Are you a hunter or a gatherer when it comes to computer files?

Where could it possibly be? I knew I had saved that document a few weeks before on my computer but now I couldn't find it for the life of me.
Didn't I save it in the Documents folder? Well, I had already looked three times in there with no luck. What was the file name again?

If you work on a computer, at some point you may have found yourself in the same situation. You are certain the document you are looking for is still there. But where?

When it comes to organising and searching for files on computers, people can be divided into two categories: hunters and gatherers.

Hunters don't care much about organizing files. When they need to find a document they hunt for it. They fire up their search tools and rely on the computer to find the file for them.
Gatherers, on the other hand, focus more on the process of filing. They have a logical directory structure in place and take good care in saving a file in exactly the place it's supposed to be in case they need to retrieve it later.

Jason is a hunter.

If you look inside Jason's folders you will see thousands of documents filed without any apparent rule or reason.
Invoices line up next to cooking recipes and internet downloads are stored alongside grandma's photos.
How is Jason supposed to find anything among so many files? Well, let's leave this question open for a moment and let's peek over Sara's shoulder.

Sara is a gatherer

If you look at Sara's computer you will see order and organization. Documents are placed inside a large number of neatly organized nested folders. If you open them you will see even more folders inside. Finally, after you dig deep into the nested structure you will be able to see the documents, all sorted by name.

At this point, let me ask you a question. Which system is more efficient? Jason's system, with his shallow directory structure or Sara's system, with her super organized folder arrangement?

The answer is: both systems are efficient in their own way.

Sara and Jason can both be happy by using different systems to archive files but they will need different strategies when searching for them.

People like Sara tend to be logical. When they look for a client invoice, they know they can find it in the Clients folder. They don't need to remember what's inside the Clients folder because when they open it they will know right away where to look: in the Invoice folder inside the folder with the client's name, obviously. Everything is very logical and doesn't require a lot of thinking. But what about people like Jason?

People like Jason have no clue where to look for that particular invoice. It may be in a generic Documents folder or half hidden by a photo file on the desktop.

Hunters can be messy so they need to leverage the searching power of their computers.

Jason doesn't know the file name or where he put the invoice but he knows that he can do a search for the text inside the file. He doesn't have to be a genius to realize that the invoice will surely have the word "invoice" and the name of the client in it.
So he types what he can remember in a search box and delegates the hassle of finding to his own computer.

Today's computers are very fast and clever when it comes to finding something. They incessantly keep track of changed files and directories and store a lot of extra information about a document in an index file that is quick to search.
For example, a photo's size and resolution, as well as the name and model of the camera that took it, are stored in an image file as metadata that can be searched upon by tools integrated in the operating system.

So, it doesn't really matter if you are a hunter or a gatherer. By using the right tools and the right approach you can easily find what you are looking for in a matter of seconds.

In summary

When archiving files on a computer you can go with a deep file system full of neatly organized and logically named nested folders or you can archive your files randomly.
What's important is how you look for files later. By using the powerful search tools available today you can find files fast by typing keywords into a search box.

And what about my lost document? As I was clicking through my directory structure I remembered that I had a handy tool at my disposal to help me search. I just hit Command+space to bring up Spotlight and the file I was looking for appeared out of nowhere even before I had finished typing its name.