The Importance of Filing It Away

I recently spent an inordinate amount of time looking for a file that turned out to be on my Desktop.

It was a Word document I had created a month earlier, which I then converted to a PDF and sent to somebody. I found the e-mail with the PDF in my Sent Items, but the Word document had disappeared. I looked in my Documents folder, but it was not where I would have expected it to be, nor was the PDF. I used the search function to check all the folders in Documents, but still couldn’t find it.

I went into my Carbonite backup and couldn’t find it there either. I also went into the backup on my external hard drive. No dice.

Just when I was about to recreate the Word document by copying and pasting the contents of the PDF, I saw the folder on my Desktop that I had been looking for. Knowing that I was going to need it again in a few weeks, I had left the folder on my Desktop for convenience, rather than moving it into my Documents folder, which is where I had been searching for it. It turned out not to be very convenient after all.

This experience reminded me of something that occurs frequently when I’m working with clients. They have a huge pile (or piles) of papers on their desk, and as we are going through it, they always say, “I was looking for that!” Keeping a physical piece of paper out on one’s desk is a dangerous thing, because it inevitably gets covered up, and once it’s out of sight, it’s most often out of mind.

Doing the electronic equivalent of a pile of papers on the desktop — as I did — is deceptive. You think that you’ll be able to find that document when you need it because you can search for it. But there are two pitfalls to relying on searches: you need to know what to search for, and you need to be searching in the right place. Even though I knew the name of the Word document (since it had the same name as the PDF), I didn’t find it by searching because I was searching in my Documents folder, not on the Desktop.

So I learned an important lesson: “Don’t leave it out, file it!”

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