely know what they mean. However, be careful to not go overboard with abbreviations. Although they can be handy in keeping names short, the most important thing is that you understand what is in that file or folder.

Access Folders And Files Quickly

Like I was mentioning previously about make sure your files aren’t hidden deep in the Subfolder Forest, there are other things you can do to make your files easily accessible. Besides the obvious of being able to find a file quickly, it also plays a huge role in maintaining your file management status. In other words, it’s essential that you can quickly and easily save a new file to its correct spot on your computer.

Change Your View

In Windows Explorer there are numerous ways to view files. Along with viewing files in various icon sizes, there’s also a preview pane to see what the file looks like before opening it. You’re also able to sort your files by date, name, etc. This doesn’t directly correlate with managing files per say, but it allows for an overall better experience. What we’re aiming for is less work and more efficiency and how you view your files can do just that.

Windows Explorer Preview   Creating Order From Chaos: 9 Great Ideas For Managing Your Computer Files

Another feature within Windows Explorer is the ability to add a folder to “Favorites.” If it’s a folder you access a lot, but isn’t a part of the set folders that Windows has dubbed your “favorite,” you can drag and drop folders into that section. Be careful not to drag the folder into another folder already in the favorites.

To ensure you actually have the folder in the Favorites section, look for the black solid line and a message saying “Create link in favorites.

Windows Explorer Favorites   Creating Order From Chaos: 9 Great Ideas For Managing Your Computer Files

Jump Lists

Windows 7 has an awesome feature called “Jump Lists” which allows you to pin folders to the Windows Explorer pop-up icon near the Start button on the Taskbar. You can access this by right clicking and then choosing which folder to open. To add a new folder, simply grab it and drag and drop it onto the Windows Explorer icon in the Taskbar. Then you can move the folders around in any way you’d like.

Jump Lists with background   Creating Order From Chaos: 9 Great Ideas For Managing Your Computer Files

Organize Desktop Folders With Fences

In a previous article of mine, Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once And For All, I mentioned both Jump Lists and Fences. Fences is an excellent program for organizing the folders that you do have on your desktop. I highly recommend checking out that article for a detailed glance into cleaning up your desktop too (which in many ways is managing your files, but in a different way). Although, I don’t like too many icons and shortcuts on my desktop, Fences provides a nice way to switch from icons to no icons with a simple double click.

Again, I only recommend having the essential folders on your desktop. If you access your folder with your resumes in it often, then go ahead and add it to your desktop and use Fences to hide the icons when you don’t need them. But in many ways, these folders could also be added to your Jump List and accessed with the same amount of time, clicks and effort.

With either of these options, you must be aware of what you are adding to make sure you don’t add too much and that you remove what you’re no longer using. Otherwise you’ll run into the same problem that you’re trying to fix right now — disordered chaos.

Fences on desktop   Creating Order From Chaos: 9 Great Ideas For Managing Your Computer Files

Archive What You Don’t Or Won’t Need

First, we must look at the term “archive“. It is not deleting files – you rarely want to do that (depending on the file). It is storing folders containing files in a designated folder titled “Archive” or “Old files”. Notice I said “folders containing files” as you don’t just want to throw a bunch of outdated files into a folder and call it good. That is just adding to the mess that you already have.

Now where should this folder go? Well, you probably don’t want it mingled with your other files, but that is entirely up to you. Personally I recommend still having it in the My Documents folder to keep things easy to remember and consistent. With a name like “Archive” it’ll likely be near the top of whatever folder you decide to put it in. To change this, you can add a “z” and a period to the beginning of the name, so the folder could look something like “z.Archive“. This will put it at the bottom of the list so you won’t have to worry about it being in the way all the time.

Remove & Refrain From Creating Duplicates

How duplicates get created often remains a mystery. Sometimes it’s by accidentally copying files to another location. Thankfully, there’s a free program that can help with removing duplicates of any kind from your computer. I’ve long used Duplicate Cleaner and highly recommend it. It gets recent updates, has an easy-to-use interface and just works.

Duplicate Cleaner   Creating Order From Chaos: 9 Great Ideas For Managing Your Computer Files

Don’t Make Copies, Make Shortcuts

To prevent future copies of files, it’s important to make shortcuts of files and folders, not copies. The difference between the two is that a copy is an exact replica of the first file or folder, whereas a shortcut simply leads to the file in the original location. Aside from not aiding in clutter as much, shortcuts also take up less space.

