How To Keep Your Files Organized

Computers have made our lives easier in many respects but they still intimidate. One area of computer use that many people find frustrating is saving files and then trying to access them later. “Where did my computer put that file, anyway??”

Paper files may seem more efficient to many people but that may be simply because they are familiar. They take up a lot of room, though, and they can be quite heavy when files need to be moved or new systems established. They disappear, too, or they seem to at times, just as electronic files do.

Keep your Files OrganizedFour big advantages electronic files have over paper files is that they are easier to edit, many of them can be accessed from any computer anywhere, you’d almost have to lose your computer to lose the files stored on them, and you can run search operations through electronic files.

Whether you are a busy parent, homework-laden student, research scientist, business owner, or computer user by almost any other description, organizing files on a computer is pretty much the same. The file names may be changed - Joey’s Soccer Team, Psych 101, New Client Sales Presentation - but the organizational structure is rather standard.

Start with a folder for the broad subject matter, say Joey’s Soccer Team. Type the folder name IN ALL CAPS - JOEY’S SOCCER TEAM - so it will be easily distinguished from less important folders. Reserve the use of all capitals letters for just the main subject folders, to train the eye and brain to recognize them as such. Within the main folder, create others that will be devoted to subcategories within the main one - Joey’s teammates’ names and contact information, game schedule and maps to fields, end-of-season awards, and the like.

These clearly defined subcategories present little problems but it’s the odd stuff that leaves computer users wondering where to file them. This happens with paper files, too. Within the main folder for Joey’s soccer team, include a miscellaneous sub-folder and put all the files and bits of data in it that don’t exactly fit the scope of any of the other folders, kind of like the junk drawer so many households have in the kitchen or garage.

As this miscellaneous file grows, it may become obvious that there’s enough data on a given subject that it warrants a separate folder of its own. To organize that folder, simply name a new one and drag into it all the files that match it. If you keep a miscellaneous sub-folder inside every MAIN TOPIC folder, you’ll never need to transfer files from one subject to the other or weed through the odd data for various subjects all clustered together in one muddled file.

For projects where research is involved, such as for the student, scientist, or business person, create files to store links and URL names to newspaper articles and other reference materials. Maybe a research-at-a-later-date file is in order, as well as a to-do file and file for new ideas, maintain a contacts or mailing list, incoming emails that require a response, and a log of completed work or actions that were taken. Before long, it will become obvious which files are used most often but they’ll all be easily accessible with just the click of a button. And, as the project progresses, files can be easily moved from one folder to another.

Sometimes new and valuable information comes our way when our own computer isn’t available. In a situation such as this, rely on email. Simply email the message, document, or article to yourself and file it appropriately when it’s convenient. Many email systems can be configured so that incoming messages are instantly diverted into relevant files. Creating email files that mimic the files on your hard drive simplifies the organizing process even further.

Paper clutter seems to accumulate overnight and electronic files can be just as bothersome even though they are all contained within the computer itself. Just like the easy and efficient organization of paper files, electronic files work best when filing is done on a frequent basis before loose files become overwhelming.

Even the most well-organized filing system misses the mark but it’s much easier to revamp an electronic filing system than a paper system. Don’t wait to develop the ultimate filing plan before getting started. An electronic filing is much more adaptable than a paper system and the need to re-work a filing system is often a sign of progress or a sharper focus on the subject matter.

Perhaps the most important task of any filing system, paper or electronic, is to simply start it. Start small and simple and be prepared to evolve as both you and your filing system become more efficient.

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