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Ask HTG: What’s Your Most Effective Organizing Trick or Tool?

It’s easy to let apps, icons, and files on on your computer get a little out of hand as the contents of your hard drive suffer from a bad case of out of sight/out of mind. This week we’re interested in hearing about all your tips and tricks for keeping your computer organize.

Whether it’s a habit you’ve cultivated (like always properly naming your files) or an app you’ve picked up along the way (like Everything, the lightening fast NTFS-index search tool), we want to hear how you effectively organize your virtual environment. From organizing the desktop to your file archives, tips and tricks of all shapes are fair game.

Sound off in the comments with your tip/trick/application and then check back on Friday for the What You Said roundup.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 07/11/12

Comments (35)

  1. r

    I like to think of it more as an “organized chaos”. One which only I can understand.

  2. Rusty Gates

    I spoke with someone who told me that having nested folders wasn’t a good idea to use search to find everything. So I took time and tagged all my files, ALL of the them. I opened a single folder and had photos and docs, and everything under the sun, it was a mess. I now use four folders, docs, photos, videos, and music. I use a name-date strategy for docs, date-location for photos, videos I haven’t figured out, and iTunes to manage my music. Most of it except for the videos is in my skydrive folder so I can access things on the go.

  3. dog

    I name all my files numerically 1, 2, 3, 4…..

  4. commieMelon

    I use the built in Library system in Windows 7. Documents, Music, Video, Pictures, Games, all on a dedicated data drive. Then, I have subfolders in each library. In Documents, I have Downloads, and Documents. In Music, I seperate everything by Artist, and then by Album. Pictures contains Backgrounds and Camera. Games contains the location of each of my games for easy access, and a folder for games I have not yet installed. Video just contains the video file, but I always remove everything but the title from the name.

    It’s not very complicated, so it’s pretty easy to navigate and search through.

  5. Fences

    I use Fences from Stardock to keep my desktop Icons neat on the desktop, and the quick-hide feature keeps the icons out of the way. I use Windows StartSearch to find what I need, whether it be programs or documents. I tag documents and other files so I can find them quickly based on their tags. I keep folders that I use frequently pinned to the Jumplist of Windows Explorer, frequent websites in Chrome’s Jumplist, and pin my favorite items to the taskbar. I place links to my frequent places in the links folder for easy access from explorer favorites menu.

  6. Superevil

    I’m really picky about my Start Menu and hate seeing a bunch of single application folders. I create sub-folders in the Start Menu such as Audio, Video, Utilities, etc to organize my program shortcuts.

  7. RomelSan

    I keep my important things or documents like this:
    Make new folders and name them like: ex:
    #Bank Receipts
    #Photos
    #Drivers
    #Games
    All the important folders that you name with a # will appear first.
    And i always store them in another partition or drive.
    Because Windows Partition always gets lost. (Virus, Formatting)

    In my desktop i have a folder “Desktop” with everything in there.

  8. TheFu

    a) Never trust the file system to manage dates and times. Don’t trust any DB program to manage your files either. One lost pointer and you have nothing.
    b) manually organize project files and data files
    c) for music, genre/artist/album/ structures work best.
    d) for photos, home videos and electronic documents, YYYY/MM/ structures work best, unless you are taking hundreds of photos/videos, then another sub-level may be needed.
    e) Never trust metadata inside files unless you verified it.
    f) Trust full-text-search of documents.
    g) `ls -Rl > filelist.txt` is a fantastic organization tool for off-line disks.
    h) If you can’t find a file when you need it, then you might as well not have it anywhere.

    Backup, backup, backup …. and TEST your restoration procedures. Backups without testing is like paying a restaurant bill, but not eating or drinking anything there. It really is all about the restore, after all.

  9. Remus

    Lets see, i have two HDDs one with windows and the programs and the other one has 2 partitions on it, one partition i use for installing the games on (i’m a big gamer) and the other one i use to store my data, which are folder-named accordingly and have different icons (Music, Movies, Pictures, Projects etc.)…i also have a folder named Database, which contains, E-Books, Wallpapers, Utilities, Drivers, Game Content (like saves and patches), Emulators, Programming and more. I use the utility *Everything to quickly find what i need and *Start-Killer to hide my start button. Instead of the start button i use *Free Launch Bar as 2 quick-buttons (Games and Apps) who contain the most used apps on my system. My desktop is empty since i only use it to store temporary files.

