Software

Four ways to skirt your system's folder hierarchy

If you don't use My Documents to store your files and you're tired of working around it, try one of these tips for quickly accessing your frequently used files.
By default, Office applications open the My Documents folder when you click Open or Save. The truth is, I don't know anybody who actually uses My Documents. Most of us end up wading through our system's folder hierarchy to find the folders we actually use. At first, it doesn't seem like a big deal, but the routine quickly becomes irritating. Fortunately, there are at least four ways to reduce the search for files and folders when you don't use My Documents to store files:
  • Change the default file location folder.
  • Add folder shortcuts to My Places.
  • Add shortcuts to My Documents.
  • Save files to the Favorites folder.
Change the default file location folder

You're not stuck with the My Documents setting. You can force your applications to start with any folder on your system, as follows:

  1. From the Tools menu, choose Options.
  2. Depending on the application, click the following tab:

    Excel: General

    Word: File Location

    PowerPoint: Save
  3. Depending on the application, change the folder as follows:

    Word: Use the Look In drop-down list to maneuver to the folder.

    Excel: Type the complete path for the folder in the Default File Location field.

    PowerPoint: Type the complete path for the folder in the Default File Location field.
  4. Click OK.

Office 2007 users should click the Office button and then click the application Options button (in the bottom-right corner). Select Save and enter the complete path for the folder in the Default File Location field in the Save format section. When you open or save a file, the application will default to the new folder.

Add shortcuts to My Places

Changing the default folder is one way to eliminate several steps, but what if you work in a number of folders? You can still specify a custom default folder location, but you might find that you're still clicking through the hierarchy a lot to get to files in other folders. When this is the case, add the folders you visit the most to the My Places folder, as follows:

  1. Click (or choose from the File menu where appropriate) Save, Save As, or Open.
  2. Use the Look In control to locate the folder you want to add to My Places.
  3. When you find it, select it.
  4. From the Tools drop-down list (on the title bar), choose Add To My Places. Doing so adds the file to the My Places bar to the left of the dialog box.

If you're using Office 2007, the process is a bit different because the Add To My Places command is no longer in the Tools list. Instead, complete the following steps to add a folder to My Places in an Office 2007 application:

  1. Click the Office button and click Save, Save As, or Open.
  2. In the resulting dialog box, use Look In to locate the folder you want to add to My Places and select it.
  3. Right-click any background spot on the My Places bar.
  4. Choose Add folder.

With the shortcut on My Places, your favorite folders are just one click away. To remove a folder from My Places, right-click the shortcut on My Places and select Remove.

Add shortcuts to My Documents

One way to corral all your files into one place, regardless of where you're actually storing them, is to add shortcuts to My Documents. Using this solution, you won't have to change the default file location or add anything to My Places. When you want to open a file, you simply click the shortcut in My Documents. However, you will have to create a shortcut for each existing file or folder in question and for new files you create, so this isn't an efficient way to go if you create new files often.

Add shortcuts to My Documents as follows:

  1. Using Windows Explorer, locate the file or folder. (Right-click the Windows Start button and choose Explore.)
  2. Right-click the folder or file and choose Create Shortcut.
  3. Find the shortcut in the current folder and right-click it.
  4. Choose Send To.
  5. Select My Documents.

Once the shortcuts are in My Documents, you have quick and easy access to them.

Save files to Favorites

Perhaps the simplest way to get quick access to a file is to save it to Favorites. Just remember that these files are visible to anyone using your system, but if you're the only one using your system and you're not working with confidential files, this is an acceptable shortcut that requires no setup.

To add a file to Favorites, do the following:

  1. Right-click any menu or toolbar and choose Web.
  2. Click Favorites on the Web toolbar.
  3. Choose Add To Favorites from the resulting list.
  4. Enter a new filename in the Add To Favorites dialog box. Or do nothing and accept the default filename.
  5. Click Add.

When you want to open the file, you can use the Open command as you normally would or click Favorites on the Web toolbar.

There are many ways to outwit the My Documents arrangement -- what shortcuts do you rely on to quickly save and open files?

About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

18 comments
rsflea
rsflea

When I click on 'Open' in my Office 2003 or 2007 programs (depending on which machine I'm on) I want to see my files listed in detail view arranged by most recent date. How do I set this as the default view when I click 'Open'?

mrmhead
mrmhead

I use it. But I seldom use File-Open. I have an explorer window open and just dbl-click the file I want. And for everything else, I create a "0" (zero) folder off the root ... it's always at the top - no hunting. That way when I have to abandon ship (or back-up), I just grab MyDocuments and "0".

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If you alter Office apps to save somewhere other than My Docs, remember to add those locations to your backup procedure. Another option is to redirect the entire My Docs folder to an easily backed-up location (like a network drive if you're at work; hint, hint.)

