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Lifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, and Better, Third Edition by Gina Trapani, Adam Pash

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Hack 12: Instantly Retrieve Files Stored on Your Computer

Level Medium

Platform Windows, Mac OS X

Cost Free

You can manage documents on your computer in two ways: As an old-fashioned “filer,” you can create dozens of folders to organize your data in a complicated structure; or as a new-fangled digital “piler,” you can dump data into a single or small set of folders. In your transition from filer to piler, the most important skill you must develop and learn to trust is search.

Modern operating systems still use paper as the paradigm for understanding digital documents. Manila folder icons, for example, represent digital folders in all operating systems. Although the metaphor works well enough for new computer users, power users understand that in reality, those so-called folders are just pointers to data on a disk that never actually change location. Digital documents have special characteristics that their paper ancestors do not: your operating system indexes them automatically, making them findable without requiring a human to store them in a big filing cabinet with carefully labeled folders.

When you transition from a paper-based world into a digital document scenario, filing digital documents the way you would paper is natural. But your data is already indexed and searchable without the work of dragging and dropping it into these illusory folders, so it’s time to move to the next level: to use and trust that the right search will retrieve the data you need.

Every major operating ...

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