If you were more organized . . .

Clutter can sneak up and get out of hand quickly. Extreme cases can have a terrible effect on your life as seen on the television show Hoarders. Organization can bring order to your life and piece of mind.

Here are a few suggestions for how to organize stuff.

A system to organize information, whether electronic or paper, can not only help you find the information later. Your system can also help you sift through and make decisions about the information. It can be easy to think that because your information is electronic, that you should just keep everything.

I worked with someone who was so afraid of not having an email when he needed it. He would just keep every email “just in case”. However, even with search tools, he couldn’t find the information he needed when he needed it because there was so much to sort through. The bottom line is that you don’t need as much as you think you do. As the saying goes, “when in doubt, throw it out”.

At our house, we have a location where paper begins in a small stack. It could be anything from mail/bills, report cards, coupons, instruction manuals, photos, magazines, etc. We have this stack because we don’t make time to make a decision about it at the time it is in our hand. When the stack reaches critical mass, I go through the stack and look at each item. I am not suggesting this is a good plan. Ideally, we should have a location already determined for that item as soon as it comes in to the house. It should be just easy enough that it would be easier to put it in it’s proper place rather than just adding it to the pile.

Now that I have written this post, I had to do it. So now I don’t have to go through the pile when it reaches critical mass. This is a form of batching, but batching isn’t always most efficient. Much of it can quickly be thrown away after reading but the rest needs to be acted upon. If I don’t throw it away it either needs to be filed, distributed, or paid.

  • Filed is simply determining which file folder to place the document in our file cabinet. Our file cabinet is up stairs, so I need a better way to easily get the information to the file cabinet as soon as it comes in the door. I now have a bin for “filed”.
  • Distributed is something someone else needs to decide what to do with the item. I created bins for each person in the family to distribute their stuff.
  • Bills is a bill that needs to be paid. There is really no good reason to wait to pay these. I can easily (in  about 30 seconds) schedule the payment through our online bank account. Of course now I have a bin for this.

Electronic information is handled much the same way. My email can stack up in my inbox after a while and from time to time I need to clean it out. Because I use Google Mail, I don’t see the need to organize the email that I keep in to folders. If I need to find email, I can find it quicker searching using search terms.

  1. I first determine if I need to keep the email. If there is a chance I will need to reference the email I keep it but if not I delete it. I delete 85% of my email after I use the information.
  2. For the email that I keep, I use the “Archive” feature which simply removes the “in-box” label on the email. In your email system, you may just need one folder to “move” your email out of your inbox. Archive keeps the email in what Gmail calls “All Mail”. This keeps my in-box clean from old email I have already handled. I can always go back to email I saved by either searching for it (using the Google search engine) or going back to my “All Mail” folder. In any event, my “inbox” is clear of clutter.

When managing other kinds of information (either electronic or paper), I put the information in file folders (either virtually or tangibly). Simpler is better. I scrutinize the number of file folders, only keeping the files I need to a minimum. I have seen too many people create sophisticated file management systems with too many options to file information. They either have such a complex system they avoid using it. Or, when it comes time to find the information they have to recreate what they might have been thinking when they originally filed the information. Does this sound like something you have done? I know I have. That is too much work and too time consuming. Keep it simple with the least categories as possible.

“Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein

I also try to keep things in one place if possible. For example, I only use one notebook for all my notes. I know people use multiple notebooks for each subject, but having one notebook is simpler to keep track of. In this vain, I have one paper filing cabinet, I use one email system (Gmail), I use one electronic information system (Evernote).

Putting a little thought and effort to how you organize your information can save you time later. If you haven’t already, commit to spending time creating a simple organization system for you.

How do you organize your information?
What is the most effective rule you follow to keep things organized?

5 comments to If you were more organized . . .

  • I am really enjoying reading your blog and putting some of your ideas into practice. I suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome so as well as poor memory, I need to able to find what I need quickly or the task becomes too tiring. I especially have problems with locating information in emails so I have started wading through my emails, deleting the unnecessary ones and making folders. Keep the posts coming, and I hope your dream to write a book from this blog becomes a reality because I would be buying several copies, not just for myself but for loads of other people I know who could use it. Just make sure you make it available in the UK too!
    Katie
    http://www.coffeehousediscussions.wordpress.com

    • I am so glad you enjoy the blog. You have a good system for managing your email and keeping the clutter out. Your encouragement for my book writing really means a lot. I’ll make sure you can get a copy in the UK.

  • I’m glad I subscribed to this blog now. It’s a good reminder of things I need to do.
    I don’t really have much in terms of paper files in what has become my home office, but I do have quite a bit when it comes to e-mails.
    To keep my inbox clean I tend to sort the messages I’m keeping into folders that are categorized, usually by sender. Every now and then I trash the things I no longer use or are out of date. Since I have multiple e-mail accounts, I have them all funneled to my windows Live Mail, so that everything is in one place. (I hate searching for stuff.)
    I do the same thing with files stored on my computer; every week or so I sort through and delete what I don’t need to free up hard drive space. Things I want to keep a record of, but don’t really need on my computer, I upload to my Google Documents.
    As for my home life… I’m a bit more lax with that, but I do a thorough cleaning every two months or so to clear out junk. which reminds me… I think I’m overdue. ^^’

  • ^^’ You would think that, now if only I could be more mentally organized.

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