Organise your Computer!

Organise your computer or it will get sick!You really owe it to yourself to organise your computer. The computer is, without doubt, one of the major inventions of modern times. It’s only been around for a short while, but a world without computers would be almost unthinkable for most of us. From the early days, when it was unusual to even own a personal computer, to the present day when it’s common for households to have three or four, or even more computers, we’ve come a long way in a short time. And that’s not to mention that there are computers (or computer components) in household appliances of all kinds these days, and in cars, and in virtually everything else you can think of.

You’d think, then, that we’d have got used to them by now! But still we’re surprised with they go wrong, or crash, or let us down in one way or another. Sometimes, the sad truth is that it’s not the computer’s fault, it’s ours (I know, hard to believe, right?)! At times like this, all we can think is, can someone please help me with my computer!

If we took a bit more care in keeping our computers organised, they’d be a bit more reliable. I’m not saying they’d be entirely reliable, of course, but a bit better nonetheless. But how do you get a computer organised?

Here’s a few simple suggestions for keeping your computer better organised.

Use a sensible filing structure

Create a sensible folder structure in order to organise your computer properly

Create a sensible folder structure

If you still just dump files into your hard drive like it was a wheelbarrow, the time has come for you to recognise the obvious – a computer can only do a great job of keeping things organised if you meet it half way! If you want to get a computer organised, you have to at least give it a head start. Create a simple, clear and unambiguous filing structure, and use it methodically.

So if you want to organise your computer, you’d do well to start by organising your files. Keep ALL your files in one major folder – on Windows computers, there’s a standard My Documents (or just Documents) folder specifically for the purpose, but you can designate any folder you like to do the same job. Inside your main documents folder, create other folders, such as Music, Videos, Films, Ebooks, PDFs, or whatever you like, and you’ll have made a start to get your computer organised. Whenever you have a file to store, don’t just drop it into your My Documents folder, put it into the appropriate sub-folder inside MyDocs.

Create a downloads folder

One other folder you should have (and it can reside inside My Documents), is Downloads. I’m sure you’ll have endless files that you’ve downloaded, for a variety of purposes, and they should all go inside it. It makes things a lot easier to know that they’ll all be in that one place. Every few weeks, purge it of files as far as possible. A lot of them will be program setup files that are no longer needed, and other program-related files. If you don’t cull them periodically, they’ll accumulate and start to become a problem. You won’t even recognise many of them, since they have such vague generic names (like ‘setup.exe’), so, unless you run them to see what happens, you’re stuck with unknown and probably unwanted files, by the dozen. Just a bit more junk for your anti-virus program to keep endlessly scanning!

Use the same system on all your computers

If you have more than one computer, use the same folder structure on all of them. And if different family members are using your computers, make sure they all know what folders are for what files, and make sure they get in the habit of putting ALL files in the proper place. This simple procedure will save a whole lot of trouble down the line.

Use an online organiser

To help you organise your computer you could make use of an online organiser. There’s a wide range of online applications to help you keep your documents organised, and many of them are free. Make full use of them. They allow you keep all your documents online, and well organised. Of course, you have to be aware that keeping any documents online can potentially pose a security problem, so it’s not advisable to keep financial details of any kind in online applications.

Use online storage

Just as there are online organisers that can help you maintain a personal computer, there are numerous online storage facilities to help you organize and securely store you files. Unless you need absolutely huge amounts of storage together with added extras, they’re free as well. Well established online storage facilities include Mozy (2GB free storage), A Drive(which gives you an amazing 50GB free storage), and now Google Drive gives you 5GB free storage. There are many other companies offering similar deals – do a Google search and you’ll find pages of them.

Use strong passwords

Research has shown that the most commonly used passwords actually include such wonderful examples as “password”, “qwerty”, “iloveyou” and “123456”.  Unbelievable!

organise your computer with better passwordsIn fact, I was working security in an office block at one time and in the main office there was a note pinned on the notice board, in full view: “This week’s computer password is PURPLE”.  Handy if anyone passing through just happened to be curious, yeah?

Take the time to create decent passwords. They have to be ‘strong’ (i.e. difficult to crack) and yet easy to memorise. And change them now and again. It’s worth the extra bit of effort involved to keep your system secure.

