How to Organize Computer Files for Easy Retrival

If you had a messy desk at home or work, and you bought a nice steel or wood filing cabinet to put the papers in – you would NOT, hopefully, just dump all the papers into the cabinet. However, when you dump all your files into one folder such as the default “Downloads” or “My documents” folder in Windows – that is exactly what you are doing. So, just like you’d organize your papers in a filing cabinet by date or topic or alphabetically – you should organize your computer files the same way. Doing so has many advantages.

Advantages to Keeping Computer Files Organized

There are many advantages to keeping your computer files organized. First, if you know where something is you can easily find it. And if you have a consistent system for where you save your files – it will become easy to know where something is. Second, if you keep your computer files organized you are less likely to permanently lose something, especially something important. Using only defaults for saving locations and file names can result in files being over-written, which means the data is lost. Third, keeping your files organized saves you time. If you know your quarterly budget is in your Excel Docs Folder in the sub-folder “Budgets”, and has the file name “Budget_first_quarter_2015.xlsx” or “Budget_03012015.xlsx” – you can find it instantly – much faster even than Windows search – even if you remember what you called the file. And if you don’t remember what you called a file, or what Windows named it for you – Windows won’t be able to help you find it.

Creating an Organizational System

I have a lot of experience temping in several different offices and organizations. One thing that being a temporary office worker teaches you is that although every organization has a different way of organizing files both paper and electronic – every office does have some system. And to be successful in your work, not only do you need to be able to adapt to the current system used by your current office – but it’s pretty pointless to say, “In my last place we did this…” or “Well, So-and-So Company did it this way,” – you need to adapt. You also need to be able to create a system quickly to fit the situation where one is currently working. I’ve created Microsoft Outlook e-mail folders and personal computer folders that were organized by project name, by product name or type, numerically by document or engineering notice, even by sales person name. It just depends on the information you have to organize, and what would be the quickest way to find that information again.

So I highly recommend that if you are starting from scratch in organizing computer files, first spend time thinking about not only how to organize them – but what makes the most sense in being able to locate the particular folder or file you need later. In the end, the specifics of how you organize your files isn’t as important as the idea of having some sort of organization.

Considerations for a Computer Filing System

  1. It must work for you – if you start a system and you don’t understand it, or it doesn’t make sense to you and your data, then you’ll never find anything. Look at what you have then make choices about how to organize it.
  2. It must be expandable. Make sure you can add to it later.
  3. File, Folder and subfolder names MUST be unique
  4. It should be easy to find things again.

Sample Computer Filing System

I tend to organize my computer files by topic. I sometimes add a date to a file name, especially for financial files. I also sometimes date folders – but only the year. One reason to date certain files in the file name itself is the computer-assigned date will change and update every time you open a file, so if you are trying to find your May 2014 Budget – which you looked at on September 1, 2015 the file date in the Windows detail pane will say 09012015 (Sept 1 2015) not May 2014. Plus, for financial files you may have several files with the same or similar names – but the date will be different.

I find several program type super-folders with topic-based sub-folders works well.

Main Folders:

  • Word Docs
  • Excel Docs
  • PowerPoints
  • Bills_Orders_Finances
  • Education
  • Video files
  • Music files
  • Graphics
  • Pictures


I used to break my video files down by the program used to create it (such as Real Player, Windows Movie Maker, or .mp4); however, I now use VLC Player to view my videos, which can view can kind of file. Therefore, I put all videos in a Video superfolder, then organize by topic (such as cooking demonstrations, or music videos, or education videos).

Inside each folder you can create additional folders by topic – so in your Word folder you might have one folder for Resumes and a second for Cover letters, and additional folders as you see fit. Your Bills_orders Folder might have sub folders by month. If you use iTunes or Amazon music player – it will create a directory structure (folders and sub-folders) for you. When you back-up your music to an additional drive – take advantage of this organization.

Once you’ve determined a folder and sub-folder structure you can move on to file management. And remember – your system should suit you, and it should also be expandable.

