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Clean Out Your Computer - Tips for eliminating digital debris

Is your computer as cluttered as your file cabinet? Do you have a huge mass of loose documents just floating around in your hard drive -- files you don't even recognize, with unintelligible naming conventions? When you need a document, do you waste time trying to find it amidst years of letters, fax cover forms, articles, etc? Have you changed the way you name or file electronic documents? When looking for a specific photo, do you perpetually search for one photo among thousands named "DSF2938" or "IS493"? Are you guilty of hoarding old disks -- even after you've uninstalled the program to run those files?

Let's face it - Most of us add programs and files to our computer with reckless abandon. After all, computers have huge storage capacity. Many of these older files and programs are forgotten. Over time they clog memory and cause confusion during retrieval and use of other files. Some may slow down your computer.

Even people with the most organized offices often have a hard time keeping their computers in order. Somehow, when it's on a screen and not in your hand, it's harder to organize! Yes, some of us are better than others about keeping our computer clean and organized. Others of us have lots of digital debris - the results of duplicate files, outdated programs, lack of organization in your computer system, and stacks of old disks in your office.

The end of the semester is a great time to go through your hard drive and disks. Clear out the obsolete and set up a system for your current computer files. Even if you can only schedule 15 to 30 minutes to review the documents and programs on your computer, it will be a good start. Spending a little time clearing and reorganizing your computer will save you time as files will be easier to find, free up space on your hard drive, and make your computer run faster.

Here are some tips to help you with the process:

Clean out & organize e-mail

  • If you cannot see your Folder list, turn it on from the View menu (Windows), from the Go menu (Macs), or by pressing CTRL + 6.
  • Create Personal Folders to store important e-mails:
  • Drag and drop items from your Inbox into your new Personal Folders.
    • Use the organizational features of Outlook to help you find the important ones.
      • For example, clicking the FROM bar will rearrange your email into alphabetical order based on the sender.
      • Clicking the paperclip will place all of the emails with attachments at the top of the list.
      • Clicking the RECEIVED bar will put them all back in the traditional view.
    • You can also mark several items at a time and move them all to a folder by pressing CTRL + SHIFT + V.
    • You can highlight many items at one time by clicking the first one to highlight it, holding down the Shift key, and clicking the last one. All items in between will be highlighted.
    • You can highlight many items NOT in a row by clicking the first one, holding down the CTRL key and clicking in each item that you want in that group.
  • Drag and drop important Sent items into your new Personal Folders using the same procedure as above.
  • Delete any remaining Inbox or Sent items.
  • Empty your Deleted Items folder by right-clicking on the Deleted Items folder and selecting "Empty Deleted Items."

Clean out & organize files

Clean Out

  • Each person should clean up his or her own work area. In addition to purging old files in their computers, employees should clean programs that they use most. Example: People who write newsletters should sort through their desktop publishing programs and get rid of extraneous clip-art files or pictures that are no longer needed.
  • Everyone should review network resources (i.e., the "Q" drive). Many people save files to this location, but few people return to delete files that are no longer of value. If you are aware that there are obsolete files, check with your supervisor about deleting them.
  • Look for hidden debris. When staff members leave or change jobs, check out their computers. Their system of filing documents may not be useful to anyone else on staff. See what can be deleted or transferred. Sort through old disks that you have to see if any of them are still needed.  Toss any that aren't (if they contain sensitive data, you may wish to use a disk shredder).
  • Check your system for duplicate files. Occasionally network files get copied onto individual computers. If one of the files is updated, the old becomes useless. Eliminate outdated files and encourage employees not to keep redundant files on their computers.

Get Organized

  • To look at all the files on your computer at a glance, go to your "Start" button and right-click your mouse. On the list that appears, choose "Explore". (Another option is to go to Start | Accessories | Windows Explorer.) If you're unfamiliar with Explorer, it is just like a paper file cabinet, but it lists all of the files and folders on your computer in an outline format.  By double clicking the folders you’ll be able to view the individual files in each folder. You can right-click on any document or folder and rename it or you can click on any file or folder and drag it into another folder.
  • Create a logical SYSTEM for labeling and organizing your computer files if you don't already have one -- for example, the document type or name and the date the file was created. You may wish to include the time if you create multiple drafts in one day.  However you decide to organize your files, be consistent.
  • Don't dump every file you create loose into the C-drive. If you have files in a variety of places on your computer, move all of your important files (documents, presentations, spreadsheets, pdfs) to the My Documents folder. You can use Drag-and-Drop or Copy-and-Paste to move all of your files into the My Documents folder.
  • Create subfolders inside the My Documents folder for easy retrieval of files.
    • Click the My Documents icon on your Desktop or in the Start menu.
    • Click File | New | Folder. The new folder is created and is waiting for you to type in a name.
    • You can also right-click anywhere inside the My Documents folder and find the same options listed above.
    • You can use Drag-and-Drop or Copy-and-Paste to move your files into subfolders of the My Documents folder.
    • The same shortcuts for highlighting multiple items that you use in Outlook will work in My Documents.

Backup & Secure Your Files

Both the Desktop and the My Documents folder are backed up to the RCC servers.  However, faculty who will not be teaching all summer or others may wish to back up their documents to a CD, DVD, flash drive, or external hard drive. There are even some online services that allow back ups to their server for a fee.

Creating a backup on a CD or DVD is also a good way to archive old information that you can then delete from your computer, thus freeing up even more hard drive space.

PC Shine

Here are a couple of quick things you can do on a regular basis to keep the surfaces of your computer tidy:

  • Blow the dust off - Dust can collect around moving parts in your computer, slowing them down, causing intermittent failure, overheating the system, or even ruining a disk drive. According to some professionals, as much as 70 percent of all read-and-write errors in a computer may be caused by dust. Use a can of compressed air (approximately $6) to blow dust off the internal parts of your computer. Do this about every six months. You can also wipe down the computer case with an antistatic cloth to remove dust & debris.
  • Clean the Keyboard, Mouse, and Mousepad - Germs, makeup, and body oil accumulate on the keyboard, mouse, and mousepad faster than on any other part of your computer. Use antistatic cloths to wipe off surface debris. Use a keyboard brush to clean crumbs and dust out of your keyboard - or you can turn your keyboard upside-down and give it a few gentle shakes. If you have an older mouse with a track ball inside, you may wish to remove and clean the track ball as well as the inside of your mouse.  Cleaning the ball and rollers will significantly improve the performance of a "sticky" mouse.  If your mousepad has seen better days, replace it.  Or if you can clean it without ruining it, wipe it down with a cleaning cloth.
  • Polish the Monitor - Every time you touch your computer screen, you smear it. An accumulation of smudges can cause eyestrain. Use nonsmearing, antistatic wipes to clean your monitor.

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