    • Never use names – not of yourself, your family, your pets, or anyone else.
    • Never use dates, unless you disguise them completely.
    • You can use numbers to replace certain letters. You can put a 3 in place of E, a 0 in place of o, an 8 in place of [handwritten] f, and so on. And mangle words up, so that they make sense to you but are, essentially, nonsense. For example – jiraf (or jira8) to replace giraffe, aFFrka to replace Africa, drpd3d-g0rgus to replace drop-dead gorgeous. Let your imagination run riot. As long as the password contains no real words and plenty of non-letters, and as long as you can memorise the password, you should be okay.
    • Never use words in the password. At least not in the normal sense. Instead, make words up. For example, say you want to use ‘this is my secret file’ as a password, then disguise it by turning it into something like this: ‘ths-is-Mi-Scrt-Fial’. This is still easy to remember, but it doesn’t really use words, and the inclusion of hyphens and capital letters makes it stronger. Substitute 1s for the letter i, and it’s stronger still.
    • Use numbers, upper- and lower-case letters, special characters, to make the password obscure and hard to guess, but easy for you to remember.
    • Don’t use the same password for everything. If someone cracks that password, they have access to your whole online world.
    • Use something you know, like a line from a song, or a phrase used by a character in a book or film. Then change it to make it obscure. Example: (1wm, Tw1w!), for “I want money, that’s what I want” – you could use this for your bank account password. It’s based on ‘money’ (memorable link to bank account), it’s easy to remember (links to the line from the Beatles’ song), and it’s impossible to guess (but obviously don’t use this exact password because it’s been seen by thousands who’ve visited this site)! It also includes upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, a space and special characters.
    • Of course, you could make anything work like this, even a line from the same song: “Money Don’t Buy EveryThing, It’s True”:  {Mdb3t, 1t}
    • Never give anyone your password. Ever. Not anyone. For any reason. If you think I’m overstating this, you really don’t understand the concept of security!
    • Store your passwords and login information carefully and well away from your computer (or, if you choose, in an online password manager, such as LastPass, which is very secure).  Treat the whole thing seriously, because if the password you depend on is compromised it could get very serious very quickly.
    • Use a password generator, if it suits you. You can find them easily on the Internet, or as part of various programs (e.g. LastPass). A password generator will come up with completely random passwords that are very strong (you can choose just how strong). The only drawback is that the passwords they generate, being totally random, can be very difficult to memorise. If you’re using a password manager, it will enter the password for you, so you won’t have to remember it anyway!
    • If you want to use a password generator, try SafePassWd. It can create obscure passwords and make them easily memorable.

How secure is your password?

This is a question you should ask yourself. And if you really want to find the answer, visit the cleverly named page, “How Secure Is My Password”. You can type your password in (or one with a very similar structure to yours, if you’re feeling a bit paranoid about typing your real one in) and it will instantly show how secure it is. The answer will come in the form of how long it would take a desktop PC to crack the password.

organise your computer with longer passwordsTry a few out and you’ll soon see that probably the most important element in a password is the length; the longer your password, the longer it would take to crack it. I know, pretty obvious really, but it’s amazing how much longer a longer password would remain secure. Even a simple password, like a line of text from anything (e.g. a poem, a line from a book, a film title) can be very secure simply because it presents so many possible combination.

And how to make it even more secure? Try adding a couple of special characters to either end. Here’s an example: 

my password

If the line above was actually your password, it would take a desktop PC 12 years to crack it, according to the site (although it’s so ridiculous it probably would have been guessed anyway). Now, add (as an example) brackets and a couple of hyphens, like so:

(-my password-)

organise your computer with strong passwordsand the strength level goes from 12 years to 3 billion years! Wow, the power of mathematics!

Play around with potential passwords on this site and you’ll certainly be able to come up with some very secure passwords that are easy to remember.

Have a clear out!

Every couple of months or so, take a good look at your hard disk. Use a free utility, such as Folder Size, to scan all your folders and highlight the stuff that’s clogging your system. You’ll be able to see at a glance how much disk space is being hogged, and by what. You can find duplicate files as well, and delete them, as long as you’re sure it’s safe to do so (check them first to save any nasty surprises later).

