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The Most Effective Way of Organizing Your Files, Folders and Documents

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Stack of Paper

One of the simplest and most overlooked aspects of being organized is getting your computer files organized. It’s something that’s easy to take for granted, especially when you forget that most people don’t use their computers like us crazy systems-people do. Let’s look at some good practices for keeping your files and documents neat, in folders and easy searchable and accessible.

The idea of organizing files and documents goes back to the good-old-days of filing cabinets and paper. Hopefully, you’re someone who has already made the switch to going paperless.

The advantage of the original paper-based cabinets was that you really had to think about where to put documents so that they could be easily located when they were needed. With computers, we have somewhat lost this art-form and exchanged it for an all-in-one search function instead.

My personal test for organization is this: you should be able to find the majority of your documents without using Spotlight or Windows Search. If you can’t, you’ve got some housecleaning to do.

Note: We’ll be talking about folders and directories on your hard disk in this article. You could easily replicate the directory structures into a filing application like DevonThink, or wiki/notebook-style applications like Evernote and VoodooPad.

We’ll do our best to cover both OS X and Windows in this article. For the most part, the user directory structure is the same as are where you should store your files. The article will however lean more towards the Mac side of things.

Quick Summary

  • It’s easy to keep your files and documents organized if you follow just a few simple rules.
  • Dropbox may be one of the greatest inventions ever.
  • There are a number of ways to categorize and organize your personal documents, but here’s a simple template.
  • The same goes for your business documents, but there is a logical pattern you can use to divide up your files.
  • A quick look at where your files should and should not go.

Some Simple Rules

Let’s start with some simple rules for managing your files and folders.

1. Don’t put files on the desktop

Your desktop is supposed to be clean and display that gorgeous high-resolution wallpaper you’ve got going on. It should contain your trash/recycle bin, and that’s about it.

On very rare exceptions you’re allowed to put a text file or two on your desktop if you’re referring to it regularly and don’t need to file it just yet.

2. Limit folder creation

When you’re creating folders, think minimal. Most files and documents can fit somewhere in your hierarchy if you’ve done a good job of initially mapping it out.

In general, only create new folders (especially top-level folders in /documents) if you find yourself repeatedly coming back to save similar files in the same place, only to find that it doesn’t exist yet.

3. Get used to thinking in hierarchies

Thinking in hierarchies is a learned skill. It takes time to get used to.

If you want to manage your files and documents effectively, you’ll have to learn it.

To borrow a bit of pop-psychology, there are 3 main things you have to know: chunking up, chunking down, and chunking sideways.

Start with the assumption that everything fits into a category or hierarchy of similar things. For example, let’s take Apple products.

Apple Product Hierarchy

Chunking Down, Up and Sideways with Apple Products

At the top, we have a category that encompasses all Apple products.

Now let’s chunk down (move down one hierarchy level). Now we have multiple categories: portable computers, desktop computers, mobile devices, music devices, software.

Let’s chunk down again into mobile devices – you have the iPhone and the iPad. But if we chunk up from the iPhone, we can see that it could fit into both categories of “mobile devices” and “music devices”. This is entirely possible with most real-world hierarchies – things can fit in more than one place.

Now what if we chunk sideways from the iPhone? We end up with an iPad. Chunking sideways describes moving amongst the members of an existing hierarchical level.

Applied to your files and documents, the general rule is that they should always sit with other files of the same, equivalent hierarchical level. For example, application installers can sit in the same folder. Dated to-do lists can sit in the same folders. Personal letters to friends can sit in the same folder. PDF scans of receipts by month can sit in the same folder.

4. /archive is your friend

One thing we’ve adopted at AE is the idea of having a /archive folder within a lot of our folders.

The reason is this:

At present we have about 200+ folders related to posts for the blog. Each article/post/content piece gets its own folder for holding images, research, text and media related to that content piece. When you have 200 or so of these, it gets hard to find what you’re currently working on. So our solution has been that whenever a post or content piece goes live, we move the related folder into /archive. This way, all the pieces we’re currently working on can be easily found, and any older pieces that we want to refer to down the line can also be found be going into /archive.


Before we get into the nitty-gritty of directory organization, I want to give a mention to Dropbox.

It is an absolutely amazing tool for backing up your documents and using them between different devices and computers. It’s also great for sharing documents with others.

If you use Dropbox and have a paid account with storage (highly recommended), whatever directory structures we mention below can sit directly in your /Dropbox folder rather than your /Documents folder. We’ll clarify below as necessary.


