Computers have become much like digital file cabinets. Finding a file you need seems like a simple enough task, but when there are files housed randomly everywhere, the search can be frustrating and a serious time suck.

Master the art of computer file management with some best practices on keeping your most important documents, images, and other media in order.

Why Organize?

Orderly file management is said to improve time management skills and productivity. Clearing computer clutter may also reduce the loss of important data…and your sanity.

Organizing the data on your computer is useful if you’re upgrading it (for easy data migration) or sharing the computer with others (so users can find what they need too). And since Windows Search isn’t 100% reliable in finding all of your files and folders, creating a file management system will better help you locate what you need when you need it.


Time to Organize

There is no one perfect way to organize files, but these tips can help you in creating a system that works for you or becoming better organized.

Delete unnecessary files and folders

If you have many files and folders on your PC, deleting files will take some time, but it’s worth it. Go through your computer and delete anything that is old and no longer important. And while you can use folders to organize files into easily identifiable units, having too many folders – especially ones with complex labels – can become a mess.

Archive old data that is necessary

Separate active files you’re working from old projects or data. Any data that you don’t want to trash but is not pertinent currently can be stored for later use. Move it to an external storage device such as a USB drive or hard drive (or both – having extra copies of data is always a good idea). This action also frees space and may help speed up the computer. If you want to keep it on your system, you can compile it together in one archive folder. This will also reduce the amount of data you need to backup regularly.

Store files online

The advantages of using cloud storage solutions are numerous: you can get to files anytime and anywhere, share them quickly, and edit them on the fly. Moving some files over to the cloud also can help declutter what’s on your computer.

Use subfolders, but don’t overdo it

Subfolders are useful in organizing many data files; however, you don’t want to create a rabbit hole of subfolders, especially if they’re holding few files. Play with creating subfolders and descriptions to get to the depth that’s comfortable for you.

Create Shortcuts

Create shortcuts for files you open constantly. This way, you can get to them from multiple locations instead of creating copies or worse, saving files to the desktop. File shortcuts represent the actual document and will show an arrow in the lower-left corner of the file icon. Follow these instructions to create a shortcut of a file or folder in a new location:

  1. Right-click the file and click Copy
  2. Go to the location where you’d like to save it and right-click Paste Shortcut

Group projects together under common folders

Information on specific projects can be filed under one folder. This is helpful if collaborating with others on a project, as all of the information is in one place and is easily searchable. This organization also makes it easier to move or archive the folder once the project is complete.

Be consistent

You may prefer to organize folders into document types (e.g., images, PDFs, videos, etc.), projects, or other descriptors. Whatever organization method you choose, stick with it. And be consistent when naming files and folders.

Use short, yet descriptive labels

Be detailed when naming files and folders – this will help you find things quickly. This doesn’t mean give them long names, but rather, be specific in identifying the contents. For example, if you go on vacation regularly, you can compile all of your vacation pictures together, and separate them in sub-folders. For multiple vacations in 2008, you can name a folder Vacation and then a sub-folder 2008. Then organize photos from each destination you traveled in separate subfolders. Again, be consistent and follow the naming pattern you choose.

Choose one location  

Whether it’s the D: drive, C: drive, or somewhere else, you might want to keep everything neat and in one place. That way, you’ll always know where your data files live. (Some experts do not recommend using standard Windows default folders such as Documents, Music, and Pictures, but instead to create your own folders based on your specific organizational structure.)

Ready, Set, Organize!

Organizing files into a structured system may take some time, but it will save you time, energy and frustration, and is an important part of creating an organized workspace.