Where the Duck Did My File Go?

© Christian Harberts | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Yeah, you’ve been there. You’re typing like a crazy person, the scenes are running like a video in your head, you can’t type fast enough. Then… POOF! BLAM! ZAP! ARRRRGH! The file is gone, just ducking gone.

Your first step is to go to your desktop, but it’s so crowded with teeny tiny folder images that you can’t see a thing. You click and click and click and click some more. You KNOW your file is there–somewhere.

Provided your computer (desktop, laptop, tablet etc) didn’t actually fry…

If you were working in Word and have AutoSave and AutoRecover turned on, just open Word and you’re back in business. If you have the equivalent save-your-butt technology, you’re good. If you have your files backed up on Dropbox or OneDrive or something similar, you’re still good. If not…

Is this a good time for some information on how your computer manages files?

The Old-fashioned Way

Remember the good old-fashioned file cabinet?

You opened a drawer, flipped through a series of hanging file folders that slid back and forth on a metal frame. The hanging file folders held standard folders that contained the papers you were looking for. You removed the standard folder, took it to your desk to work with the contents, then put everything back in its correct place in the drawer. Maybe you added another paper or changed an existing one.

I still have a “real” file cabinet and wouldn’t do without it.

The New Digital Way

Drives are Drawers

Inside your computer, you have drives instead of drawers. They’re labeled with letters, e.g. A, B, C, just like a filing cabinet.

Drives for Your Computer

The A and B drawers are strictly reserved for your computer to do its work. It’s where the operating system (OS), e.g., Windows, iOS, Linux, resides. These drives are locked and hidden away from us regular folk.

Drives for You

The other drives, starting at C is where our personal files are kept.

The C drive (often called “the hard drive”) is inside the computer with drives A and B. The D drive is typically a disc reader. Each of the USB ports is assigned a letter as well. The letter is used whenever you plug in a storage device (jump drive, thumb drive etc). Think of them as removable drawers.

If you see something like “C:/”, that means the C drive.

Opening Your Computer’s Filing Cabinet

Your computer comes with a handy viewer of it’s contents. You get peeks of the viewer whenever you save a file with a new name from Word, Excel, Photoshop, etc.  The viewer is called the Explorer or the Finder.

Windows Explorer

Called File Explorer or Windows Explorer, depending on your OS. On any Windows keyboard (except XP), hold down the Windows key and hit E. The Windows key is bottom left on your keyboard between the Fn key and the Alt key. It has the Windows icon on it.

Or right-click on the icon in the bottom left corner and click on the Explorer.

Mac Finder

In Mac iOS, click on the Finder command at the top left of the screen.

Folders and Files

Guess what? There are folders and files in here.

A tiny folder icon in the shows when a label is attached to a folder. A plus sign or arrow indicates that a folder has folders inside. You can have folders inside of folders inside of folders.

Inside the folders are files. You cannot have folders inside files. Thank goodness! Files have tiny icons showing which app created that file, eg, Word, Excel. As you click your way up and down the levels, the display will change to show folders inside folder or files inside folders.

Getting Organized

Once in the Explorer/Finder, you can see and manage all of your files–maybe even organize them. 😉

They both use a Documents folder. Depending on your OS, this folder might be called Documents and Settings. There are other folders shown for programs, downloads, pictures, videos etc. for programs, downloads, pictures, videos etc. Clever, eh? Our focus in this post is Documents.

The best place to store documents is in an appropriately-named folder, e.g. Story 1 in the Documents folder. Yes, it’s a folder in a folder in a drive.

No, dumping all your files on the desktop is not organizing. Just like in the old-fashioned way, an overloaded desk makes it really hard to find stuff.

So your files should look more-or-less like this:

> Awesome Course
> Lesson 1
.. Lesson 1 Intro and Basic Styles.pdf
> Lesson 2
> Story 1
.. draft 1.docx
.. research.docx
> Story 2
> Tax Returns
> 2015
.. expenses.xlsx
.. earnings.xlsx
> 2016


The > denotes folders that have folders inside (sub-folders). Each indent to the right denotes folders with folders. The .. denotes files. The .. will be replaced by tiny icons showing which app created that file, eg, Word, Excel. Clicking on the > will open the folder to show it’s contents.

So the full name of the draft 1 file is C:/This PC/Documents/Story 1/draft 1.docx/. Another full filename is C:/This PC/Documents/Awesome Course/Lesson 1/Lesson 1 Intro and Basic Styles.pdf/. The stuff in front of Documents will vary depending on your OS.

I don’t know what the limit is on layers, but I have many files that are five folders down.

To get down to organizing:

  1. create folders with appropriate names, e.g. Story 1, Story 2, Tax Returns. Yes, the names are changeable.
  2. create sub-folders (folder insider a folder) as needed, e.g. ebook, pbook, 2015
  3. using the keyboard, cut and paste the files to the appropriate folders. As drag and drop can be fussy, I prefer using the keys.

Finding that Lost File

Did you find that lost file while you were cleaning up? Thought you would.

If you didn’t, you can search for it. Look for a box with a magnifying glass along with the words “search files”.

Can’t remember the title, you can search inside the files. Can’t remember what’s inside the file? You probably didn’t need that file anyway.

Depending on Your OS…

There’s a lot of that the phrase “depending on your OS” in this post because every company has to do the same thing in their own special way. To focus on the basics, I’ve shown a generic file structure above.

For details on using your specific version of Explorer, search for “using explorer in windows X”, X being your version number.

For details on using your specific version of Finder, search for “using finder in mac os X”, X being your version number.

And yes, those folders for programs, downloads, pictures, videos etc. can be organized in the same way.

© 2016, Joan Leacott
photo © Christian Harberts | Dreamstime Stock Photos

3 thoughts on “Where the Duck Did My File Go?

  1. Gina X. Grant says:

    Sometimes I get a document as an email attachment and I start working on it without saving it to my desktop, I can lose all the info. Is there a solution to that other than me being smarter?


    • Joan Leacott says:

      HI Gina,

      Good question. In order to work on an attachment, you’ve already downloaded it and saved it.

      The tricky bit is where the document went.

      That depends on your browser settings, e.g. Chrome, Edge, IE, Safari.

      In the browser settings, there’s a place to specify the download location. And a place where you can turn on something like “Ask where to save each file before downloading”. When you turn on that option, the Explorer/Finder pops open and you choose where the document goes. And you stay organized from the first moment. 🙂

      To find instructions for your browser, search for “download settings for X” where X is your browser. E.g., “download settings for Safari”, “download settings for Edge”.

      Let me know if that works.

      Liked by 1 person

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