Let’s take a look at your personal documents.

Regardless of if you use Windows or Mac, you will likely use the /username/Documents folder on your computer to hold your personal documents.

If you happen to do both work and personal tasks on your computer (like most online marketers or solo entrepreneurs I know), then you should really create two folders to separate out your personal and business items.

If you’re using Dropbox, it looks like this:

  • /Dropbox/Business
  • /Dropbox/Documents

If you’re not using Dropbox, you can similarly do:

  • /Documents/Business
  • /Documents/Personal

You could also do:

  • /Business
  • /Documents

With both folders sitting directly under /username – as long as you pick one method and stick to it, any will work.

If you’re interested, at Asian Efficiency we share a Dropbox folder for most of our files, so we each have:

  • /Dropbox/Asian Efficiency
  • /Dropbox/Documents

Now how you actually divide up your personal documents is largely a matter of how you mentally divide up your life. A very basic split would be: health, finances, relationships. These would then have subfolders, for example:

  • /Documents/health/dentist
  • /Documents/health/doctor
  • /Documents/finances/insurance
  • /Documents/finances/Chase

You could also do a split by OmniFocus-style areas, like:

  • /Documents/finances
  • /Documents/social
  • /Documents/play
  • /Documents/mind
  • /Documents/health

The general rule to follow is to pick a folder structure that matches how you mentally organize things. If you use a task management system, it’s probably not a bad idea to mimic the structure that you use in there too – just don’t go about creating a /today or /inbox folder. Remember that files and documents are supposed to be for “permanent” storage with files not moving around too often, as opposed to fleeting items like tasks.

As an example, here’s the split of documents that I personally use:

  • /bills – All regular bills, dated with company names and year/month.
  • /book summaries – Book summaries, subfolders for type (business, health etc)
  • /fashion – Notes, documents and media related to fashion and style.
  • /finances – Subfolders for banks, countries, types (insurance vs banking vs investments), financial planning stuff.
  • /health – Subfolders for dentist, doctor, gym, insurance, physical therapy, test results.
  • /housing – By city.
  • /identity documents – Scans of commonly used identity documents, like my passport, driver’s licence etc.
  • /life management – Documents related to goals, stories, motivation.
  • /personal – Various letters and documents (sorted into subfolders), notes on hobbies (e.g., boardgame tactics), miscellany.
  • /processes and scripts – Various scripts or directions for things that I commonly do. Think of them as recipes for things that are not food.
  • /receipts – All receipts scanned and tagged with date and vendor.
  • /recipes – Kitchen recipes in text files.
  • /roadmaps – Roadmaps for goals, system maps for areas of life.
  • /profile photos – Some profile photos for uploading to various social media sites etc.
  • /TED – TED notes.
  • /travel – By year and destination. Includes itineraries, confirmation printouts etc.

Business Documents

Similar to your personal documents, your business documents and how they are organized will largely depend on your occupation, company and job position.

If you are in a large corporate-size outfit, you will likely be working from a shared drive, in which case the directory structure will usually be pretty good, and will usually be pre-set, so you don’t have to worry about it too much.

If you decide to store some documents locally or if you’re not working from a shared drive, it largely comes down to what you do.

For example, say you’re a business analyst doing project work. Your directory structure likely looks something like this:

  • /project name 1
  • /project name 2
  • /project name 3
  • /todo lists
  • /archive

Each project would then have subfolders related to logical units of organization, like the type of working being done, stakeholders or who you’re reporting to.

/todo lists is for holding your text-based todo lists, and /archive is where you would move your completed projects when they’re done.

In contrast, say you’re an online marketer working from your laptop on the beaches of Bali. You may have something more like this set up:

  • /finances
  • /legal
  • /marketing
  • /products
  • /projects
  • /planning
  • /systems
  • /technology

This is actually pretty similar to what we have set up at Asian Efficiency.

How you organize your business-related directories basically comes down to how you decide to divide up your business or job into logical units. An easy way to do this is to grab a bit sheet of paper or a whiteboard, and map out your company/enterprise in details, based on what it is you do day-to-day. Then group related activities into logical groupings – think of it as an organization chart for your job/company, minus the positions.

Folder Overview

The last part of directory organization that we want to cover is what files should go where on your computer.


As mentioned before, your desktop is a place to display cool wallpaper. It is NOT a place to store random files, documents and anything you can’t be bothered filing away somewhere.

If you’re on a Mac, your screen captures appear here as do your disk drives.

