12 May 2013

Digital Hoarding

We know what physical clutter looks like–stacks of newspapers, dusty knick-knacks, piles of clothes. But computer clutter is also becoming an increasing problem.

What does computer clutter – or digital hoarding at one extreme – look like? It can be tens of thousands of emails, old photos, and music files taking up hard drive space, making it difficult to find needed information quickly. How many of your video or music files have you looked at or listened to more than once? Do you have hundreds of photos from an event you don’t even recall? How about pictures with people you don’t like in them?

Lack of organization is part of the problem, but for some people it goes beyond that. Have you considered getting a new computer since your hard drive is almost full? Do you continue buying portable disk drives because you keep running out of space? Are you overly excited by the unlimited possibilities of cloud storage?

The problem has only gotten worse since digital storage has gotten less costly. These days you can buy a terabyte hard drive for less than $150 dollars. How big is a terabyte? You can store 2,000 hours of music or 300 hours of high quality video on a terabyte drive. That is a lot of stuff!

So how do you simplify your digital life?

  • Make Choices: You aren’t required to be on every social network or subscribed to every newsletter. Figure out the ones that make the most sense for you and eliminate the others. Consider using a RSS reader to keep up with blogs you follow. Do a quick sort on your digital photos to delete those out of focus or just plain bad.
  • Sift through emails: Delete those you won’t need, archive others, and develop a strategy for moving forward.
  • For computer files, use the same category names on your computer as you do on paper. By using the same structure and folder style as your paper files, it may be easier to find a computer document and put things away in both places.
  • Label your files deliberately. Even though each paper in your file cabinet doesn’t need a name, every file in your computer does. A file name should be descriptive and may need to include: document title, creation date, author, version etc. You should be able to find the digital file you need without having to open it. (For those of you in the advanced course, you can also use metadata to tag your files…more on that later!)

Sometimes the amount of stuff in our digital life can seem overwhelming. But take it one piece at a time and before long you will have computer clutter under control!

Big thanks to Joshua Zerkel, Certified Professional Organizer® and owner of Custom Living Solutions in San Francisco, for writing the original article this newsletter is based off.
**Image by Flickr user psd, used via Creative Commons.

23 January 2013

Password Management and You

Every website you visit these days seems to want you to sign in, or sign up, for something. This requires you to create a user name and password and it seems every site has different directions. Some want all lowercase letters, some want letters and numbers, some allow special characters, some hate special characters. It’s enough to drive you nuts! How are you supposed to remember all those variations?

One easy solution is to use the same password for every site. But…this is definitely not something that is recommended. Why? If someone figured out that one password then they would have access to everything! I know several people who use the same password for Facebook as they do their email account. When someone was able to hack their Facebook account they also had access to their email account, which resulted in some crazy emails being sent to all contacts.

So if you don’t use the same password for everything, then you are stuck remembering different passwords for different sites. Add those details to all the numbers, dates, and ‘stuff’ floating around in your brain and how are you supposed to recall anything? Use a password manager!

In this newsletter I’m going to talk about two different methods for managing your online passwords and logins – traditional notebook and online vault

The first is the traditional method of keeping a password management book. This could be a spiral bound notebook, a small moleskin notebook, a index card box etc. in which you write down the website, the login you selected and the password you use.

  • Pros: easy to access and easy to add to
  • Cons: not very secure. Of course you could store your notebook in a safe spot, but unless it is a locked diary or written in code, realistically anybody could find it and use it. I would imagine most of us using password books keep them relatively close to our main computer.

The second less traditional method is utilizing on online password management vault or password manager. This is an online storage site, often a ‘cloud’, where you store all of your passwords, using one primary access password to retrieve the information you are after.

  • Pros: Apparently now there are some managers which have smart phone apps as well!, you can access the passwords from anywhere, there is only one password you need to remember. All your passwords, one place, easy access.
  • Cons: As with anything you put online, there is always the possibility the program/cloud will go away. This happens when companies fold or change owners. If this was to happen, all your stored passwords would be gone and you may need to start from scratch. Also, what if you forget that one all encompassing password? How would you access the rest of your passwords? What if your computer was down?

