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Organizing Your Hard Drive

Folder Hierarchy

Your hard drive is the primary storage "container" that your computer has to keep all your stuff — the computer's operating system, your software/applications, and all of the files that you create. Like your garage, it can get quite messy if things are not put away according to a logical plan.

The operating system pretty much takes care of its own organization in the System Folder — sub-folders are automatically created for all of its components (like Control Panels, Extensions, Fonts, Preferences) and these items are automatically sorted to the appropriate nested sub-folder when you drop them onto the System Folder.

Some of these items need to be stored in special places in the System folder

But the organization of the rest of the hard drive is up to you. And if you don't take the time to create a system to arrange your folders and files, your hard drive will be a scary place to be...alone...on a dark night...

closed folders

Seriously, we have worked on a lot of people's computers and it is amazing to us how many people have everything — files, software, whatever — in one long list on the "top level", or root directory, of their hard drive.

The hierarchical folder system built into the MacOS is an invaluable organizing tool — use it to your advantage. Back in 1992, System 7 introduced those handy little triangles to the left of your folder names that allow you to open and close folders — click once and the folder opens to show a list of its contents...click again and the folder closes up.

open folders

You can organize many levels of folders with nested sub-folders so that all your stuff has a place of its own. Just depends how obsessive you want to be — set up a logical organization for you. Here are some ideas that have been successful for us:

By default, each application that you install onto your computer will create its own folder on your hard drive. If you have a lot of applications, this can get very cluttered. You should consider grouping all applications into one Applications folder and then you could cluster similar applications together into functional sub-folders (e.g. "Word Processing Programs, Graphics Programs, etc.").

We also create another useful folder on the root directory called Utilities in which we place all those helper applications like compression programs, virus protection, etc. We have also found it handy to set up a series of folders for our work and play (e.g., Letters, Schoolwork, Business, Financial, Games, etc.) and then have nested sub-folders within these to further organize.

Many people keep all the documents they've created with a particular application in one folder — e.g., all Excel spreadsheets in an "Excel Docs" folder. We've never subscribed to this notion, because this does not generally reflect the way we really work with computers. A single project will have documents created with many different applications: graphics from Photoshop, text from Word, Excel spreadsheets, Web documents from an html editor etc. Now, if these are each in a separate folder, how do you gather up all of these disparate files when it is time to meet with the client or send a project to the printer? It generally makes more sense to set up a series of folders for each project — e.g., Client Presentation, Quarterly Report, Company Website, etc.

On a computer that is shared by several users, it may make more sense to keep all documents created by each person in a folder with that person's name (Kim's stuff, Stu's stuff).

In any case, try to use a consistent pattern for organizing documents on your hard drive. As a general rule, it is time to create sub-folders when the contents of one folder cannot fit onto your screen (i.e. you have to scroll down to read the whole list).



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