If you’re on Windows, you may wish to keep a small (emphasis on small) number of shortcuts to programs you use regularly, as Windows is lacking a Dock.

Dock / Start Menu

For Mac, put apps that you use on a daily basis in your Dock. This is not necessarily the ones that appear by default in OS X.

You can also space out your Dock using any number of Dock-adjusting applications. I personally use Cocktail (it also does some system maintenance stuff).

For Windows, feel free to bunch your different applications into folders by category (say productivity, office, system etc), or you could just leave it – the search functionality within the Windows 7 start menu is actually quite solid.

Hard Drive vs User Folder

It’s important to make a distinction between your hard drive, which is system-wide and applicable to all users, and your user folder.

In the case of Mac, your drive by default is /Macintosh HD and for Windows it will be C:\. You should only keep files here if you have a single-user computer, or if you want all users on your computer to have access to them.

In general, keep your documents and files in a subdirectory within your user directory (/Users/username on Mac and C:\Users\username on Windows)

User Folder

Both Windows and OS X have a user folder system so everything below applies to both (except maybe Applications). I don’t personally use Windows all that much, so there may be some variation there.

The user folder looks something like /Users/aaron, and contains multiple other folders:

  • Applications. This should be empty unless you have user-specific apps. The places link in your Finder window usually links to /Macintosh HD/Applications.
  • Desktop. See above.
  • Documents. By default, this is where your documents will go. Various applications (particularly those by Microsoft and Adobe) also like to create various folders here.
  • Downloads. Downloads is usually where various browsers save files for you to. Think of this as your “inbox” for incoming files – files should start here, but they should not stay here. You may want to create a small folder structure here of to differentiate various types of files, e.g., /apps for application packages/installers and /system for storing your Windows drivers.
  • Dropbox. If you’re using Dropbox, treat this folder the same as your documents folder. The thing to remember is that some of your Dropbox folders will be shared with other people if you set them up that way, and having a lot of them can clutter up your document tree. We suggest creating a Documents folder within your /Dropbox folder for your personal documents and starting your personal document hierarchy there.
  • Movies. iMove may create some files here.
  • Music. iTunes and Garageband may create some files here. This is likely where you also store your music files.
  • Pictures. iPhoto will store you library here by default.
  • Public. Use this folder to share files with other users on your computer.

In Closing

We hope you’ve picked up some ideas from this article that will help you better organize your documents and files. As long as you follow the rules in the beginning and set up an effective hierarchy, file and directory organization is a breeze.

If you want more articles and tips like these, let us know where we can send them to:

Photo by: jenni from the block

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Posted by Miranda  | October 21, 2012 at 4:23PM | Reply

Hi There!
I have Evernote and Dropbox and a Flash Drive. What do you recommend for maximizing the use of each and not duplicating efforts or causing confusion as to where my files are under these three systems? I was thinking that I could use Dropbox more for documents that I share with others or that need to be updated by me regularly. And I was thinking to use Evernote for more stationary files (those that I do not have to share or edit/update/revise often). I seem to rely most on my flash drive; but those can get lost or damaged. Not sure how to harness these three things to create something that is logical and efficient. Do you have any suggestions?

Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 21, 2012 at 7:14PM

Hi Miranda,

Some might disagree with my approach, but here’s my take on this.

Dropbox – use this as your primary storage location.
Evernote – don’t use this for storing files (use it for storing notes)
Flash drive – Assuming you mean the smaller ones (storage size < 16 GB), use this to have backups of frequently used files or very big files that can't be downloaded quickly. When you setup Dropbox as your primary storage location, it becomes very easy to share document with others (and to revoke access). You'll also have access to your documents through the web or any computer where you can install Dropbox. If you're someone who wants to share documents with people, Dropbox is the way to go. Designate one folder for this such as the /public folder that comes with Dropbox. Evernote is not really meant to be used for storing files. It definitely can, but I think it's a little clunky to use it for that purpose. For storing and sharing notes it's great, but not for files. When you set up Dropbox correctly for sharing, then you'll find that you'll avoid using a flash drive. I only use a flash drive when someone needs something from me and they can't be online for a reason. Or another reason to use a flash drive is to have big files on there (such as videos) because it's faster to transfer it via USB than over the Internet.

Posted by Ciaran Antur  | February 13, 2013 at 6:25AM

Thanh, Miranda,

I would not forget to mention Google Drive (which works quite the same as Dropbox), Twindocs (very appropriate for stationary documents and focused on document organization) or Box (somehow between these two), among others.

