How-To Geek

What You Said: Your Best Organizing Tips and Tricks


Earlier this week we asked you to share your most effective computer organizing tip or trick. Now we’re back to highlight some of the great tips you shared.

If we took anything away from reading over the comments on the original post, it was that HTG readers are sticklers for good file name and folder organization. TheFu explains his multi-prong approach:

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.

All sound advice, especially not trusting a single method (like the file names or the folders). One bad file move or batch-script execution and you’ve got a hot mess.

Ron likes to keep his folder structures shallow and use more folders and detailed file names to keep things tidy:

– 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.

V0R73X likes to keep everything in one easy-to-backup location:

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

Ease of backup is always a plus; we like to keep all our portable apps in a single and well organized Dropbox folder, for example, so we can have a tidy copy of our favorite tools on every machine Dropbox syncs to.

Have a tip or trick to share? It’s not too late to join the conversation: sound off in the comments!

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 07/13/12

Comments (10)

  1. Dave

    I use Renamer (free) to change filenames of all photos to the EXIF in this format:
    YYYYMMDD HHmmss.jpg
    That way each one is always distinct and easy to find by date. No need to have many nested folders. I store them on Picasa and put them in multiple albums (one copy, shows in multiple places, kinda like labels). I sync those into a Photos folder on my hard drive and back up that to my external once a month.

    Music is on Google Play with various stuff synced to the computer, phone, tablet, etc for offline listening.

    Movies exist on the external only. I stream most stuff anyway, so no biggie if they get lost.

    Essential small apps get added to the DropBox folder as mentioned above.

    Everything else is in the Windows 8 SkyDrive app (25gb) so I can get to it from anywhere. Win8 syncs the whole thing to my hard drive, and that folder gets backed up to the external each month, too.

    I have to do this stuff since I tend to wipe & reload my computers every few months and don’t need to waste time backing things up. I could blow the hard drive on my Win8 tablet today and lose absolutely nothing. It’s all in the cloud.

  2. WandersFar

    Except for huge videos and programs that require installation, I keep everything in my Dropbox. It gives me piece of mind to know that my computer can be lost, stolen, or turn into a big fiery ball visible from space and I’ll have lost minimal data.

    Within my Dropbox, I have an Apps folder for portable applications, which is ~95% of the programs I use. Install/update/customize once, and settings are maintained on every computer my Dropbox is linked to.

    I also have one huge Music folder. No subfolders at all — instead, all the organization is built into the filename, which I glean from the metadata using MP3Tag. This is my scheme:
    Comment Year Album Track# Song (by Artist)
    This will sort everything alphabetically and then chronologically before breaking down into individual albums and tracks.
    I use Comment instead of Artist as a general sort field — good for soundtracks, or any album that contains songs by more than one artist. If the Comment = Artist, i.e., the entire album is just by one artist, then I tell MP3Tag to drop the Artist tag to save on filename length.

    Another top-level folder is Themes. I keep all my customization stuff in here: wallpapers, icons, visual styles, cursors, fonts. Using the same User name across computers means I can tell programs like Rainmeter where to find the wallpaper to associate with a skin, and it will work no matter which computer I’m on.

    Any file I rarely use gets dumped in Catchall, which has many subfolders to drill down into should I need to find it later on, but any active files or just useful information in general gets dumped into Indexed. (I also sometimes use the YYYY MM filename scheme others have mentioned.)

    Now here’s the best part: I use Launchy to index these folders: Indexed, the Shortcuts subfolder in my Apps folder, and my Music folder. That means with a single keystroke, I can quickly search for any program, important file, or song or playlist. For music, that means I don’t need to know everything about the song; if I just sort of remember the title, or the artist, or the album, that’s enough for Launchy to find it. It’s like iTunes search without the bloat (I use portable VLC to play everything).

  3. TheFu

    $ find ~/Audio -type f | wc -l
    I don’t see any directory listing not choking on that number of files if they were all in the same folder.

