Bring Order to Your Electronic Clutter, Part I

Do you get overwhelmed with the number of e-mails that enter your inbox each day?  Are there documents that you know are on your hard drive, but you just aren’t sure of their exact location? Does naming documents “throw you for a loop”?  The good news is that with some simple additions and changes, you can bring order to your electronic clutter.pacmanemail

Whether your electronic challenges occur at home or at work, the words you need to remember are “file compatibility”.  This means that the file structure on your hard drive and in your e-mail should parallel the structure in your paper documents.  I know that some of you are thinking, “I don’t have a file structure for my papers!”  Then you can start with a good electronic structure and then apply it to your papers.

Home papers generally fall into categories such as Lifestyle, Personal, and Financial.  Within each category, there are sub-categories.  Lifestyle might have hobbies, social activities, vacations, pets, etc.  Personal could include education, home, employment, medical, etc.  Financial documents would incorporate bank accounts, credit card, income taxes, bills, etc.  Depending on your career, business documents might have categories such as management, sales/marketing, accounting, equipment, projects, etc.  So your first step is to go into your e-mail and hard drive and set up two main folders, one for home and one for work.  Next, create appropriate category directories within the Home folder and within the Work folder.

Establish sub-category folders as needed.  For example, within the Personal category you may have a home folder, an education folder that has sub-folders for each person who is in school, an employment folder which includes one sub-folder per adult, and one medical folder containing folders for each member of the household.

Follow the same steps in your inbox.  The biggest difference will be within the sub-categories and sub-folders of those categories.  Taking the example from the previous paragraph, you may have one home folder and one medical folder.  The education and employment folders may contain a sub-folder for each person.

emailNow pick a date, could be tomorrow or next week.  This is the date that you will start saving new documents into your new folders.  Do not worry about files that have come in prior to this date.  Be vigilant about starting the new habit of putting new documents into the appropriate locations.  As you access older files, re-save them in the new system.  After six months, set aside 30-60 minutes to assess your older electronic records.  The vast majority of those you haven’t opened can be deleted.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to name documents, unless you are in an environment that has specific naming conventions.  Ideas to consider when naming a document:

  • Will noting a category be useful: checkingstatement
  • Would a space make it more readable: checking statement
  • Can any words be abbreviated: chkg statemt
  • Does there need to be a date or version indicator: chkg statemt_091205

Not important: what you call the document when you are saving it or the location in which you initially save it.

Important: what you will think of when you go to retrieve the e-mail or file.  Equally significant is the fact that the first decision can be changed.  So if you save something and then find that the next few times you retrieve, you look in a different location, you can subsequently change the location.  One last principle, use the delete key often!

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