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Organising home Computer Files

Why Im Writing This

most peoples digital files are in a mess. this was most likely because they were taught how to create files and folders but not how to use them efficiently. or for that matter how to retrieve information once stored.

most of what I read about about organising home computer files, the authors admit ther files are in a mess. so why take advice from those that admit they have not got a good filings system.

I can say I've used systems I have put in place for many years and they work reasonably well.

possibly the reasons is that I understand how computers work and are able to use them to the maximum extent. I was a business analyst programmer, so was all about efficiency.

but having said all the above I still have times when I find it difficult to find things. no system is perfect. people have their own idiosyncrasies as to the way they want to do things.

Why different methods from non computer based file

if you're going to be storing information in a computer system you don't use the same way as if you are using a non computer based system. the reason being that in non computer filing systems, physical things have to be placed somewhere. typically this is usually paper, large amounts of paper, which are heavy, so difficult to move around,sometimes even to destroyed. as an example, I had years of old paper based taxation files in our ceiling. it took me weeks to move them out and shred them. if I wanted to do the same thing with my electronic tax records I could do it in about 30 seconds.

another very important consideration is that non computer based files typically are not backed up. the fact that you need to backup computer files indicates a different way in which they need to be organised. See metadata

often those not used to computer files will have multiple copies of paper based files because they want to have them sequenced different ways. like in date order as well as in function order. this is not necessary for computer based records, because of a thing called metadata, which we will look at later on

Easy to save Vs Retrieve

a distinction needs to be made between how long you willing to take to save information as opposed to how long you willing to take to retrieve information. that will depend on the information concerned. One consideration that needs to be taken is if you need to save information at all. if you know you're never going to use something ever again, then why save it.


it is theoretically possible to have a computer system where every time you want to save something it just gives it a computer-generated name or number and save it automatically. a typical example of this is photos on a digital camera. The photo is just given a number sequenced up from the previous taken photo.

that makes saving the information extremely fast. the end-user does nothing, other than to give the command to save the information. or in the case of a digital camera just press the shutter button

however in the future, when information needs to be retrieved, what information is in what file? it is possible to retrieve text based information based on the file contents, but it is extremely slow process, when there is lots of files involved. typically on hard drives with hundreds of thousands of files it could take many minutes to find what you're looking for via a computer search function. but if the same thing is done on only a few thousand files it may only take a second. which could be acceptable to some people.


conversely you could have a very sophisticated filing methodology with a very deep folder structure so that every file you ever saved had a specific place.

but then you could spend a lot of time deciding where to save a specific file and even navigating through the folder structure to get to where it is to just save it and then yet again,later to retrieve it. in other words your doing all the work instead of the computer.


it is a compromise between how much effort you're willing to spend organising your filing methodology as opposed to how much time you're wanting to wait for the computer find something for you.

however unlike paper based systems, it can the extremely easy to change your filing methodology. when on a drive it is extremely fast for a computer to move files because it doesn't actually move the files, rather just changes its indication as to where it's being stored

if you don't have the appropriate methodology for saving your files to start with, it can be extremely easy to change to a different metrology.

How often you likely to Need Filed information

in a normal household you don't store the camping equipment on the kitchen bench. and you don't store the knives and forks and cutlery down the back shed.

how often you use something will be determined where you will store it. same applies with computer files. if you're only use your tax files once a year, you can prefix the name of the folded you save it in, with the letter Z or ZZZ, so that it appears at the bottom of a list of names. likewise if you use certain document templates quite often, you can prefix the name of the folder or filename with A or AAA so that appears at the beginning of a list of names.

See also shortcuts and bookmarks

Backup Vs Archive

a big distinction needs to be made between backing up and archiving files. all files need to be backed up, but not all the time. archived files are backed up once and then usually never again. that's because archive files never change. once something has been backed up it doesn't need to be backed up a second time, if it's never going to be changed.

typical types of files that can be archive are photos, videos, emails and documents that will never be changed.

when you think about it, there's not a lot of files on the typical home computer, that often get changed.

consequential it is best to keep archived documents separate from often changed documents.


