There is a better way to stop the file clutter—by managing your files more effectively. Digital files are no different than paper files, and when you have a good method of organization, things don’t get lost quite so easily.
Whether you save your files on your computer’s hard drive or at a shared network location, these tips will help you save the time and headache of searching for files. And if you haven’t already familiarized yourself with the search features in Windows 7 or Windows Vista, this is the perfect time to learn more.
Check out the reader tips. We’ve gotten hundreds of great comments on this article from the content feedback tool at the bottom of the page. And many of you left tips you use to organize and find your files. We updated this article to include some of the tips we received.
Tips to manage your files better
Use these tips to help manage your files.
Use Documents. For many reasons, it’s smart to take advantage of the Documents feature (called Documents in and Windows Vista, and My Documents in Windows XP. To open Documents in Windows Vista, click Start, and then click Documents to discover an easy way to store your personal documents.
In Windows 7, the Documents feature is actually a virtual library. By default, the Documents library includes your My Documents or Documents folder and the Public Documents folder. You can customize the Documents library (in addition to the Music, Pictures, and Videos libraries that are also included by default) in Windows 7 to group files and folders from any location on your computer—without actually moving them. Or you can build your own libraries to easily organize your files. Learn more about working with libraries.
Libraries are a flexible way to organize your files in Windows 7 without moving them into one location.
By using Documents in Windows Vista and Windows XP and by using libraries in Windows 7, you will be better able to:
Adopt consistent methods for file and folder naming. Develop a naming scheme for the kinds of files you create most often and then stick to it.
Keep names short. Even though Windows lets you use long file names, that does not necessarily mean you should. Long file names are harder to read.
- Find files. Windows provides easy access to the Documents folder (and its subfolders) in many places, including: the Start menu, the task pane in Windows Explorer, and common File Open and File Save dialog boxes, among others.
- Back up files. You should back up files regularly. Using Documents and libraries to organize them helps make backup a snap.
- Keep files separate from programs. By separating document files and program files you reduce the risk of accidentally deleting your documents when you install or upgrade programs.
Let your folder structure do some of the naming. For example, rather than creating a file called Great American Novel Chapter One First Effort, you can build a structure like:
The folder structure can help you avoid using lengthy file names.
Separate ongoing and completed work. To keep the Documents folder from becoming too unwieldy, use it only for files you’re actively working on. As a result, you can reduce the number of files you need to search through and the amount of data you need to back up. Every month or so, move the files you’re no longer working on to a different folder or location, such as a folder on your desktop, a special Archive folder, a flash drive, an external hard disk drive, or even a CD.
Store like with like. Restricting folders to a single document type (or predominantly one type) makes it easier for you to find files. For example, with all your graphics in a single folder—or in a single library in Windows 7, it’s easy to use the Filmstrip view and slide show feature in Windows Explorer to find the right picture for your newsletter. You can also use libraries in Windows 7 to group files together for easier searching without moving them into the same place, or use the Arrange by command to sort files by criteria such as author, date modified, and type. These criteria can change based on the file type (documents have different Arrange by criteria than photos, for example).
Avoid large folder structures. If you need to put so many subfolders in a folder that you can’t see all of them at a glance, consider creating an alphabetic menu.
Alphabetized folders can help you stay organized.
Use shortcuts and shortcut links instead of multiple copies. If you need to get to the same file from multiple locations, don’t create copies of the file. Create shortcuts to it instead. To create a shortcut, right-click the file, and then click Create Shortcut. You can drag the shortcut to other locations. Microsoft Office 2010 includes some built-in shortcuts with the new Backstage view. To see Backstage view, open an Office file, and click the File tab. Click the Recent tab in Backstage view for a list of links to your recent documents. The Recent tab even includes a Recover Unsaved Documents option. In Backstage view, you can create, save, and send documents, inspect documents for hidden metadata or personal information, set options, and more.
Quickly get to the items you use every day. Jump Lists, a fun new feature in Windows 7, are lists of recently opened items, such as files, folders, or websites that are organized by the program that you use to open them. You can use a Jump List to open items, and you can even pin favorites to a Jump List.
Consider storing documents online. You can also keep documents your company’s Microsoft SharePoint 2010 site or through Windows Live SkyDrive so that you can easily access them from outside the office, share them easily, and edit them online by using Office Web Apps.
Learn more about working with folders in Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP.
8 reader tips
Thanks to all the readers who left their own helpful tips and comments on this article.
Use abbreviations. Keep file names short by using common abbreviations, such as “MTG” for meeting or “ACTG” for accounting. This makes the file names more descriptive and you can more easily find files through Search, if necessary.
Use thumbnails or icons. Search through folders in the Thumbnail view in Windows XP, or change the view to display the files as icons in Windows 7 or Windows Vista. To view icons in Windows 7 or Windows Vista, click the Change your view button (Windows 7) or the Views button (Windows Vista) in the toolbar, and then select the icons size you want to use. To view icons as thumbnails or icons in Windows XP, click the Views button in the toolbar, and then click Thumbnail or Icons.
Change your view list in Windows 7.
Use common names. To make it easier to search for documents, name your files and folders with easily found names, such as model numbers, project names, or the project lead in the title.
Don’t save unnecessary files. Be selective about the files you keep. You probably don’t need to keep them all. With email, for example, you don’t need to keep everything you receive.
Use Recent Items. To find a file you just worked on, use Recent Items (called My Recent Documents in Windows XP) in the Start menu.
In previous versions of the Windows operating system, Recent Items showed a list of your recently used files on the right side of the Start menu. You could open a file from this list by clicking it. Recent Items no longer appears on the Start menu by default, but you can add it. To add Recent Items to the Start menu:
Put Documents on the desktop. Put a shortcut to Documents on the desktop. You can save several clicks of the mouse and get where you want to be sooner.
Organize files by dates. Use a date in the document name. For example, jeb051810 could mean Jeb’s file from May 18, 2010. This puts all the Jeb materials together, sorted by date.
Color-code your folders. I have a third-party program which allows me to “color” certain folders in Documents that I use every day. This allows me quick access to open or save a document.
- Right-click the taskbar to open the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box.
- Click the Start Menu tab. Under Privacy, select the Store and display recently opened items in the Start menu and the taskbar check box.
- Click Customize. In the Customize Start Menu dialog box, scroll through the list of options to find the Recent Items check box, select it, click OK, and then click OK again.
Source: Microsoft at Home