To make a shortcut, right click on the folder or file and click “Create Shortcut“. This will create a shortcut within that same location that the file is in. You can then take that shortcut, move it to whatever location you want and even rename it if you so desire. To create a shortcut of something on the desktop, right click and hover over “Send To” then click “Desktop“.

Prevent Clutter With Cloud-Based Note & Document Applications

There are things that you want to save, but it seems tedious to make an office document or text file and save it in a folder on your computer. Soon enough that folder becomes chock-full of all sorts of note-like documents and it becomes overwhelming to even look for a particular note. For this reason, cloud-based applications are consistently growing in popularity and there are many to choose from.

The ones I personally use extensively are Evernote and Google Docs. However, the ones that follow as runner up, in my opinion, are Springpad and Microsoft Web Apps.

Evernote Example   Creating Order From Chaos: 9 Great Ideas For Managing Your Computer Files

The reason I feel that Evernote succeeds over Springpad is primarily because of its local application. You don’t need a web browser to use it, but yet you can access your files in the cloud. I prefer Google Docs over Microsoft Web Apps simply because it’s what I’ve developed my system around and more of my files are in it than Web Apps.

If you’re just starting (or still haven’t got settled in one or two programs, I recommend considering these four as well as any other similar apps and seeing which ones fit you best).

Google Docs Example   Creating Order From Chaos: 9 Great Ideas For Managing Your Computer Files

The reason I recommend using these applications over the traditional way of creating a document in Microsoft Word or another office alternative is because it allows you to organize, search and create your notes very easily. There is a plethora of articles on MakeUseOf, as well as the rest of the Internet, which show how to do that. Just as the title of this section implies, it keeps the clutter down on your computer.

Sync Your Local Files To The Cloud

Syncing your local files to the cloud is different from creating notes and documents in the cloud. This is one of the last steps as it is important that you understand all the previous steps first. If you don’t, syncing more files to the cloud can actually aid in the chaotic mess of files and folders. There are a lot of options in this area, but the big players are SugarSync, Dropbox, Google Drive and Skydrive. Those are my personal favorites and I use them all, but there are so many others like Mozy, iDrive, and so on.

SurgarSync App   Creating Order From Chaos: 9 Great Ideas For Managing Your Computer Files

I highly recommend SugarSync for an overall backup of your computers folders to the cloud. For individual files, Dropbox, Google Drive and SkyDrive work very similarly. Whether you are a Google Docs fan or a Microsoft Web Apps fan may determine whether you use Google Drive or SkyDrive. Both are head to head and if you haven’t tried both, I recommend you do.

I like Dropbox for sharing files and SugarSync for backing up and accessing all of my documents on another Internet-connected device. I’ve set up SkyDrive to back up a lot of my other files on my computer and I use Google Drive to organize and add files to Docs without a web browser.

Stay Consistent & Prompt

This is one of the most important things to do. Once you start the process, you must continue it diligently otherwise it’s all for nothing and you will end up with a semi-organized-file-system. That’s not only non-productive, but it also reminds you that you never finished.

The key to this is to be prompt. The moment you need to save or create a file, you put it in the right spot and if there isn’t a spot for it yet, create one. Whether you do this in the cloud or locally, you need to remember all of the previous tips such as being brief, but detailed, refraining from making duplicates, and paying attention to folder hierarchy by organizing what makes sense, but not overdoing it by adding too many folders.

Conclusion

Remember the most important thing is to simply start. Don’t wait until you “have more time” – you’ll never have more time. Although right now may not be the best time to do a complete overhaul of all your files, you can still start making some folders and slowing start adding your new files that you save on your computer, whether they’re from downloading or creating. Time will allow you to then expand and focus more on your other files and getting them in order.

This was a lot of information to take in, I know, but if you have any questions, I’m more than happy to help. Have you created a system similar to that described above? How has it been working out for you? Is there anything you’d like to add or share with the readers for ideas that you have in managing computer files more efficiently?

Image Credit: A file cabinet drawer full of files and folders via Shutterstock

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57 Comments -

0 votes

Catherine McCrum

“Don’t Overdo the Subfolders” – useful tip

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Thanks Catherine! It really is important to have a balance. They can be helpful, but if used in excess can be overwhelming in the same manner that we’re trying to overcome by managing files.

Thanks for reading Catherine!

0 votes

Shakirah Faleh Lai

You’d wrote great ideas for managing time instead of managing computer files, yeah we don’t have more time.

0 votes

Aaron Couch

My point of the article exactly Shakirah! The whole purpose of managing files IS to manage/save time. And of course convenience, but that’s simply a perk.

