How to Organize Computer Files
The best thing about filing documents on a computer may also be thebiggest challenge: You're completely free to create any filing systemthat works for you. Before all of your files end up piled who knowswhere, bring order to your hard drive. Think of all the time and energyyou'll save every time you need to find a file in the future.
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.
Set up subfolders within each category. For example, sort financial documents by year or type, and family-related documents by person.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tips & Warnings
- An organized, hierarchical folder structure helps you when you're backing up your data. (You do back up your files, right?) For example, you can copy all of your financial records by grabbing a single folder. Regularly go through your files and delete those you don't need or burn them to a CD.
- Limit file names to under 15 characters. Shorter names are easier to understand at a glance and also show up in dialog boxes when you're searching for files.
- If several people on your team take turns working on any one file, put an asterisk at the end of the file name before you copy it off the server to denote that it is in use. Then raise the version number on the file name and add your initials before the period and three-letter suffix. You have now prevented two people from working on the same file, created a backup, and left a people trail to follow should there be any questions.
- Back up your files. How often depends on how critical your data is and how much work you don't mind re-creating from scratch.