The Best Way to Organize Your Computer Files

The Best Way to Organize Your Computer Files

– If your desktop looks like this, then you and I need to have a chat. And well even if not, you’re
gonna wanna stick around for this video because remember when I said my paper
file organization video was the most exciting video
you were ever going to watch? Well, that is a thing of the past because everyone knows
that everything gets cooler when it makes the transition
from analog to digital. So buckle your seatbelts once again, because this week, we are
talking about how to organize and systematized the files
within your computer. So organizing your computer
files is simultaneously easier and harder than organizing
your paper real world files. It’s easier because computer
files don’t weigh anything, they don’t take up any physical space, so they can’t really
create a mess on your desk or in your living space. But it’s harder number one, because well, we were never taught how
to organize computer files. I don’t know about you, but I remember being an
elementary school, middle school and having teachers tell me to put things in separate folders, to have a Trapper Keeper,
all that kind of stuff. But when it came to my computer files, no one was ever around to teach me how to organize my folder structure, where I should save things,
all that kind of good stuff. And secondly, we create
much more on the computer than we do in the real world these days. We have so many different
documents, pictures, music files, so it can easily get
out of hand much quicker than it can in the real world. And for that reason, I think it is crucial to create
a usable logical structure from the get go with your computer files. This is much more important
than it is in paper files because, well, in the real world, there just isn’t a whole
lot to have to reorganize if you realize that you’ve made a mess. But if your computer is a mess, you might have hundreds of
files sitting on your desktop. So step one is to create
an organizational structure of folders that makes it easy to find anything you’re
looking for quickly. And there’s a couple different rules here. Number one, every single file in your
system should be within a folder that represents it
well, a specific folder. Nothing should be sitting
out on the desktop, and nothing should be
sitting in random folders, like Documents or Downloads. Everything should be in
something that makes sense. But number two, you wanna have a structure that makes it easy to find
those folders themselves. Now, you could just have
one long list of folders on one particular level of your system, but that’s gonna make things pretty cumbersome, pretty quick. So instead, you wanna follow in the steps of that great philosopher, King Xzibit, and start putting folders
inside of folders. I call this a tree structure. If you think of a tree at the
bottom, you have the trunk, and then that trunk
eventually branches off into main branches which in turn branch into smaller branches. And that splitting process keeps going on and on until you reach the leaves. And actually if you
look closely at a leaf, you’ll see that the branching
process even continues with vein splitting off from the midrib. Bet you didn’t think you’re gonna some tree anatomy in this video, huh? And if you look elsewhere, you’ll find the structure
replicated both in nature and in manmade systems. Take your body’s circulatory
system for example, all the blood goes through
arteries from the heart. But from there, it splits off into smaller and smaller blood vessels until it finally reaches
the smallest of them, the capillaries and gets delivered to the exact right place in the body. And road systems are very similar. Any two points in a city separated by a lot of distance are
going to be best reached by first making your way
to a highway or freeway or main road and then
branching off into smaller and smaller residential road. And just as the branching
paths of trees, blood vessels and road systems provide
the most efficient way of moving resources around, a tree structure provides
the most efficient and usable way of organizing your files. So the first thing
you’re gonna wanna do is to create this tree structure, which starts with what’s called the root. Essentially the trunk of the tree. And in my file system,
which I’m gonna show you for the rest of this video as an example, the root is called Google Drive. And the reason for this is
that I use Google Drive, which actually just recently
changed its name to Google One, to sync all my files up to the cloud and between all my different computers. But we’re gonna talk about
that a little bit later. Within the root, I think
it makes the most sense to organize your main files
by kind of the main categories of your life or as I like
to call them life buckets. So the buckets of my life include College, College Info Geek, Learning,
for learning projects, My Life, which is all my
personal files, like taxes, and apartment files, things like that. Now, I do want to note that
this is not the only way of organizing your file tree. And that is something
that could be repeated for every single level of the file tree. In fact, if you go look at the datacurator
filetree project on GitHub, you will see that the top level of their suggested file tree
actually has folders split up by media type, audio files, documents, literature, video, etc. Personally, I like to keep anything that isn’t a document in
a specific media folder within my file system. And that brings me to kind
of the main point here. Your file system should be expandable, it should be flexible, it should maintain its
logic when it does expand. But most of all, it
should represent the way that your brain organizes files. Assuming you are the only person who’s going to be you using this folder, because I know a lot of
you guys are gonna go into the professional world,
start working in companies and start using shared directories. So with your own file system, you can kinda query your
brain a little bit more often, but with shared directories, you’re probably gonna wanna adhere to some agreed upon rules and conventions. So I wanna go over just a couple of here. First one is organizing by category, which is exactly what I’m
doing in that main folder, in my file tree, and it’s the structure that I adhere to for
most sub folders as well. To give an example, let’s go into my College Info Geek folder. This is where basically any file related to my business goes,