Keep the garbage out!

BREAKING NEWS … there are some nefarious types out there, trying, in all sorts of clever, sly, and underhand ways, to get their grubby hands on your documents (and your money!). Don’t let them.

Keep a trusted anti-virus program running in the background, and set it to scan regularly (preferably every day). If yours is a Windows system, download Microsoft Security Essentials. Microsoft has a lot invested in its reputation, so it’s a safe bet that their anti-virus program is as good as it gets.

There are countless different viruses and other items of malware (although maybe not quite as many as the anti-virus companies would have you believe), and it’s a problem that’s growing all the time. So it makes sense to keep your system as secure as possible, and part of that is by using up-to-date anti-virus software.

    • Never give out your email address, except to people you know. You can always use a secondary email address, just for signing up for newsletters and the like, and then if it gets compromised, you can just ditch it and get a new one.
    • Never respond to spam emails, it only lets them know they’ve found a ‘live’ email address. You will be hearing from them again, if you respond to them, you can be sure of that. And from all the people that they sell their lists to as well!
    • Never circulate nonsense. You got a sad email about a poor lad who’s got a terrible illness and needs people to send him postcards? Ahh, how sad… Yeah, right … another scam! Sorry, but you have to assume these things are a scam these days, otherwise you’ll just be recirculating the same old nonsense and getting it back from dozens of other well meaning people for months to come.

Keep your Inbox empty to help organise your computer

If you’re going to organise your computer, a big part of it will be getting your email organised. Make it a habit to clear out your Inbox regularly. Ideally, you should deal with all email the same day it arrives (but in practice, this isn’t always easy to manage). To keep it under control, unsubscribe from all those regular newsletters you keep getting but never get round to reading. And respond to things that matter, quickly. Things that are obviously rubbish, delete immediately. Be ruthless. Cull all email, unless it’s useful to you. It’s an ever-growing problem, unless you keep on top of it. And the only effective way to do that is to keep at it on a daily basis. Once it gets out of control, it’s hard to manage.

Keep your desktop tidy

Stop dumping files on your desktop! You wouldn’t do it to your physical desktop (at least, you’d try not to, right?). Treat your computer desktop the same way – aim to keep it clear of rubbish. If you have files coming in they should be finding their way into the right folders, almost immediately.

Become familiar with utilities like System Restore

When you’ve installed some unstable software, or received (and opened) some nasty email, or in some other way allowed some nastiness onto your system, you might need to run System Restore (or a non-Windows equivalent). It’s a very useful utility, and one you’d be well advised to become familiar with before you actually need it. The same applies to running in Safe Mode. It can be a very valuable method of regaining control of your system, but if you have no idea how it works, you’ll be kicking yourself for not finding out about it while everything was still going smoothly.

Give yourself a fighting chance. Take the time to become familiar with these utilities, and others that can help, because the time will come, sooner or later, when your system is under attack. You owe it to yourself to try to be prepared.

Backup, regularly

organise your computer with an external hard driveTime was when an external hard drive was an expensive luxury. Not any more. They’re relatively cheap now, and getting cheaper and bigger all the time. With an external hard drive it’s quite possible to backup your entire system regularly (and automatically). If the worst happens, and your hard drive is damaged or compromised, you don’t need to lose everything. You might still lose all your recent work, but if you backup regularly it won’t be a major disaster. Like everything else, you have to make it a habit, otherwise you might end up with an external hard drive and all you’ve got on it is a year-old backup.

You can even schedule your backups, so the whole process is painless. And remember, although setting your system up again from scratch is time consuming, all you really need is the contents of your My Documents folder. You can create a full ‘image’ of your hard drive, but most of it will be settings and programs that you can reinstall anyway. If you’ve got in the habit of storing everything in your My Documents folder, that’s all you really need to back up. And if you keep archiving stuff from that folder onto your external hard drive, there won’t even be that much in there anyway.

There are other pages devoted to helping you get organised, and they’re not scattered haphazardly all over the site. The links to them are all conveniently organised in the sidebar!


>> Get Organised! links in the sidebar >>


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