Probably the greatest challenge with having successful file management spring cleaning for your stored data is knowing where to start. Files can be stored in so many locations on one computer that the task can seem more than daunting. Don’t worry—those hundreds of megabytes of information can be quickly consolidated for quick retrieval. So, take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves, and follow these steps to help you focus your efforts. You can remember them as the 4 S’s:

File management spring cleaning step 1: search for files

Start by doing an inventory of every file you can find. A good place to start is the My Documents folder. Most likely, your computer also has a shared folder, where other users of your computer might have saved files as well. Double check that there aren’t any files in the shared folder that you would want in your personal folder. Aside from the My Documents folder, look at your hard drive, take out your flash drives, CDs, and anything else where you may have files you’ve forgotten about. Spring cleaning can be an excellent opportunity to find files in those other sources that you forgot you had, and put them in a place where you won’t forget them again. Making a road map for going paperless is just as important as going paperless itself. Although the technology you use to go paperless is a crucial part of success, planning to do it effectively is just as important.

File management spring cleaning step 2: sort your files

Reflect on how you use your computer. Do you have music files? Do you use it for school? How about work? Maybe you do your taxes, or keep a personal journal on your computer. Try to make file groups out of these various categories. It will help immensely if you create your own file naming convention. You might want to use the date as part of your file name, or the topic associated with the file (ie “Music” or “Economics Notes”). You can further simplify be creating folders according to month, then filing documents that were created in that given month. It’s a good idea to keep personal files separated from shared files to avoid confusion. Zonal OCR can help accomplish this.

File management spring cleaning step 3: store everything

Even if you feel like you’ve already got a good idea of what you want to keep, you should back up everything before you start deleting. The more places you store identical information, the better. Consider saving your files not only on your internal hard drive, but on a jump drive, a CD, an external hard drive. There’s a good chance there will be files that are built into your system that you don’t recognize. If you don’t know what a file is, lean towards caution and don’t delete it. If you delete a critical file, it can negatively impact your computer’s performance.

File management spring cleaning step 4: save or sack

If you have thoroughly searched for all your files, organized them, and backed them up, this step will be a lot less stressful and time-consuming than it would be otherwise. Additionally, there will be a lot less guilt when you delete files because you have them backed up. When you delete files, they will go to a Recycle Bin or Trash Bin, and you’ll probably want to keep them there just in case you decide to keep a file you deleted.