It is true, though, that Evernote is not so focused in documents, but it does great with notes and web clips. So, you can give a try to any of the three above (or any other alternative services) for your stationary documents, as Dropbox could do better with sharing or backup features.

Posted by Arsarn  | October 22, 2012 at 5:00AM | Reply

Hi AE guys,

What do you think about importing all the documents (except for clouding services) to DT Pro. I’m thinking about doing this as it’s much easier to find and track documents.


Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 22, 2012 at 3:06PM

You could do that, although I wouldn’t do a complete import but a reference. DevonThink Pro can import documents in two ways: 1) copy and store document in DT 2) Copy file reference into DT. With (2), whenever you change something about a file, it will also be reflected in the actual file. With (1) that’s not the case because it’s only reflected within DT.

If you want DT to manage your files, make sure to use option 2. You can set this before you import documents. I only do this for very select files and folders – definitely not everything.

Posted by Nicole  | October 24, 2012 at 10:01AM | Reply

More tips that worked for me (on a PC) to help me clean up my desktop and minimize the time spent opening applications, folders, and files:

–Put applications that you normally open every time you turn on your computer in the Startup folder. At my work PC, this is Outlook and Evernote. At home, it’s Gmail and Evernote.
–Use an application like Auto Hotkey to open applications, folders, or files. At work I have a script for opening certain folders on shared drives and specific web pages, with two keystrokes. (The reason I don’t have a browser open at start up is because I could be working in any number of web pages, so it makes more sense to hand-pick which opens up.)
-Minimize the toolbar and shuffle through programs using Alt+Tab. Pretty.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 24, 2012 at 2:27PM

Great tips Nicole! I like the idea of putting programs in your start up folder. Mac users should do this too.

Posted by Vitali Roberts  | October 24, 2012 at 8:29PM | Reply

I’ve been struggling with this for years. Just when I think I have a solution, technology evoles and I am left with a bit of a mess. So now I have left over bits from pre Evernote, Dropbox and Google Apps, not to mention personal stuff, like migrating from Windows based to iOS. So Thanh, can you look in your crystal ball and let me know what to do now?

Posted by Aaron Lynn  | October 25, 2012 at 12:36AM

Take a day out and consolidate everything into a neat hierarchy. It’ll be a PITA to do, but once it’s done moving to future platforms will be a lot easier.

(Un)fortunately I only see technology, tools and apps as changing faster and faster in the near future. Setting up a solid foundation now for getting organised and understanding why and how you have all your files organised will make it easier though!

Posted by Vincent van Andel  | October 25, 2012 at 5:05PM | Reply


When does the Devonthink article/series come out? I’m waiting a long time for it, want it so badly.
Maybe interesting, the MacPowerUsers are gonna do an episode about it (and also about academic workflow). Can’t wait for it!


Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 25, 2012 at 5:37PM

Hi Vincent I have a post lined up for this in November. That’s all I can reveal :-)

Posted by Chris  | October 26, 2012 at 10:09AM | Reply

Have you guys played around with Sugarsync? I used to use Dropbox and enjoyed it but found that Sugarsync was even better (in my opinion) because you don’t have to move folders or files into a Dropbox folder to sync. Plus, Sugarsync gives you 2G of more free space when using the free version.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 29, 2012 at 10:15PM

Hi Chris I personally haven’t. I really like Dropbox so I haven’t looked elsewhere for software.

Posted by Will  | October 31, 2012 at 2:17PM | Reply

Although I keep certain areas clean like my desktop, it’s almost impossible to find what I need when it comes to anything else. I usually use my desktop to put things that are high priority that I want to see each time I turn on my computer.

I have done tidy up sessions before with my pc, and I’ve noticed increased productivity and less mental clutter, but sometimes I forget the importance of not only having an organized workspace, but an organized digital workspace. These are excellent tips and I’m going to start doing this on my next scheduled break.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | November 2, 2012 at 1:59PM

Yeah it will take some time to get used too. Also, the initial set up will take some time. However, once you have it all set up you’ll be really fast. So the payoff is definitely worth it.

Posted by Patrick  | November 5, 2012 at 7:50PM | Reply

Hey! I love your post! Could you please recommend some great wallpapers and/or post your desktop screen? That would be great

Posted by Senile Citizen  | November 19, 2012 at 11:52PM | Reply

Aaron does an excellent job of describing folder hierarchies. But as a retired college library director I will have to emphatically disagree with the following comment that Aaron makes.

He said, “My personal test for organization is this: you should be able to find the majority of your documents without using Spotlight or Windows Search. If you can’t, you’ve got some housecleaning to do.” His statement shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between browsing and searching.

