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How to Keep your Work Computer Organized

Updated on March 10, 2015
Woman organizing laptop
Woman organizing laptop | Source

Do you find yourself searching for files you can’t remember where you stored? Are you frequently struggling to look for a set of documents or keep your photos, videos, and music easy to access? Is your inbox out of control making it hard to find important messages you need?

Check out the tips below to help keep your desktop, hard drive, and email organized so you can easily find what you need, keep important archives for future use, and get back to work more quickly than you thought possible!

Organize your Desktop

Desktop PC
Desktop PC | Source

If you’re like most professionals pressed for time, the bulk of your information probably ends up scattered around your desktop only to find a mess to sort through by 5pm every Friday. Your desktop is probably the most convenient place to store documents that you need to access quickly or that you go back to time and time again. But because it is so convenient to do a quick “Save as” and throw them into the pile of other documents, files, and folders, keeping your desktop organized can quickly turn overwhelming.

Types of items you should store on your desktop:

  • Files that are currently a work in progress.
  • Files or documents that you go back to on a recurring basis.
  • High priority items you need fast access to.

How to get started:

  • Imagine dividing your desktop in half (visually-speaking).
  • Drag anything that fits into the above bullet points (works in progress, recurring or high priority items) to the left side of your desktop.
  • Drag everything else over to the right hand side – we’ll find a place for those items later.

Organized files on desktop
Organized files on desktop | Source

Organize your must-have items:

Now that you have determined which items you want to keep on your desktop, let’s get it organized!

  • First, if you have several program icons, pin the ones you use frequently to your start task bar.
  • For other program icons you do not access on a daily basis, create a folder by right clicking on your desktop, creating new folder, and naming it ‘Programs.’ Drag it to a corner of the desktop and drag and drop all of your program icons in there.
  • Now, all the files and documents that you separated to the left side of your desktop should get organized. Group like items together and create a new folder like “logos” or “HR forms” and drag and drop everything into that folder.
  • Make sub-folders within each folder as needed, but keep the top level folder as general as possible so you can use it going forward to store many like items.
  • Now drag your folders into rows and line them up rather than leaving them scattered across your desktop.
  • For individual items like documents, PowerPoint presentations that do not relate to a top level folder, line them up in an order that makes sense to you underneath your folders.
  • If you want to make it even easier to find items, consider putting your folders left to right in alphabetical order.
  • Your desktop should now look something like this!

Organize your Hard Drive

Organized harddrive using folders
Organized harddrive using folders | Source

Your hard drive includes items like “My Pictures,” “My Documents,” “My Music,” and “My Videos.”

Remember all those items that were not critical, not a work in progress or not high priority that you dragged over to the right hand of your desktop? Time to archive them while you organize your hard drive!

  • Create folders for those items under “My Documents” and archive them as appropriate if you want to keep a copy of those items on your workstation. If not, drag them onto a flash drive or DVD.
  • Apply the same tips you used for organizing your desktop to organize photos, music, and videos. Create very general top level folders, then create subfolders as needed and drag and drop items to organize.

Find what you Need

Finding computer files
Finding computer files | Source

Now that you have your desktop and hard drive organized, it should make finding what you need should be as simple as clicking your mouse!

Like items are grouped together and your folders are organized appropriately but what if you just can’t remember which folder you dropped that document and don’t want to spend 3-4 minutes opening various folders to try to guess where you put it?

Follow these simple tips to make finding your items even faster once you have your machine organized:

Give your documents appropriate title names:

  • Always “Save As” to name your document something that you will remember. Use proper punctuation and put the date in every item that you name. A good example of a named document should look something like this:

“Proposal for Communications Plan 09202014 v1”

This will allow you to search your document by name or date.

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Always use version control on your documents and files:

  • This is especially helpful if documents will be used again in the future to create further iterations. Simply put “v1” on your first version and anytime someone sends input; the owner of the document should be the only one to update the new version to “v2,” “v3,” etc.

Toss, Toss, Toss!

  • Get rid of what you no longer need! Only keep the latest version of documents and send former versions to the trash bin. Keeping a lot of old documents can slow down your operating system, take up unneeded space, and make it harder to find what you need.

Archive Often:

  • If you have finished a project and do not want to get rid of your documents, create an archive folder, or backup those items onto a flash drive or DVD to get them off of your machine.

Organizing Your Email

Color categories in MS Outlook
Color categories in MS Outlook | Source

Folders are your Friends:

Like your desktop and hard drive, using folders will be your best friend when it comes to organizing your inbox. If you are an Outlook user, right click over your inbox and select “New Folder.”

  • Drag and drop only those items you need to archive for future use and dump the rest into your deleted folder.
  • Avoid the temptation to hoard emails and clean your deleted and sent folders at least once a week to keep it manageable.
  • If there are several emails from the same chain, delete all previous emails and only save the most recent email which will contain all other emails that came before it. Not only will this save space but will allow you to cut down the amount of emails you have to search through when looking for something specific.

A good rule of thumb: Whether organizing your computer or your inbox, follow the “one touch” rule. If you are “touching” or reading an email, decide where it goes during your first “touch.” Only leave emails in your inbox if you need to take action further down the road.

Use the color coding feature in Outlook to color code like-emails about similar topics or projects.

For urgent emails that will require your attention or to mark something you’ll need to keep a close eye on, right click and “flag” those items.

Make PST Files:

PST files allow Outlook to store all of your data, folders, messages, contacts, and calendar information so you can archive those items you no longer use and can always import them back into Outlook as needed.

To learn how to create and import PST files, follow this online tutorial:

Set up Rules and Alerts

Rules will allow you to auto-direct emails into specific folders, so instead of incoming mail clogging up your inbox, you can easily organize them to sort into the folders of your choice and then read them when you can.

Creating rules to organize your Inbox in Outlook 2010

Maintain, Maintain, Maintain

  • Set aside 10 or 15 minutes at the end of each week as “archiving time” to store items you are no longer using but don’t want to get rid of permanently in a safe place in case you do have to come back to them someday.
  • Don’t forget to backup often! There’s nothing worse than the sinking feeling when your computer crashes and you realize you didn’t backup all of your hard work organizing.

Organizing doesn’t have to be a chore! Dedicate 5 or 10 minutes every day to cleaning up and organizing your files until you get your computer looking neat and functioning easier!

Are you a professional who has developed other tips and tricks to keep your computer work for you and increase your productivity? Share your own tips in the comments!


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