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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

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        Last Updated on March 13, 2019

        How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

        How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

        Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

        You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

        Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

        1. Work on the small tasks.

        When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

        Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

        2. Take a break from your work desk.

        Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

        Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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        3. Upgrade yourself

        Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

        The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

        4. Talk to a friend.

        Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

        Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

        5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

        If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

        Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

        Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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        6. Paint a vision to work towards.

        If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

        Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

        Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

        7. Read a book (or blog).

        The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

        Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

        Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

        8. Have a quick nap.

        If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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        9. Remember why you are doing this.

        Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

        What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

        10. Find some competition.

        Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

        Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

        11. Go exercise.

        Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

        Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

        As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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        Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

        12. Take a good break.

        Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

        Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

        Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

        Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

        More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

        Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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