Let’s take a look at the way libraries have traditionally worked. Although libraries house books, magazines, newspapers, CDs, DVDs, etc., etc., I’ll limit this explanation to a comparison between digital files and physical books. We’re all familiar with those.

Every major library will shelve its books in such a way that documents on similar topics are shelved together. This facilitates browsing because, whenever you have successfully found one book that is of interest to you, you may find that an even better book is shelved nearby. This is especially helpful when you are trying to master a field of knowledge that is totally unfamiliar to you.

There are two different major shelving hierarchies that have developed for use in large libraries. Most, but not all, academic libraries will use the Library of Congress system; and most, but not all, public libraries will use the Dewey Decimal system. Each of these systems is constantly being fine tuned to adjust to changes in the world of knowledge.

These subject schemes can be compared to the hierarchy of digital folders that Aaron has described. Because a major library must meet the needs of large numbers of people, they use these standardized subject schemes that have been found to work well for the largest number of people. You, on the other hand, are not bound by such restrictions when developing a folder scheme for your personal use. You can develop the scheme that works best for you.

Having said all this, there is a major problem with ALL of these hierarchies. The problem is that almost any book (or file) deals with more than one subject. So into which area of the subject hierarchy should you file it? No matter which area of the hierarchy you choose, the item could almost certainly be just as logically placed in any one of several other locations.

But the item can only physically sit in one place. So what happens if you search for an item in a perfectly logical place, but the item has actually been stored in a different, but also perfectly logical place? In this case, the hierarchy fails you.

For over a hundred years, libraries have used subject headings within card catalogs to solve this problem. Card catalogs have, of course, now been replaced with electronic catalogs; but the process is still similar.

While a book (or file) resides in only one place, multiple subject headings (or keywords) can be assigned to that item. The effect is the same as if multiple copies of the book or file were in existence. It does not matter which of those subject headings or keywords you use in your search; you will still find a pointer to the actual physical location of the item.

I try to file every item as soon as I create or receive it. I file it in TWO ways. I file it within my personal hierarchy of folders. But I also assign keywords. By doing so, I am prepared for both browsing and searching.

Aaron has done a great job of explaining subject hierarchies, so I won’t add to what he has said. Instead, let me talk about keywords.

I store my keywords in the “Spotlight Comments” field of each file on my Macintosh. I try to assign at least one keyword for every subject that is an important part of the document. I use every keyword that I can imagine myself searching for the next time I want to call up this file.

Not only that, but I also try to cover all of the various forms of the same word. For example, I might use “Investing,” “Investment,” and “Investor.” I might include both the terms “Finances” and “Financial.”

When dates are involved, I enter them in the format, Year-Month-Date (2012-11-19). When dates are included as parts of the filenames, dates in that format will be sorted in chronological sequence.

When it comes time to search, I enter my search keys into Spotlight. Sorry about that, Aaron. I almost always find the exact file within seconds. I don’t have to wade down through the file hierarchy.

Oh, I must say that Apple didn’t realize what they had created when “Tiger” (System 10.4) came out. They had developed the most sophisticated filing system ever created, but since they didn’t know what they had, they allowed “Leopard” (System 10.5), and again “Snow Leopard” (System 10.6) to blow that excellent filing system out of the water. Those two systems were money down the drain as far as I’m concerned. The Spotlight in those two systems cannot be trusted to consistently search the “Spotlight Comments” field. Furthermore, they both tend to actually DELETE some of your comments. Apple’s technical support couldn’t find a solution.

I went back to “Tiger” (System 10.4) for almost everything I do so as to preserve my hard-worked-for filing system. I created a small separate partition on my hard drive for “Snow Leopard” (System 10.6), but it just sits there unused. I have years of work in my filing system, and there is nothing in either of those operating systems that is as precious to me as my filing system. Therefore, I haven’t even tried Lion and I don’t care to.

Posted by Amy  | December 9, 2012 at 8:50AM

I am so glad you decided to comment on this, because you did a far better job of explaining things than I ever could have. I agree with you that there is a difference between browsing and searching. I find your methods of organizing files to be fascinating– and certainly a reason to get into Spotlight and poke around with some things.

When it comes to documents and digital files, I think things are changing and we have to get away from strict hierarchies. And though this article talks about personal document organization, could we benefit from document sharing or storage on platforms? Full disclosure: I work for, a document discovery and sharing platform. With machine learning as well as crowdsourced knowledge, it’s becoming increasingly easier to become more hands off with organization of documents– spending less time sorting and more time tagging.

