How to Organize Short-Term Projects on Your Computer

It's easy to clutter your desktop when working on short-term projects. Get-It-Done Guy has 5 tips on keeping your files organized and easy to find. 

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #207


When Melvin is trying to calm down his fiancée Bernice after saying the wrong thing, he has to keep track of many details. Did he or did he not invoke the Goddess? Did he compliment her latest outfit before or after admitting it was all his fault? 

In the thrill of moment-to-moment living, we have to track many details in any given situation. But 6 weeks from now, Melvin only needs to remember the essentials: (1) that he was wrong, and (2) that despite his personal taste, gluing rhinestones to his T-shirt does not make it acceptable attire for a formal event.

Short term memory is where we keep track of the tiny details we need to finish the task at hand. Modern tasks often involve files on a computer. If you're like me, you use your desktop for that. Need to download a research report on the market demand for naked mole rats in cosmetic testing labs? Add that PDF file to my desktop. Editing a photo album for the office party? My desktop gets covered with pictures galore! And when I need something, it's … somewhere. I was working on it just 5 minutes ago. And it was called … 0345.pdf? I have no idea what it was called..

So how do we keep track of all those little details when doing a short-term project (or section of a project)? Here are 5 easy tips: 

Tip #1A: Use "Recent Documents"

Let's say you just finished editing the marching orders for your zombie army, and you suddenly remember you need to add a reminder to procurement to have fresh brains waiting to feed the army. But which file was it, again? Was it Zombie_Stuff.doc?

Thankfully, both the Mac and Windows computer have a list of recent documents. Rather than hunting around (er, wherever I saved the files), I can go straight to my list of recent documents and grab the file I was just working on. 

In Windows 7, just right click a program in the taskbar and you can see a list of recent documents. In earlier versions of Windows, the Start Menu had a Recent Documents entry. You can re-enable it in Windows 7 with 7 easy steps. That way, your most recent applications are visible directly from your start menu.

On the Mac, the Apple menu has a Recent Items section which gives you quick access to recent documents.

I also like the application Blast on the Mac. It gives you one-click access to recent documents from the menu bar. It also shows the document's icon and lets you press the Space bar to see a quick preview of the file.

Tip #1B: Your Mac Reopens Closed Files

If you're on a Mac running Lion, when you start an application, you don't even need to remember what you've been working on. The operating system will automatically reopen the files you had open when you quit.

If you want to quit an application and not reopen windows next time you start it, hold down the Option key when you quit the program. If you never want applications to reopen their most recent windows, you can turn off the behavior in Settings > General > Restore Windows When Closing and Reopening Apps

Tip #2: Use Default Folder X

Another great Mac program is called Default Folder X. It gives you one-click access to recent folders and files right from the File Open and File Save dialogs. Plus, it lets you choose a default folder for each application. Now, word processor always opens and saves to my document library, while my audio editor opens and saves to my media directory. I couldn't live without it.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.