This is the third and final article in a series about managing your electronic files. You have already learned where and how to organize them, but even the best-laid file plans can go awry. That is where search tools come in handy. If you sometimes “lose” files on your computer, you may need to improve your search and rescue skills.
Note: The following tips apply to Windows 7 users primarily. For information on using Finder on your Mac, please read this article. Windows 8 search tips are available here
Finding files using Windows Search
Windows has its own built-in search tool – it is called Windows Explorer (not to be confused with Internet Explorer). Whether you know it by that name or not, Windows Explorer is the tool that gives you access to all the files and programs saved on your computer and network drives. It is where you find, copy, move, and/or rename your files and folders.
There are several ways to open Windows Explorer:
- Look for the folder icon on your desktop and double-click it. You can R-click on the icon and select “Pin to Taskbar” to have it always available on the bottom of your screen.
- Click the Start button, enter your search term(s) and then click “See more results” if you don’t find what you need.
- Hold down the Windows key on your keyboard and hit the letter E
Once you have it open, the search box is in the upper right-hand corner. Here are some tips:
- You can use Boolean search terms (e.g., AND, NOT, OR) in this field. Make sure you put them in caps or they will be treated as another term you are searching.
- You can activate a preview pane (similar to Outlook’s) by clicking the small button under the search box. See below for an example.
- You can filter your search by Date Modified and Size of file once you start typing search terms in that window.
If you maintain a fairly organized system of electronic files and folders, the standard Windows search functions should work well for you. However, there are advocates for a methodology of electronic file management that involves storing all files together in a few “big buckets” and retrieving needed information using search tools.
If you need serious tools for electronic file search and rescue, consider the following alternatives to Windows Explorer:
- X1 or Copernic – provide quick results for searches of local and network drives
- Everything – open source (i.e., available via donation) software but only searches local drives
- Launchy – donationware that finds and launches files and applications
An interesting newcomer to the list above is Lookeen. Its primary advantage is that, in addition to indexing your local drives and network shares, it is an effective Outlook search tool. Once installed, there is a Lookeen toolbar in Outlook, convenient if you store a lot of files as attachments.
Search tools are a great addition to an organized system of electronic folders and files. Remember the importance of regular purging of information, though. If you need guidance about what to keep or delete, watch this video.
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Melissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.