Finding Your Information—Organize Part 3

pinsThe 6 areas of knowledge essential for digital survival are:

You will need knowledge in all of these areas if you are going to learn about computers and use the Internet to accomplish your goals and educate yourself. You will also need a learning strategy so that you can use your time and energy effectively as you increase your Success in a Digital World™ and simplify your digital life.

As you may recall, I ended my last post with a small bit of advice:

It is really important to take some time to put your files in logical categories, and I mean logical to you. It doesn’t matter what someone else would do. There are file folder sets that come pre-labeled to help people organize their physical file cabinets, but when I worked with clients to set up their home offices, those pre-labeled categories only made sense to about 1/3 of the people who wanted to use them. The point is not to rely on someone else’s structure. Have one of your own and use it consistently.

It is important enough to bear repeating.

And even as you become increasingly organized, there will be times that you can’t find a file you need. It could be because you are looking for the wrong name. A word on naming files and folders. Be clear, be as brief as is reasonable, and don’t get tricky. The same principles that apply to folders apply to files.

You should also consider version control when you are naming files. If you are working on a general version of your resume and save it as “Resume.doc”, then the next time you make major revisions you should save it as “Resume 2.doc” and so on. If you tailor it for a specific job, you can keep the revision number and add the job you are applying for, “Resume 3 professor.doc” and it will help you keep track of everything. Remember too that your computer will automatically save the date when you create the file and when you revise it, so you don’t have to bother putting dates in file names.

Even as you carefully name files, it is possible to physically misplace them. Gone are the days when it often helped to check the folders right next to the one you intended to save to, in case of a missed drag and drop. Search can save you from these aggravating time sucking mistakes.

Everybody misplaces a file now and again, the key is to make sure that your computer has a solid desktop search program so that you can find it when you need it. Lifehacker, a guide to using technology effectively in your daily life, has a great article on the 5 best desktop search applications and a number of them are free. Take a look at the descriptions and see what would fit your situation best. Make sure that you follow the links in the article to find more information on any that interest you.

After you install a search program, you will have to index the files on your computer so that the search program knows what files are there and can retrieve them when you need them. Be aware that the program will likely request to start indexing automatically, but the best time to let the indexing run would be when you are not working on your computer. You can even have the search program index your files overnight so you will not be slowed down during the process—just start the indexing when you are ready to leave your computer for the night.

Always take the time to look through tutorials or overviews of a new program. A search program will give you some guidelines on how to search effectively and if you pay attention the computer will do the heavy lifting for you. And isn’t that the point?

Learn to use quotes around an exact word or phrase that you are looking for—if you want to find the phrase “communication specialist” then you must put your search terms in quotes. Otherwise you will get every document containing “communication” and every document containing “specialist,” when all you really want are the documents with “communication specialist.”

Also remember to cast a wide net when specific searches come up empty. Just because you think you remember what a file was called, does not mean that it is a complete loss if that first search comes up empty. You could get closer by choosing a more or less unique word or phrase in the file. What if you lost your resume on your computer? The word resume may or may not be in the document depending on the language you used. What will be there are previous employer names and job titles, awards if you mentioned them, or whatever else you can identify that will appear in fewer rather than more documents over all.

If you get huge numbers of files from a text search, you can narrow them down if you sort by type of document. Was it an email, a Word doc, a pdf? The latest version of your resume could be in an email attachment, or a Word file, or a pdf. It all depends on which format you chose. You can narrow your searches by file type. If your results are confusing, try searching one file type at a time. Can you remember a date range? You can narrow search results by date as well. You can also look in specific places on your computer by telling the search program exactly where to look. Some people keep backups or archive files outside of their Documents, or on another drive. If you have backed up your data, you can also search a DVD or an external drive with the same search program.

The most important thing to remember about search: just because a couple of searches fail, it doesn’t mean what you’re looking for is lost. Searches only return what you ask them to, so ask again—differently.

Oh yes, and don’t forget a fallible human (you) is doing the searching, the computer is just matching the words, the search string, that you give it with words in your files.

Invest the time to learn how to search your own computer. It will be helpful when you start searching on the Web as well. Which brings us to our next topic, using the Web to find information you need to live better in a digital world.