While carrying on with your busy everyday life, it’s easy to forget about the endless amount of digital files stored on your computer. Thinking about how to organize thousands of your computer files on your personal computer probably doesn’t top your priority list. After all, there’s no immediate need for these files, right?
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Folder Structure Best Practices
- Tips for Organizing Personal Documents, Papers, and Bills
- Tips for Organizing Digital Photos on Your Computer
- Tips for Organizing Files for Work or School
- Popular Programs or Apps to Help You Organize Your Computer Files
Not necessarily. In the event of your death, your family members will need to organize the files and photos you’ve collected. A quick Swedish death cleaning of your digital files has many benefits.
Organized digital photos and documents have a positive impact on your productivity and can potentially save your relatives precious time when sorting through your digital afterlife for archival purposes.
If you need help learning how to stay organized, follow these quick tips to make your life, and your relatives’ lives, easier.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, handling the details of their unfinished business such as organizing photos can be overwhelming without a way to structure your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
Why Organize Your Computer Files?
What's the importance of organizing your computer files in the first place? Whether you're just starting to organize key documents, or you're hoping to optimize your life, this is a must-do for anyone in the digital age.
Here's why you should organize your computer files:
- Security: If you're unorganized, you're more likely to be a target for hackers and those trying to use your identity. You want to know where your key files are and how to store them safely.
- Sharing: Often, we need to share our key documents, papers, bills, etc. with others in our life. This is especially true with work or school documents. Sharing is significantly easier if you organize your files.
- Backups and digital cleansing: When you take the time to go through your computer files, you can easily see what needs to be backed up, deleted, shared, and so on. This should improve your computer's performance, and it makes your device easier to use.
- Digital legacy: Last but not least, your computer is part of your digital legacy. When you die, you want it to be as easy as possible to share your digital assets with loved ones. Organizing your documents, photos, and so on is key to this.
Life is becoming more and more digital. In addition, death is becoming digital. Virtual funerals with GatheringUs are the new normal, and people are memorializing their loved ones with photos and accounts online. Organizing your computer files is the first step.
Folder Structure Best Practices
Structuring your computer files is an important step to increase productivity, cut down on stress, and make your files easy to find. Here are several best practices to use to make your computer neat, organized, and clutter-free.
Place everything in a shared folder
Whether you have a Mac or a PC, you’ll have a “Documents” folder. As tempting as it can be to place your entire file folder system into this folder, don’t do it! The documents folder is a folder local to your computer alone. That means that if you leave your computer at home while on a business trip, you have no way of accessing the files you need. Computer crashes? The folder and everything in it is gone. Water spills on your keyboard and fries the internal hard drive? Folder destroyed.
Prevent the loss of files and provide yourself universal access by managing your entire file folder system from within a shareable drive. There are numerous options for you here, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive. Choose any system that allows you unlimited file storage capabilities so you’ll never worry about running out of room later on.
Group by major categories
When first setting up a filing system, establish categories to place all other files and folders in. For example, if you use your computer for business and personal use, create a “Business” and a “Personal” folder. Then, within each of those umbrella folders, you can place other items accordingly.
Always keep business and personal items separate. Develop subfolders for major categories in your personal and business folders. You might have a “Finance” subfolder in both business and personal folders, but you’ll only have a “Family” subfolder within your personal folder.
When it comes to organization, subfolders are your friend. Rather than dumping everything from financial documents to family photos into your “Personal” folder, you should have a “Finance” and a “Photos” folder for those things. Within each of those, organize them by date. Pictures and financial documents can both be organized by year, for example.
Don’t save to the desktop
It’s always tempting to place a saved file on the desktop for quick reference or because you don’t know where to put it. Resist this temptation as much as possible. When it comes to your computer, there should be a place for everything, and everything should be in its place.
If you need a file on the desktop because you use it so frequently, then create a desktop shortcut for that file, but keep the file in its proper location. A cluttered and messy desktop is the last thing you need to maintain a tidy, productive life.
Tips for Organizing Personal Documents, Papers, and Bills
If the first thing you see when you turn on your computer is a crowded screen full of documents placed haphazardly with no rhyme or reason, use this guide to organize your digital files.
1. Identify main categories
Almost every aspect of our lives these days is digital and nearly every important document we own can be stored in a digital form including e-receipts, contracts, work presentations, and insurance documents, among others.
Given the diversity of documents in your computer, the first step is to take a quick scan of the types of documents you have and sort them into categories. Organizing your computer files doesn't have to be complex. The rule of thumb is to go from general to more specific. For instance:
- Pictures → Travel → Abroad → Europe → France
- Insurance Policies → Life Insurance → 2020 Revision
- Financials → Investments → Merryl Lynch
- Personal Projects → Gazebo → Materials Cost
Each main category will be your primary folder. Once you have identified the main categories, create sub-folders for each and place your documents where they are the most relevant. In addition, don’t forget to sort out your desktop as well.
