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How to organize files on your computer

May 06, 2021

If you’re one of those people whose desktop is full of icons and the Downloads folder contains everything from old app installers to work documents, it’s time for a cleanup. Organizing files into folders is part of the process known as file management. While it might seem like a trivial task, it could help you navigate your computer and work more efficiently.

File organization goals

  • Fast access. If it takes you 10 clicks to access desired files, it’s way too many — you need to think about a more efficient file organization.
  • Grouping related information. When all related files are stored in the same folder, it’s much easier to work with them. This way, you don’t need to jump from one directory to another to find what you’re looking for.
  • Clear file organization structure. There might be multiple employees accessing the same files in your company’s intranet, making changes, adding new files, or removing old ones. There should be a set of clear rules for file organization, and everyone should know them. When you have thousands of legal documents with different names scattered across multiple folders, anyone could get lost and waste precious time to find what they need.

Choosing the right folder structure

Date-based folder structure

If you organize your files by date, you will probably have dedicated folders for different years and subfolders for months, weeks, or even days. Let’s say every week you receive a report with your company’s mentions in the media. Each new month has its folder, making it easy to navigate through the reports and find old ones.

You can also sort any type of files on Windows or macOS by the date the file was created, modified, or last opened. This way, you can keep a bunch of different documents in one place but have at least a bit of organization.

Project- or client-based folder structure

The work of architecture companies, advertising agencies, and law firms revolve around their clients. When you implement a client-based folder structure, it benefits you more than arranging files by a specific date like in the previous example.

File type-based folder structure

In each client folder, you can have subfolders dedicated to invoices, presentations, contracts, offers, models, or any other relevant information.

To organize your files efficiently, you need to combine different types of file organization. You can assign a folder to your client, create subfolders for each year, and store different types of documents. The goal of file organization is you and your co-workers easily finding what you need. If you’re having a hard time navigating through folders and files, this means there’s still room for improvement.

File organization tips and ideas

  • Delete unnecessary files. If some files are no longer relevant to you, delete them immediately. This will not only keep your folders clean but also save some space. Start from your Downloads folder, as typically it’s the one with the most garbage.
  • Don’t save your files to the desktop. While it’s convenient to store your files on the desktop, this also creates a big mess. It can even be hard to find programs, as they disappear in this file dumpster. Having your desktop covered in files also affects your computer performance, and it takes more time to start.
  • Your family photo or a sunny beach in Mexico as your desktop wallpaper can cheer you up — don’t let your files cover it.

  • Be specific. Use as much information in your file name as possible. Otherwise, you will have to open a document to see its contents. ABC construction Ltd._contract_2019-11-05 is an example of how files are supposed to be named. Contract2019, ABC construction, or 2019-11-05 contract are bad examples, and you should avoid them.
  • Organize your hidden files. There could be piles of hidden files on your computer that require your attention. First, you need to adjust your settings to show hidden files on your macOS or Windows device. After that, you can delete the unnecessary files and manage the rest of them.
  • Use an encryption app. Some files are more important than others, so you might want to hide them from prying eyes. If you’re looking for encrypted cloud storage, try NordLocker. It allows you to encrypt any type of files and store them on your computer or in the NordLocker cloud. Drag and drop your files into a so-called locker, and the app will encrypt them automatically.
  • NordLocker allows you to share your encrypted files with other users. You don’t need to send them any passwords, as every user creates their own password, thus mitigating the risk of exposing your credentials.

  • Move files to their destination folder. As soon as you create a new document or download something from the internet, you need to develop the habit of moving that document where it belongs. Otherwise, you will soon find yourself in chaos and waste a lot of time on sorting everything out again.
  • Train your employees. Every member in your organization has to understand the importance of file organization. If one employee follows the guidelines while others don’t, it will soon create unnecessary tension in your company. Organize training sessions for your employees or at least prepare some tips so that everyone can stay on the same page.
  • Separate your work and personal files. Since many people use their own devices for work, sometimes the line between your work and personal files might vanish. Create separate directories for your photos, travel videos, or college essays and your work documents. Otherwise, instead of sending a marketing report to your co-workers, you might accidentally attach a picture from a skinny-dipping party in Thailand.

File organization requires patience and time, but it’s important to develop this habit. Just like every item in your apartment has its place and function, the same should apply to your computer.

Elisa Armstrong

Elisa Armstrong

Verified author

Elisa’s all about languages. She speaks five, loves stand-up comedy, and is writing her first novel. Besides her extensive knowledge of cybersecurity, she’s an expert in persuasion techniques hackers use and strives to teach people how to avoid online scams.