0 votes

VS Vishnu

know all these…but lazy to do it..!

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Ah, that’s too bad! You should try some of them. If you decide to, let me know how it helps.

0 votes

Jhon H. Caicedo

Very useful tips, I use a similar method for organizing files but with the following differences:

- At the beginning of every year I start an empty folder and create folders inside by project/context, this method allows me to have a small number of files that I know are current and if I need a file from previous years I can find it and copy to this year.
- The “current year” folder is small and can be synced more easily through computers, I currently use dropbox for this.
- The previous years folders are moved to the “Archive” folder, and also put on DVD for a more permanent archive. The idea is that “old files” doesn’t need to be touched again the are “final”.
- My file naming scheme uses the date as a prefix, something like YYYY-MM-DD and then the name of the file. This allows for easily sort the versions of a file through a project and avoid relying on the OS timestamp.

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Thanks for sharing your techniques Jhon! I love hearing how other people do things.

0 votes

Desdemona

Forget the “My Documents” folder. I’ve never used it. It is simply another example of MS thinking that people are too stupid to do anything, which is the way it writes most of its programs.

My problem with “My Documents” is that it is buried in other folders already. When you start adding subfolders two or 3 deep and then files to those, you can run into name problems because the total file name, including path, gets too long to handle and the files become inaccessible or a pain with which to deal. For example: “mydocuments/work/client 1/project 1/product aspect 1/references/factor 1/file name.pdf”. When you have closely related references long file names often become important to easily distinguish them and will often include citations. Add in the rest of the path where “my documents” is buried and you can easily run into problems.

For the last nearly 20 years I simply create one large folder for any sort of internet download that I sort in a few minutes daily, a work folder, and a personal folder in the c:/ directory and change defaut save locations accordingly.

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Desdemona,

The My Documents was simply what I chose because so many are familiar with it. I agree that it’s annoying how other program files often get stuffed in there, thus cluttering it up… one of the drawbacks and few dislikes that I have with Windows.

However, all you have to do is create a separate folder in the Libraries section (if you’re using Windows 7) and make your own “Documents” folder and name it whatever you want.

Problem solved.

Thanks for pointing this out. I don’t think I covered that aspect in the article.

0 votes

James Jones

All very good but one big one is missing: use a good desktop search engine. The article says you have to know the name of the file to do a search, but this isn’t true. A good desktop search engine indexes the whole content, so you only have to remember some words in the file – if you remember the memo was in Word and came from Jane and was about the quarterly meeting, just enter “Jane” and “quarterly” and document type “.doc” and you’ll get a list of everything containing those words. Then one click orders by date and you can look down the list for the right range, for example. And it does all the indexing in advance, so you see the list of answers right away, rather than an hourglass while it runs off and searches.

The one that changed my life was X1, though it isn’t free. Google Desktop is free and pretty good – officially discontinued but still around. There are others that are well spoken of – Copernic, Exalead.

I still work hard keeping a good folder structure, but even having that, searching by hand is slow, while the engine will bring up answers as fast as you can type the search terms. And it often finds related stuff you’ve forgotten you had – that sometimes even generates new ideas. Best thing I ever did for my effectiveness at the office. (Except taking a typing course!)

0 votes

Aaron Couch

James,

A desktop search engine is great for FINDING files, but it isn’t necessarily a way to manage them. I suppose one could argue that finding and managing files are one in the same, and in some ways I’d agree. However, I still wouldn’t say it’s required and in fact some of the methods I mention are to prevent you from having to take the time to search through all the clutter to find what you need. A search engine can be somewhat a handicap in this way since it doesn’t force you to organize your files.

Still, great advice and I’d recommend using Everything by Voidtools for a search engine. It’s, in my opinion, the best. I did write an article on other great search applications too though. Here’s the link to that: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/7-awesome-alternatives-windows-search-si/

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts and techniques!

0 votes

Ravi Lamontagne

I think the fences program does a great job in keeping the desktop clean

0 votes
0 votes

Darryl Gittins

Forget about trying to keep it all organized. It’s pointless and futile. Instead, learn to use Windows 7′s tremendous search tool (or install a search indexing tool such as “Windows Desktop Search”), and then also install Everything Search: http://www.voidtools.com/download.php

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Darryl,

I agree with using a search tool for sure. You contradict yourself when you say “Forget about trying to keep it all organized” since a major aspect of organizing files is properly naming them… which dictates how well you find them with a search tool such as Everything.

