Save your sanity: How to organise your computer for productivity

The simple act of a cluttered workspace can negatively impact your productivity.

Working from home gives you the freedom to work comfortably. Sometimes... a little too comfortable.

Papers piled, dirty coffee cups and remanence of yesterday's lunch surround you.

Clutter not only suffocates your workspace, but it also stifles your ability to think clearly, to concentrate, to be creative and embrace inspiration.

When the time comes to clean this mess, you have good intentions to keep your space tidy and organised with essential resources and tools within arm's reach.

But, there's one thing you're overlooking...

An item with the potential to hold the clutter of 1000 workspaces... your computer!

This "tech-messiness" isn't great for your sanity, and it isn't doing much good for your productivity either. Since your work is generally done in the digital realm, it stands to reason that the state of your computer will also impact your productivity.

Adam Dachis on said, "Your computer's desktop is a starting point for your entire computing experience, but — like anything else — if you let it get ugly and messy your productivity will take a dive."

How many times have you found yourself filtering through folder after folder to locate a document? Only to locate an older version of it...

Frank and Estel Costansa in car Serenity Now

Have you ever timed how long it takes to locate a file?

Let's say you spend 10 minutes a day searching for long lost files. Over a month, this would cost you three and a half hours!

Look, I'm certainly not a role model when it comes to an organised computer filing system. And ironically, on the morning I began to write this post my computer had a meltdown.

4 browser windows open, 62 tabs, 3 spreadsheets, 4 programs and a list of updates sitting in my notification centre. So I did what everyone else does. I hit restart.

Once my computer was back up and running, I restored my browser pages, programs and spreadsheets. You never know, I may need just one of those 62 tabs...

I told those updates to "try again tonight."

If this sounds anything like you, then you need to do some serious reorganising. And so do I, my inspiration for this post!

Luckily, whether you're a macOS or Windows user, there is a multitude of ways to organise your desktop for productivity once and for all.

1. Folder structuring

The reason people don't have organised files is that it takes time.

Think about organising your wardrobe. The idea of it is satisfying, but, once your clothes are sprawled across your bedroom floor, you begin to think, "what the hell have I gotten myself into?"

You could sort your shirts by casual, formal and work. Or, you could throw everything into a drawer and hope on the day when you need a nice shirt for a meeting, it'll jump out at you. This is never the case.

And typically, this is how people treat their computer filing system with documents spread across various locations, unorganised and chaotic.

Just as dividers will keep your drawers organised, introducing a simple filing system that works for you can be an enormous time saver.

1.1. Main folders

How you divide your personal documents is your own preference, but think of it as how you mentally organise your life.

What folder would you gravitate towards to look for a phone bill from January 2018? Would you naturally look under the 'home' or 'finance' folder?

You don't want to have to think about how you titled a folder when you go to look for it. Think this through before creating a new folder structure, and it will save you some valuable time in the future.

Your folder split could be:

  • Education - To keep track of projects, assignments, research and notes.
  • Employment - Your resume, cover letters, offers of employment or payslips.
  • Finance - Organise your bills, purchases and tax documents for each month.
  • Home - Keep scanned copies of instructions for household items or insurance paperwork.

With these document suggestions, your subfolder split would look something like this:

  • /Documents/Education/January/Assignment1/Research
  • /Documents/Home/Family/Sophie/HealthInsuranceClaims

MacOS File Organisation for Personal Documents

You can continue to break down the folders for as little, or as long as you like. It all comes down to what will suit you by renaming folders with descriptive titles so you can quickly locate them in the future.

1.2. Work or business

How you organise your work documents will largely depend on your job.

For the purpose of this post, let's say you're self-employed or a freelancer with a portfolio of recurring clients. As a freelancer, you understand the challenge of working on several projects at once, probably for multiple clients.

In "pre-internet" times, filing cabinets were the only source of organisation. Filed by client, they contained sub-folders for things like projects, invoices and proposals.