whether it’s LLC paperwork, or the thumbnail for this video. So once we drill into that folder, we’re gonna see some folders
like Business, Content, Courses, Projects, Speaking and Tools. And within the Content folder
to go a little bit deeper, we’re gonna see other folders
like Articles, Email List, Graphics, Podcasts, and Videos. And with this structure, it is easy to find pretty much anything that I need really, really quickly. And just to give you an example, I’m gonna throw the path of a random file onto the screen right here so you can see the
logical sequence of steps that I would take to get to it. And again, it’s very
easy to find this file and pretty much anything else. That being said, organizing by category isn’t the only way you can organize your files. And you’re gonna get
into certain sub-folders where it makes sense to adopt
a different structure such as organizing by date. And I find this particular
structure to be very useful when the files that I’m
trying to organize would fill so many different category based folders that would end up with a huge long list. And a great example is my college classes. During my college career, I
took over 40 different classes. And well I could just shove every single class folder
into my college folder, that would be kinda messy, I’d be looking at a list
of 40 different folders every time I needed to
go save or open a file. And most importantly, during
every single semester, I would go into that college folder and I would see a bunch
of very irrelevant folders from previous semesters. So instead of just organizing by category, I instead created another
level of organization by splitting things up by year. So I’ve got Freshman,
Sophomore, Junior, and Senior. If we go into say, Sophomore, we’re gonna see all the classes I took during my sophomore year. Then once we drill into
a class based folders, such as English 313, we’re
gonna see all the files that had to do with that class, but also project specific folders as well. So if you have a project,
but lots of different files, I think it absolutely makes sense to group those files
into their own folder. But anything that’s kinda
like an individual handout for the class, just keep
that in the class folder, and you’ll be able to easily find it as long as you name it intelligently. And speaking of naming your files, that is actually step two in this process, which is honestly an ongoing process, ’cause you’re always
gonna be naming files. But I do wanna talk a little bit about how you should name your files. And we don’t have to talk a lot here because the main principle is that your files should be
named relatively specifically. You should be able to know at a glance what it means within the context of its location in your file tree. And I make this point
because there are a lot of other productivity gurus and organizational gurus out there who have these overly complex
file naming conventions. They’re putting the
date in their file name, they’re putting, like every
bit of context they can. And honestly, I think
this is a waste of time, because as long as you are being vigilant about where you’re saving your
files in your file system, then each file really only needs
a little bit of specificity for you to know at a glance what it is. So obviously, don’t name your
homework, just homework.docx or paper.docx. Give it a name that at
least jogs your memory as to what it should be, but don’t worry about being
overly specific either. And that brings us to
step three in the process, which I referenced earlier in the video, I think that you should
absolutely use a Cloud Sync app, like Google One slash Google Drive as the root of your file tree. So if you don’t know
what a Cloud Sync app is, basically, it’s an app
like Dropbox, Google One, Microsoft OneDrive, iCloud Drive, there are some other
ones out there as well. They basically sit on your computer, and they upload anything
within the sync folder to the cloud, and then sync
it to any other computers that you have as well. And using an app like this gives you several different benefits. Number one, all of your
files are kept up to date across your entire system. So if you make a change
to a Photoshop document or a Word document on one computer, that change will be dutifully
synced up to the cloud, and to any other computer that you have. Secondly, you have access to
your files, wherever you are. You got access on your laptop,
you got access on your phone, I’m actually reading the script for this video off of this bone right now. Even have access on any
computer in the world as long as you can log into your Google or your Dropbox account
and download those files. So that brings us to a question, which Cloud Sync app should
you use, which one is the best? Well, I’m gonna go ahead and recommend Google One for most people. Now there are a lot of
competitors out there again, Microsoft One Drive, Box,
sync Dropbox, iCloud Drive, but I think Google One makes
the most sense, number one, because they give you 15
gigabytes of free space, which is much more than
any other competitor. And I think that unless
you’re a content creator or photographer or graphic designer, you’re gonna take a long time to fill up that 15 gigabytes of free space. So that just keeps you from
having to spend a whole lot of money right up front. Secondly, if you do need more space, with a competitor like Dropbox, you have to immediately go
up to their two terabyte plan for 10 bucks a month. Whereas with Google One or Google Drive, or whatever you wanna call it, it’s just $2 a month for 100 gigabytes. And again, I really don’t
think most people need a whole lot more than 100 gigabytes. But what you do need
regardless of who you are, even if you don’t need a
tonne of extra space is to make sure that your files are adequately backed up and secured. Now, if you are using a Cloud
Sync app like Google One, then you do have some
measure of protection for at least hard drive
failure on one computer. So if I have all my files
just on this one computer, just on the hard drive, not synced to Google One
or anything like that, and this goes down the toilet, well, this probably won’t
fit down the toilet, but someone tries to
force it down the toilet or someone steals it, or
Loki comes out of a portal and cast a spell on it, he gives it legs and
runs away from me, right? I would lose all the files, because they’re only on this hard drive. But if they’re synced to the cloud, and all I lose when this
thing runs away from me and goes to frightened children
is the hardware itself. And this computer can