Metadata is data about data. file and folder names are metadata. as is the date and time stamp of when the file and folders were created, access and modified, and the size of the file.

other than using this metadata to be able to distinguish files by their names, it can also be used to determine if files have been changed since last a backup was done.

when you modify a file and then resave it, the modified date and time will be changed and usually the file size will change as well. when files and folders are copied to a backup device, typically the folder date will change to the date of the backup. that date can be checked in a file explorer program. when using a file explorer program it is possible to click on the heading at the top of the modified date column and sort the files into modified date order. noing the date files were last backed up it is possible to select only files that have been not backed up by selecting only files beyond that date, because they are in date order. this saves the need to backup files that have not been changed since the last backup, and can be done with the ordinary operating system copy function, without the need of a special backup program.

it also alleviates the need to put files that do get changed into a separate, changed, folder.

in other words the metadata is providing the information for you.

knowing how to retrieve

if you have created, and remember, your own folder and file structure it will make it easier for you to be able to retrieve the information you're looking for. if you don't use your filing methodology very often, or even parts of it very often, you could create a specific file and name it appropriately that explains your methodology. it also would be helpful if anybody else ever had to use your mythology in the future.

if you know even only part of a file name, you can use the file explorer search function (CTL + F) to search for the file, in a specific folder or group of folders. provided the group of folders are under another folder.

obviously the larger number of files that has to be searched, the longer it takes to do the search. typically searches that are around a few thousand files, will be completed within a second. if you find situations where the number of files is getting beyond a few thousand it's probably worthwhile splitting them up on some other bases. this could be based on months or years.

Incremental Search

without entering the file explorer search function it is possible to get the computer to find a particular file name. this is achieved by just clicking on any file in a filelist, and starting to type the file name. as you type each character the file list will move to the file name that starts with the character that you typed. this is a lot faster than scrolling down a long list of say a 1,000 file names.

Naming Conventions

if use consistent naming conventions, it will make it much easier to find the files you're looking for. file names typically can be up to 255 characters. it is therefore quite easy to give files and folders meaningful names, and there is no need to use convoluted coding structures, as is sometimes suggested. the idea is to use the computer to do the work for you, not you having to do the work of coding to get information into and out of computers.

a certain amount of logic has to come into play here as well. like you don't put your tax file information in a folder called shopping list.

Device Specific

when you start to accumulate a large amount of files, you will eventually find that you run out of space on a particular drive or devise. this is where you should start segregating your files, across multiple drives, on the basis of how often use them, and whether they're going to be archived or not.

some computing devices have permanent built-in storage but have the ability to add extra removable storage by plugging in either a USB memory stick or usb hard drive. typically the removable data would be used to store archival files.

personally I don't like to store data on the device I am using. I prefer it to be on an external drive or network drive. that way if my device were ever to fail, I still have access to my files, via another device.

Temporary Placement

often you can be under pressure when you want to save a file. the phone rings, someone at the front door, or your running late for an appointment. the temptation is to just save the file in the folder you last used and give it a name like ABC. then what typically happens, you forget about it and at some point in the future you cant find it.

to overcome this problem I have a folder called AAA Temp, where I will save files in such a situation. whenever I can't find anything I always first look ther. I also know that anything that's in that folder either has to be moved to another folder or deleted. I think it's called being proactive. knowing that something like thats going to happen in the future

Shortcuts and Bookmarks

most operating systems have the ability to create shortcuts or bookmarks. if you find yourself often going deep through a folder structure, within the file explorer or manager there will be some way of creating a book mark or shortcut so that you only have to click or touch, one name or icon to end up deep in a file structure or open a specific file.

even on phone devices and tablets there's usually such a facility.

you will save time and effort by learning how to use such things.

Libraries or Tags

some systems allow you to create libraries or tags. these are different to file names in that they can refer to the same file more than one time, without having to copy the file to multiple folders.

imagine you have a folder of photos, that you wish to segment on the basis of the year the photo was taken, who was in the photo, and location where it was taken. normally you would have to copy the photo into 3 folders. year, person and location. the photo would exist in three separate folders, taking up three times as much space as it other otherwise would.

but with libraries or tags, a library or tag is named, as above and a link is put into each library or tag. so the photo only exists once and just the tag to it is put in the appropriate library tag.

when you look in the appropriate library or tag you would see the photo. the photos is not actually stored their.

libraries & tags give you the ability to index your files multiple ways without you having to duplicate them. they save space and provide other multiple ways of accessing files.

organising_home_computer_files.txt · Last modified: 2021/01/31 17:49 by geoff