This is no different from our digital world. You can organise your client work in the same pattern; you just need to develop the right pattern. As I mentioned when setting up for your personal documents, keep your main folders to a minimum. In this case, your main folders will be labelled by 'client.'

Like so;

  • Documents/Work/Client1
  • Documents/Work/Client2 (and so on).

In amongst these folders, create a series of sub-folders related to some units of organisation. This will begin to represent a "tree-like" appearance. These folders ultimately depend on your line of work. Say you're an online marketer, your series of sub-folders would contain something like;

  • Documents/Work/Client1/Finances
  • Documents/Work/Client1/Projects
  • Documents/Work/Client1/Marketing
  • Documents/Work/Client1/Proposals

In these folders is where the real organisation can get a little tricky but, the productivity payoff is worth it. For example;


  • Documents/Work/Client1/Finances
  • Documents/Work/Client1/Finances/Archive
  • Documents/Work/Client1/Finances/Invoices
  • Documents/Work/Client1/Finances/Invoices/'Date'
  • Documents/Work/Client1/Finances/Invoices/'Date'/TallyOfHours
  • Documents/Work/Client1/Finances/Invoices/'Date'/Receipt

MacOS computer file organisation for client finances


  • Documents/Work/Client1/Projects
  • Documents/Work/Client1/Projects/Archive
  • Documents/Work/Client1/Projects/Project1
  • Documents/Work/Client1/Projects/Project1/Final
  • Documents/Work/Client1/Projects/Project1/Planning
  • Documents/Work/Client1/Projects/Project1/Planning/Research
  • Documents/Work/Client1/Projects/Project1/Planning/Drafts

MacOS computer file organisation for client projects

To avoid your files becoming too large, include an archive folder dedicated to each unit. Once every quarter or 6 months, drag your files over and keep only the most relevant documents on hand.

When creating your folders, think minimal. Over time you may find yourself naturally gravitating to the same folder, and discover you don't need an in-depth system. If this is the case, cut them back. You want your structure to be as simple as possible.

2. Strategic document naming

We've all been rushed, and quickly saved a file without realising where it was saved to. Thinking we'll find it again without a problem when we need it.

Fast forward a few days from now, and you cannot for the life of you find the document.

You've dedicated the time to create a well thought out folder structure. One simple rule in ensuring this structure actually works, is to make use of these correctly through strategic file naming.

Your documents themselves will ideally be placed at the very end of the tree.

When naming a file, pick a phrase that means something to you and have a think about how you would look for a file typically.

If you saved a document as, let's say, the invoice number of a phone bill like, "123456.pdf." A few months from now, could you quickly identify what this document is? No, so rename it with a naming convention like, "2020JanuaryPhoneBill.pdf." Straight away this tells you the year, month and what the document is.

As documents are generally sorted in alphabetical order, placing the year first helps to identify the document more easily.

Version control

If there's a strategy to really utilise when it comes to file naming, it's version control.

When freelancing, you'll create multiple versions of the same document. For example, a client proposal will be tweaked and edited depending on which client you are trying to win, and it might also go through iterations until you agree on your tasks. To quickly identify the versions from each other, use a simple naming convention like "_v1.pdf" at the end of each document. For example;

  • Documents/Work/Client1/Proposals/Client1Proposal_v1.pdf
  • Documents/Work/Client1/Proposals/Client1Proposal_v2.pdf
  • Documents/Work/Client1/Proposals/Client1Proposal_Final.pdf

There's nothing worse than having to read through versions of the same document, side by side to decipher which one was the final document.

Was it version 6 or version 7? Did I save over one of the previous versions by accident?

Save yourself the headache and take a few extra seconds to save a copy and jot down a number for the file when saving.

3. Cloud storage

Until recent times, writers, designers and developers were tethered to physical offices. Due to the growth of digital working environments, the opportunities for success in these fields as a freelancer are endless. Not to mention, liberating with the ability to work anywhere, anytime.

