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Cleaning your hard drive is about as much fun as it sounds, but what if you could make a real difference in as little as ten minutes?

We love productivity tips at MakeUseOf: apps for accomplishing more every day, productive habits to get into 12 Productivity Habits To Finally Hack Your Life In The New Year 12 Productivity Habits To Finally Hack Your Life In The New Year A common resolution for most working people is to be more productive. In this article, we'll explore twelve bad habits that you can change -- one per month -- to drastically improve your workload productivity. Read More and even ways to use social networks to increase your productivity 6 Unexpected Ways To Use Social Networks To Increase Your Productivity 6 Unexpected Ways To Use Social Networks To Increase Your Productivity Has your boss moved your desk a bit closer to his office? He knows you're Facebooking on the job. But you can use these networks to make your work life just a bit better. Read More . It’s also important to try to figure out what’s hampering productivity in the first place.

Having a disorganized, chaotic hard drive can be one of the reasons. Spend ten minutes once or twice a day for the next week cleaning your hard drive, and your computer will be a much less stressful place.

1. Create a Filing System in Your Documents Folder

Your documents folder can quickly turn into a dumping ground for files, making it difficult to find things when you need them; and because your most important files are in this folder, disorganization can really add to your stress level. The fact that you often look first to your documents folder can exacerbate the problem.

documents-filing-system

To set yourself up for success, spend a couple minutes creating folders. As you can see above, when I cleaned up my hard drive, I made a bunch of folders that correspond to different areas of my life: academic, professional, athletic, and so on.

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Once you’ve created a handful of folders, just start moving files! In ten minutes time you’ll have made a significant dent in the problem. As you go, you can create new folders to hold files that don’t fit into the ones you started with. It’s better to have a lot of folders than to have some of your folders stuffed full of documents that are only tangentially related.

If you have a really crazy documents folder, you can create a “To Be Filed” folder that you can drop things into for later filing when you get the time. Just make sure not to neglect it!

2. Empty Your Downloads Folder

This is another place where you’re likely to spend time looking for a single file, scrolling over and over through the same folder because you can’t remember what it’s called.

os-x-downloads-folder

The downloads folder is best used as a temporary staging area; if, after a couple days, you decide you want to keep something, move it to another folder. If you haven’t even looked at a file that you downloaded, or you opened it once and got the information you need, delete it. In many cases, downloading it again will be faster anyway.

If you’re on a Mac, you can actually automatically clean up your downloads folder Automatically Clean Up Your Mac OS X Downloads (or Any) Folder Automatically Clean Up Your Mac OS X Downloads (or Any) Folder The Downloads folder is often one of the most cluttered and disorganised places to be, so let your computer take a share of the burden and have it clean your Downloads folder automatically. Read More , so you might want to spend your time setting that up instead. If you have any similar plans in place for Windows, please share them in the comments at the end of this post.

3. Clean Up Your Desktop

Do you use your desktop like a downloads folder? Having a disorganized desktop on your computer can be a lot like having a messy desk in your office — it can waste time, stress you out, and doesn’t look very nice. The best thing to do here is to start totally fresh; get everything off of your desktop and where it belongs.

While many people won’t have trouble doing this in ten minutes, if your desktop is packed full of files, you might need a bit more time than that. Spend 10 minutes a few times a work just clearing out old and unwanted files and placing important ones where they belong.

clean-desktop

If you’re on Windows, check out How to Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All Your desktop is a mess. Admit it. Just like a desk with papers all over, a messy computer desktop is far from productive. Plus, it just doesn’t look nice. If you’re having issues finding the... Read More  for tips on making sure your Start menu and taskbar are doing as much work as possible to help you out. If you’re on a Mac, you can use a number of tools for maintaining a minimalistic desktop 5 Great Tips and Tools For a Clean and Minimalist Mac Desktop 5 Great Tips and Tools For a Clean and Minimalist Mac Desktop Read More  or a dedicated tool like SaneDesk Use SaneDesk To Make Your Mac Desktop Productive Again Use SaneDesk To Make Your Mac Desktop Productive Again SaneDesk exists to restore this lost level of sanity to your Mac's desktop, in stunningly simple fashion. Read More .