  10. gifi4

    I use Windows 7′s library feature which allows me to span my games across several HDD’s whilst still seeming as if it was in 1 folder. I do the same for music, documents and everything, just incase I run out of space on my HDD, I can use the other drive and still have easy access.

  11. Rulaiv

    I usually have a few major folders such as “media” and “documents” and then have sub-folders like “work documents” or “animated movies”.

  12. Xunkar

    For my music I zip everything on a per album basis (so an archive looks like %artist% – %album%) and put it all in one folder. I use foobar2000 which has the really useful ability to read music in archives.

    For every other files I do not use Windows 7 libraries because you cannot have different display configurations for each folder, you have to set it for the whole library which I find to be a real problem (in other words the folders inside a library ignore the desktop.ini file). For my videos for example I like to use big icons with a customized icon for each folder (the dvd cover) but I want the files in themselves to be displayed as lists. To make it easier I have pinned Explorer to the task bar and my main folders in its jumplist.

    And then there are the applications. I have absolutely nothing on my desktop and nothing on my task bar (except for Explorer) I simply use menus and submenus to categorize applications in the Start menu.

  13. Emir_X

    I arrange one type of files on one cloud folder (like Skydrive), other kind of files on another (Google Drive for example) and keep those most commonly used on third one (Dropbox), Linux files on Ubuntu1, and those which are not needed at the time but might come in handy latter, I place on SugarSync :)
    Upload all photos to Google Plus and keep my drive clean of photos which could take lots of space.
    So I don’t ever worry about all those files if something happens to my computer, they are all safe in Cloud.

  14. RaSch

    Arch linux on an SSD with no desktop environment. No Wallpaper. No Icons. No Taskbar. Only Production and lots of keyboard shortcuts using the start key on my keyboard in conjunction with other keys to launch whatever I need to do. All of my files are downloaded or put into my downloads folder and they stay there unless they have actually been sorted. Sorting is easy though as I have a couple of scripts that do the job. The first script renames all files to lowercase, replaces symbols and spaces with underscores, replaces &’s with and (this is mainly so that it is easier to access all files without having to use escapes in the terminal). The next script will rename my camera imports using the date from the exif info and move all camera imports to the pictures folder organized into subfolders by year and also create thumbnails and medium sized versions of every image as well as an html gallery linking all the thumbs to their medium photo linking to their original photo. Everything else in the downloads folder gets organized manually. Videos go into the videos folder which has three subfolders (movies, tvshows, documentaries). Music goes into the music folder which has artist subfolders which then have album subfolders. There is also a folder for various and singletons. I run a script on my movies folder and my music folder that creates html galleries of my media. Everthing else is basically organized by project in documents and sensitive data is put into an encrypted truecrypt volume. My biggest organization tool is my wiki. It’s used for my bookmarks, todo list, contacts, notes, links to all of my local media galleries, etc. I backup all of my remote websites to my home computer nightly using cron jobs. Everything from my home folder is synced nightly to another drive locally so that I alway have two local copies of every file on my hard drive. Then I keep a paid crashplan account to backup everything remotely (and it’s encryted on the way out). My system was quite complicated to set up (mainly writing bash and python scripts to automatically create html galleries of my photos) but now it is on autopilot for most tasks and I just spend a few minutes a week cleaning out my downloads folder if my scripts didn’t get to it first.

  15. bobro

    first i make a nice tree of folders specifiying everything, and then i then fill these folders correctly and with every difference a new folder is made to encompass the new kind, dated, type of file…

    then after doing this for about two days, i make a ‘sort’ folder or ‘misc’ folder and then just dump things in there so i can sort it later…

    then… i dont sort it later and it all just piles up in these folders…

    maybe down the line i will format my PC for some reason and go through the whole process again! :)

  16. bobro

    @Dog…. that is classic! LMFAO!!!!

  17. lizbit

    keep it simple, keep it tidy and don’t load crap onto your machine willy nilly, I’m sick of cleaning it up for everyone

  18. Ron

    - I use a separate Data partition to separate apps and OS (on C:) from my data files
    - lots of folders, but only 2 or 3 layers deep at most
    - file and folder naming scheme
    – special char like @ and # to force “important” files to sort to top
    – topic tags built into start of file name to group related tips together
    – article date (to judge relevance)
    – full text of article title in filename
    - I use a file name search tool called “Everything” from Void Tools. It ties directly into NTFS, no “indexing” required. Performs “instant” file name matching as you type. I use it dozens of times a day.
    - stardock fences to organize shortcuts on my dual monitor desktop.
    - Word documents to collect “random” short tips about specific subjects into a single searchable documents.

