Start by decluttering. If you've got files strewn all over your desktop, find them a permanent home in an appropriate folder. Create a folder, if needs be: right-click on the desktop, choose Create, New Folder and give it a name. Then drag items into it. Place useful shortcuts in the taskbar.
You can right-click on the desktop to bring up an option to run the Desktop Cleanup Wizard. This will gather up of all the infrequently used items and store them on your desktop in a folder labelled Unused Desktop Items. If they're unused, they shouldn't be there. Banish them to a folder, and delete any outdated files.
If you index your hard drive, moving files from disparate folders to a central location will be easier. Go to Start, Control Panel, double-click Administrative Tools and then Computer Management. Under Action, click Start or press the Play arrow. Run the process overnight if you've got a lot of data to index.
Get into the habit of labelling removable media, whether disc, USB key or flash memory card. This saves time when searching for archived content. The simplest method is to label by hand with an indelible pen. For DVDs, a LightScribe drive, such as the LG GSA-E10L, can burn a marker on the upper surface.
You can right-click to rename some removable media folders. Rename the photo folder on your SD Card, for example, before copying items to your PC. If all the folders are called V570 or another camera name, you'll soon get mixed up with similarly named folders from your camera.
Renaming swathes of files can be a chore. Right-click a file to rename it, then copy-and-paste relevant parts of its description into other files. I renamed my first holiday photo ‘singapore001.jpg', selected the Singapore part and pasted over the numerical filenames for subsequent photos.
You can file documents and folders by date. Go to Start, Run. Type in ‘control intl.cpl', then hit Enter. Check that the date format contains dashes, as slashes can't be used in filenames. If the separator is a slash, click Customize, select the Date tab and choose another option.
Now, in Windows Explorer choose Tools, Folder Options, File Types, Advanced, New. Under Action, type ‘New folder with Today's date' and, under Application used, enter cmd.exe /c md "%1\%%DATE%%" (only straight quotes will work). The option will now appear on your right-click menu.
Right-click a file or folder to bring up its Properties dialog, which shows useful details. Add information here to make it more likely to turn up in searches. In Word go to File, Properties and enter keywords and other details, such as author and subject.
Don't entirely discount the Windows Search Assistant - just make sure you enter an apposite keyword or a date range to narrow down (and speed up) the search. To quickly find a folder or file, try clicking on Recent Documents to the left in the Explorer pane when opening or saving files.
Instead of Windows' search tools, you could try a desktop search engine. Google's Search can be a resource hog, while other free apps such as Blinkx's Pico need time to run through your system and catalogue it all.
Pico will assume you want to aggregate online content too. To head this off, choose Work Offline Only when prompted. You can set ‘watch' folders in Pico for files on your desktop, emails and online resources. Click on Create smart folder and type in a subject. Collated items will be updated as they crop up.
There are plenty of ready-made programs that will tag your photos and even take note of Exif data (details of camera settings and when the picture was taken). Picasa 2.0 is a good free option - it updates its database as you add photos and displays them as thumbnails by date.
Windows Media Player 11.0 uses tags to log multimedia items into TV, photo, video and music folders with date, location and other properties. Drag items on to Media Player's main screen to add to its library. If you've got lots of them it may take a while to update the details.