Let’s have a look at your desktop. Not the kind of desk you sit at, but the one on your computer screen, of course. What is left on your desktop can tell a lot about the kind of person you are in terms of filing.
Do you have a desktop full of files? Don’t worry, that is not necessarily a bad thing. If those files are the ones you currently use (and currently means: right now), that is fine. However, if many of those are just things you “temporarily” dumped there and never got rid of… it is time to revisit your filing strategies.
Instead of using your desktop as a temporary storage space to easily find things you download, think about creating a “temp” folder on your desktop to separate the real temporary stuff from the working files. Even better, place a link to your download folder onto your desktop, combining ease of access with a cleaner desktop. In any case, make sure to clean out your desktop regularly to maximise efficiency and stop losing time.
If you are using a networked computer at the workplace, you may want to consider that files on your desktop – depending on the backup decisions in your company – may not be backed up to the server when you log off. In case of computer trouble those files might be lost forever. Another good reason to keep the desktop empty, if ever there was one!
Even if your desktop is empty, you are not in the green zone just yet! Do you file documents where you can easily find them? Or are they all in another location where things just accumulate without any visible order to them? There are a number of ways to make filing and finding documents more efficient: naming files properly, creating a working folder structure, archiving regularly and discarding what you no longer need. Of course, those are all subjects that take a long time exploring, but here is one tip for each of the four categories mentioned above to get you started.
Naming. If you have a lot of correspondence, you may want to start the document name with the date in this format: “2016 05 25” (year, month, day). Although this may look strange at first, it has the advantage that all your correspondence is sorted correctly by date, which does not work with “25 May 2016”. If your first reaction is "But I have the edit date of my document!", think again: the edit date changes whenever you open/save a document and therefore is not very reliable.
Structure. The trouble with folders is this: if you have too few of them, you have to scroll a lot to find what you are looking for; if there are too many of them, you have to open lots of them to find what you are looking for. It’s a matter of balance, as so many things are. I recommend to create folders only when you find that a lot of files have ended up in the same folder AND you can identify a group of files that belong together in some way. It’s time to create a subfolder to group those together and leave the rest in the top folder.
Archiving. If you have files that you are obliged to keep, but do not work with any more, it might be interesting to create an archive and make sure to move these “for keeps only” files over there. You’ll know exactly where they are, but they don’t impact your daily work and speed up finding the files you are working with.
Discarding. If a file has served its purpose (confirmation of orders that have been delivered, payment confirmation, etc.) it may be time to delete these as the transaction is finished. Of course, there is reason to be careful, but very often those files are no longer needed, or still exist in the form of an email attachment or a printed version for bookkeeping purposes.
As you can see, the approach is similar but distinctly different to dealing with physical objects. Electronic files can be tricky, as they tend to multiply quickly, especially if you are in the business of creating versions of documents. That makes it all the more important to keep a grip on the number of files you keep and the way you file them away.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My mission: help clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.