How to Create a Flawless Filing System on Your Computer

This article attempts to describe a way to create a good system for organizing, maintaining, and backing up files and folders on a personal computer. While there are an infinite number of ways to accomplish this task, the article will attempt to provide some guidelines and directions for creating a system that works best for the type of information you are trying to organize!


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    Know where your files are. Keeping all of your files in one place is the best thing you can do to make sure no data is ever lost. Thus, the first step of creating a filing system is to choose a central location to keep all of your personal data. On Windows machines, the My Documents folder is often a good choice, although the operating system does add some extra junk along with your data (like My Pictures and My Music folders). Another good option is to install a separate hard disk or external drive to keep your data on. Resist the temptation to put everything on the desktop of your PC. The folder is buried in the operating system, making backups difficult. Never save files in the directories where their programs reside (i.e. never save a word document into the c:\program files\officeXP\word folder). These folders are often automatically deleted or moved.
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    Separate users and groups. Figure out the best way to keep user's data separate (and, in some cases, private). Windows has a good system for separating user data in the "Documents and Settings" folder. Other suggestions are to make a folder with a user's name on it. If you are organizing files in a business setting, creating separate folders for groups or projects is also a good idea. The important thing is that one user should be able to find all of his or her data in one single folder, making backups much easier.
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    Keep work and personal files separate. Keep work in one folder, schoolwork in another, photos and personal files in another, and downloads in another folder. Music should have its own folder, too (of course). That way, you can easily keep your personal and professional information separate, and can easily jump into what you need to work on. Tax returns? Open up your "personal" folder. Last minute business report? It's all in "work". Files that relate to the same thing are kept in the same place. Another method some people use is chronological sorting. While this is sometimes useful (keeping each semester of schoolwork in different folders), remember that the file system on your computer already keeps track of the date things were created and modified, so in some ways it is a waste of time to do this over again. Also, there are some great tools such as Google Desktop or Copernic Desktop search to quickly bring up files from a particular set of dates.
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    Use lots of sub-folders. Layers are good, they help keep things specific. Under work, keep a separate folder for timesheets, and another for web projects. Under each semester of schoolwork, keep one folder for Math, one for English, one for Chemistry, you get the idea. Just don't go overboard; a good rule of thumb is if you have more than 50 files in a folder, you might want to consider organizing those into sub folders.
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    Set a backup schedule. Once it's all under one big folder, it's easy to back up. If you only want to back up Work, just grab that folder instead. Invest in some CD or DVD-RW's and a good backup program. A backup program will then burn only the changed files each time you run it, saving time and money. Just keep the backup discs in a safe place.
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    Use descriptive file names. There's nothing worse than browsing for a file in a pile of other files with names like "word.doc" or "presentation.pdf." Make sure you describe the file properly while saving it so that your future self can find it while drunk and/or asleep. Make it searchable, make it sortable. The ultra-geek can use a file naming convention that adds the date of creation to the file name for easy file viewer sorting. i.e. then when you're in an alphabetically sorted list, the older files with the same name will be ordered in a logical manner.
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    Stick with it. You have this system for a reason! Don't just throw all of your files in the same old spot, put them in the correct folder as soon as you create or obtain them. If things get out of hand, take an hour out of your day to re-organize everything. It's worth the time.


  • Sometimes it is just impossible to file everything you are working on in its proper place. Use a temporary folder for storing the things you are working on right now, but make sure that the temp folder is empty at the end of the day. If a file hangs around in your temp folder more than a day or so, it's junk. Delete it.
  • Consolidate: Get all of your CD-R's, important files on the old computer, and all of those floppy disks and put them all in your one organization system! If it's all in one place, it's ten times less of a hassle, and keeps everything safe and secure! Less clutter from random CD-R's, too!
  • Your folders should have EITHER sub-folders OR files in it, never both.


  • Backup everything: Especially those digital photos! If it's all in one place, there's no excuse for not burning it on a CD or DVD every month or so. You'll thank yourself later when your computer dies!
  • Stay organized: Your new file system won't work if you don't remember to save your files into their proper folders immediately.
  • Don't procrastinate: If you don't organize now, you might never get around to it.

Things You'll Need

  • Time
  • Good backup software
  • CD-R's / DVD-R's

Article Info

Categories: File Manipulation