Also, I think your comment showcases how much there is still to learn from information science when it comes to digital information and the WWW, even when it comes to things as “simple” as how to organize your own local store of documents.

Posted by Thiago  | December 31, 2012 at 10:16AM

Your explanation was wonderful. I too have developed a system for “tags” or keywords, but since I work from a Mac AND a windows machine, in sync with dropbox, spotlights comments wouldn’t work. What I do is put tags right in the filename. So a filename with a layout for a client will be called “layout-homepage-client-name-20121230.psd” the numbers in the end are the date of the filename creation, in the year-month-day format. They are needed as my “tags” would sometimes overlap like “wallpaper-nature-brazil-beach” (I have 4 files that match this description). This numbers are printed by a snippet in TypeIt4Me app. Textexpander would achieve the same result, but it is more expensive than Typeit4me.

Posted by ann sarimo  | January 8, 2013 at 4:14PM | Reply

Hi Aaron, I love when I’m doing random online surfing and stumble across a great blog like yours. Fun to read and super useful information. Love the post about super foods that help you lose weight and boost productivity. Need to find out where I can get Chia Seeds in Helsinki. Anyhow, while I’m here visiting and learning, I thought I should also take a moment to introduce you to a new service that I started using a few months ago but became such an avid user that I decided I must join the company. The service is called Arkkeo and I’m not going to give you a marketing pitch (well maybe a little one) but since it’s relevant to your blog, you should check it out if you have some time. I was a DropBox user but dropped DropBox in favor of Arkkeo’s great categorization and tagging system and the mobile app which has helped me to reduce my junk drawer to only junk and no more piles of receipts waiting to be filed. Cheers to a productive 2013. Nice blog indeed. Ann Sarimo

Posted by Ryan  | February 28, 2013 at 4:13PM | Reply

Are there any companies that will come in and organize shared computer drives? If so, what company is rated the best?

Posted by sunnymoon16  | March 4, 2013 at 3:49PM | Reply

This article was a great read! Thank you!

Posted by Chris  | December 13, 2013 at 10:05AM | Reply

Query: What do you think of Dropit as a file organizer manager? I have used it extensively for storing various file types, e.g., software installation applications,*.exe, and zip files.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | December 13, 2013 at 1:57PM

None of us use Windows so we can’t comment on its effectiveness.

Posted by Steph  | January 15, 2014 at 10:07AM | Reply


I am a fairly new dropbox user and have a question regarding hierarchy of folders. I cannot find this answer anywhere so far. If I create a shared folder and then create a folder one level down, but within that shared folder, is the new folder within the shared folder hierarchy automatically shared?


Posted by Thanh Pham  | January 16, 2014 at 3:24AM

Yes – everything within the shared folder will be accessible by others.

Posted by Shai  | January 25, 2014 at 4:04PM | Reply

This is a great article for presenting the basics, foundations, and mindset for setting up and effective folder hierarchy.

I’m mainly a Windows user and here are some comments that I though worth adding:
1) I completely agree that the Desktop should be empty. Windows Search is a good way to launch one’s regular applications, but I recommend using application launcher such as Find and Run Robot or Launchy that are far more customizable and powerful.

2) I agree with Senile Citizen that searching for a file with a meaningful name does not contradict filing it properly in an appropriate folder hierarchy. I (try my best) to give all files a meaningful name and then use Everything Search to find it near instantaneously. Everything also allows the user to open the containing folder if more actions should be taken. Everything uses the NTFS journal so its search is very fast (but it searches for file names only and not for their content). It is specifically useful for locating that odd invoice or other document that you don’t quite remember what was its date; much faster then sorting through the right folders that could hold a lot of other files as well.

3) It is quite disappointing that in this day and age the file system are so lacking with it comes to storing metadata. The lack of simple mechanism for adding tags to files conisderabbly hinders the ability to “file” documents that fit several categories or folders. I have redundancy (except for physical data storage) and I don’t want to create several copies of the same file (e.g. an invoice for multiple projects). To avoid this I use shortcuts. Not the ideal solution because they break quite easily (and Everything is very useful in finding their new locations and updating the shortcut in such cases), but they at least serve a remainder or a note.
I also use shortcuts for easy access. I use a master archive folder and instead the physical folder-specific one I have a shortcut pointing to the relevant sub-folder of the main Archive folder. Ultimately it achieves pretty much the same thing.

