Group Interview – Organized Computer

Everyone has a different approach to organizing their computer files.What single tip would you give someone to stay productive in their computer organization?

Take time to think about the top-level folders. How do you normally refer to, or think about, things? Then label the top level accordingly and put the ensuing files where you intuitively would refer to them. I confess, I tried to convince myself that because it is a computer, somehow it would organize me! Alas, I find that I have to be intentional and schedule weekly sessions with the computer just like a would a client. Steve Roesler from All Things Workplace (rss)

I’ve actually had good luck with self organization using DEVONThink. Once you setup your structure and file some of your documents, you can have it automatically file future documents based on their contents. So if you are filing a contract, it will look for other documents similar to the contract and suggest a place to put it. This works reasonably well, but it still requires some effort. I think the idea of taking some time each week to make sure things are getting unorganized is an excellent idea.

Regular clean-outs. When you have 100GB’s of space, you don’t feel the need to trash anything. Going through a semi-regular dump of all unused files is helpful. Scott H Young from (rss)

Large drives make it easy to keep junk. It is hard to force yourself to spend a lot of time cleaning up your documents when 30 minutes worth of work only frees up .5% of your drive. Having some type of regular schedule for cleaning things up can help keep things from getting out of hand.

Delete as much as you can, or back it up onto removable media. However, I am an extremist when it comes to simplicity. I use Picasa to manage my photo collection on an 80gb hard drive, but I burn all my photos to DVD and remove them from the hard drive once they are a month old. I just can’t handle the data clutter. We accumulate so much data on our computers. Do we really need it all? If so, find a program that will catalog the data for you. Otherwise, get rid of it. I know data storage is cheap, but our time and ability to process it all is a limited resource. John Reeve from Intervals find time (rss)

I tend to be very paranoid about optical media, so I don’t like to trust my data to be just in one place. John does make a good point about keeping your stuff cleaned up on a regular basis. It is a lot more difficult to force yourself to edit photos from 2 years ago than it is to choose the 5% “keepers” from the past weekend. Finding a good way to organize all of your data can be pretty difficult–particularly with things like photos, videos and audio. I’m having good luck with iPhoto for my pictures, but if I wasn’t using a Mac I’d probably look at Picasa again.

To arrange things so that person can find his or her files. I organize so it fits me, not someone else; idea of what fits for me. I have a fairly broad file organization, because I’m one of those people who need to see “everything out.” I don’t care if I have lots of folders that don’t have much in them. Johanna Rothman from Managing Products Development (rss)

Good point. Another important principle is to be open to restructuring things if your current structure doesn’t seem to be working well for you.

My single tip would be to structure your folders logically (in a tree structure, for instance), and to use names that clearly indicate what is inside. If you don’t have that habit after one year you won’t be able to find things easily. Daniel Scocco from Daily Bits (rss)

Personally I find that creating a logical structure is a lot more difficult than it sounds. I find myself constantly re-arranging things to try to get a reasonable structure that makes it easy to find things.

Put dates consistently in file names. If you can’t remember a client name four years later, at least you’ll remember when you were working on the project and still be able to find a file. For example, recent project I worked on with Leo Babauta of Zen Habits is titled 080312_ZenHabitsPost.txt. Erin PJDoland from Unclutterer (rss)

I do this as well, but I use a sightly different format. I will try to name everything as 20080325-filename.jpg That way if I sort the file by name, it will show up in the correct order. With a 2 year date, you’ll probably be fine going forward. I started doing this back in the 90’s so the 4 digit date helps keep things organized even if it was from last century. I have an automated process that renames all of my pictures before I import them to my computer. This is particularly useful if at sometime in the future you need to change all of your documents to a different format and the file date changes.

Use online office tools :) Glen Stansberry from LifeDev (rss)

I think this is particularly useful if you have to use a bunch of different computers and you almost always have a high speed connection. My preference is to have my hard drive sync with online office tools, so I have access from where ever I happen to be, but I can easily use my computer offline if I don’t have a connection to the internet. IMAP email is a great example of this. I can login from the internet to check my email using webmail, but I can also go through and deal with emails while driving in the car without a connection and just have everything sync up when I get back on the internet.


  1. Noah says

    What I would really like is some sort of big graphical file viewer that would allow me to see all files/directories in one big window, and drag/drop files into “areas” that make sense to me. Kinda like a big mind-map for my file (re)organization…

  2. says

    I make it a habit to label my files in a way which lets me know — even months later — exactly what kind of stuff are inside. As well, I make sure to include the month and the year that I made that folder — just so I have an idea if the files are current and if I need to start another folder already.

  3. says

    There are dozens of folders in my laptop. To help out i sorting through them, I label them with exacty what can be found inside. For instance, a folder containing some photos from my wedding would not simply state: “My Wedding.” I would label it more specifically: “Wedding photos — At the Church.” Well, something like that. Just so I don;t end up opening every single folder I come across in looking for one particular thing.

  4. says

    Folders are my best friends! My friends chide me for having gazzillions of folders pasted onto my desktop. It may look overwhelming — even chaotic — for others, but to me, everything is perfectly understandable and organized. Labeling each folder, as concisely as I can, as well as alphabetizing them, helps me work faster.


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