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7 Tips to Manage Your Files Better

Published: June 30, 2004

This article is adapted from Windows XP—Inside Out: Deluxe Edition by Ed Bott, Carl Siechert, and Craig Stinson

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You work with documents, presentations, graphics, and other files all day. And then how much time do you spend looking for files that you worked on? A couple minutes here and a couple minutes there. On a daily basis, it can all add up.

There is a better way to stop the clutter: manage your files more effectively. Managing files on your computer is a lot like managing paper files. They can be organized using folders and then stored in specific locations for when you need them. And just like paper files and folders, if you don't have a way to organize them, things can get lost.

Whether you save your files on your computer's hard drive or a shared network location, you can use these seven tips to help save time and reduce the headaches of searching for files.

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.

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Tips for Managing Your FilesTips for Managing Your Files
Reader TipsReader Tips

Tips for Managing Your Files

Use these tips to help manage your files.


Use My Documents. For many reasons, it's smart to take advantage of My Documents feature in Microsoft Windows. To open My Documents in Windows, click Start, and then click My Documents. My Documents provides an easy way for you to store your personal documents. By using My Documents, you will be better able to:

Find files. Windows provides easy access to the My Documents folder (and its subfolders) in many places: through the Start menu, the task pane in Windows Explorer, common File Open and File Save dialog boxes, and other places.

Note  Windows Explorer displays the structure of files and folders on your computer. To open Windows Explorer, click Start, point to All Programs, point to Accessories, and then click Windows Explorer.

Back up files. Keeping all your files in one place is an essential first step in developing a practical backup strategy. Learn how to backup your files and folders.

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.


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 allows you to use long file names, it does not necessarily mean you should. Long names produce cluttered displays. Brevity promotes clarity.

Let your folders do some of the naming. For example, rather than create a file called Great American Novel Chapter One First Effort.doc, you can build a structure like:

Keep folder names short

Figure 1: Suggestion of how you can keep folder names short


Separate ongoing and completed work. To keep the My Documents folder from becoming too unwieldy, use it only for files you're working on. This reduces 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—preferably not in My Documents. You can archive them on a folder on your desktop (you could even label it Archives) or move them to a backup tape or recordable CD. Your My Documents folder, which you should back up frequently, remains relatively small.


Store like with like. Restricting folders to a single document type (or predominantly one type) allows you to take advantage of folder templates in Windows Explorer. This makes it easier for you to find files. For example, with all your graphics in a single folder, it's easy to use the Filmstrip view and slide show feature in Windows Explorer to find the right picture for your newsletter.


Avoid big 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. An example is shown in Figure 2.

Alphabetic menu structure example

Figure 2: Example of how you can avoid big file structures by using an alphabetic menu


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 on the file and click Create Shortcut. You can drop-and-drag the shortcut to other locations.

Reader Tips

Thanks to all the readers who left the great comments on this article, as well as the tips you left. Here are some of the favorite tips we received.


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 it's necessary.


Use thumbnails. Search through folders in the Thumbnail view. They're easier to see and you can put a picture or clip art on the folder so that it's more easily recognizable. For example, a folder that contains information about a product can have a picture of the product—or something else that reminds you of the folder contents.

To view your folder list in Thumbnail view, on the My Documents folder, in the toolbar click View and then select Thumbnail.

To put a picture on the folder, right-click the folder and click Properties. In the Properties dialog box, click the Customize tab. In the Folder pictures area, click Choose Picture.


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 e-mail, for example, you rarely need to keep everything you receive.


Use My Recent Documents. To find a file a just worked on, use My Recent Documents in the Start menu.


Put My Documents on the desktop. Put a shortcut to My Documents on the desktop. You can save several clicks of the mouse to get where you want to be sooner.


Organize files by dates. Use a date in the document name. Such as jeb100201, which would mean October 2, 2001. This puts all the Jeb materials together and sorted by date.


Color code your folders. I have a third party program which allows me to "color" certain folders in My Documents that I use every day. This allows me quick access to open or save a document.


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