5 Tips for Organizing Files (on Your Computer)

This may come as a surprise, but in my college years, my laptop was drastically more organized than it is now. Perhaps because I had more incentive to be organized back then- assignments for classes, thesis, job and other post-college material, plus any random photos I wanted to save (the ‘cloud’ didn’t exist back then, after all) took up space on my desktop, so if I didn’t have some sort of organization, I’d drive myself crazy. These days, that same laptop is primarily used for random personal stuff and I’m not nearly as diligent about keeping it organized (especially since I’m not spending as much time on it as I was in college).

The good news is, at work I’m much more organized. It helps that a lot of what I work on has to get accessed by other people- I’d rather have people coming over to my house when it’s clean rather than a sloppy mess, after all. Wherever you lie on the spectrum of organization on your computer, here are 5 tips for getting rid of a cluttered desktop and files with long, weird names.

Choose a Destination. Where do you primarily want to save your stuff? Some options include directly on your desktop, in a place like Dropbox or Google Drive, a USB, etc. Choosing one location and sticking to it also helps with being able to relocate something later on. Of course, some combination of these things works as well, i.e. all photos are saved in Dropbox while your collection of satirical essays lives in a folder on your desktop. Consistency is key.

The exception to saving to multiple places is creating backups- always a good idea. Remember not to save your backup in the same place you saved the original (because that kind of defeats the purpose).

Folders and Sub-Folders. Making a folder is easy, and so is dumping documents and other materials into that folder. But if you have a really vague folder, like “Photos,” it can still be maddening to try to find anything in there. That’s where sub-folders come in handy. On my personal computer, for instance, I have a vague folder called “Bates.” Can you imagine what a mess it would be if I just put everything from my years at Bates into that folder and called it a day? Instead, when you open that folder, you see 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and Thesis (anyone who went to Bates knows that Thesis deserves its own folder).

Your folders and sub-folders are up to you: how your brain works and what type of material you are working with.You can even have a folder named “Voltron 5000” that has your child’s school pictures, as long as you’re easily able to find what you need.

File Names. Another tip for file organization is appropriately naming your documents and files. When it comes to finding a file, it doesn’t help if you have several “untitled” documents or downloads that are a 15-character series of random letters and numbers. It’s just as important to be thoughtful about how you’re naming files as how you’re storing them, from an organizational standpoint.  https://www.howtogeek.com/howto/15677/zen-and-the-art-of-file-and-folder-organization/

Clean Out Downloads Folder. If you’re cranking out work and are in the zone, chances are you’re probably saving things where it’s easiest (Desktop and/or Downloads). My recommendation, before your desktop is suddenly drowning in files, is to schedule a time at least once a week to organize these files. Move them out of Downloads to a permanent location (and no, your desktop doesn’t count). This could be a matter of putting it in the appropriate folder or moving it to the trash.

Share the System. If you’re working in a system like Dropbox and have multiple people with their hands in the pot, adding and updating files, it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page with the system, otherwise things will get messy. Have one or two people decide on “The System” (if you try to get everyone involved there can be a lot of back and forth) with other people giving feedback will ensure you’re thinking of organization in a complete way.

Once the system is decided, post places where it is easy to see: the company’s Google Drive, a private employee-only part of the website, etc. so people can easily refer to it.

Additional Resources:

Dropbox Tips for Organizing Files 

Google Drive Tips on Organizing Files

4 Things You Can Do to Create a Perfectly Organized Google Drive

Zen and the Art of File and Folder Organization

If you’re anything like us, your computer is like your toolbox for getting things done. Cleaning it out will reward you in increased productivity, decreased headaches, and (ideally) a faster running computer.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.