You & Your Computer—Organize Part 1

Today the topic is organizing the information/data that you keep on your computer (email, documents, photos, music, files, bookmarks/favorites in my browser, etc.); the third crucial area of knowledge in any learning strategy designed to increase your Success in a Digital World™ and simplify your life with computers.

The 6 areas of knowledge essential for digital survival are:

You will need knowledge in all of these areas if you are going to make the most of your computer and the Internet to accomplish your goals and educate yourself.

To use, enjoy, and build on your data over time you have to be able to find it when you need it. Understanding how you will benefit from organizing your information, knowing the basics of file structure, having a plan for how to organize your files, what to save, and how to search your own computer (as well as the Web—but we’ll get to that later), are essential to your computing happiness.

Organizing information on your computer is not much different than organizing paper files or keeping up with socks and mittens, if you have a method to your madness and are willing to make the effort to be consistent, it is much easier to find things when you need them.

The huge difference in storing information/data (email, photos, music, documents, files, etc.) comes with the ability to search files on your computer much more effectively and efficiently—even down to searching for phrases within a particular document or email.

Even though desktop search has improved immensely, it is not very efficient to search for every file or document you need on your computer. It is a much better plan to organize your information in a way that makes sense for you and rely on search more selectively.

A good place to start is with your goals, and a new map. You can start by asking yourself the following questions (Examples in parentheses):

  • What categories of information do I need to keep up with regularly?
  • Who do I correspond with regularly? What do I send them? (email, documents, photos)
  • What administrative tasks do I do at home on my computer? What types of data do I work with? (email, documents, photos, music, files)
  • What administrative tasks do I do for work on my home computer? What types of data do I work with?(email, documents, files)
  • What am I researching on the Internet? (Topical Examples: medical benefits, replace brake pads on car, shopping, health) What types of data do I collect? (email, documents, files)

If you know that you will have crossover between categories of information that you keep up with (info on my car) and different types of data (emails, files, documents I create), then you can set up similar file structures wherever you need to manage each type of data. If it makes more sense to you, use the same categories for emails, documents and files, and browser bookmarks or favorites.

You can learn more about file structure for Windows® and Mac® right from the company help sites themselves. You may also want to check out Mac vs. Windows on file browsing, a site that compares and contrasts the two operating systems, if you want a bigger picture understanding. I will be addressing file structure in the context of an example rather than explaining the details of either operating system.

Take research on the web for example. When I wanted to know how to replace the brake pads on my car, I wound up with emails from inquiries to websites, bookmarks in my browser Firefox®, and pdf documents that I downloaded from various websites.

  • I already had a file folder in the “My Documents” folder for my car named “Subaru” (on a Mac I would have clicked on the “Documents” folder). I created a new folder inside the “Subaru” folder, named it “brakes” and put the pdf files that I downloaded about brake system specifications inside. I also have other folders inside the “Subaru” folder for insurance, correspondence with dealership, and tickets (unfortunately).
  • When I got an email response from someone about my brake pad question, I created a file folder in my email program Outlook® called “Subaru.” Inside that folder, I created another one and named it “brake pads” then put all email responses about brakes in there.
  • Since I am shopping as well as fact-finding, I also created a folder in my Firefox browser bookmarks called “Subaru,” then inside it I created the folders “info” and “shop.” I put bookmarks for all of the sites where I was looking for information and comparing prices into those respective folders.

Although I did have to spend a few minutes creating folders based on my project and how my brain works, I will never lose the information I collected and when it is time to replace my exhaust I will already have a head start on keeping my information organized.

By filing consistently, I don’t get overwhelmed by a digital document pile waiting for my attention. I used to just pile up papers on my desk and file them every so often. When the majority of my information started to come in digital form, piling (in the form of not filing and just tossing everything into “My Documents”) quickly became a huge headache. Once I spent a little time getting my documents and files in order there, I no longer felt the urge to just toss new ones in when it was so easy to create folders to organize them.

Join me next week when we continue talking about organizing your information and the topics of what and when to save and searching your own computer, and some basics of file structure.