File Management

Professionals in IT call this “naming convention”. Basically, that means “rules on how you name stuff”. Windows has some rules about naming files: character limits including path, use of extensions, not allowing certain characters, etc. You’ve probably run into these before (Windows will clearly give you a warning when a folder or file name is invalid). A couple of basics – never name anything “my ______”. Some versions of Windows have system-level files that are called “My something” such as “My documents”. You can never have two files or folders or pieces of different information with identical names on a computer – so one easy way to avoid that is just don’t name files “my something”. For files you need to send out to others, first – check if they have a naming convention, second, if not, include your name in the file name. So not simply Resume_01012015 but Smith_Resume_01012015. This helps on the other end for files to not get lost, confused, misplaced, etc. Be professional in naming electronic files destined for elsewhere. This includes work files send to clients, other departments, etc. You can use hyphens, underscores, and even blank spaces in file names. Be consistent in how you do this. You cannot use slashes in file names so for dates simply use an 8-digit number. Today would be 09262015. Other than that, Windows has consistently eliminated or reduced requirements and restrictions on file names. Many of the old “rules” no longer apply. However, in a work environment, you may need to ask or review information on naming conventions for your files. This is especially important in environments where you routinely share files. Or in environments, like engineering, where there are strict guidelines about versions of documents and files.

Second, don’t use full sentences for file names. Yes, in some cases Windows will let you, but it’s just not neat. You no longer need to limit yourself to eight characters for the file name and three for the extension (the part to the right of the dot that tells you what program created the file, such as .doc or .docx for Word Documents), as was the case in the days of DOS. And don’t create file names so bland and repeative you can’t tell one file from another. Simple, clear, descriptive but short file names are best.

You can rename a file after creating it by right-clicking on the file in Windows Explorer then choosing “rename” or simply editing in the file name box. Or if you want to keep the file with the original name, but create a second file with a new name, open the file in the program used to create it, choose “save as”, assign the new name and save it with that name. The exact process might vary, depending on the program used to create the file (many graphics programs for example use “Export” rather than “save as”). Saving a new version of the file with a new name can be very important when you “version” your files, and you need to track when, where, and how changes were made.


If you do lose or misplace a file, or you save something in a program such as Word, without first changing the name using “save as” and changing the file location to the one you want, how do you find it again?

In Windows there are several default locations to check first. They are listed below.

Windows Directory – Where’s My Stuff (default locations)

  • Downloads
  • C:\ Users/username/My Documents
  • Desktop

Stop using default locations – and when you do, clean them regularly. To clean a default location like My Desktop move (don’t copy) files from the desktop to the correct location in your file structure. So, for example, the budget you worked on in Excel goes into your Excel_Docs/Budgets subfolder. That report goes into Word Docs/Reports. The picture of your cat or dog goes into Pictures or maybe Pictures/Cat Name or Pictures/ Dog Name or Pets. Move those extra files off your desktop, just like you would periodically clean a physical desk at work or home. Be sure to use “Move” not “Copy” – copy will create a new copy of the file and leave the original behind. Move will move the file to the new location.

Create a folder system that fits you, then put those folders on C:\ or an external drive, or even inside one of the default locations (Downloads, Desktop, My Documents).

Your user folder is C:\Users\Username and that is actually a good place to create your major folders. Another good place to create your new super folders is on an external hard drive. Or, you can create the folders on C – then copy them to an external hard drive or other removable media to create a back-up. I would recommend that your most common folders remain on C but that you also copy that folder regularly to at least one other location for back-up purposes. Any extremely large files, such as video, can also be saved to an external hard drive. You can certainly have one external hard drive permanently attached to your computer for extra storage, and have a second “passport drive” or portable hard drive for back-up purposes.

