Ask the Expert – Digital File Organization

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Ask the Expert – Digital File Organization

In case you missed it, last month we sourced questions from ScanSnap followers on social media and had them answered by our resident organizing expert, Heather Walker, founder of Functional Spaces Organizing. Here’s another question that followers asked.


I need help with digital file organization (the home screen on my desktop is a mess), where do I start?

Sure you want to organize your computer, but you’ve got to start with a backup plan – in case the worst actually happens (which is highly possible in the realm of technology). “Back up your data” is as critical in this era as “Wear sunscreen.”

An external hard drive is an excellent way to store large amounts of content without bogging down your computer in the process. External hard drives are especially useful for storing collections of things like photos, music or even videos.

Backup complete? Great! Let’s Move On.

Trash Old, Unnecessary Files (Windows or Mac)

After you’ve used your computer for some time, it is almost impossible to avoid accumulating files that you don’t need anymore (or that never were useful in the first place). Not only can these files take up valuable space on your hard drive, they can also make it hard to find the file you’re looking for. If you haven’t accessed a file or program in a long time, consider whether or not it is still needed. And if not, say goodbye.

Other files you may not have created but that are safe to delete include any temporary files (*.tmp), downloaded program files (Like ActiveX controls and Java applets), temporary Internet files (like cached pictures) and set up log files (Log files generated when you originally set up your operating system.)

Clear your Computer Desktop – Mac

Does your computer desktop look like a mosaic in an art museum? Let’s work on that next. Close any open windows. Then, click the desktop itself to be sure you are in the Finder – if you have a Mac.


  1. Optimize your preferences. From the finder menu, choose Preferences. Clear the first three checkboxes from the General pane. (Hard disks, external disks, CDs, DVDs, iPods.) You can access these items from the sidebar or launchpad or finder; they don’t need to clutter your desktop.
  2. Clean up Your Sidebar. Under the Finder Preferences menu, choose Sidebar. Only check the items that you actually use regularly. (applications, Desktop, Your User Account, etc.) In this case, “less is more.”


Now – on to the Mosaic!

  1. Make a new folder on your desktop. (Choose new folder from the file menu. Name it “Inbox” or whatever you would like to call it.)
  2. Move each item on your desktop into an appropriate folder. If you need to do something with the document, put it in the “Inbox.” If you have a lot of old files and you don’t have time to go through each one at this moment, drag them all into a new folder you create, called “ARCHIVE-DATE” (and add the date.) Moving forward, create folders for each of your projects, and save your documents into those folders.
  3. Use consistent naming conventions. Set yourself protocols for naming your files that make sense to you now – but will also make sense into your future Consider adding a prefix based on the category/project type of the file, and/or starting with the date. Sure, you can search for documents based on dates from your computer, but your eye can easily scan documents when they have a consistent file name MUCH easier than when it doesn’t look uniform. Try it out and surprise yourself. You’ll be glad you did.
  4. Put Active Projects in Your Sidebar. It’s time to separate your ACTIVE projects from your ARCHIVED projects. Put the folders for active projects in the Sidebar so you can find them instantly and save new files to them easily.

-Drag each important project folder to the Sidebar and drop it into the desired location. Notice that a horizontal line shows where the folder will go after you drop it. If you need, resize the width of the sidebar by dragging the vertical divider at its right.

-When you save a file, use the Sidebar in the Save dialog to navigate to the correct folder quickly.  To move an item to a specific folder on the Sidebar, drag it to the folder and drop it when the folder is highlighted.

  1. Combat Clutter. Periodically, spend 10-15 minutes to address your old habits…and clean your desktop. If a file is on your desktop, file it! If an item in your sidebar is no longer active, remove it. The more frequently you spend a few minutes keeping up your system, the less overwhelming it will be.

Heather Walker
Founder & Chief Organizer, Functional Spaces Organizing