Computer File Organization


What is the best way to organize computer files?

This question goes unanswered for most computer users I know.  It’s just something that isn’t addressed.  Every once and a while attempts will be made to move stuff around, but not a lot of thought, planning or structure is either put into the activity or remains after a short while.  Digital clutter can be just as annoying as actual personal clutter.  Not being able to find stuff on your computer is just as paralyzing and wasteful of your precious time.  So, how does one organize all the digital pieces?  Let’s look at a few good ideas from the play book of Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Deciding on topics

How many topics you will have depends on how much information do you have and what is the subject of that information. Just like in GTD each subject should have its own topic in MyInfo. As a general rule, if a topic has more than 100 documents, it is a good idea to split this topic. For example, if you are a hiking enthusiast and your Hiking topics gets more than 100 documents, you can split it into Hiking – Gear & Equipment and Hiking – Routes topics. MyInfo has no limit on how large a topic could be, however very large topics are hard to reorganize and it is not as easy to find the necessary information.

The easiest way to decide how many topics you need is to create them only when they are needed for a particular document. For example, if you encounter a document about traveling and have no topic dedicated on this subject, you create a new Travel topic and put the document there.

Moving information into topics

Your ultimate goal is to move all information scattered on your hard drive in your personal-reference information system. So be sure to check for:

  • Documents, brochures, invoices, reports, white papers, software/hardware manuals, and all other files, which are not big enough to deserve their own folder on your hard-drive
  • Old e-mail messages in your e-mail client, which hold some future value, but you do not need them currently
  • Links in your favorites/bookmark system, which you have not used in a while, but may need in the future
  • Instant Messenger (ICQ, AIM, MSN) history and chat logs, which contain some valuable information
  • Any other information or small files, that you do use currently, but may do so in the future

Mac, Linux and Windows Files

There is a post at that really resonated with me. I use Mac, Linux and Windows, and need to jump from one system to the other.  This post gives some simple perspective:

I use the same structure (and partition, for that matter) for both Linux and Windows:

A partition only for my files. You can start with one directory if you don’t feel like going through the hassle of repartitioning.

One directory for personal, one for work, one for consulting, one for media. Also, one ‘incoming’ directory, where I download everything. If I run out of space, the incoming directory goes first. Anything that hasn’t been categorized is gone. One ‘keep’ directory for things I download that I might need again, and probably won’t be able to find.

Many, many directories under each. For instance: personal/financial/taxes/2004/2004_1040.pdf

Under Windows, I set the data partition to be my ‘my documents’ directory, and set up all applications to load and save there. Under Linux, I just link a ‘data’ subdirectory under /home/me.

I think the key is to point every application you use to the same place, and never use the defaults. I also find it helpful to create directories for future use, even if they might be empty for some time. Then there is no excuse for being lazy and saving everything in the same place.

I’ve been using the same system for years, and it is very easy to upgrade, switch operating systems, restore from backup, etc.

posted by bh at 7:46 PM on November 27, 2005

For further discussion, check out the How To Organize Computer Files discussion at  There are many perspectives to consider.  Remember there are many great ways to organize and as with any system, stay with it is key.  Develop your own and improve your organization.  Good Luck!

Published by scottleduc

I am the Educational Ninja!

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