Tame Your PC: Organize That Mess You Call a Desktop

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A messy, disorgnized Windows desktop full of icons

Everyone needs a system for organizing their digital files, just like everyone needs a system for organizing paper documents. If you dump your files on your desktop or scatter them across your PC, you’ll have trouble finding them when you need to use them.

Worse yet, you’ll have trouble finding the files you need to back up or move to a new PC, spending hours searching your hard drive to make sure you didn’t miss an important file. Save yourself the stress and time in the future by organizing your files today.

Tame Your Desktop

The desktop isn’t the right place to store files. Programs you install put application shortcuts and other junk here, so storing your personal files on your desktop pretty much guarantees you’ll lose track of them.

If you don’t store files on your desktop, you can hide all that desktop clutter. Right-click your desktop background, point to View and uncheck “Show desktop icons.”

Use Your Data Folders

Store your files in the appropriate data folders. Windows automatically creates folders to store your downloads, documents, pictures, music and videos to organize these files. You’ll find these folders under “This PC” in Windows 8.1 and under “Libraries” in Windows 7.

Create your own organization schemes for what you’re working on. If you’re working on a project that involves both documents and pictures, for example, create a folder with the project name, store it in your Documents library to place all the related files in there.

If you need a place to store your tax documents, create a folder called “Taxes” in your Documents folder and place all your tax documents in it, perhaps with different subfolders under Taxes for each tax year.

The main idea is that you need to organize all your files in one place. That’s why you want to create the Taxes folder in your Documents folder, not anywhere else like C:\Users\YourName\Taxes or C:\Taxes.

A user's data folders under This PC on Windows 8.1

The Payoff: Backups and Moving to a New Pc

Now, when you’re upgrading to a new machine, you don’t have to search your desktop and go over your hard drive with a fine-toothed comb. You know where your files are and you can easily copy the handful of folders that contain your personal files.

This also helps when performing backups — it’s critical to perform backups or you’ll lose your important files like I once did! Windows 8.1’s File History feature automatically backs up files in your Documents, Pictures, Music and Videos folders. Even if you’re using different backup software, just point it at the handful of folders that contain your stuff.

Cloud Storage

You may also store your files with a cloud storage service. For example, Microsoft’s OneDrive is built into Windows 8.1 and can also be installed on previous versions of Windows. You can download Dropbox, Google Drive and other cloud storage services and use them in a similar manner.

Instead of organizing your files on your computer, place them into the cloud storage folder. Organize them as you would normally, placing documents in a documents folder, pictures in a pictures folder, for example. Your files will automatically synchronize among your machines and be accessible on the Web and via mobile apps. You can also back them up with backup software, so you’ll have copies on your computer’s hard drive, on a cloud storage service’s servers and on an external drive.

OneDrive's default data folders on Windows 8.1 Update

Stick to whatever system you choose. There’s no point in organizing all your files now just to let them get messy again over the weeks and months ahead. Follow the system for a few weeks and it will become second nature.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Evans (Flickr), Chris Hoffman

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