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, even if I disagree slightly ;) I’m always open to others’ views.

0 votes

Kaashif Haja

Useful Tips. I have lot’s of files, it would take a week to arrange them in a proper way
and the search doesn’t work well in Windows 7. I entered a keyword and it’s showing all the files, except the file which i needed!!

0 votes
0 votes

The 24

I’ve gone mental with the sub-folders in the past. It really just ends up being counterproductive.

0 votes

Aaron Couch

It absolutely does. In moderation, they’re great and I usually have a few levels, but after that it gets obnoxious and should be reduced and managed.

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

0 votes

Bill M.

Some points not mentioned: not to use exclamation point in file name (some backup systems have problems with that), not to have too deep of a folder structure (some backup programs have problems storing too deep a folder structure), not to load too many files on the device (especially thumbdrives) at the root level – Windows can’t write to the directory TOC table on thumbdrives when there are too many files/users haven’t created sub-folders.

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Bill,

Actually I did mention about the danger and counterproductivity of having a deep folder structure (i.e. too many subfolders). As far as not using an exclamation point in a file name, I guess I didn’t know it was that common of a practice of that backup programs had issues with those. That’s good to know.

Can you explain more (perhaps in simpler terms for others to understand too) on what you mean by loading too many files on a device at root level?

Perhaps this goes along with having too many subfolders…

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

0 votes

josemon maliakal

this is better for women, they will be having most ugly unmanaged folders

0 votes

Brixtonchix

If you don’t have anything useful to say, why show your ignorance?

0 votes

josemon maliakal

I think i have the freedom for that…otherwise please specify that ‘ ignorance is prohibited here ‘ :P

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Oh! That’s quite the accusation. Haha. I actually disagree some because I’ve seen some guys’ flashdrives and computers with files everywhere. I think it deals less with the gender and more with the user’s habits.

0 votes

DI

Thanx for the heads up on archiving files.

0 votes

Aaron Couch

You’re welcome! And thanks for reading! Let me know how that technique works for you :)

0 votes

Leonard Ivan Padilla

categorize files by video, music, documents, pictures, games, etc. and you’re good to go.

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Well, it’s a start at least. But to really be efficient I think one has to organize my subject more than just file type.

That is my experience in file management.

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts Leonard!

0 votes

AP

Clearing files from Archives a very useful tip.

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Thanks for highlighting this point AP!

0 votes

Eli

The article misses a very useful feature of Win 7 – libraries. These are non file-system (virtual) file locations desgined for easy management and retrieval of files in folders. See for example http://bit.ly/Rc5GDi
becoming familiar with this feature is so important that it requires modification of the article.

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Eli,

Although I can’t modify the article after it’s published. I certainly agree that Libraries in Windows 7 are very helpful. Perhaps I should have highlighted that more. I will see if the topic could constitute an additional article focused on that feature.

Thanks for reading and pointing this out.

0 votes

Aimee Babcock-Ellis

Good advice!

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Thanks Aimee! You’re awesome :)

0 votes

Keith Ambrose

For folders like the downloads folder that chrome auto saves to, it’s pretty hard to keep that organized. I save almost everything like that and never get around to organizing it as much as I like. So I guess I’m a hoarder. But thanks for the tips.

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Keith, despite my OCD of file management, I’ve run into the same issue to be honest. My downloads folder is a dump. Like the the “archive folder”, it simply requires moderation and management. It’s the only way to keep it under bay without becoming too overwhelming to search though.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

0 votes

Sebastian Hadinata

Great Tips! Bookmark :D

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Thanks Sebastian!

0 votes

Ahmed Khalil

nice artical

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Thank you for reading and for your support!

0 votes

Teodoro Villamarzo

Here’s a lazy man’s style, but good for those who has a strong sense of time: folders named by dates instead of topics or subjects. Example: 2011Jan, 2011Feb, and the following year, 2012Jan, 2012Feb… As I said, only for those good in remembering events or activities in time. Files in the individual folders get cluttered very quickly, but there’s only a limited number of files to search for, as well as limited number of folders.

0 votes

Aaron Couch

I recommend a balance between dates and topics. I can’t imagine if everything on my computer was organized by dates. I often include the date next to the description part of the folder or file name, but not solely the date.

But, nonetheless, it seems like that system works great for you! Thanks for sharing your tips.

0 votes

Kevin Fegan

This is a great article!

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Thanks for reading Kevin! Glad it helped!

0 votes

Ellen Odza

Very useful – thanks! I have a “User” folder on my C drive that holds most of my folders and files. After that, the folders are organized by subject.

