If you’ve had a computer for any length of time you know that your documents folder gets disorganized really fast. If your current file organization system works for you, congratulations. But if you frequently find yourself letting files clutter your computer’s desktop, or if you spend time arranging files in a deep, complicated hierarchy of folders, it’s time for a revamp.
Know where your files are
Keeping all of your files in one place is the best thing you can do to make sure no data is ever lost. Thus, the first step of creating a filing system is to choose a central location to keep all of your personal data. On Windows machines, the My Documents folder is often a good choice, although the operating system does add some extra junk along with your data (like My Pictures and My Music folders).
Another good option is to install a separate hard disk or external drive to keep your data on. Resist the temptation to put everything on the desktop of your PC. The folder is buried in the operating system, making backups difficult. Never save files in the directories where their programs reside (i.e. never save a word document into the c:\program files\office\word folder). These folders are often automatically deleted or moved.
Separate users and groups
Figure out the best way to keep user’s data separate (and, in some cases, private). Windows has a good system for separating user data in the “Documents and Settings” folder. Other suggestions are to make a folder with a user’s name on it. If you are organizing files in a business setting, creating separate folders for groups or projects is also a good idea. The important thing is that one user should be able to find all of his or her data in one single folder, making backups much easier.
Keep work and personal files separate
Keep work in one folder, schoolwork in another, photos and personal files in another, and downloads in another folder. Music should have its own folder, too (of course). That way, you can easily keep your personal and professional information separate, and can easily jump into what you need to work on. Tax returns? Open up your “personal” folder. Last minute business report? It’s all in “work”.
Files that relate to the same thing are kept in the same place. Another method some people use is chronological sorting. While this is sometimes useful (keeping each semester of schoolwork in different folders), remember that the file system on your computer already keeps track of the date things were created and modified, so in some ways it is a waste of time to do this over again. Also, there are some great tools such as Google Desktop or Copernic Desktop search to quickly bring up files from a particular set of dates.
Use lots of sub-folders
Layers are good, they help keep things specific. Under work, keep a separate folder for timesheets, and another for web projects. Under each semester of schoolwork, keep one folder for Math, one for English, one for Chemistry, you get the idea. Just don’t go overboard; a good rule of thumb is if you have more than 50 files in a folder, you might want to consider organizing those into sub folders.
Set a backup schedule
Once it’s all under one big folder, it’s easy to back up. If you only want to back up Work, just grab that folder instead. Invest in an external hard disk drive or a NAS device and a good backup program. Most NAS devices and external hard disk drives today come with excellent backup applications and as a bonus also offer cloud storage sync capabilities.
Stick with it
You have this system for a reason! Don’t just throw all of your files in the same old spot, put them in the correct folder as soon as you create or obtain them. If things get out of hand, take an hour out of your day to re-organize everything. It’s worth the time.