Tools of the trade already include things like a mobile device, a laptop and of course a decent internet connection.

Of course, all of these items are a must, but there's one more.

If you've been in the freelance world for some time now, you would have racked up several clients which also means, you've accumulated some files and folders.

While the incoming flow of work is excellent, it becomes a challenge when your computer begins to lag.

Sure, you could purchase an external hard drive or expand the memory of your computer, but there is a better solution... cloud storage can be a real lifesaver.

There are many tools on the market today like Dropbox, File Sync, iCloud and Google Drive.

Using cloud storage allows you to;

  • Backup essential files in a secure location. Your life's work will always be there when you need it.
  • Cloud storage allows you the space you need to scale your business, no need to buy new hardware.
  • In the case of a disaster, e.g. lost computer, stuck in a foreign country, you can work from other computers in co-working spaces or libraries, and access your cloud storage easily with your email address. You can maintain your workflow, keep clients happy, and still make an income.
  • Using the cloud makes it very simple to share files with clients too.

Storing files on the cloud can lighten your load by carrying fewer items and minimise the stress of worrying about losing a document or misplacing one.

All in all, the cloud makes for happy clients and a happy freelancer... you!

Home office with blue wallpaper dekstop
Credit: Photo by Omid Kashmari on Unsplash

4. Enhance the computer clean up

4.1. Don't save files to your desktop and uninstall unused programs

Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center in Newport Beach, California says, "The problem with having a messy computer desktop is, it can negatively affect our productivity. A clean desk or desktop can be like taking a deep breath, allowing you to focus."

A cluttered computer desktop means wasted time searching for documents, icons and files, and is slowing down your workflow.

It affects your mood just looking at a disorganised desktop.

Delete or remove any items from your desktop that you think you won't use regularly or, you won't need again. If you have a few files, you may need still in the future, create a filing system for these by grouping them into folders labelled documents to be filed, apps and folders.

4.2. Select the right wallpaper

Your wallpaper shouldn't camouflage desktop icons, nor should it contain colours that will strain your eyes. It should be visually pleasing.

Look at using a wallpaper with shades of blue — a colour known to increase calmness and enhance creativity.

If you're someone who enjoys opening up their computer to a soothing new wallpaper each day, Unsplash Wallpapers is an excellent app for this, full of thousands of aesthetically pleasing backdrops. Be warned though, these images WILL fuel your need for a tropical island getaway...

4.3. Clear out duplicate files

Removing clutter from your home is satisfying. Donating or selling unwanted clothes, clearing our your food cupboard and discovering some used by dates that make you cringe.

Cleaning the clutter from your computer should fall in this category too. How many copies of your resume are sprawled across your computer? Or, copies of the same family photo?

You'd be surprised how much storage is used up by duplicate files whether they were saved to different locations or became multiple downloads of the one file.

Some solutions to manage these storage suckers are, you could scour your computer and delete these files yourself (yea right!) or, you can utilise programs like Mackeeper (for Mac) or Duplicate Finder (for Windows) to do the work for you!

Home office with blue wallpaper dekstop
Credit: Photo by Norbert Levajsics on Unsplash

5. Weekly maintenance

Once you've designed a computer filing system, stick to it. It's easy to put off a tidy-up until next week but, files will accumulate, and it will happen fast. It takes some maintenance to keep your computer in peak shape. Some weekly maintenance suggestions are;

  • Make use of the filing system you have built and move files across as soon as you're done with them.
  • Clear out your download and screenshot folders regularly.
  • Archive important files that you don't necessarily need now, but may need to refer back to in future.
  • Keep your naming conventions consistent

Introducing a big change such as a new filing system is quite a task, but, the pay off will be quick. After a while, you'll identify a structure and workflow that suits your working style best. Just stay consistent, and you will reap the benefits of a 'squeaky-clean' computer in no time.

Take your digital housekeeping seriously; it can save you hours of file search and will allow you to focus on your work and be more productive.