My desktop is very organized with shortcuts grouped together by topic – all shortcuts to applications (word, WP, excel, SPSS, etc.) are center top, internet shortcuts (firefox, IE, carbonte, etc.) are grouped together at the top right, and so on. I use a lot of shortcuts to get to folders that I use regularly – rather than having to go My Computer and drill down to the folder that contains material for whatever courses I’m teaching this term, I have a link to the Courses folder on the desktop. (It is also fun to find cool icons to use instead of the boring manila folder ones Windows gives you). I want to check out this Fences thing, though.

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Thanks Ellen! Boy you have a great system down! Thanks for sharing these techniques and keep it up!

0 votes

xbalesx

I am always in need of organizational tips and tricks…from tech and computer insights to everyday business tips, any and all are welcomed.

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Hopefully these were of some use then! Thanks for reading!

0 votes

Benjamin Glass

Good article. Mine are already organized, though.

0 votes

Aaron Couch

Benjamin,

That is exactly what I’m wanting to hear! The comments like this the better! It means us writers are doing our job to help others.

Thanks for reading!

0 votes

Christine Hicks

Good suggestions…like Jhon starting fresh every year with a new folder is helpful and streamlines the search or sync process. The only other piece of advice I can offer that I do is not only make sure your folders are named “logically for you” but also your file names are descriptive enough so when you are looking for something it is easily recognizable. Pictures are good example…those camera assigned names “0123254123.jpg” won’t mean a thing 30-days or 6 months down the road. Food for thought…

0 votes

Mister.Tech.E

Thanks for the well written, articulated excellent article! I will pass this along to my friends. A similar system is employed by me and my family for the past decade. As we move away from paper documents and more towards have an digital copy of documents (we have already) it is critical to have some sense how file organization.

About ten years ago to minimize the clutter on my computer I came up with a standardized way of organizing files on my computer (similar to the one described in your article); later on the server as I started to accumulate abundant of documents (personal, work and business), media that includes photos, home videos, etc. were being generated by me and my wife along with multiple laptops being introduced in my household. Having those files in a central location, a dedicated computer used as a server, if you will, to house them all. That made backing up less of a hassle.

On the desktop used as “server” a folder is created for each household member then shared out. Other folders such as Photos, Music, Movies, etc. were also created then shared. On each laptop/computer on my home network, the “My Documents” folder is linked to the server and then setup to synchronize, using Windows synchronize. That way Documents are available when off the network. I digress!

No back to how I organize data. Documents are stored using a combination of descriptive file names stored in folders I designate. Sub-folders are used sparingly. Example: for a business letter I generate, I’ll call the file

“Business Letter_YYYYMMDD_[purpose of letter].doc”

stored in the folder called “Business.” That way when I’m searching for a letter, I’m able to locate it with ease. The files are also sorted properly. This works well when performing a search and the results don’t necessarily tell you the folder its from (this is from the Windows XP days–I now use Windows 7; it’s search function is far superior than its predecessor.)

Over the years, I accumulated hundreds of gigs of photos, music and movies. Each type are stored in their respective folders, e.g. “Photos”, “Audio” and “Movies.”

Downloaded photos from smartphones, digital cameras, etc. are dumped in folder called “2b Processed” then batch renamed using
“YYYYMMDD_[time photo taken]_event”
Example: 20120331_103506_Mats Birthday.jpg — note the time 103506 is 10:35:06.

Movies are stored in the movie title subfolders so that they can be properly tagged using a movie Media Center or MyMovies DB.

Like you, I employ Google Docs and Evernote for general note-taking. For more elaborate and permanent notes, I use MS OneNote. I treat notebooks and sections in OneNote similarly to my folder structure. It’s not feasible to sync all of my files (they’re in excess of 2TB) to the cloud, so I don’t do it. It will way too long to upload ;-).

I typically don’t delete documents but archive documents no longer in use using 7Zip (similar to WinZip).

I understand that this kind of setup is not typical for a general user, but I find that it works great.

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Richard Kirov

Great article and some quite useful tips (in the spirit of makeUSEOF :) )
I know this is totally offtopic, but I wanted to ask which us the best way to organize my pdf collection(with Mac). I know iTunes is an option, but it’s not ideal one, at least for me.
Thanks!

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Shahbaz Amin

Good detailed article, I will try to follow it and hopefully it’ll save me some time in future. Thanks!

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Aimee Babcock-Ellis

Great read. I will try these things.