In some working environments you might not be able to create folders on C or there may be a policy against saving to your computer’s hard drive. In such cases, you will be instructed to save to a Network Drive. Be sure to ask your company’s IT help desk how to save to the Network Drive if you do not know. (A network drive will have a letter like H:\ or J:\ or etc. it varies by the organization.) Saving to the Network drive means your files will be backed-up as part of the corporate back-up policy.

How to Use Evernote to Organize Your Life

Evernote is a syncing app and program that lets you organize information, keep things handy, and reduce the number of post-it notes filled with scrawled reminders littering your desk. Evernote can be used as a personal organization tool as well as a business tool.

To get Evernote:  download the app from the Google Play store on your Android phone or tablet. Evernote is also available for iPhone/iPad/iPod and Apple OS. The app is free for Android phones and tablets. I have it on both by Samsung Galaxy III Android phone and my Nexus 7 Tablet. Once you have downloaded and installed the app, download the PC version (or Apple version for Mac). If you download the app version first, the PC Windows version is free.

One of the neatest things about Evernote is that it syncs automatically. You can create a new note on your phone, and later find that note on your desktop PC version or on your tablet. This works for all notes where ever you compose them, and whatever device you compose them on. As long as you have recorded the information, it is there for you. However, Evernote does not need to be on-line to work. I’ve written notes when I had no internet access at all – next time I have access, the notes sync.

The first step in Evernote is to create notebooks. I suggest creating these in broad categories. I have a general notebook, a notebook for finances, a notebook for recipes, a notebook of favorite blog posts, a notebook for pictures, etc. It’s always easy to add new notebooks. A few months ago, I created a finance notebook and moved all my finance-related notes from my general notebook to that notebook, such as .pdfs of bills, on-line payment confirmations, and other financial information.

The next step is to create notes in your notebooks. There are several different ways to create notes in Evernote. You can simply click new note (location will vary depending on your device) and type in the note. If the note is time-sensitive, such as a reminder about an appointment – you can set an alarm with the note at the same time. You can take a picture with your phone (or tablet) and upload that as a note into Evernote. You can create the bare bones of a typed note, such as a title, then upload a Word or .pdf document – such as a bill, payment confirmation, or order confirmation. You can also type a note as a checklist, then optionally check off steps as they are completed. And if you’ve installed the Evernote Web Clipper to your browser, you can use that to download a “Simplified Article” version of a blog post or on-line article (this will give you the text of a post without any ads, banners, or side-bars – the way you want to read it). You can also use the Web Clipper to clip sections of web pages as an image. Personally, if I want record a section of a webpage as a separate image I use the Windows Utility “Snipping Tool”, which I call “Snippy”, and save it as a .jpg. But having an alternative available is always useful.

One of the best uses for Evernote is lists. I like to make my grocery shopping list in Evernote. I actually walk around, in my kitchen, opening the pantry, fridge, freezer, etc., and record what I need on my tablet. When I sync the app – everything I’ve written is on my phone in Evernote, and I can check it when I’m in the supermarket. I also sometimes start the process on my PC by looking through recipes, and adding ingredients I know I’ll need to my grocery list on my PC, then go to the kitchen, and pick-up the list on my tablet. Because it’s a computerized app, I can delete items that I actually have and add ones I need. In the store, I check the boxes next to the items I buy as I buy them. If I can’t find something, I can leave the item unchecked – and buy it at another store later. It’s a much more organized way to shop.

It is possible to keep any number or type of lists in Evernote. You can also add tags to any note, which makes it searchable, and helps your notebooks stay organized.