Desktops tend to be crowded with apps and miscellaneous files. Make sure to only keep essential apps and files for easy access.
When in the process of arranging your digital files, delete redundant documents to empty space on your computer. Uninstall applications that you no longer use to help your computer run faster and clear out the clutter.
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2. Rename your documents
It is typical to have unclear names for documents. Particularly, you’ll find vague naming conventions after importing or downloading files. You’ve probably stumbled upon file names such as “20200405.pdf,” “contract_fb.pdf,” or "Screenshot_1000.png."
As is, these names are unclear and don’t tell you what the file is. To help you and your relatives find important documents or pictures, rename any that currently have cryptic naming conventions. Keep the names clear and consistent. If using dates in your file naming, be sure to keep all dates written the same way.
Assign intuitive names that will make recognizing your documents easy. Remember that you don’t need to rename every single file on your computer. Simply start with those that have ambiguous or unclear names.
3. Create shortcuts
Having to open three or four folders to access a single document can get frustrating and confusing. For files and documents that you know your relatives will need to access, create shortcuts on your desktop.
Shortcuts give you and your relatives direct access to the documents or folders that you need to access frequently from any location on your computer. Shortcuts are usually set up on the desktop, but you can locate them anywhere.
Creating shortcuts on your Mac
- First, select the file or folder you want to create a shortcut for and right-click on it. From here, a menu will pop up.
- Select “Make Alias.” A new file with a small, black arrow in the left corner will pop up. This file is the Alias.
- Select and drag the Alias to your desktop or to any location you prefer.
Thanks to this alias, you can directly access any nested document or folder from anywhere on your computer. Make sure to create shortcuts only when necessary so you don’t overdo it.
Note: Don’t drag and drop a file. Doing this will move the location of your original file instead of creating an alias. Make sure to create an alias and avoid any messy confusion.
Creating shortcuts in Windows
To create shortcuts in Windows 10, you have two main options:
- Select your file and right-click on it.
- In the menu that pops up select “Create shortcut.” This will create a shortcut on your desktop.
- Go to your desktop and right-click on an empty area.
- In the menu that pops up, select “Shortcut,” and the Shortcut Wizard will open.
- Click the “Browse” option and find the file that you want to have direct access to.
- You will be given the option to name your shortcut. Leave or change the shortcut name as you prefer.
- Click “Finish.”
Whether you use a Mac or Windows computer, you can easily set up shortcuts so you or your relatives can access any file quickly.
Tips for Organizing Digital Photos on Your Computer
Organizing photos is a fun part of uncluttering your digital files. During the process, you can go through and relive all the happy adventures and life events that bring back joyful memories.
Protecting and organizing these kinds of photos is important. You don’t want to lose your photos if your computer stops working or you spill coffee on it by accident. To protect your digital photos and create a system that is easy to access, you must first choose the appropriate storage system.
1. Choose an appropriate storage system
An appropriate storage system will support large quantities of photos and serve as a digital backup as well. You may choose to utilize more than one of the following options to reduce the risk of losing files.
An external hard drive
The main benefit of an external hard drive is its massive storage capacity. In addition to organizing files and folders neatly, an external hard drive functions as a backup to your computer. Most external hard drives today are pocket-sized and affordable. Depending on the number of files that you want to store, you may want an option as large as a 4 Terabyte (TB) external hard drive.
Not only can you backup your valuable files to your external hard drive, but given its compact size, you may carry it with you when you need to and upload on the go. An external drive allows you to keep all of your photos uploaded and stored for quick access in one location.
Cloud services are a great option to store and organize your photos. The main providers of cloud storage services are Google, Dropbox, and iCloud. If you have an email account, you might already be using one of these. By turning on automatic upload from your phone or computer, it makes the process of storing your files in the cloud quick and easy.
All three popular storage providers offer free storage limits for each account you set up with them:
There are many benefits to utilizing cloud storage. For instance, you and anyone with the appropriate login information can access your files from any device, anywhere, as long as the internet is accessible.
Some people backup their files on both external hard drives and a cloud service. Given the current threats in cybersecurity, having both systems assures your photos and documents are safe.
2. Assign relevant names
When we upload pictures from our phone onto the computer, they often transfer with naming conventions that don’t make any sense. Files names such as “DSC_009.jpg” or “IMG002” won’t help your son find your wedding pictures or your daughter find her prom photos.
To help your relatives avoid having to go through all your pictures to find the one or two that they need, name files appropriately for ease of access.