No matter what you decide to do, get your desktop totally clear. It might seem like more effort than it’s worth, but it’s really nice to see a clean desktop when you boot up!

4. Get Rid of Duplicate Files

Having more than one copy of a file is a waste of space. And while having duplicate copies of a couple pictures or songs isn’t a big deal, if you have duplicates of hundreds of files, it can put a big dent in your valuable hard drive space.

We’ve profiled a number of great apps for finding duplicate files Delete Duplicate Files Quickly With These Tools Delete Duplicate Files Quickly With These Tools One of the fastest ways to clog up your hard drive is to store duplicate files. Most of the time, you probably aren’t even aware that you have duplicate files. They come from a variety... Read More , and using these on a regular basis is a great way to keep your folders cleaner.

duplicate-documents

By running one of these apps on a folder or two each day, you’ll make great progress toward a cleaner more organised hard drive. You can point these tools at your entire drive if you like, but this will take a lot more than ten minutes. I recommend starting with your photos and music, and then go on to documents — these three folders are where you’ll find the most duplicates.

5. Store Files Within Apps

One of the things that made a huge difference when I was cleaning up my own hard drive was moving a number of things into Evernote. Now I keep my entire portfolio in there, which would have amounted to over 100 files. That’s 100 files that I kept out of my filing system! I keep a lot of PDFs in there, too — contracts, printouts, slides, and so on.

evernote-storage

You can use online apps to do this, as well. If it weren’t for Pinterest, I would probably have a lot more downloaded image files that I wanted to keep around. Dropbox means I don’t have to manually duplicate a bunch of files across my different computers. You can even use Google+, Facebook, or a number of other tools to keep photos out of your pictures folder.

If you want to go a step further, you can create a drive partition How To Set Up A Second Hard Drive In Windows: Partitioning How To Set Up A Second Hard Drive In Windows: Partitioning Read More to keep old files out of your way until you need them again.

Whatever you do, spend 10 minutes moving files into respective apps and then deleting them from your computer. You can move a lot of files in 10 minutes, and you might be surprised at how much space and clutter you can clear out in this amount of time!

Go Clean Your Hard Drive!

So there you have it: five things you can do in ten minutes or less that will help clean up your hard drive, declutter your desktop, and reduce the amount of disorganization in your life. Now get to it!

Do you have any favorite strategies for keeping a clean hard drive? Or are you fine with a huge mess of files all over the place? Share your thoughts below!

Image credits: Bo Gao via Flickr.

  1. Rishi Raj
    March 25, 2015 at 7:42 am

    I do make folders to organise my files by topics of interest the files are aligned to.
    Also, I keep my Desktop clear.
    I park few frustrating folders into "todo" folder for later filing.

  2. Muhammad A
    July 23, 2014 at 1:55 am

    One could also use the Disk Cleanup function in Windows. It just takes a few minutes.Getting rid of the temporary files & the different logs that the windows keeps is an easy way to save disk space plus the temporary files when accumulate greatly may slow down the PC.

    • Dann A
      July 27, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      Yes, any tool like Disk Cleanup will help a lot. Files can start to pile up quickly and impact the performance of your computer, and it's no fun dealing with a slow machine.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Anya D
    July 17, 2014 at 8:02 am

    While filing things neatly into folders makes my Librarian heart very happy and forces you to look at "junk drawers" like Documents, Desktop and Downloads and weed out the extraneous, sometimes it's not practical. When you have items that could conceivably fit into multiple folders you have a tendency to duplicate files. There is a lot to be said for a file tagger like Tabbles (I believe I found that here too) as a means of organising your files.

    That being said I also like Clive R's approach to the Desktop, I think I'll try it on my next electronic spring cleaning day or tidy moment.

