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Getting Organized with Windows

This chapter is from the book

Have you ever had the opportunity to work with or see a substantial collection of paper files up close? I'm not talking about the two lateral file cabinets you might have at work; I'm talking about the banks of ceiling-high cabinets you may find behind the counter of many doctors' offices. There literally are thousands of files crammed in there! And the file dividers go way beyond the simple A, B, and C structure. They have to, or the people who need to access them in a hurry could be there for days flipping through the folders, one-by-one! Situations like these often warrant extra subdividers, so rather than A, B, and C, you might see A, An, Ar, B, Be, Br, C, Cl, Cr, and so on.

Your computer files are no different. Right now, you may not be able to imagine the number of files on your PC becoming uncontrollable, but trust me, it happens quicker than you think. And when it does happen, you end up wasting valuable time plowing through dozens, if not hundreds, of files, trying to find what you want.

In this lesson, I will show you how to get and keep your files under control. Here are some other topics to be covered in this hour:

  • Discover why luck is already on your side when it comes to file management.

  • Learn how to plan the document filing system that is right for you.

  • Find out how to create your own set of folders in which to store your files.

  • Use the Windows XP Search Companion to locate a specific file.

Thinking About Getting Organized

Think of the folders you will be creating on your PC as the electronic equivalent of the B drawer at the doctor's office. The more you compartmentalize, the easier it should be to find what you want, when you want it. Folders can also have subfolders.

Consider this example: if I shared a PC with my family, there may be separate folders for each family member (Wayne, Jill, Christopher, and Samantha). Each person could then have his or her own group of folders. I tend to divide my Jill folder into subfolders such as Books, Fiction, Proposals, and so on. Then my Books folder may be further broken out by creating a folder for each title I write. Within that, I have folders for material submitted, author review documents, screenshot files, and so on. Each person's network of folders forms a pyramid, or hierarchy, of sorts.

Obviously, the complexity of your network of folders will vary, depending on the frequency with which you use your computer. If you use it once a month to write Aunt Linda a letter, that's one thing; but if you produce document after document for various projects at work or school, then you may benefit greatly from a highly organized system.


You've got mail! Diligent file management is also a good idea for your e-mail correspondence. It not only enables you to find specific notes quickly, but it can also be a great way to document the progress of a project or proposal.

Think about your computer use and ask yourself the following questions. Your answers should give you some valuable clues as to which type of file organization may help you most.

  • Is your machine primarily for business, personal use, or a combination of both? Business or combined use generally would suggest use of a more complex filing scheme. Educational or personal use may warrant a more methodical approach.

  • In your business use of the computer, do you tend to think of items in terms of type of tasks (such as a budget, proposals, and so on), or do you plan to work on a variety of document types for various clients? As you might guess, your answer provides tips for potential folder names. Your top-level folders may be budgets, proposals, and reports (with documents named after each company you work with), or they may be JustPC, WalTech, or The Serendipity Shoppe (with documents under each named budget, annual report, and so on).

  • Will you use the PC a lot or just occasionally? If you rarely save files on your computer, having a complex folder hierarchy actually might make it more time consuming to find the information you are seeking.

  • Think the way you work. This concept is closely linked to choosing appropriate filenames because it is extremely useful to have a meaningful naming scheme. For example, I design the newsletters for my daughter's nursery school, Calverton-Beltsville Community Nursery School (CBCNS). Rather than name each related file something outrageously long like cbcnsjan2000 (the school's initials, followed by the publication date of this particular newsletter), I create a special CBCNS folder (or even a CBCNS Newsletters folder for other work done for the school) and give the files simpler names such as jan00. That way, I can find the file you need in a snap.

  • Who will be using the new computer? If the new toy is to be shared, then you will want to get the high-level family member folders in place as soon as possible (such as the Wayne, Jill, Christopher, and Samantha folders). That way, everyone's business is kept separate, and you won't be facing a hideously long file-moving session later. (Another option might be to create separate Windows XP user accounts for each person using the machine. I will explain how this is done later in this hour.)

Now that you have answered some critical questions, it is time to sit down with a pen and paper and jot down a filing scheme that adequately meets your needs. I strongly urge you to take this assignment seriously and give it the time it deserves. The time you invest now will be time saved in the future.

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