Have you ever found yourself banging your head against your desk, or grabbing your mouse to propel at the nearest wall because it is 5 minutes until your next meeting and you can’t find the file you need for the presentation? How about being asked by your wife to print the registration form from your kid’s school for registration that is due in 2 hours and not remembering where you saved it? These situations occur far too often and I hear the stories every day about people’s frustrations with how dis-organized computers can become. The truth of the matter is, no matter how powerful computers are, they will never take responsibility for managing your files. Only you can do that. There is help however. There are numerous tricks and secrets that you can implement that will save you not only time, but your sanity if you simply take the time to create a system that works for you. This post has taken me years to develop, only because it has taken me years of frustration and mistakes to develop, what I feel to be the best way of managing your life on your computer. Well maybe not the best way for you, but it serves me just fine and I call it the “Tamer” method, because I had to tame the beast that was my digital life.Almost all computers set your accounts up with a default place to throw things. These “Documents” folders given their intent realistically make things even more complicated. I generally think there are two rules of thumbs when it comes to how people get around on their computers to find things.
- “The Swinger” – People who like to traverse in and out of folders in the hierarchy of their directory. Like monkeys swinging through trees, they hop from one folder to another, virtually up and down their file tree without knowing exactly where to find what they are looking for. They have a destination clearly in their mind, but have no idea where within the jumbled mess of files and folders to find it.
- “The Adventurer” – These individuals don’t really care where they put things because with services like Desktop search on Windows and Spotlight on the Mac, simply searching for files and folders seems to be a rather productive way to look for things.
- “The Control-Freak” This would be me. It is more of a next level approach to being a “Swinger,” meaning that you still rely on the file/folder hierarchy to get to the file or folder you are looking for, but you construct the forest with bread crumbs to guide you to the specific tree you want.
Now I am not saying one method is better than the other; that is entirely up to the individual and what works for them. These are just choices, which we all tend to leave up to our subconscious mind to make for us without thinking about it. Once you realize which of the above categories you belong in, you can then take steps to maximizing your experience regardless of how you choose to navigate around your computer. One example of maximizing your experience is with the Adventurer. If all you do is save files wherever they may lay and head to the search box every time you are looking for something, then it is in your best interest to spend that extra time saved worrying about folder structure on adding meta-data to the file’s properties when you create it. This meta-data can drastically increase your desktop search service’s ability to pinpoint the file you are looking for the first time around. Within these new operating systems, there are many attributes now hidden within the files, which you can customize to eliminate the stress of trying to remember where the file is after you have forgotten what the name of the file was. Dates in filenames This is where I have seen people struggle and honestly, butcher more than any other aspect of making life on computers easier. It is what you call a file. Obviously, people want to give files names based on topic, subject or whatever and there is nothing wrong with that. Where it gets complicated is when you are not simply creating a file, saving it and never doing another file like it again. Right, if only life were that simple. The truth of the matter is, we are always updating, customizing, sharing and doing things to files that require a bit more control. For that we were given versioning. Multiple snapshots of a file in time that allow you to roll back to previous versions if you ever needed to. Versioning is great in theory, but the reality is, we all don’t have a true Document Management system running on our home machines that will automatically handle the versioning process for us. So what do we do? We create copies of files. Nothing wrong with that right? Well aside from the problem of having creating spawn files from the original scattered everywhere, how do you name them? Again creating an additional burden of trying to find a file that you need or more relevant, finding a file that is the latest version or copy? Again there are a couple of ways to do this. Name first please – This is the more popular way of doing it. You start with the name/subject/title of the file followed by a dash or space than a date or name of the person who just edited it. Personally I think it makes more sense to use the date. But you can’t use the forward slash so you have to cram all of the date numbers together like this 10252010 or using dashes again or periods like this 10.25.2010. That’s too many periods when you end up with another for the file extension. Version number please – Similar to name first please, this simply replaces the date at the end with a self-invented versioning scheme. Things like 1a, 1b, 1c… or 2a, 2b, 2c… appended after the title of the file:
I did it my way…
I have spent years struggling with the numerous ways of trying to remain organized in both an enterprise environment as well as my own home computing environment. What I have developed works for me just fine and on top of that allows me to sync or move files between the two and keep everything right where I know it is. As I mentioned previously, I am the “Control-Freak” type, meaning that I like a very ordered, standardized file structure that assists me through folder names by guiding me towards the purpose of the file I am looking for. For example, If I am looking for a Performance Evaluation on me from 2001, My folders guide me there.
If I am looking for Project Plan for an Database project I am working on, I would proceed to:
I think you get the picture. This works for me about 95% of the time. But in some cases, I end up with so many folders that I have to scroll down to find the ones I use the most since the computer is programmed to sort by name. To get around this, I realized something very interesting that saves me a TON of time, I rename my folders numerically to sort rather than alphabetically, placing my most needed folders at the top of the list. Take my work folder for example.
DOCUMENTS/WORK/00-ADMIN DOCUMENTS/WORK/01-COMMUNICATIONS DOCUMENTS/WORK/02-PRESENTATIONS DOCUMENTS/WORK/03-REPORTING DOCUMENTS/WORK/04-TRAVEL
By changing the numerical value before the folder name, my list gets re-sorted as I want it, not how the computer is programmed for it to be (alphabetically.) One caveat though, ALWAYS use ‘0’ (zero) before single digits, or you will end up with ‘1’ being followed immediately by ‘11’. Now, for the file name issue. I always struggled with this when creating new files. The only thing worst is struggling with all of the files that other people send me with the hundreds of different ways others name files. The answer for me was to again stop naming my files alphabetically. Numerically would work as well, but that didn’t help with the versioning issue. The answer came to me after years of working in the Marine Corps. I remembered that the military often used the date as a convention. But not in the normal way we are all familiar with. Their structure was yyyymmdd which gives you something like this: 20100215. The beauty of this is that when you apply it to a file structure, the computer sorts it perfectly by date. Year first, then month followed by the day. If you append that to the beginning of any file name, all of your files are sorted perfectly and versioned by date. You could take it even further by adding the time, but then you would need to be committed working with files like this: 201002151630 or February 15, 2010 at 4:30 PM. Too much, when all anyone really needs is something like this:
So there you have it, my two main secrets for managing my digital files. I am sure I am not the first to come up with a unique way of managing files and folders. My goal was to ensure that I can get to what I want when I want it, but I think sharing how I do it may help others climb out from under the mountain of unruly files scattered across their computers and moving into a world where you deal with stacks of files rather than mountains of them. It may be a tough job at first, but believe me, once organized, you will feel much better about your computing experience and maybe even begin to think about backups and archives where you can begin to remove things unneeded from your computer all together to de-clutter by removing noise.