Best Practices For Organizing & Finding Computer Files

In a separate article I provided steps for cleaning up and organizing the “desktop” in your computer. In this article, I share with you best practices for organizing all your electronic information (email, data files and internet browser bookmarks) for easy navigation and quick retrieval.

The good news is that our computers already have the capabilities and, often, the tools for organizing and finding all those seemingly lost “bits and bytes” of critical information that we need, right this minute.

Why then, so many people scratch their head and sweat bullets, when they can’t find what they need, when they need it? The answer is that they don’t, or don’t effectively utilize best filing and file naming practices. Also, that they may not utilize the best tools for finding those elusive files.

Tips for filing data in your computer’s hard drive:

1. Create meaningfully named, top level folders in your favorite email program, in your Windows Explorer and your internet Favorites (or Bookmarks);

2. Create sub-folders (under the top level folders), as required; Typically go from the general (top level folder) to the specific (sub-folder). I.e.: Electronic Invoices (top level), below which you will create specific sub-folders, such as Electricity, Gas, Phone, etc.

3. In your email program, try limiting the top level folders to about a dozen. It makes it easier for dragging and dropping email into their proper resting place. In your hard drive, for all your other electronic files, create as many top level folders as needed for easy navigation;

4. Always create and name your own file folders. Don’t let the computer do it for you;

5. Always check the dialog box when saving a document. Make sure it points to the folder you want and it creates the file name you want.

6. When filing email, if necessary, change the Subject line for easy recall or recognition; If the email doesn’t have a subject line, make sure to give it one. Unfortunately, many people forget that the most important part of an email is the subject line.

Tips for finding data in your computer’s hard drive:

1. Always have a well-constructed folder hierarchy with meaningful folder and file names; Stop and think when creating and naming folders and files. After all, you want to make it easy for yourself to recall or recognize them.

2. Once you constructed your folder hierarchy, you can use Windows Explorer (not to be confused with Internet Explorer!) to navigate your folder tree and find the file you need.

3. Although Windows Explorer has a Search function, I would use it only as a last resort. There are much better and faster tools for finding files.

4. The best alternative is the use of free desktop search engines, such as Google Desktop or Windows Search. These excellent programs will index your entire hard drive and will, in essence, allow you to “Google” your own PC. You just type in the search terms and, presto, it presents you with your local “browser” results.

5. Programs, such as MS Outlook, have built-in Find function for each of their components, such as email, tasks, calendar, contacts, notes, etc. Make sure you know how to use it effectively. Don’t forget to think ahead and put in key-words (such as in your contacts) for easy recall. It’s not certain that you will remember the name or company a year in the future.