be replaced with money, but all those files,
they cannot be replaced. So at least with the Cloud Sync app, you have some of measure protection against hardware failure. But what you don’t have
protection against is people who are malicious. If someone goes in and like
hacks your Google account and deletes all those files, then you don’t have a whole
lot of protection against that. Now with Google One and
a lot of Cloud Sync apps, you can go back in time and
restore files out of the trash. But you usually have like a
30 day time limit on that. But again, somebody could go
in there and empty the trash. Or you could accidentally change a file and not realize it until a
month down the road and realize, oh, well, I needed the
old version of that file, and now it’s gone forever. So I think you should
have a backup strategy that extends beyond Cloud Sync. And there are a couple
of different options. So the option that I use personally, and the one that I
recommend for most people is to use a separate cloud backup app like Backblaze or CrashPlan. And I’m gonna use Backblaze here ’cause it’s the one that I use, but for about $5 a month
or 60 bucks a year, they will backup an unlimited amount of data on your computer
across any hard drive connected to it with the exception of anything like network attached storage. But the other thing is that provides some measure of redundancy. If something gets into your
Google Drive and messes with it, or someone deletes all those files, they’re also backed up and Backblaze. And for me, I wanna have my data in multiple different places. This is kind of a pain in the butt to do, but if there ever comes a time where one of those data silos goes down, you’re gonna be very happy
you took the precaution and had a backup. Now the other option, which I
think is a little less robust than good cloud backup, but it’s still useful is
to just get your hands on a small external hard
drive, plug it in once a month, and copy your data over to that one drive and then just keep it
unplugged from the computer, keep it stored somewhere
that’s secret and safe. And then actually remember to plug it back in once a
month and make that backup. And that brings us to the
final step in this process, which is to make use of shortcuts to more quickly access
the most used folders and files in your system. Because here’s the thing, when you have this beautifully
organized tree structure, sometimes you’re gonna have files that are six, seven, eight
levels deep from the root. And if you need to
access those files a lot, you’re gonna be clicking through eight different levels of folders, and that is not very efficient. But luckily computers allow you to create shortcuts or aliases. These are kind of interchangeable terms to access those files quickly. But even more efficient than
shortcuts, in my opinion, is the Quick Access and
Favorites areas of the Finder and Explore on both Mac and Windows. So on Windows, it’s called Quick Access, you can easily pin any folder
or file to it on the sidebar. And in Mac OS, it’s called Favorites, and it gives you the
exact same functionality. So if you see my explorer here, you’ll see that I am have
pinned many different folders that I access on a regular basis. Some are permanently there, but you’re also gonna see folders related to the individual video
that I’m working on at any given time. So right now you’re gonna see
172 Computer File Organization since that’s the video that
I’m currently working on. So, start using Quick Access,
start using Favorites, start creating shortcuts, and you’re gonna find yourself navigating your file tree much more quickly. And then as long as you
maintain the integrity of that file tree, as long
as you maintain vigilance when saving new files
and creating new folders, you’re never going to
lose another file again and you’re gonna be so
much better organized. Of course, the best way
to stay organized is to be very deliberate about
the projects that you take on, about the files that you
create in the first place, about the content that you consume. This is called being an essentialist. It involves being very in
tune with your priorities and your values in life. And if you wanna get better at doing this, I have a book recommendation for you. “Essentialism: The
Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown is one of my absolute favorite
self improvement books, it’s one of the most useful that I have found in
my personal experience. And if you want to actually
listen to that book for free, you can do so by going
over to or by texting Thomas to
500-500 on your phone. Doing that will get
you a free 30 day trial of Audible service which comes with a free Audiobook download, which can be anything you want. But of course, I’m going to
recommend “Essentialism.” But it also comes with
two Audible originals you cannot get anywhere
else along with tonnes of audio workout, fitness,
yoga and meditation programs. And of course, Audible is the
best place on the internet to get your hands on audiobooks. They have an unmatched library
with all the best sellers, lots of obscure stuff and things from basically any genre
that you could want. And they also have an
excellently designed app with a lot of great features,
including Sleep Timer for you using it at night, the ability to add notes at specific timestamps within your book and easy controls for jumping
forwards or backwards, just in case you wanna fast forward or if you didn’t catch
something, you can easily go back and listen to it again. So once again, if you
wanna get a free trial of Audible service for 30 days that comes with a free Audiobook download, two Audible original that
you cannot get anywhere else, and all those audio workout
meditation programs, go over to and sign up, or text Thomas to 500-500 on your phone. Big thanks as always goes out Audible for sponsoring this video and being a big supporter of my channel. And thank you as well for watching. Hopefully you found this video helpful. Hopefully it was a great complement to that paper organization video which I’m gonna put right here
in case you didn’t see it. And of course, you can
always subscribe right there, if you haven’t done so already and you wanna get
notifications of new videos. Click right there to get a free copy of my book on how to earn better grades. Or if you haven’t seen my
latest collaboration video with my friend, Matt D’Avella, I’m gonna have that linked right here. So definitely check that out. Thanks again for watching and we’ll see you in the next video.

