Organizing Your Files
As more and more of our documents and research are stored on computer disk the need for proper organization grows more important. What we do now can pay-off in the long term with more free time and less frustration.

Make Your Life Easier
One of the more frequent problems I see, and not just from new computer users, is a poorly organized file system. Your computer's disk drives are just like an office file cabinet. If you toss the files in haphazardly without thought of organization then you make your life twice as difficult when you try to find some information you have previously stored.

The file cabinet analogy is a good one. Much like a business, our lives are divided into many areas: family, friends, leisure activities, finances and work to name a few. And like any business those categories of our lives sometimes overlap and can be divided into further subcategories. Just like a business, a well organized life makes for efficiency.

Let's talk folders. Since Windows 95™ and Windows 98™ provide a standard My Documents folder, let's start there. For our purposes let's say there are three users of this Windows 98SE machine: Bill, Susan, and Kathy.

Many people will save all of their documents and downloads into this one folder. Over time, this leads to clutter and confusion. "Whose file is it anyway?" "What's in that doc?" "April4.doc? What's that?" "Where's that mortgage spreadsheet?"

So, how do we sort out the clutter? Folders, of course! Let's first decide upon a folder structure based on our lives. We'll start from the My Documents folder and work from there.

Well, to begin, we have three users who will each create files of their own, so let's start by creating three folders, one for each person, under My Documents.

Open the My Documents folder from the icon of the same name on the Windows Desktop. We'll now create a new subfolder for each of the three family members. 

1) Click on the File menu item.
2) Click on New
3) Click on Folder

and type in Bill for the name of the new folder. Repeat the steps creating new subfolders for both Susan and Kathy.

You now have the start of a folder structure that looks something like this:


  My Documents\

Bill
Kathy
Susan

Each person can store their documents in their own subfolder of My Documents and each person can create additional subfolders as needed to organize their files.

Let's use Bill as our example:
Bill often brings works home, so he creates a subfolder under Bill called Work He also tracks the stock market and makes monthly deposits into a fund setup for Kathy's education. Both of these activities fall under the broad category of finances so Bill creates another subfolder called Finances for those documents, and one more subfolder called Personal Documents

Let's look at Bill's folder structure as it is now:

 My Documents\

Bill\

Work
Finances
Personal Documents

Now when Bill works on his stocks spreadsheet he saves it to the folder My Documents\Bill\Finances and his letter to Mom is in the folder
My Documents\Bill\Personal Documents

Makes sense, no? You can already see how this simple structure makes for a well organized and easy to find record keeping system. And what's more, it can be expanded both horizontally and vertically as needed.

For example, Bill likes downloading files from the Internet so he creates a new folder called Downloads to store them, thus expanding the structure vertically. But the work Bill brings home is often of different types so he expands the Work subfolder horizontally by creating new subfolders off Work called Spreadsheets, Presentations and Correspondence

Meanwhile, Susan creates a similar folder structure but tailored to her individual needs and interests, as does Kathy Susan brings home work that involves using various databases so she adds a Databases folder to her folder structure, such as:
  My Documents\Susan\Work\Databases

Kathy creates folders for her schoolwork:
  My Documents\Kathy\School\Biology

While I've used My Documents as a root folder for illustration, this same style of organizational structure works anywhere on your disk and for any type of information. You could create a folder called C:\Family, for example, and then create subfolders off of it as needed. \Family\Pictures or \Family\History You determine what major categories best suit you then create a root folder for the category and expand it with any additional  folders as the need arises.

Before we end, let's spend a moment on filenames. Windows 95/98 allows you to use long filenames when storing your files. You generally don't want to use very long filenames because they can become awkward and difficult to sort through. But long filenames are a good idea that can save you much time and frustration. Using short (say under 50 character) descriptive long filenames makes a great deal of sense. At the time you are working on it the content of that letter to your account, John,  seems obvious so you think of saving it as Accountant.doc but what happens six months later when you are looking for that specific letter again.. is it Accountant.doc or perhaps Account5.doc or maybe even John.doc At this point your only option is to open each file until you find the correct  one.

So, what to do? Make your life easier and save a file with a name that is a bit descriptive of its content or purpose. For example that letter to your account could be saved as
 Accountant - Accrued Interest Payments.doc 
And how about saving that budget this month as
 Household Budget January 2000.xls
Each of those filenames are short enough to be easily read yet descriptive enough for you to easily determine what they contain.

Here's another example. Have you ever downloaded a patch from the Internet to add some nifty new feature to say Excel? The default name for the file was something like xl2k401.exe Not too easy to remember let alone know what it is a week later when you want to install it. So, why not just save the file with a descriptive filename such as
 Excel Patch (adds nifty new calculation feature).exe
That way when you are looking for that file to install it or deciding at some later date whether to keep it with your backups, you'll have no problem identifying its purpose (and value).

You'll notice that filenames can contain characters other than letters and numbers. The use of parenthesis, the hyphen, the comma and other characters can make for easier to read filenames. Feel free to use them where appropriate and do use a style that best suits you and that you are most comfortable with.

Please take note that the following characters are NOT valid in folder or file names:

\ / : * ? " < > |

Ready for a pop quiz?

Question: Where's a good location to store files from the ClubWin website on your hard disk for future reference?

Answer: How about...
\My Documents\Windows Tips & Tricks

© 1999 by Paul R. Sadowski
All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission.
Comments to: aa089@bfn.org