    $ find ~/Gallery/ -type f | wc -l
    I’m happy those image files are organized in sub-directories too.

    Using the cloud is great provided it isn’t the only place for your backup data. Just ask the people using megaupload cloud storage about the day their files all disappeared. They aren’t the only cloud storage provider to disappear either.

  4. bakapasanac

    Guys, I am searching for 2 things in possibly one application and I would be very thankful if someone can help me out:

    1. Search inside all doc, txt, xls and similar types of files
    2. Search network drives

  5. JimB

    I am a photographer wannabe and have 70,000 photos taken over 8 years.(These are just ones I deemed good enough to keep)

    First key: I’ll shoot 150- 300photos in a day. It’s a must that they will be downloaded, filed, and file names attached before I go to bed. Otherwise, I wait a week and have 1000 photos to deal with and it ain’t gonna happen. Naming 150 photos seems tedious but I first cull out the bad photos and dupes so I only have 20 – 40 keepers.

    Second key: I have folders for each child and grandchild and each organization I shoot for, plus folders for friends, landscapes, birds, etc. and nested folders under each one. In each folder I start with a folder for the year, i.e. 2012 and then folders for particular events within the year.

    Third: I may include names of people in the picture in the file name, particularly if it is a really good one.

    I use Windows 7 search to find a photo.

  6. Dan

    This is how I manage my work computer.
    On the backup side of things, I find it easier to stay away from paid backup software. Using a command line batch file I copy everything from my data directories in their raw format. Easy to restore. Its a matter of copy and paste.
    I use two daily backup usb hard drives also a weekly and a montly drive. On each of these there are three backups. Basically every day I swap the the daily drives over. The last backup on the drive is overwritten of any changed files and moved to the front of the queue. Namely Backup A. Backup A is renamed prior to that to Backup B and the Backup B to C.
    Once a week the weekly is plugged in and the same process is repeated. Same with the monthly.
    File organisation wise.
    Every customer has a directory and under there are the individual jobs. In there is a reference data directory which contains photos and any data provided by the customer. There are also about 5 other directories relevant to our line of work. Each of these has about two other folders in them. This file structure is saved in template directory so that when a new job is created the file structure is copied into the client folder and renamed.
    This is actually now done from excel. The new job has the client name entered in one column exactly as it appears in the data directory. The job description is added in another column and a job number allocated. A macro is run which copies the file structure into the correct clients directory and renames the folder to the current job number and name. A hyperlink is also added to the spreadsheet so it can be accessed directly from the spreadsheet when searching for a job.
    I could keep going with what other multitude of chores the macro does from renaming project file names within the folders to setting up and emailing our “Authority to Proceed” to the client.
    Drawing wise our files are named starting with the job number then the drawing sheet number. Gets a bit hard to find when there are a few hundred sheets in a job so they are also managed with a spreadsheet which is automatically filled in when ever a pdf is created of the drawing sheet. There is a description created for every drawing so that it is easier to find the relevant drawing. Once again hyperlinks are used for ease of opening files.
    Most of this isn’t probably relevant but spreadsheets are a great way of handling files as the date and time or any other file naming protocol. A description of the file can then be added to the spreadsheet and linked to the file via hyperlink.

  7. Art Kennedy

    What the heck is `ls -Rl > filelist.txt`? I opened a command line and entered ‘is’ and then ‘ls’ and got the no command error.

  8. Adithya Uday

    @Art : its unix/linux command to list the directories and files ,
    You can use dir command as alternative in windows

  9. SeaBee

    Best computer organising tip.

    Ensure that the largest computer is on the bottom of the pile, then stack the remainder in diminishing order of size so that the smallest computer is on top.

  10. jammom2

    @WandersFar: I’m interested in the Launchy app you mentioned. How does it work? I’m trying to set up a reasonable file system for my new boss, but the problem is that she has a bad habit of moving files or copying them into multiple locations. I thought if we can automatically index files, I might break her of this bad habit (or at least not waste time looking for stuff). I’m not a super-geek though, so I need something easy to set up.

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