Leave a Response

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

100 thoughts on “The Best Way to Organize Your Computer Files”

  • From my experience in Evernote the key thing is to develop a habit of adding tags to your files – this makes building the file tree almost unnecessary. I wish Windows had a more robust file tag system.

  • I’ll never understand this cult following for the word “foeder.” It’s foelll fuckin’ der. Folllllllder. There’s an L!

  • My external drive wants to be connected so that it backs up my files daily… why do you think it should be unplugged and only plugged in periodically?

  • I wish my desktop was as clean as that first pic. My main problem is with graphic design and content creating. I need to download and upload files repeatedly throughout the process, so even if I had folders for miscellaneous audio and pictures, I actually need them to be available on the desktop and within view of the web browser or program to drag them over. Your system is straightforward but I'm not overdoing it so I don't get lost in folders. I've seen people who excessively organize and make their stuff dysfunctional just for the sake of looking nice.

  • My digital files were organized about 12-15 years ago, but life has changed for me, so I need to re-organize them according to your video. So, my advice is to follow this video, but plan to do a reorganization when there's a life change(marriage, divorce, birth or death) or every 4 years (whichever comes first).

  • I already do this but I started running into issues on Microsoft WIndows computers because it has a limit to the number of subfolders. Also if I try to backup my folders and files at work or home, it will fail on folders that have too long of a file name for when I save something from the internet, or if it has too many sub directories. Its a hassle having these limits.

  • 4:55 "Singing… Covers… Justine Bieber Cover AND Black metal Cover…. this is a particular that Only a real musician can see… 😀

  • Lightbulb in the background transmitting secret messages spotted at 12:30. Thomas Frank communicates with appliances and is a robot: Confirmed!

  • My desktop is pristine. I literally don't have any icon on it, unless it's temporary, not even the Recycle Bin. My Downloads folder on the other hand is just a mess.

  • I thought that all people on the earth have a computer desktop like a recycle bin, but the earth still have so many extremely smart people liking a glorious view for things etc.

  • Why'd I have so much fun watching this? xD I do a lot of these things, but there's certainly room for improvement as I've let things get a little messy after a while.

  • I mostly don't comment but you really cover every point. This means you really did your work to record the video keep it up .good work

  • Do you have any recommendations for apps or programs that search for duplicates to prevent redundancy setting up an initial file system?

  • If you do most of your work via command line, your better off having a flat folder structure so you have less to type, prefix your filenames, and you can use auto complete that can customize to your heart's content.

  • Hi Thomas, your video is awesome. May I know what Mind Mapping Software you are using at 04:51? I am using Mac and hope it has Mac ver. Thank you for your help in advance.

  • What about the long file name problem? When you have lots of folders in folders, you end up with filename problem and even lose access to those documents. Any solutions?

  • Egads, man! I was enjoying like 5 or 6 of your videos until I saw this. You are talking about making a taxonomy on the fly, and most people won't know a taxonomy two weeks after they created it. Ontologies are way more effective and efficient. I might need to create a video myself that talks about it. There are business cases for taxonomies, like your classes, but there will become many times when you'd feel torn because you'll need to make copies for different folders of the same file. Rely on search to find your files.

  • 50 gb free more if you pay. just sayin.


    also i don't know that i would recommend keeping private financial/tax records/files on a public cloud service. seems like a poor decision if there is a breach that happens to the service.

