How to Organize Computer Files

The best thing about filing documents on a computer may also be the biggest challenge: You're completely free to create any filing system that works for you. Before all of your files end up piled who knows where, bring order to your hard drive. Think of all the time and energy you'll save every time you need to find a file in the future.

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Set up broad-category folders within My Documents (in Windows) or on your hard drive (in a Mac OS). Read 185 Create a Flawless Filing System for suggestions on label names.

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Set up subfolders within each category. For example, sort financial documents by year or type, and family-related documents by person.

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Use the computer's sorting function. Put "AAA" (or a space) in front of the names of the most-used folders and "ZZZ" (or a bullet) in front of the least-used ones, so the former float to the top of an alphabetical list and the latter go to the bottom. Or use 01, 02, 03 and so on.

Step

Specify the default folder your computer saves files in. This is usually done in the Preferences menu--in Word for Windows XP, for example, pull down the Tools menu to Options, click on the File Locations tab, select Documents, and click Modify.

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Sort files to suit your needs. Sort by date, for example, to find the file you worked on most recently. (In Windows XP, pull down the View menu, select Arrange Icons By, and choose Modified. Mac users should click on the window they want to sort, pull down the View menu to As List, then select By Date Modified.) Or sort by kind or type to group all spreadsheets, for example.

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Use meaningful file names for your documents. A file name like Resume is less useful than Resume_Sales_10_2004. Remember not to use slashes, colons, asterisks or any punctuation other than a single period preceding the suffix.

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Keep refining your filing system so that it works better and better. Rename or rearrange folders, and archive or trash inactive ones. Avoid duplicating folders, particularly those containing photos or other large files; you'll fill up your drive and create confusion.

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Use the Save As feature when you want to keep an unchanged version of a document. You'll need to specify a new file name, which you can base on the old one or change altogether. This trick from old-school computer geeks is still a good one: Add V1, V2, V3 and so on at the end of a file name to track versions of a document you're modifying over time.

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Reserve your desktop for items that need immediate attention. When you're done working with them, file them in the proper folder. Try not to store documents long-term on your desktop.