  19. Gian-Luigi Valle

    Reinstall the operating system after doing a backup and only move across files and folders that i actually miss and when i copy them accross to the fresh install I arrange them into the correct folder. In Ubuntu/ Fedora that’s a choice of Documents, Music, Pictures, Videos or some folders get their own folder in my Home folder.

    Also using Shotwell to import photos makes it so much easier because it just arranges them in the Pictures folder according to date. You can also tag your photos if you want.

  20. Ernie

    I’m a Windows user and leverage the system as a base for everything; documents in My documents, photos in My Photos, downloads in Downloads etc.

    I use iTunes for sorting music and videos. All files are converted to formats that are playable on my iPod. iTunes is well suited for 588 GB and almost 100000 songs and videos.

    In the documents folder I use descriptive names in a flat file system with few folders. One folder is labeled Recipe and holds only recipes gathered from diverse sources and each of these files also uses a descriptive name.

    I’ve learned that backup needs structure also. I use a 1 TB drive for local backup, using SyncToy, of all data only since the OS can be reinstalled. I also backup to an external 1 TB drive that is connected to another computer on my home network. Everything up to this point is in native format and takes very little time to restore. Every six months or so I use my Windows 2003 Server to backup everything to tape. This extra set of suspenders in my belt and suspenders setup is slow and cumbersome but I rest easy at night knowing that any one computer can burst into flames and I won’t get hurt.

  21. George Harper

    I just use the windows option Group by and sort files by their dates in my Downloads folder, because then all of the files are neatly organised by the Date they were downloaded.
    I like this because you need no software and you do not have to fiddle and tweak or download extra software to get this view!

  22. fubeca6

    This is a kinda a pet-peeve of mine: when people have everything on their desktop and nothing in their home folder (and sub-folders). Those folders labeled “Documents”, “Music”, etc., they’re there for a reason! I have a lot of clients that don’t seem to understand that -_____- Of course, I just smile at them, but here i can rant :)

    I use the home folders – both in Linux and Windows – and their built in sub-folders, to keep all my files organized. Occasionally I’ll add a custom sub-folder (like “Games”, or “Comics” – I’m a geek, I know) but I make sure that all of my data is accessible from the home folder…and not through the “Desktop” sub-folder. I also delete some folders that I don’t use “Public”, “Shared”, “Ubuntu One”, etc.

    Also, I always try to keep my “Downloads” nice and clean. If I download something (pictures, programs, documents) it can usually be organized somewhere else. I don’t necessarily have a file naming scheme, but I’m liking some of the ones that I’m seeing posted here, and will probably adopt one.

    I <3 organized files

  23. Wolf

    I create folders on the desktop: Documents, Music, Audiobooks, Ebooks, Graphic Shortcuts, Programs, Software, Downloads, Drives. The I put the shortcut for that in the proper folder and line them up on the left of the screen.

  24. vgamesx1

    well I for one find that using the desktop and placing icons on it still works fine, I can find all the shortcuts to my favorite programs right along a line of shortcuts, and then I use a backup hard-drive to store any important files along with any music/videos/etc.. so its all safe, at all times.

    while I do keep some music and videos in a folder on my desktop for very quick access to, and use the start bar to pin things I use everyday such as mail and chrome. (and anything else I can just find it quickly by hitting start and type the name or partial name of what I want.
    so far works great for me, but might not be for everyone.

  25. TechGeek01

    I use Stardock Fences on my laptop running Windows 7 and I group all of my start screen icons and name them in Windows 8. I have clearly named folders and files, so I know where everything is, and I store a lot of stuff in Dropbox.

    Actually, before I built my new Windows 8 computer, I very heavily used my laptop. I’m now in the midst of a very painstaking process of organizing my warzone of a desktop so I know what’s on my laptop.

    Other than that, I don’t really do much to my stuff. It usually ends up as a bit of organized chaos, and it looks kind of messy, but I know exactly where everything is, and it ends up working just fine.