  • I’ve been backing up my pc on external harddrives my whole life but there is nothing important on there. I want someone malicious to take it away. It’s all so disorganised I filled my desktop and now it’s stacking. I couldn’t organise it in a lifetime. I just want to restart. Please help me YouTube man

  • Thank you, Thomas, I just started to watch your videos, and I am learning soooo much. I appreciate the way you explain clearly and entertaining. Keep up the great work!

  • Too many levels doesn't always work since Windows has Legacy 260 character limit on path. Plus access time drops with more levels, indexing takes more resources. On other hand practical limit is about 5k Items in one directory. Then there is an option to add meta data, use filters sorting and searching.

  • I think everyone should start thinking about the "future me", or whats the purpose of a file and what the outcome has to be:

    1. Saving this file for archieve ?
    Ok so what will I be looking for when I want to read this document in 10 years ?

    2. So you would have one solution (or rule) for archieves.

    3. Another for current and ongoing files thats created alltime.

    4. I think its to much folders, and subfolders in this video.

    5. You should apply automation such as DropIt, and always use prefix_name_date of every file.

    Prefix= like work, todo, private, etc because you will thank me later when doing this to every file. There are way more files, than folders.

    6. About folders you can either use a system that works for you.

    Maybe by file-ending (rars, docs, pictures, ) or use SUBJECT like a library ( bank, house, projects)

    7. Another quick access is to create folders for every letter (A,B,C )

    8. Either way I think three steps is enough for a foldet tree. If you have 11 levels of subfolders there is something wrong with your root and concept.

  • This is to complicated. The easier way that always works, is to use the alphabet. Just make one folder for each letter in the alphabet and just put your files and folders inside of the letter the name of the folder or file starts with. This is easy to keep up and to use. This way you don’t need to remember where it is, just what you named it. And use names that is natural to you.

  • This way of organizing files will get messy overtime. 80% of your files you created over time will rarely or never be revisited again. Most files you ever need to access is files you need for things you are currently working on.

    Root should have:

    • Inbox – files you received, created, downloaded that you will sort later goes here
    • Assets – things you need, all the time, synced across your computers, e.g. fonts, config files, etc.
    • Projects – this is where you store all your files for your projects, sorted by year folders (e.g. 2019)
    • Archive – old folders and files goes in here
    • Public – files/folders you meant to share to public

    • Music
    • Video
    • Photos

  • How do you handle with long name files, because they're inside deep folders already? Sometimes, you want to open a PDF file, but Adobe says it cant find it.

  • Sorting university class info by year is only useful during that year
    Otherwise you would have to remember what year you took a particular class to access it’s info
    Sorting by subject will be in a logical progression just by the class name, ACH100, ACH200, etc

  • Great video!!! Is there any way to save both created files (docs, jpeg, mp4) and internet links in the same file structure??? I have struggled with this! for example when I shop a product I want to save the internet link where I bought it and photos I might take of it and videos I might make about that item and other docs like product manuals all in the same file structure rather than using both my Favorites and File Explorer– I imagine a structure like== main file= Blend-Tec Blender with subs= purchase link, unboxing video, thumbnails, tags, review videos, manuals, FAQs, etc…

  • Another useful way to organize folders is to prefix them with a 2 digit number based on the frequency of use. For example, I work on files in my Projects folder way more often than Admin files, so I rename the Projects folder to 00 Project and the Admin folder to 10 Admin, and so on. Least frequent is 90… This way my most frequently used folders are always at or near the top of the folder tree – no more scanning/scrolling down! If you increment the prefixes by 10 (rather then by 1) you can insert an 05 (for example) folder as your folder frequency of use changes. Nice, right?

  • Thank you for the wonderful content! I would want to know how to store files when you don't know which category they belong to!?

  • Hi. Thank you for sharing the thoughts about PC file organizing. I am interesting in the APP you used for mind mapping. Would you please tell which one you used in this video? Perhaps have another video to talk about it:) Big Thanks!

  • An Issue that may come up (and has for me) is when the file path becomes too long. What do you do in this situation?

    I had to restructure when I was very busy so I'm due for a cleanup. Haha.

  • I love the idea that in the scenario where Loki come out of a portal, gives your laptop legs, someone's out there thinking….

    "I'm glad, I can still access those files."

  • How do you organise things that fit into 2 different categories? For example I have a work and a university folder but for uni I need to complete work experience which I’d like to have accessible from my work folder

  • Too many folders, good grief. I use the details view of the file explorer and sort by last modified date and find things likity split. My files are on onedrive in folders that match the file type (or software). I open excel and all my xl files are sitting there, sorted by newest, I open Quickbook and it defaults to that folder on the onedrive. If I need a rarely used file and have to stop and think, I use the search