4) Because Windows doesn’t allow the user to move the entire user folder, and in light of the rise of SSDs, I find it counterproductive to waste the limited storage space and writing cycle of the SSD for storing using documents. There are several solutions (like mounting a specific partition from another drive as the C:\Users\ folder) but all of them as one shortcoming or another. What I prefer to do is just relocate all the date containing folders (Documents, Music, Pictures, etc.) to a separate home folder via the Windows properties dialog window. Not the best or ideal solution, but the benefits often outweigh the disadvantages. For a single user machine there is no further concerns, but for a multi-user system that Home folder could be further divided to hold the data of all users and by adjusting the security settings an unauthorized access could be prevented.

Posted by Ryan  | March 13, 2014 at 6:49PM | Reply

Sir, where would you file things like software installers or app preference files under personal? I’m basically using your organizing files and folders and documents article as a starting point. Thanks for actually posting what I was looking for– there should be more of this.

Posted by Aaron Lynn  | March 17, 2014 at 6:03AM

I keep my app installers in /Downloads/apps with a backup set on an external hard disk. I have about 20gb of installers, and they’re readily available online so I don’t feel the need to take up unnecessary Dropbox space with them.

For preference files and backups and stuff I put them in Dropbox.

Posted by Lorne Fade  | May 10, 2014 at 7:49AM | Reply

Great overview on how to get organized in business with file structure. I use google drive and dropbox religiously for this and it makes like a breeze. Thanks for sharing the insights!

Posted by zak  | July 13, 2014 at 1:37AM | Reply

I am not very computer savvy. is it possible to hire a computer assistant who could help me organize my files?
The help does not need to be on site. after some initial discussion of how best to organize the information the help could be by remote access to my computer.
Are there such services available that are reliable?

Posted by Organizing my records  | November 3, 2014 at 6:19PM | Reply

Great post! My company has been really busy lately, and as a result our files and records have gotten quite cluttered. This was a huge help. Thanks for sharing!

Posted by Janet Butler  | December 29, 2014 at 6:17PM | Reply

Thanks for this post. I do IT at my local insurance company, and I was given the task of updating our storage system, so this was super helpful.

Posted by EvertVd  | July 5, 2015 at 6:17PM | Reply

I’m not sure I agree with the statement that the desktop should remain empty. It is there for a reason, and it is the main thing you return to everytime you leave a program (or start up your computer). In my philosophy the desktop is the place where you put everything you work on. Be it a project folder or downloads. Whenever you return to your desktop you instantly see what you need to do, no need to search for files burried deep on some drive.
Once a project is finished it can be transferred as a whole to a place of permanent archive. Same applies to downloads, once finished with them, either delete or archive them. So your desktop is the place where you work from and your “goal” is to make it empty (but it never will be as long as you keep working on stuff).
My only problem with this started a few years ago as I tried to integrate cloud based services into my workflow. I am still trying to figure out how to incorporate google documents in my projects as they are firmly located ‘in the cloud’.

Posted by Dhruv  | August 24, 2015 at 3:54AM | Reply

Desktop and My Documents / Documents folder should be empty or redirected to drive other than C: So that in case of OS crash C: can be fixed without any mess.

Posted by Josh  | September 4, 2015 at 11:32PM | Reply

Hello, I am a remote entrepreneur but mostly work at home on my imac. I have a 10tb NAS server, Gdrive and several computers (2 pcs, 1 mac) and a laptop that I work on. I run several businesses and I do freelance work including video editing, photography, graphic design and web developing as well. I like your idea of using a standard business folder alongside personal to separate documents but should I then organize businesses separately in there or outside the business folder or something different entirely? Currently, I have 1 master folder for each business/trade on my desktop and I don’t frequent Documents or Downloads folder much. My desktop gets cluttered with current work but I will be implementing Hazel soon. My questions are how do you recommend I organize my business folders and do you have any other multitasking techniques that I could implement considering I dabble in a lot of different areas? Thanks so much! This is one of the most helpful articles I’ve seen.

Posted by A. M Julius  | December 6, 2015 at 10:41AM | Reply

Hello, i am a teacher in collage, and i like your idael so much, look forward to have more of it.

Posted by MELANIE CHEW  | December 10, 2015 at 12:25AM | Reply

Nice work! Thanks for the info, super helpful. Merging files is super easy with AltoMerge. Try it on your own here AltoMergealso here and you’ll make sure how it’s simple.

