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Virtual Clean-up: Keeping an Organized Desktop

Advising people about the state of their virtual desktop is a hairy prospect. We all know someone who is most at home in the clutter of a hundred files. Maybe you are that person. 

For most of us, however, keeping a clean work space boosts productivity and ensures that important items don’t get overlooked. For transcribers, speed is especially important, but that doesn’t just mean processing and typing fast. It means being able to find the files you need when you need them, not having to sort for those prep notes you took last night while the class is going on around you, and not having to open a dozen transcripts before finding the one you intend to email to your client. 

Here are some tips I use to help keep my workspace clean and efficient:

A very neat and tidy desktop

Choose Smart File Names

For transcribers, speed is especially important, but that doesn’t just mean processing and typing fast.

There are times when you will want to keep numerous drafts of a document (such as an unedited transcript and an edited version). Conversely, there are other instances when having ten versions of the same document only leads to confusion. Which version is truly the most recent? Has anything changed? (“Last Saved” dates don’t always reflect the last time you performed significant work on a project.) 

The best method I have found to combat this kind of clutter is to avoid creating duplicate files in the first place, and to use document file names that make it easy for me to know both what is contained within a file and when that file was last updated. For example:


In this case, the document’s content is pretty clear. I’ve listed the date with the year, month, and day in that order because, when nested among other similar files, it will automatically organize it by the last digits so that the most recent files are on top. (In a “living” document, I might change the date with each revision.) The “E” at the end tells me it is an edited version of the transcript.

Avoid Desktop Redundancy

Messy Windows Desktop

Sometimes, having multiple program shortcuts in too many places is actually counter-productive because it doesn’t force you to remember where anything is physically stored. Your computer’s task bar, start menu, and program jump lists can be great options for keeping a clean desktop and pinning your most important programs and files in singular locations where they are easy to find and access. If a program (such as TypeWell) is pinned to your taskbar along the bottom of your computer screen, it doesn’t also need to be stored as a shortcut on your desktop.

Programs that let you sync your content between computers and devices, such as Dropbox and Evernote, eliminate the need for you to create and maintain separate versions of the same document for each of your computers. As such, they can be especially helpful if you want to access your work from other locations or while on the go.

Back Up Regularly

I just got done saying that I try not to keep duplicate files, but sometimes, it’s necessary to keep older versions of a document to refer back to. In these instances, I either keep the duplicate/past versions on a separate flash drive or hard drive, or I create an “Old Versions” folder for storage. This keeps those previous versions out of sight and mind until the time comes when I might need them. 

For my work at West Virginia University, I create a new folder each semester that contains only that semester’s transcripts and notes (organized by class sub-folders). When the semester is over, I move that folder to storage and make room for the next semester. After a certain amount of time (a month, a year, etc.), you can always purge the storage folder if you decide those files are no longer needed.

Messy and cluttered desk

A maze of digital files and folders can feel just as chaotic as desk covered in papers.

Use a Tree Structure

If you look at MyDocuments on my computer, you’ll see that I only have three main folders. The first is dedicated to any ongoing Transcribing work I am currently doing (e.g. class transcripts, notes, etc.). The second is used for larger ongoing Projects (e.g. this blog entry will be stored there in a “Blogs” sub-folder). And the final folder is for Record Keeping (e.g. expense reports, certifications and qualifications, performance reviews, etc.). Each of these three main folders has a number of sub-folders. Many of those sub-folders have their own sub-folders, and so on. 

Kap's My Documents folder

The key when creating a tree structure like this is to make sure your folders are named clearly, and to make sure that you get in the habit of using the folders consistently and as you intended, so that similar files are always stored together.

photo credits:
A New Day Begins via photopin (license)
What A Day via photopin  (license)


Jason Kapcala

Jason Kapcala is Coordinator of Auxiliary Aids for West Virginia University’s Office of Accessibility Services. Prior to becoming a Transcriber, he worked as a writer and college English instructor.

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