For fast organization, name your photos and place them in appropriate folders as you take them and upload them from your phone.
Then, spend time each week to go through old files and rename those without clear file names. You may want to name according to date, event, or the name of the person or place in the picture.
When you have more time available, you may also add tags to your photos. These tags will make finding specific people or places in a group of photos much easier.
Tips for Organizing Files for Work or School
A survey conducted by the International Data Corporation (IDC) found that office workers waste approximately two hours each week trying to locate digital documents!
Although it might not be noticeable, the time we spend looking for digital files adds up and can reach significant numbers of overtime. Taking the time to organize your digital files for work or school has a serious potential to boost your productivity.
During school or university, we tend to accumulate myriads of documents from homework and class presentations to projects, educational videos, recommendations, and research.
To stay on top of your school material and work, you need to sort out your digital files. This could save you precious time and help you locate key information much faster. Here are a few steps to follow.
1. Create separate folders for school and work
If you utilize the same personal computer for work or school, it’s important to create a separate folder to keep documents organized.
As mentioned before, the general rule is to organize documents from general to specific. You can use something like the following arrangement for school or university.
- College Year 1
- Introduction to Macroeconomy
- Class materials
- Group projects
- First Semester
Similarly, identify the main categories of your work documents and arrange them accordingly. A business folder might look something like this:
- Digital Consultancy
- Digital Marketing Campaign
- Facebook Data
- Google Algorithms
- Inbound Leads
- Client #12
2. Utilize a note-taking app
Take advantage of digital note-taking tools. Instead of writing your notes in a brand new Word document and trying to organize each new document, utilize a note-taking app like Evernote.
Note-taking applications have a default structure that keeps your files sorted and organized. Also, since your files are on the cloud, you have access to your notes from any device anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection and the application installed.
With note-taking apps, you can forget about issues with losing your notes, leaving your notebook at home, or misplacing a file or folder.
In addition, once the semester or a project is over and you no longer require your notebooks, you can archive them in your cloud storage.
Note-taking applications provide a convenient option to keep all your notes organized and easy to access.
Popular Programs or Apps to Help You Organize Your Computer Files
Sometimes you need an extra tool or two to get your files organized just how you like them. Whether you’re in the process of setting up a system or you’re redoing the system you already have, these tools will help you create the most organized system possible.
Google Drive is one of the most well-known cloud-based organizational systems loved by both PC and Apple users. You can place your entire filing system into Google Drive and host all of your files, photographs, and documents on the cloud. Drive supports Microsoft document integration and allows seamless upload, download, in-drive editing, and instant sharing capabilities.
Price: Plans range from $1.99 for 100 GB of storage space to $49.99 for 10 TB of space.
Dropbox is another popular cloud-based tool that provides an efficient storage system for your files, music, photographs, and videos. The layout within Dropbox functions similarly to the “Documents” folder on your computer, and you’ll need to set up a filing system to help you locate files once everything is moved over.
Price: Basic with up to 2 GB of storage is free. There are individual and family plans with up to 2 TB of storage. These are priced at $9.99 for individual plans and $16.99 for family plans.
If you have a Windows desktop but want a Mac experience, RocketDock is a software add-on you’ll love. This software creates a Mac-like dock at the bottom of your screen where you can keep all the shortcuts you want. Remove the shortcut clutter from your desktop and place them into the dock for fast and easy organization. The dock is highly customizable and ideal for creating an appealing and organized space on your computer.
Price: Free. This software was created under a Creative Commons license.
If you’ve got a substantial filing system, you might get tired of navigating through all your folders and subfolders to find the file you’re looking for. In this case, Launchy might be just what you need. Launchy is an open-source software launching tool that allows you to set up programs or files to open with a few keystrokes. You might set up the Microsoft Word program to launch when you type “Word” into Launchy. Your favorite playlist could automatically start running when you type “Fave tunes.”
Price: Free. This is open-source software.
Organize Your Digital Files Now and Save Yourself Later
The benefits of organizing your digital files can be rewarding. Not only will you have your documents and photos on hand anytime you need them, but your relatives will thank you for it later.
Everyone has their own style when it comes to taxonomy and thinking about how to organize your computer files can be time-consuming. Simply begin by utilizing the quick tips above and find your own, personal style as you go.
- Sander, Libby. “The Case for Finally Cleaning Your Desk.” Stress, Harvard Business Review, March 29, 2019. hbr.org/2019/03/the-case-for-finally-cleaning-your-desk
- Villas-Boas, Antonio and McAlone, Nathan. “19 Ways to Make Your Mac Run Faster. Business Insider, Business Insider, August 25, 2017. businessinsider.com/how-to-make-your-mac-run-faster-2016-12