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How to simplify your files

Joe Kissell | Feb. 4, 2014
There are well over a million files on my Mac. Sure, a few hundred thousand of those are components of OS X itself or of the apps I've installed. But, still, the number of user-generated files I've accumulated over the years astonishes me.

There are well over a million files on my Mac. Sure, a few hundred thousand of those are components of OS X itself or of the apps I've installed. But, still, the number of user-generated files I've accumulated over the years astonishes me.

Most of the time, those files just sit there minding their own business, bothering no one. But sometimes, say, when I do a Spotlight search for a document and thousands of potential matches pop up, I start thinking a bit of file-simplification is in order.

Now, in this context "simplify" could mean "delete" — but it doesn't have to. I might need a certain old file only once in a span of several years, but that doesn't make it safe to delete. Depending on the context, simplification might mean reorganizing files, creating archives, offloading files to an external disk, or other strategies. And, of course, it would be easy to get carried away with this sort of thing and spend endless days looking for every last way to optimize one's files, but that's sure to produce diminishing returns. Instead, I suggest concentrating on the easiest and most fruitful kinds of simplification.

Reasons to simplify your files
Ease of finding documents isn't the only reason to simplify your files. Greater numbers of files also make activities such as backups, syncing, disk repair, upgrading OS X, and migrating to a new Mac more time-consuming. And, needless to say, all those files take up space, which is especially significant for anyone whose Mac laptop has a low-capacity SSD.

Simplification can also benefit you if you collaborate with other users, whether through a cloud-syncing service such as Dropbox, using OS X's built-in file sharing, or relying on a file server. The more easily your colleagues can locate documents, and the less pain they have to go through to sync and store them, the happier they'll be.

Which files to simplify
You'll have to decide for yourself what's working and what isn't when it comes to your files, but I'll give you a few examples of file types that are high on my simplification list.

Many versions of a single document: When I write a book or article, the file goes through numerous iterations as it bounces among author, editors, tech reviewers, and publisher. Sometimes I have several dozen versions of a manuscript before I'm done. In most cases, only the final version is useful, but occasionally I need to check back and see who made a certain change and when. My preferred strategy for dealing with those old versions is to wrap them up in a Zip file (select them in the Finder and choose File > Compress X items) and then trash the originals.

 

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