Evernote is also great for organizing recipes – because of the ability to add tags to your notes, and the multiple ways of adding information to Evernote. I’ve downloaded recipes from various websites, then added the recipe as an attachment to a note in Evernote. I then title the note with the name of the recipe, or if the recipe has a bland or common title, I’ll add a bit to the title of the note or in the text of the note to set it apart. I also add notes about recipes after I’ve tried them. And I classify my recipes not only by food/meal type (chicken/beef, etc, dinner/potluck, etc) but by level (dead easy, easy, medium, etc.) I have my system. But I also use Evernote to help me find recipes in my cookbooks. Rather than scanning a recipe page and uploading it – I note the recipe title, tag it, and in the body of note list the cookbook, page number, and any other notes. This reduces the, “which cookbook is that Lemon Cookie recipe in?”, time. I can’t tell you how many times I’m spent 30 minutes to an hour trying to find a recipe – only to spend so much time looking that I either no longer want to cook, no longer have time to cook, or I end-up deciding to make something else. And of course, when I come up with a new recipe myself, I can also add it as a new note in my recipes notebook. And you can also take a picture with your phone (or tablet) of a back-of-the-box recipe and add that as a note as well.

In short, Evernote is a great organization tool. I find that the web clipper, upload capability, tagging, and ability to create multiple themed notebooks, are all great ways to organize information. And it’s all searchable. Try it – I think you’ll find it as indispensable as I do.

Tagging – How to tag blog posts

I’ve recently imported my entire Tumblr (over 500 posts – who knew?) and my Blogger blog, The Movie Project, to WordPress, and now I’m going to be concentrating on applying titles, updating the categories and adding tags (or conversely adding categories) to all those posts.

Why bother?

Well, besides the fact that I want my blog to be organized – I imported everything so it would be all in one place. Well, almost everything – I haven’t imported my LiveJournal yet. But tagging is very important, because it’s the tags that allow others to find what you’ve posted by doing a search.

Tagging is tangentially related to database, which is my area, so I understand how it works.

The first rule Be Consistent!

When tagging posts, or assigning categories, be consistent. If you tag a post about the BBC TV Series Doctor Who, “Doctor Who”, don’t tag you’re next post about Doctor Who, “Dr. Who”, and a third post, “DW”. You want to pick a single tag for a topic you frequently post about, and use it. Which isn’t to say you can’t use multiple tags, but don’t constantly change the tag you use for the same topic. If possible, look to see how others tag your topic. For example, you can check for the related Twitter hashtag if it’s a hot topic and use that without the pound (#) sign and with any applicable spaces. You could also tag both with and without spaces (e.g. Doctor Who, DoctorWho). This will help direct traffic to your posts and blog because you are using a tag that is likely to be familiar to your audience. Think of your tags as keywords. If you were to look on Google for information on a topic, What phrases would you use?

Wrangle (Update) Tags

Don’t be afraid to go back and update (wrangle) your tags – modern blogging sites even have management sections that help you to do this. Update your tags to improve consistency.

Spelling counts

Spell your tags correctly, especially proper names. Use IMDB or Google to check spelling of proper names.

Watch Tag Length

Don’t use overly long tags – unless it’s necessary for the topic. For example, for my blog, The Movie Project, one tag I apply to each post is the title of the film. This can result in a long tag, but the film’s title is the most likely phrase that someone might use when looking for posts about the film.

Tag in Groups – for Consistency and Logic

Also try to think of tags in groups, this will also help you to use consistent tags. For example, if you review films, you might want to consistently create tags for:  the title, the director, the cast (individually), the year the film was made (or, as I did, go by decades), etc. For my imported posts, I’m tagging them with where they were imported from – such as, From Tumblr, or From Blogger. You can tag on type of post too:  Video, Picture, Reblog (or cross-post), Meme, etc.

Or think of groups as either this or that or one of a group of things. So you could use a category of Sports, then tags of Swimming, Baseball, Soccer, etc.

Having a system in place for tagging your posts will help the tags to be relevant, consistent, and logical.

Apply several multiple tags, rather than a single long one

Finally, apply multiple tags to a post that accurately reflect the post.


Consolidating Blog Posts

It seems it’s possible to import blog posts from other sites, therefore I thought I’d give it a whirl.  This means I’ll be sharing posts related to my other interests, especially film, television, and media, rather than directly related to technology, software, and writing.  But it will add content, and hopefully everything will be accessible in one place.  It also means I’ll be able to categorize and tag my posts in an ordered fashion.