    • Dann A
      July 17, 2014 at 8:25 am

      Yeah, files that can easily be sorted in different ways can make life difficult. To be honest, I don't have a great solution for that—most of the time when I'm looking for things, I'll have an idea of where they are already, or I'll know that it's likely in two or three different folders that I can quickly scan. System-wide search is really good for those moments.

      I've never used Tabbles, but I might have to check it out!

  4. Clive R
    July 17, 2014 at 6:41 am

    Whilst I agree in principle with much of this I am not totally in accord with the arguments for clear desktops. I do think that a desktop needs to be organised but keeping it empty is in my view a waste of valuable real estate. My biggest target in organising my computer is to make sure that I can find things quickly and with as few clicks as possible. I have therefore created on one side of my desktop a set of folders containing links to program shortcuts which are grouped according to broad function. For example "Games", "Video", "Audio", "Office" and "Graphics" - the list should suit whatever your range of interests is. Then I changed the folder icons to make them visually quick to select. So if I want to perform a task on a video I simply click the video folder and all the programs I have accumulated for dealing with these are instantly there. I find it very difficult to remember the names of programs, especially those I use only occasionally so organising in a task based way is very helpful to me. Also I can duplicate shortcuts and have them present in more than one folder - for example I use disc burning software with videos and audio - so that appears in both folders - also in another folder called "File and Disc". The other thing that I do is to rename the shortcuts in a way that I will understand as program names do not always clearly indicate their function or what I prefer to use them for.

    The only other things on my desktop are folders for currently active projects (which I will file when completed) and temporary folders for things that I am trying out.

    I find this much easier and more intuitive than clicking on start and then scanning a long list of programs to find the one that I need - if I can remember what it is called in the first place!

    I do have to be strict and tidy it up about once a week but to me having everything I am likely to need to day just one mouse click away is more productive.

    • Dann A
      July 17, 2014 at 8:22 am

      I definitely understand your argument here. Really, a completely clean desktop is just a preference of mine. I find it very aesthetically pleasing and unstressful, even if it takes a few more clicks to get to the files I need.

      It sounds like your system is very efficient, and that's what's most important in creating a clean computer!

  5. James
    July 17, 2014 at 2:25 am

    Nothing worse than websites that label the files for users to download or titles of webpages in such a poor way. Files should include full name and version numbers. Webpages should include clear title of that page not just the name of the website. Would save users a lot of time renaming files and bookmarks.

    • Dann A
      July 17, 2014 at 8:20 am

      Yes, staying organized definitely isn't helped by files that don't have informative names or versions. It can be a pain to rename them all, but it might be worth it if you have go to back to find them later.

      Thanks for reading!

  6. g.m.nelson
    July 16, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    as far as the downloads folder, for program/driver installers once they are installed i move them to a temporary 'pending offload' sub folder that i transfer to an external drive every couple of months. also on download i append the version number to the file name for those that don't already include it. also twice a year or so i go through the external offloaded installer archive weeding out all but the last 2 versions. this external archive can be used if i have to do a complete reinstall and don't have to remember all the web sites that they were downloaded from.

    • Dann A
      July 17, 2014 at 8:02 am

      Wow! That's quite organized. Do you find that you have to spend a lot of time on upkeep of that system? I use Crashplan as my archive; I back up both to the cloud and to a local drive. While it's not quite as easy to find the latest versions of things as I'm sure it is on your system, it works pretty well.

  7. dragonmouth
    July 16, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    You are using "Clean up" as a very general term. "Clean up" usually means "get rid off." With the exception of getting rid of duplicate files, all other suggestions just move files around between folders. Files are "better" organized because they are in a system you devise and are familiar with.

    For example, I keep my downloaded files in the Downloads folder until I am done with them, at which point I delete them. It does not matter whether the downloaded files stay in "Downloads" folder or are moved to other folders, they still take up room on the drive and in the file index.

    One thing I disliked and still dislike about Windows, is Microsoft's penchant for burying files 4, 5, 6 or more subdirectory levels deep, many times each level containing only the name of the next sublevel.