  26. V0R73X

    Nested Folders! There’s nothing wrong with that.
    In my C Drive, I have a folder called “V0R73X_Source”, in that folder, there are ALL MY STUFF!
    There’s also a copy of this folder on my External Hard drive, and every once in a while, I take time and sync it with the local one.
    Now, in this V0R73X_Source, there are 5 folders:
    1. V0R73X_Chaos: FUN stuff (Games, movies, etc).
    2. V0R73X_Gallery: Pictures & wallpapers (not all in one place: there are folders for each category).
    3. V0R73X_Library: Ebooks (also categorized)
    4. V0R73X_Labs: All my projects, Articles, Notes, Source Code, documents, stuff like that.
    5. V0R73X_Toolbox: All my applications (the setups only, the installed ones are in Program Files).
    There’s also a folder on my desktop called V0R73X_Temp and all the temporary files go there such as Email attachments, temp notes, stuff that are not worth much.
    This directory organization works awesome for me! xD

  27. V0R73X

    oh and forgot to mension the ‘V0R73X_Toolkit’ folder on my desktop which stores a bunch of shortcuts to the most common programs I use…
    RocketDock is also good for storing shortcuts.

  28. handy dude

    I use Batch Rename Utility to rename my large chunk of files, whether it is a video, music or photos.It can rename on multiple ways.HTG should have an article on how to use it. check out more on their website. http://www.bulkrenameutility.co.uk/Main_Intro.php

  29. Sandi Goldston

    I use Fences by Stardock. They have a free version as well as an enhanced paid version. The free version would work for most users. I have the paid version on my computer at home, but the free version on my laptop, work computer, etc.

  30. Cesar

    Works fast, clean and safe for me

    I have three hard drives: a master and a slave backup running all the time, and the third active just  to save these files what aren’t used frequently (massive folders and anything else not needed in the medium term)
    Anyway’s I have two plug-out / plug-in distance, at any time.
    To ensure the backup recorded some DVDs, but when some become hundreds … (Does anyone remember the character R Daneel Olivaw in the Foundation series by Asimov in his speech about the memories? I think it is in Earth and Foundation)

    The folders, well, in six categories in a floating dock under downloads, software, text, music, image and video

    Texts: for thematic order (including art, science, dictionaries, eroticism, philosophy, comics, myths, theology, recipes, veterinary, and a lot of science fiction) and in alphabetical order of authors in each library.

    Music comes in alphabetical by authors too, with subfolders by year-album.

    Video have a preliminar clasification in: clips, short, mid film and feature film, btw the clips also have subfolders for trends: classic, jazz, rock, lounge, japanese, brazilian and national.

    The image folder have a basic division: wallpapers and miscellaneous

    Handmade (and through the years) with love and with the invaluable help of four Pieces of Software: XP Professional, XYplorer, RocketDock and LaunchOnFly.

    From Buenos Aires (always against the bugs!!!)

  31. Charles

    I only have system data + applications on my SSD. I have a spare 2 TB HDD in my rig but at the moment I have no use for it. :P I keep all my important work in Dropbox, and my media / legally downloaded software (ahem) / rest of my documents goes to my two Synology NAS servers.

  32. keith

    I use the default folder setup that comes with Windows. In the past, I’ve created separate directories for images and mp3s in my c: drive, but this complicates backups, so I just use My Pictures, My Music, etc. now and just backup my entire “Users” directory.

    My desktop is a hodgepodge of stuff, mostly because I never do anything from the desktop. Most of my computing is web based, so I’m in my browser all the time (except for the time when I need Filezilla, Excel, Word, etc…).

    I also use a duplicate file finder utility for sussing out file duplication. But since I’ve been actively consolidating, I haven’t had much use for it. :)

  33. Wayne in Indy

    I would 2nd Fences from Stardock. It a cute little freeware that makes keeping your desktop clean and organized. I love it.

  34. Wayne in Indy

    Also should have added….

    So when we do forget where we put things (I often do), I use another freeware form VoidTools called SearchEverything. Microsoft’s search sucks (extremely slow). Once SearchEverything is running it is lightning fast at finding stuff, as long as you remember some fragment of the file name. Great tool.

  35. Gulshan Singh

    Belvedere is a must have for an organized desktop and organized folders. It automatically moves files that fit certain filters (file extension, date created, etc.) to other folders, cleaning up your workspace automatically. Check it out here: http://lifehacker.com/341950/belvedere-automates-your-self+cleaning-pc

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