Tag Archives: file organization tips

Beyond “My Documents” — Organizing your files to make things more findable

Beyond My DocumentsLike the stuff in your office, closets, bookshelves, and everywhere else in your physical life, the number of data files on your computers (including cloud storage and online backups) keeps growing.

If you use your computer for business purposes — and even if you simply use it a bunch for personal reasons — that means you quickly have too many files to simply have all in one directory, just like your bills, correspondence, and other paperwork really need to be organized.

Tools like Windows 7′s built-in indexing, or the “Find” command in your file manager, may make it surprisingly easy to find a file quickly, similar to how Google (and other web search engines) help you find online stuff.

But, just like there’s no substitute for good labeling and organizing your paperwork into named folders and file drawers, that’s no substitute for good practices in naming and organizing directories and files, so that you can find things later on.

One reason is you may not remember the right keywords to search for. Another reason is you may have to look through a drive or directory using a different machine or OS — or a cloud back-up — which doesn’t have that index, or support as easy searching within files.

I’ve used two methods that since I started with computers — going back to the pre-Windows days of DOS, and working on Unix systems:

  • Giving files and directories self-explanatory names
  • Organizing my directory structure in a logical manner

A directory called STUFF, or NEW, isn’t helpful. Especially if I haven’t look at it recently. Directory and file names should tell you exactly what the file is. For example, I give directories names such as:

  • AA_WORK (current projects — I’m using the “AA_” to force these alphabetically at the top of the directory listing)
  • AA_ARCHIVES (projects I’m done with)
  • AA_PERSONAL (home, health, family, etc.)

For files, let’s work through a recent project of mine, a review of Bluetooth Keyboards. I called the finished product “Dern-TabletPubs-Review-BluetoothKeyboards.doc” and the invoice that goes with it “Dern-2012-137-TabletPubs-03-Review-BluetoothKeyboards.doc.”

Of course, there are also several files associated with the writing of this project:

_assign-TabletPubs-Review-BluetoothKeyboards.doc
_sources-TabletPubs-Review-BluetoothKeyboards.doc
notes-TabletPubs-Review-BluetoothKeyboards.doc
xcr-TabletPubs-Review-BluetoothKeyboards.doc (xrc is my shorthand for an interview transcript)

Notice that each document contains the project name (Review-BluetoothKeyboards) and the client name (TabletPubs — a pseudonym, of course).

As a freelance writer, I keep a directory for each client. Within each client, I maintain a directory for each project. Within TabletPubs, I have:

  • Feature-TabletsInEnterprise
  • Feature-Windows8-MythOrMenace
  • Review-BluetoothKeyboards
  • Review-FunAccessories

My general point: I should be able to know, or at least have a good idea, of what a file and directory are about from their names — and if for some reason I find a file in a place I don’t expect (typically because the application saved it in the wrong place) I can quickly figure out where it should go.

And, equally, I should have a good chance of finding the directory or file based on a name search, without having to search inside the files. (I’m not opposed to searching file contents, but that can often turn up way too many matches.)

Directories for active projects are in the directory AA_WORK. Once a project is finished, I move it to AA_ARCHIVES.

Anything else about my business other than projects is in AA_ADMIN, such as CONTRACTS (with a sub-directory for each client), INVOICING, RECEIPTS, TECHSUPPORT, TRIPS.

The same applies to non-business stuff, e.g. under my PERSONAL directory, I’ve got directories like CAR, DIRECTIONS, DOG, HEALTH, HOUSE.

One last tip: I also use this organizational approach to simplify and reduce my file backup requirements. Stuff I want backed up goes in one set of directories. Stuff I don’t care about, like manuals I’ve downloaded, articles I want to read, presentations I was sent for articles I was doing, vendor press kits, all go under one top-level directory like STUFF2SAVE_BUTDONTBACKUP.

Of course, I periodically rethink how I’m labeling and organizing my files — often as new topics and groups of things emerge. The same is true for my paper files, my shoeboxes of electronic doohickeys, etc. But generally, I’m able to find something quickly enough, so it must be working, at least, for me.