    • Dann A
      July 16, 2014 at 6:12 pm

      Yes, I'd say I'm using "clean up" pretty generally here. But when I say "clean up the kitchen," I don't usually mean that I'm going to get rid of the kitchen. :-)

      Anyway, yes, a lot of this is opinion, but the people that I've shared it with in the past have found it useful, so I thought I'd get it out there. And I understand your frustration with things being buried deep in folder hierarchies, but sometimes I find that useful. It depends on the situation; for example, some of my dissertation-related things are buried pretty deep, but that's because there's a huge variety of stuff in that folder. But yes, when there's nothing in a folder but another folder, that's infuriating.

      It's all a matter what works best for you to make sure you can find what you're looking for fast.

    • dragonmouth
      July 16, 2014 at 6:23 pm

      "But when I say “clean up the kitchen,” I don’t usually mean that I’m going to get rid of the kitchen. "
      No, you don't. But you do mean get rid of dirt, trash and refuse. :-)

    • Dann A
      July 17, 2014 at 8:01 am

      Okay, fine—yes, I do mean getting rid of dirt, trash, and refuse. :-)

      But I also mean putting dishes and leftovers away. Which is just a reorganization of things.

      Anyway, all of this is beside the point. What I meant by 'cleaning up' was 'making nicer'—interpret that how you will!

  8. suzybel
    July 15, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    I'm a neat freak. I have been using the folder within folder system since I started using a computer about 15 years ago. Have used it on every computer for pictures, music, documents. Also my download folder is emptied every week. I have one Windows 8, two Windows 7, two Windows XP, and a Vista which I use. A couple have Ubuntu as well. All are set up the same way. I use Evernote, but don't have much in it yet and will try your idea. The icons on my desktops are also corralled in either Quick Launch or Free Launch Bar. I'm so organized I scare myself.

    • Heywood Giablomi
      July 16, 2014 at 4:47 pm

      Based on your comments ("I have ONE Windows 8, TWO Window 7, TWO Windows XP, and a Vista .... a COUPLE ... Ubuntu as well"), you have at least EIGHT computers you are currently using; you're not a 'neat freak', you're a full-blown OCD nut-case!

    • Dann A
      July 16, 2014 at 5:56 pm

      Suzybel, it sounds like you have a lot to keep organized! Using an app to keep your desktop icons under control is a really good idea—they can get out of hand fast. And I'm definitely a big fan of regularly emptying the downloads folder.

      Thanks for reading!

    • Dann A
      July 16, 2014 at 6:02 pm

      Heywood: yes, eight computer is a whole lot. And keeping them well-organized must be a monumental feat. But please see this blog post: http://www.ocduk.org/whats-not-OCD. I'd also appreciate it a great deal if you would refrain from using phrases like "full-blown OCD nut-case" on my posts in the future. Thanks much!

    • Adrian
      July 17, 2014 at 7:34 am

      I would think the best organisational use in suzybel's case is a Network Attached Storage (NAS) system, either standalone or on one of the many computers. This allows access from all computers and you never need to find a USB key to transfer a file. May not take ten minutes to set up, but well worth the effort.

    • Dann A
      July 17, 2014 at 7:54 am

      Adrian, that's a good idea. Any sort of networked storage can be a huge help in organizing multiple devices. There are a lot of different solutions that can be set up quickly, too. Good thought!

  9. Michael R.
    July 15, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    Really simple yet great tips! Do these tips apply equally well if your hard drive is a MacBook Air solid state drive (SSD) / flash drive?

    • Dakoda
      July 15, 2014 at 6:08 pm

      All of these tips are simple organizational techniques about the files on the hard drive, so they will apply to any sort of hard drive that you have.

    • Dann A
      July 16, 2014 at 5:55 pm

      Glad you liked the article! And as Dakoda pointed out, yes, these tips will work on any sort of drive. Hard drive, solid-state, USB, flash . . . anything that stores data will benefit from these tips.

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