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Hard Drive Zen with the Humble Folder

Hard Drive Zen with the Humble Folder

Hard Drive Zen

    The hard drive; you bring one home and pop it in your computer, and it’s a totally clean slate. You take a look inside the root directory and see the beauty of nothing. But like all hard drives, over time the files clutter up, filling every nook and cranny. Eventually, space runs out, but because you figured you’d process your files “another day,” it takes hours to figure out what’s what, where’s where and what to delete.

    Then, after repeating this process a few hundred times, it dies. Like all hard drives. This is just one of the gems of joy in computer ownership.

    Reader Olivier writes in asking:

    I have a big hard drive, download a lot and it gets messy. Do you have a good way to keep the hard drive a zen place?

    The folder (or, as it was known in ancient times, the directory) is a simple tool, a way of organizing files on your hard drive into clear and distinguishable sections. The practice of using sub-directories began with UNIX, so you’d think by now effective file management would be a second-nature skill in our digital society.

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    You’d think so, but you’d be wrong. Olivier isn’t alone; I’ve yet to meet someone who keeps their hard drive in the coveted zen state of organization as often as they should, but there are sure a lot of methods for reducing clutter both automatically and manually.

    Downloads

    Olivier downloads a lot, and this contributes to some of the clutter. One common problem with downloading so much is that the default save location, in most applications, is the desktop. Who knows why, but I think that’s a big design flaw. I bet a large portion of the planet’s population has so many files on the desktop that they extend for miles off the screen. Okay, slight exaggeration, but anyway.

    One of the impressive yet subtle, little things I admired about Leopard when I first installed it was that it redirected all my downloads to the Downloads folder. Unfortunately, I don’t use Safari as my primary browser, so if you’re not using Leopard with Safari you’ll need to do what I did: change the default save location in all your internet applications manually. This is a fantastic solution to the clutter of downloaded files that take over the desktop, or even other folders that are quickly selected in the rush to download a file.

    Firefox

    Change Firefox Downloads Location

      In Firefox’s options pane, under the Downloads header, select Choose or Browse next to the “Save files to” field. Navigate to the location on your hard drive which you’ll designate as your Downloads file and press Open.

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      Skype

      Change Default Skype Downloads Location

        Your browser may not be the only place from where downloads stage their attack on the desktop – I find that at least half of my daily downloads come from Skype. Fortunately, it’s just as easy to switch download locations – go to the options pane, and change the “Save received files” field to the appropriate folder.

        Folder Structures

        Olivier mentions that advice on folder structures would be particularly helpful. The problem with most folder structures is that they’re either too comprehensive, creating more folders than you’ll ever use or remember, or too lax, providing no real organizational benefit (such as one called “Home” and one called “Work”).

        An effective folder structure is very unique to your life and the projects and endeavors you are involved in. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all system of folders that can be copied from person to person. I once tried one of these and found it totally and completely ineffective.

        The best advice on folder structures is to spend the time to sit down and think about what you need to organize, and avoid being too lax or too comprehensive. Find a happy medium. You need to have few enough folders that you’ll be able to learn where they are relatively quickly and get used to using them, but enough folders that there are logical places to put different types of data – for instance, under your business folder you’ll need separate folders for legal and financial data.

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        Put the time into creating and refining a structure that is uniquely fitted to your life and you will not believe the time it saves you in organizing files later on.

        Naming Conventions

        How you name files is just as important as which folders you put them in. For instance, an old friend had a “Chat Transcripts” folder in which he saved every MSN conversation he ever had. Instead of naming them with the participant’s name or email address and a date, he simply used numbers – quite literally, it went in numerical order from 1 all the way to the current conversation (there were several thousand).

        Then, when we had a disagreement about something we’d discussed via instant messenger, he decided to go and check what had actually been said.

        “This is why I keep these transcripts,” he said. Of course, we were never able to find out; it was impossible to find the right conversation.

        This is a matter of self-discipline. When you name a file, any file, you have to ask yourself: am I going to know exactly what this file is and what it contains just be reading its name? If the answer is that no, you’ll likely get it mixed up with a dozen other documents, you need to spend the extra couple of seconds rewriting it.

        Is it easier to save yourself ten seconds of time by naming a file invoice.doc and spending 45 minutes looking for it later, or to spend an extra ten seconds naming a file Client X – 4/5/08 – Invoice.doc?

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        Projects and Inbox

        Projects and Inbox are my two indulgences in what is frequently considered bad organizational practice, but I find that these two folders on my desktop save me more time than they cost.

        Projects contains the files I need for a project I am working on during a given period of time; not long-term projects that take months or years to complete, but projects that are the focus of a one or two week period. Since I’ll be using these files anywhere between 10 and 100 times a day, it’s handy to have them close by under Projects on the desktop, rather than hunting through my organized folder structure.

        The catch is that once the project is done you must – MUST – remember to clear the folder out and archive the files where they belong.

        Inbox tends to consist of files that end up on my desktop, despite my best efforts, and I have not decided whether to delete them, act on them, or archive them. It may be a good idea to keep your Downloads folder as a subdirectory of the Inbox folder.

        The catch here is that you need to process the Inbox on a weekly or monthly basis and never – EVER – miss a date with the declutterer.

        That’s why it’s a good place to keep your Downloads; unless you set a separate unbreakable date with the declutterer for your Downloads folder, it may be a long time before it gets cleaned out.

        Fellow productivians, you may scream at me and throw tomatoes for using an Inbox folder on my Desktop, but I think it’s a very enabling tool. Drag your mouse over those weaselly files on your desktop and drag them into your Inbox and you don’t need to worry about them until you’re no longer in a massive rush to complete your client’s project on time.

        If you have questions for us that you’d like to see tackled in Lifehack articles, we’d love to hear from you.

        More by this author

        Joel Falconer

        Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

        How to Master the Art of Prioritization The Importance of Scheduling Downtime How to Make Decisions Under Pressure 11 Free Mind Mapping Applications & Web Services How to Use Parkinson’s Law to Your Advantage

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        Last Updated on November 5, 2019

        How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

        How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

        Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

        “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

        But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

        Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

        1. Always Have a Book

        It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

        Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

        2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

        We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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        Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

        3. Get More Intellectual Friends

        Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

        Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

        4. Guided Thinking

        Albert Einstein once said,

        “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

        Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

        5. Put it Into Practice

        Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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        If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

        In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

        6. Teach Others

        You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

        Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

        7. Clean Your Input

        Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

        I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

        Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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        8. Learn in Groups

        Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

        Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

        9. Unlearn Assumptions

        You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

        Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

        Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

        10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

        Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

        Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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        11. Start a Project

        Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

        If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

        12. Follow Your Intuition

        Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

        Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

        13. The Morning Fifteen

        Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

        If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

        14. Reap the Rewards

        Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

        15. Make Learning a Priority

        Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

        More About Continuous Learning

        Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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