Desktop Folder Follies

If you have dozens of folders on your virtual desktop and you can find everything easily, great. You can ignore this post. However, if your “system” consists of putting every “critical” folder on your desktop and you then complain that you can’t find anything, your system isn’t working. And I want to help, truly, because your desktop makes me crazy, especially if I drop by and need a file in a hurry.

I understand the logic of accessing your content using the fewest clicks possible. However, if there are dozens of folders out there, you might find yourself opening and closing folders until you get lucky and find the right one. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I have no idea how folders work on a Mac—I suspect they’re similar to PCs—but if you use the Auto Arrange function on the desktop, everything on your desktop will be put in alphabetical order. You also can put things in order of file size, file type, or most-recently modified. This last style of organization might work if you go to particular files, applications, or folders a lot, in which case the most recent thing you touched will be in the upper-left corner and then go in descending chronological order straight down until you get to the bottom of the screen.

The problem with the other forms of organization is that they tell you nothing at all about what type of content you’re working with. So this is my time to get on the soapbox make a plea for organizing your work by content type. I’ll explain my system and hopefully it will be useful to you.

What do you see when you open up “My Documents” or whatever you consider your “root directory?” Here’s what mine looks like:

  • My primary outputs are Business Development documents, Communication Plans, Conference Papers, Executive Tasks, Exhibits & Collateral Pieces, occasional One-Off assignments, Proposals, Reports, Web Stories, and White Papers. So what are the rest of those folders all about?
  • The APO, Engineering Directorate, OSAC, and SERVIR folders are department- or project-specific reference folders. These are things that other people created.
  • The other folders are Microsoft’s general utility folders or miscellaneous reference materials related to my employer or personal interests.

That’s pretty straightforward, right? If you dig down a level inside the task folders, they’re broken out (for the most part) by customer/department and then by task. The only exception would be conference papers, which are broken out by conference, then year, then customer. The goal at all times is to have only 10-15 folders on the screen at any one time. For example, if you dig into the APO (Ares Projects Office) folder, you’d find folders for each of the divisions (First Stage, Upper Stage, etc.) and major, content-heavy events, like the Preliminary Design Review or Critical Design Review.

The point of all this is to reduce my level of heck when it comes to locating files. Rather than trying to remember what I named something, I can dig through my folders based on what the product is. This helps me avoid, for the most part, having to guess what sense of humor I was using when I named a document. As I noted earlier, I didn’t set out to be hyper-organized. A lot of this structure has come about because previous methods of “organizing” failed. If it worked for me, it can work for you!

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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