How to Organize Your Computer Files | Optimize Your Search
Organize your work life
As part of my journey to be more effective and productive, I am engaging in various projects to organize and declutter my working environment. The chances are that like me your computer’s desktop and other folders are chaotic and cluttered making it difficult to retrieve important information when you need it. Add in the additional layer of complexity, in that you operate from different computers and platforms and you have yourself a mess. Now unfortunately to start the journey to being organized, I have learned that you need to manually address the majority of the clutter you experience today. My initial thoughts were that I would need to create a complex filing system, creating a hierarchal folder structure for my files driven by business or personal, year, project, sub-project etc. This is a daunting task if you have years of files built that are filed in an ineffective or absent filing system.
So what can I do as an alternative? Well it was time to research what others had done. The consensus was that most focus on the hierarchical filing structure, creating a file naming and filing discipline. A few experts focused on a completely opposite approach, which on the surface seems a lot less effort and more manageable in the long term, but is it viable?
How to leverage your computer’s search capabilities
If we look at Google and Microsoft as an example, they have developed two of the most sophisticated search engines known to man. As users of either we use a fraction of their search functionality, not mention the other non-search capabilities that Google offers (see my posting on this). Neither one of these search engines relies on excellent filing skills; they rely on their ability to search. So keeping this in mind, I asked how effective is the search engine built in to Windows? Can the ability to search my computer for information mitigate the need for a complex filing system, which let’s face it requires commitment to maintain.
So, I have taken the somewhat radical approach of abandoning the idea of a complex filing system and implemented a much simpler system. I collected together all my main file types from all my computers and firstly cleansed them for duplicates. I then signed up for a premium dropbox account. I had explored using Google Drive, however I discovered through testing that the software on both my iMac and PC when uploading the cloud caused my internet connection to grind to a halt. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any solution online, and it’s clear from the forums that the concept of upload throttling has not yet been implemented. So as a free user of dropbox and having no issues I invested in the upgrade. It has proven reliable for managing and backing up my documents and using them between all my different devices and computers. It’s also has some great features, albeit not as rich as Google Drive for sharing documents with others. Most of all its reliable and I see no degradation in my computers performance.
So all my files (with the exception of photos and videos) are in my dropbox folder. I have placed them in file folders by type (e.g. doc, pdf, xls), I didn’t need to do this, but it was the last file folder structure I held on to. So now I have all my files broken down by file type with no duplicates syncing between all my computers and devices. So that’s a lot of files, with no file structure how on earth can I find what I’m looking for? Well that’s where the built-in desktop search tool comes in. For the purpose of the example I’ll focus on the Windows 7 desktop search tool, but OSX provides similar capabilities. The search tool will find relevant documents, e-mails, programs and other files other the search box.
Windows search can be accessed from a number of places on your computer. This includes the Windows Start Menu, Windows Explorer or by pressing the “Windows key + F” to open a search window. The later who I use the most allows you to build complex search queries with guidance, where’s you need to know the correct syntax from the start menu, if you want to filter a specific file type, date range etc. Your files do need to be indexed, you can do this manually by going to the Control Panel selecting the Indexing Options and modify your Indexed Locations.
How to find anything on your computer with Windows Search
I’ve provided two links to the Microsoft site ADVANCED TIPS FOR SEARCHING and SEARCHING SYNTAX providing a comprehensive guide to assist you in narrowing your search. I’ve provided some examples, of which you can type directly in to search tool. Note, if you open up a particular file folder and search from the window, your search will be limited initially to that window and the contained file folders. I mention this, as you may try experimenting and be disappointed when known emails don’t show up, but that likely due to where you are searching from.
- ext:ppt financials This searches for the word “financials” in file names as well the content of your PowerPoint presentations. If you want to search only the name of your file then update the search to ext:ppt filename:forecast.
- subject:”sales numbers” from:company.com This searches for all emails from your colleagues. The domain name is updated to reflect your company domain. The search can be person specific by including their full e-mail.
- date:01-01-2012..31-12-2012. This search will generate a list of all files created or modified during that period. This is useful if you are limiting you search to a particular year, or perhaps you are going to archive all files from a particular year.
Now, as I mentioned I left out pictures and videos. I could follow this method, but for me those media are stored and indexed in Picasa and my media server software and I excluded their folders and file types from any searches I may do.
Maintain file organization through automation
Now that I have a system, I need to maintain that system, so now I’m exploring how I can use Belvedere (PC) and Hazel (MAC) to automate the capture and filing of any misplaced files, allowing me to stay clutter free and organized. I’ll also review how I can further automate leveraging the Dropbox channel on IFTTT As soon as I have successfully implemented and tested those products I’ll provide an update.
I would love to get your feedback on my chosen approach and to perhaps hear of how your manage files and folders set up.