Technology

Cleaning up your computer screen and organizing your files can improve your efficiency

By Beatrice Paez |

Clutter on your computer desktop can hobble productivity just as much as a messy workspace can. It can make important files difficult to find and make you less efficient.

Saving items on your desktop is a hard habit to break, especially when it seems they are easier to retrieve there. Ultimately, however, too many items scattered on your screen can slow you down and cause you to misplace important documents.

"We spend more time finding things than filing things," says Linda Chu, a Vancouver-based spokeswoman with Professional Organizers in Canada.

The prospect of organizing all of your files can seem overwhelming. But, says Jen Cohen Crompton, entrepreneur-in-residence with Neat Co. in Trevose, Penn., you can start small; set aside an hour one day to clear and classify your desktop items.

"Once you go through the original exercise, you can start to come up with a streamlined process [so it becomes a habit]," Crompton says.

Here are a few suggestions to help you tackle your digital clutter:

> Categorize your files
It's far easier to locate an important file when it is housed in a folder with a name that relates to its content. Group files under broad categories, say Chu and Crompton.

For example, you might create folders to store marketing and reference materials, expense reports, memos from compliance and bookmarked articles.

Make use of sub-folders, says Crompton, which can be identified by file type or date, as a way of archiving outdated documents. To make a habit of tidying up your desktop, take five minutes at the end of each day to send files to the appropriate folder.

> Develop a naming system
If you and your team often need to access shared files, Crompton suggests, create a naming convention so documents are searchable and can be located quickly. Keep it simple, and use keywords.

Mark each updated version to avoid confusion. Check in with your team after a week or so to refine the system as needed. 

> Start with recent documents
Organizing your entire library of documents can take more than an afternoon to complete.

Even if your files date back several years, don't feel you have to go back that far at first, says Crompton. Just focus on the files that you have saved within the past few weeks or months, and then continue from there.

> Free memory space
Overloading your computer with documents and applications can slow down the operating system. To free up memory space, transfer old documents to a cloud-storage service such as Dropbox or Apple iCloud, or onto an external hard drive, say Chu and Crompton. (Check with your compliance department before moving client files to an external location.)

Try to be selective about what to keep, rather than sweeping a mass of documents into one spot.

You can time your digital cleanup to coincide with "Clean Your Virtual Desktop Day," which takes place on Oct. 17. It can be a small, first step toward improving productivity for your practice over the long term.

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