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

Put a folder shortcut on the users desktop. Not the best but I've done it for some users.

wittmav
wittmav

In Word 2007: Office Button > Word Options > Advanced Scroll to "Display...show this number of recent documents" Similar path in other Office 07 applications. In 2003, I believe it's a similar path under Tools > Options

Ron_007
Ron_007

Rather than 0 I like to use the characters above the number keys (shifted number keys) to prefix file and folder names I want to see at the top of the file manager list. That way you aren't limited to just zero, other numbers may be part of "normal" file names. Another tip I use is put a shortcut to the file/folder in my Quick Launch folder, on the task bar. After a while I had too many items in quick launch, so I dragged it off of the task bar and stick it to the left edge of my widescreen monitor. There are also several techniques for redirecting the location of My Documents, here is a link to one of them: http://obscuremania.com/redirect-my-documents-folder/

doug.cronshaw@baesystems
doug.cronshaw@baesystems

... because once you have several hundred document files all stored in MyDocuments they start to become rather difficult to locate. (In case you were wondering how anybody could actively use several hundred documents, my recent history folder yesterday showed that I had worked on or referenced more than one hundred files between 10:30 and 14:10.) There can also be a problem with access when MyDocuments is on a network drive. Use of a remote file server via a pair of heavily-used firewall servers can be problematic (slow), particularly when any of the files are large. A daily backup regime for such remote disk(s) used to hold your MyDocuments evades the need to perform individual backups, but I find there are frequent occasions when I want to avoid using MyDocuments. (We have a persistently-applied policy that attempts to enforce use of MyDocuments for storage of Office files. This is designed to ensure that those files are saved on disks which are subject to regular backup to avoid losing data. That persistence tends to be a nuisance rather than a help to those who already know what they are doing. This means that a change, say, within Word that I make to my working directory can be overridden less than a minute later with a reversion to MyDocuments. That change doesn't improve the security of my file storage, it just wastes my time.)

ssharkins
ssharkins

I have a folder called Active off the root -- everything's in there. I don't, however, use My Documents at all. There's certainly nothing wrong with it, I just don't use it. I don't use any of the My folders.

BlueCollarCritic
BlueCollarCritic

@Palmetto "Another option is to redirect the entire My Docs folder to an easily backed-up location (like a network drive if you're at work; hint, hint.) " How do you do this in Windows Vista? I've tried but am unable to locate where in Vista I can change this. CUrrently its a network share and I want to re-route it back locally to my active coimputer. This is because when I take my altop home and am not connected to work, many things like photos default save to the wrong place and I often can;t acces them.

wpshore
wpshore

I can find any file or folder in about 1 second with Everything search from here http://www.voidtools.com/download.php. I've assigned a Ctr-Shift-Shortcut to it and am careful about giving my files good names (names that I can find at least a part of a year or two file now). Also, I keep thousands of files on my USB drive which Everything can also search instantly - but the trick is that the USB drive has to be NTFS formatted (fortunately this is easy to do).

Willie11
Willie11

Some people get hung up on the name "My Documents" because they think it sounds silly. I used to feel that way but I've gotten past that. Microsoft came up with My Documents and built their stuff around it. Fine, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I just make sure ALL my stuff is under the My Documents umbrella so it's easy to copy, backup, find, etc. I also try to use layers of sub-folders to organize so I can easily find stuff.

ssharkins
ssharkins

It's a great idea -- I do that when I'm working with a temporary file sometimes.

O & G IT Guy
O & G IT Guy

You do realize that you can create folders inside your My Documents just like any other location you might be storing files to, so you can still have a hierarchy for your files.

dhays
dhays

I use the "my documents" folder extensively, I just get tired of the Windows explorer defaulting to there. If I want to go there I will go. I am also tired of the default of no hierarchy (folder view). I also do not use the desktop, I like it uncluttered, ergo I keep the icons hidden virtually all of the time. If I need something that only appears there I made a toolbar of the desktop icons and use it to access the file/program. My "favorites" folder (directory) is so full of IE locations that to put files from th ecomputer there it would make it more unwieldy than to have all documents in the same location. That is why subdirectories are so much better. One can set one for each application (eg. Access, Excel, Powerpoint, Word, etc) and then sub the sub to go for specific subjects...and sub to the sub to the sub as needed to organize the documents...

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

We started this back in the NT days. If you stored your stuff in "My Documents" or the equivalent every time you logged in you had to wait for your profile to download from the server. It was the reverse when you logged out. Eventually, running XP on this NT network, the process seemed slow. The solution was network shares. For the most part people needed access to the same files according to their section. So now we have network shares called Chem, Micro, Bio, etc. Within those shares the various sections are allowed to organize themselves. Hopefully this prevents us from having 4 differing versions of what's supposed to be the same spreadsheet. BTW: Those shares along with their profiles are backed up regularly.

BlueCollarCritic
BlueCollarCritic

What if administartion decided it would be in your best interest to force you to deposit your paycheck at Bank A regardless of where you want to bank because admin had a good working relationship with Bank A and knew that by forcing you to use Bank A your check would be safely and properly handled?

BlueCollarCritic
BlueCollarCritic

I have to agre with DOug who replied to your question post (just above my reply). As well intended as the My Documents may be, the road to Hell is absolutely paved with good intentions, even the electronic road to Hell. The forced use of My Documents is good for the end user who says "Huh" when you asked them where on the computer they saved their work but for those of us with a working understanding of computers, even if we aren't command line gurus like the IT Admins & support folks, are educated enough in computers to know how, where and when to save our work. The push by IT to electronically man handle this thru forced use of My Documents or worse, Folder re-direction is highly counter-productive only adds the widening the divide that often exists between IT and those outside of It who have a decent working knowledge of computers and especially of file & folder structure.

Editor's Picks