You & Your Information—Organize Part 2

jarsToday we are on to the second part of my overview on organizing the information/data that you keep on your computer (email, documents, photos, music, files, bookmarks/favorites in my browser, etc.), specifically, how to think about what and when to save.

You will remember that the 6 areas of knowledge essential for digital survival are:

You will need knowledge in all of these areas if you are going to learn about computers and use the Internet to accomplish your goals and educate yourself. You will also need a learning strategy so that you can use your time and energy effectively as you increase your Success in a Digital World™ and simplify your digital life.

If you made a map to help you think about the categories of information you want to keep up with and what type of files you will work with—great! It is still useful, you can mark your areas of information to keep up with based on save or search. You might also want to expand your map and add new areas of information as you go through your files.

Now, what to save? I like to consider how frequently information will change and how difficult it is to locate in the first place. If I am looking for information on flu vaccines for example, I imagine that the information will change from year to year. I might save an overview of how vaccines work, but I would be less likely to save the most recent findings on shots vs. mist for adults. First, the shot vs. mist discussion will likely be ongoing this time next year so I will just want the newest information then. It is also easy to find articles on flu vaccines since the practice itself continues to provoke conversation in the medical community. OK, so no need for filing away lots of documents.

I can still make my life easier in the future if I want to find information on the topic though. As I surf the Internet, I will be sure to create bookmarks/favorites for all websites or blogs that I trust, particularly when the source is informative and could be of use again in the future. There is a place to put a short description when I add a bookmark, so sometimes I write myself notes so I remember why a particular source mattered to me. In my bookmarks/favorites folder list I have a folder for health, and inside it a folder for flu. I didn’t go with flu vaccines because I will probably want to bookmark other flu-related information—like how to recover, recognizing the symptoms vs. a cold, and where I can get immunized locally.

Keeping my bookmarks organized is great, keeps me from printing out lots of excess paper that I would have to make room for in my files, and means that as I go back to these sites I will always have current information.

Bookmarks, files in my Documents and email are the main places that my data can quickly descend into disorder if I don’t pay attention and develop helpful organizing habits.

With all organizing missions, it is super important to break what needs organizing into manageable categories. Think about a kitchen. I have lived with kitchens that lacked cabinet space and drawer space more times than I can count (Hooray for city living nonetheless!). Since I wanted to have pans, dishes, utensils and some helpful appliances as well as dry and canned goods, I had to invest in infrastructure.

Small shelves for cabinets doubled my usable space, using free-standing shelves for a pantry helped too. Then the field mice came to visit a large plastic tub on a shelf it was one of those, if at first you don’t succeed moments. I changed my strategy and moved on to glass and metal containers for the staples I buy in bulk.  In any kitchen, the cook needs a balance of storage and usable space. So containers for the sake of containers doesn’t get the job done. When everything is separate, it is easy to forget how many types of rice I have, or whether or not to buy more tuna when I to the store. Too much separation and not enough grouping by category leads to wasted time, money and space; none of which I want to spare.

Creating a file structure you can live with is a similar task. Too many folders labeled “house” can just make it hard to find anything easily. It also makes it much easier to lose important information, since the topic “House” can include a wide array of information. Grouping information together and labeling your folders carefully will pay off many times over in the long run. Avoid labeling folders “Miscellaneous” or “Stuff” if at all possible. Clever names that sound good to you one day, like “Green stuff” or “Living well” may or may not make much sense later when you are trying to remember where your bank information is and what happened to that article on organic gardening you downloaded. Granted you can look in each folder, but if you keep your labeling simple and to the point and use “Money Matters” and “Gardening” it is less hassle in the long run.

Take some time to put your files in logical categories, and I mean logical to you. It doesn’t matter what someone else would do. There are file folder sets that come pre-labeled to help people organize their physical file cabinets, but when I worked with clients to set up their home offices, those pre-labeled categories only made sense to about 1/3 of the people who wanted to use them. The point is not to rely on someone else’s structure, the point is to have one of your own and use it consistently.

Join me for my next post about searching your own computer for files when the best laid organizing plans falls prey to human error, and you accidentally misplace a file that you needed yesterday.