7 minutes to read.
Go take a look at your documents folder. Is there a structure to it? Is there a defined path for every type of file?
The chances are this is just a mess of files that have accumulated over the years.
And I don’t blame you either, until a couple years ago mine was the same way.
When I first got the computer it was empty, so there was no reason to set up a structure yet. As I started saving files I thought, “Well there’s only a couple things in there, I’ll be able to find this when I need it.”
Then after a year or so, it got unwieldy.
Over time I created a couple folders that attempted to keep things organized, but they weren’t in any kind of defined path. If I had a new file, there were always a couple different spots it would make sense to put it in so it was hard to find when I needed it later.
So for the rest of this article I’ll be sharing my solution to this and how I organize everything on my laptop.
Defining A File Path
Start on a piece of paper or just a series or empty folders on your desktop to get it right.
The idea is: Create folders starting with the most broad, and then narrow down. (To create a folder hit, command+shift+N)
The most broad should just be your root (or home) folder. So take everything you have and put it there. (I keep everything off of my desktop except things that are in progress. But when I finish, I put it in it’s place so my desktop doesn’t become cluttered and unorganized.)
This is what my desktop looks like now:
Once you have everything in your root folder…
Start thinking about the different modes you go in. Do you work from your computer? Go to School? Have side projects? Do web development? Application development? Write?
For everything you do, have a different top level for that mode of work. Here is my root folder and the top level of thinking for each path.
Quick Tip: Enable the file path to be shown at the bottom of your finder window so you always know where you are by going to Finder > View > Show Path Bar
For me, my modes are:
- Development – “Developer”
- Web Development – “Sites”
- Side project work – “Jobs”
- Personal – “Documents”
Then of course I have the folders for download, pictures, music, etc.
If I went into every one of my folders, this article would be extremely long and boring, so I’ll just go through my “Jobs” and “Documents” folder since I think that will be the most helpful for people.
Just to reiterate, this is just how I do things, so take what you want from this.
Here you can see my jobs folder and everything I am working on.
Notice I don’t have a folder for Products, Sites, etc. There isn’t 1 rule that will fix everything. As long as there is only 1 path that makes sense for the files in that folder, then set it up how you like. This folder is a good example of how I veer from my folder rule to make this part of my file structure easier to navigate.
It’s easier for me to have all of this in the same folder since I start, test, and end projects a lot.
Quick Tip: Once I start a project an realize it won’t work, I throw it in the “Archive” folder and can come back to it if I ever want to.
Instead, to keep these grouped I’ve added a prefix to each job which keeps all similar projects together and helps my brain find things easier.
By having everything in one place I can easily see all of the projects I’m working on or that I’ve archived in one place rather than 3-4 different folders duplicated in current my work and archived work folders. Whether I am in archive or my current projects, everything is grouped by type of project because of the prefix.
At the bottom there you might notice a folder called “template”.
As I said, I start and end projects a lot, and creating a file structure every time is a waste of time.
Quick Tip: Anything you find yourself doing over and over, find a way to automate it.
So I have this template file structure there that I would need for any new project that I can just duplicate and rename overtime. (To quickly duplicate a folder hit command+D on Mac)
You can create your own, but I’ve put mine here for you to download if you’d like. :)
You can adapt this for how you work, but keep in mind the same idea: most broad to most specific.
Admin stuff, copy, design… these are all completely different modes of thinking for a project. So they are split off at the same point.
Depending on the project, my admin folder will look very different.
If you take a look at the folder above for my site New Hobby Box, admin has folders for legal, accounting, customer information, etc.
But for something like my subreddits, I’ve just removed it.
My copy folder is usually full of headline swipe files, customer reviews, blog post archives, etc.
Design is where organization is key to not losing files.
I have the folders “images” for any site assets. Then that separates into logo, homepage, about us, etc.
“OrderingPrints” keeps all of the assets I need for recurring orders like card inserts or stickers together and in one place.
Then Pixelmator/iDraw is the folder for any layered working files I need. (Those are cheaper versions of Photoshop/Illustrator respectively.)
Finally, in every folder you ever create in jobs, make sure you have an “Archive” folder.
You never want to throw anything away. So keep it out of the way of your current files, but in the same path under “Archive” so you can find it. You never know when you will need these files for whatever reason. I’ve been saved many times by keeping these archived files, so it is very important.
My personal folder is for anything related to me that is too small to have it’s own path.
So in here I have:
- PDF’s of academic papers or free books
- Anything that is a guide. Mostly dev, business, or random how-to’s.
- Any interesting info-graphs I’ve found. Though I’ve been moving these to Pinterest. It’s great for storing anything visual even if you don’t want to share it.
- Tax info
- Insurance papers
- Other boring things
- Interesting mass drops from the internet that are too random to categorize.
- Anything I work on for other people. So for anyone that I help make something, I create a folder with their name and put whatever I make in there when I finish.
- This is where I put all of the PDF manuals for my remotes, CCDW, car, etc.
- Well… You know… Recipes and tickets…
Now For The Hard Part
“How Do I Get Started On This When I’m So Far Behind”
Well before all of the rambling, I asked you to put all of your files into your home folder.
Unfortunately, there is no quick way to do this. You just have to set aside an hour every couple days or so until you are caught up.
And once you finish, make sure you continue putting the files where they go.
The idea is, if you were to hand you laptop off to someone else, would they be able to find what they are looking for?
That way, when you know you have a file you need, you can instinctively get to it instead of having to remember the exact arbitrary place you put it a year ago when you saved it.
I hope this article helps save you some time.
It wasn’t very riveting, I know. But it’s a sort of PSA to the world to help get peoples computers organized because, based off of other peoples laptops I’ve used, 90% of the time they are a mess.
If you have any questions about my process or tips to make it better, comment below.
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Thank you for reading!