Posted by Dalia  | February 9, 2016 at 4:44AM | Reply

I am in the process of reorganizing my computer files based on your advice, but one point isn’t clear – What is your advice for the /archive folder? Does it retain the same structure as /business and /personal or do you just dump everything in?

Posted by somebody  | April 5, 2016 at 2:09PM | Reply

just dump it all in

Posted by Delilah  | August 3, 2016 at 10:40PM | Reply

What’s the difference between Google Drive and Dropbox? Why so much emphasis on Dropbox? This is not the first time I’ve seen praise to Dropbox.

Posted by James Bergman  | October 26, 2016 at 5:37PM | Reply

Effectively storing my files on my desktop is all about using proper folders and then being consistent in using them. I normally save my files using the same kind of system I use when storing hard copies. Yes, I still use hard copies as well as digital versions. It is my backup in case anything goes wrong with my computer.

Posted by Mitch  | December 3, 2016 at 3:34PM | Reply

I am still looking for a way, a software that is able to sort and organize the hundreds or thousands of files that I have for the many projects that I have in my computer. I can’t use online service so I am trying to find a software that I can give search criteria and then the software will quarantine or sort these files for me. Then I will create a new folder for these files that are all over the place . Is there such a dream software? Not online service please. Thank you all.

Posted by Ken  | December 9, 2016 at 4:28PM | Reply

Do you know of any professional providers courses that offer online or in-person courses on this topic? If so, please share their contact information and/or website. Our organization may be looking for such a course in the near future.

Thank You,

Posted by JB  | December 14, 2016 at 5:55PM | Reply

My desktop is clean and files and organized. Creating folder efficiently for where it properly belongs.

I used dropbox for my files storage online and since I have a licensed Microsoft office I do have 1 terabyte for Onedrive.

Posted by Alexandra  | January 4, 2017 at 8:48AM | Reply

I can always tell how busy I am by how messy my desktop and download folder get. Your article is great, nice to see you are keeping it up to date!

Posted by Val  | February 24, 2017 at 7:51AM | Reply

i need to start from ground zero and learn everything. My husband managed our computer and set things up initially. I have saved documents by title rather than in folders because I didn’t know how to set them up initially. Now I know I need to go back and organize. Which will take forever.

That said, is there a good book out there that will teach me everything I need to know from creating folders, storing info, backing up documents, photos, videos, etc, uploading, downloading, dragging dropping and anything else basic for Windows operating system?

My husband is no longer here and while we each did things for one another we didn’t teach the other what to do so I find myself at square one.

Can you recommend a book to keep on hand for quick reference that’s not complicated for Windows operating system, organization and understanding the basics operations of a PC?

Any input would be appreciated.

Posted by Rob Crombie  | March 17, 2017 at 9:06AM | Reply

If you email me, I can offer assistance (free)
robhp AT iprimus DOT com DOT au

I am 75, was a qualified ACA, and then spent 20 years in IT as a senior analyst (and programmer).

Posted by Ed Ende - "Never Too Old to Learn"  | May 27, 2017 at 10:51AM | Reply

Thank you. I have discovered worthwhile information I should have learned, mastered and applied 35 years ago. My intention now is to read everything at least twice. I purchased an inexpensive ($400.) Windows-based computer and intend not to load such applications as iTunes and Picasa 3. I will use this computer for my files and the Internet. I will soon begin to organize my work on the computer as soon as I outline everything on a test document. Thank you again.

Posted by Ed Ende  | June 13, 2017 at 9:48AM | Reply

What are TED notes? Also, I am 76 years old. I am beginning to scan almost all of the photos and papers I have accumulated over the years so that those after me won’t have to wade through items of questionable interest to them. I plan to back up my work with two USB’s (in case one fails.) What do you think of this idea? Thank you.

Posted by Ed Ende  | June 20, 2017 at 1:06PM | Reply

I found out what TED notes are. I have also learned that it would be better for me to use something like Dropbox (which I have chosen) rather than rely on USB’s I have also began to create my document tree and scan my personal papers and photos.

Posted by Lyan  | June 29, 2017 at 4:49AM | Reply

I was just reading through the guide and this “chunking” just made me far more confused. It’s not the definition I have a trouble with but the actual operation you do as the follower of this guide. Outright, I certain the guide does not suggesto to Right Click and select Chunk Up/Sideways/Down.

So what is it exactly that is being suggested to be done and how?

Posted by Adam  | September 17, 2017 at 5:55AM | Reply


Here is nice program for organizing files:

Posted by Shellie Johnsey  | December 21, 2017 at 6:42AM | Reply

Nice Share this is awesome

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