Regardless of which type of password management system you choose to use, it is vital to keep it up to date. Cross out or delete old passwords, make sure your writing is legible if utilizing a notebook, be consistent with recording new passwords and which sites they are related to. A secondary benefit of a password manager is related to estate management. When you are no longer here, will someone be able to access your online accounts to close them out?

For information on online password managers, CNET does a great job of reviewing those available. Many are free, although pay attention because there are a few which have a cost associated with them. Maybe you will never encounter an online hacker…but wouldn’t you rather be safe?

*image by Flickr user stebulus, used via Creative Commons*

15 February 2012

10 Steps to an Organized Home Office

1) Find a well-defined space to contain all your office essentials and files. You don’t necessarily need a full room or anything fancy. A desk in your bedroom that will hold your files, paper, pens, calculator and of course computer will do fine, especially in the beginning. If your “office” consists of the dining room table, some of the drawers in your kitchen, a file cabinet in the basement and the computer in the bedroom, you may want to think about organizing everything in one spot. This could prevent you from spending a lot of time searching the entire house for a particular document. Consider moving all your files and papers to one central location, preferably close to the computer if the bulk of your work is online.

2) Keep your personal files and papers separate from your business things. You probably have enough paperwork to deal with without having to sort thru magazines, kid’s schedules and personal bills. Create a separate spot for these somewhere outside your home office space.

3) Create a file system that works for you. Remember, you may be working for someone else, but when it comes to an organized home office, you are your own boss. Think about how you look for a particular file or piece of paper. What will be the easiest way for you to find it? Then create a file system that works for you. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect the first time out, you can always rework the system until it is just right for you.

4) Take a good look at your work area. Do you have piles of papers, files, mail, USB drives and CDs lying around? Do you notice anything else piling up? Set aside a few hours and put everything away. Use your new file system and find “homes” for anything else.

5) Now that you have an organized home office, set aside a few minutes at the end of your workday to keep it that way. Try to “leave the office” for the day with a clean, empty desk. It makes the next morning that much easier.

6) Add a personal touch to your office. Bring in some pictures of the kids; add some pretty plants, inspirational quotes, or anything else you can think of that will make your office a pleasant place to work in. In addition to getting and keeping you in a good mood whenever you step in your office, you are more likely to keep it clean and organized if it is a place you treasure. This is true regardless of if your office is a desk in a corner of the dining room or an exclusive space with a door.

7) Don’t forget about the files on your computer! You can waste just as much time searching for an online document as for a piece of paper. If your computer is used for work as well as for personal use, create a work folder and use sub-folders for particular employers, projects etc. If you share your work computer with family members it may be necessary to set up a separate user account just for work and password protect it. This will prevent other family members from accidentally changing or deleting your work files.

8) In addition to your regular files, you also want to keep your emails organized. Let’s be honest, we have all wasted time searching for a particular email that contained some vital information we needed fast. Setting up folders for different clients and projects has worked well for me, but again find a system that works for you and stick with it. Sort the email as soon as you read it. It only takes a second or two to drop it in the appropriate folder, but will save you a lot of time if you have to find it later.

9) Now that you have a good filing system (both physical and digital) in place, set aside a little time every few months (or weeks if appropriate) to purge your files. We can quickly accumulate a lot of documents both in our file cabinet and on our hard drive that we no longer need. At the very least, try to purge your files twice a year.

10) Now that your office is organized, you may also want to take a look at organizing your time. Again, come up with a system that works well for you.

I encourage you to start with a few of these ideas to get your office and yourself more organized. You will be surprised by how much time you will save not searching for files, papers or the stapler. Before long, you won’t know how you ever functioned without an organized home office!

*Photo taken by Flickr User jaaron, used via Creative Commons.