Many people cite a lack of time as the number one reason they haven’t cleaned up their cluttered desktops and hard drives.
However, whether you realize it or not, investing an hour or two of your day into getting organized is a much more efficient use of your time than the cumulative time it takes to hunt down documents every day (which quickly adds up).
That’s why, for our February webinar, we enlisted the help of a technology coach. Laura Moynihan is the owner of Digital Helpmates, a company that teaches people how to master their devices. Below are her tips for reframing how you see your digital clutter and a tried-and-true method for organizing your files.
MYTH: I Don’t Have Time To Organize My ComputerFACT: Finding Files Takes More Time Than Organizing Them
In a recent survey, a group of information workers was analyzed to determine how much time document-related activities took out of their day. On average, workers spent five hours per week searching for documents, and four hours per week filing documents. That’s nine hours per week, more than one full workday simply in the pursuit of searching for and filing documents!
“[This] is what happens when your desktop [is disorganized],” explained Laura, “you hunt and search, and you multiply that hunting and searching by dozens of times per day. And it all equals far more time spent searching for documents than you would spend just taking one day to organize them.”
MYTH: I’m Just a Disorganized PersonFACT: All It Takes Is Following a Few Rules (i.e. a system)
Lauren shared: “Another thing I hear clients say when they’re excusing their messy desktops or computers is, ‘I’m just a disorganized person. That’s just who I am.’ Well, let me flip that on its head.” In her view, being organized isn’t something we’re inherently born with but something that is learned. “All you have to do is follow a few rules (a system, if you will) and follow it consistently. That’s it! It’s not some secret [ability] that only a few people have.”
MYTH: My Time Would Be Better Spent ElsewhereFACT: You’ll Save Your Sanity & Earn Back 20% of Your Time
“Another statement I hear from people is, ‘Organizing my files has too little benefit to me […] why should I spend my time organizing [them when] I’ve got more important things in my business to take care of?’ I’m going to challenge that and say that they’re wrong,” said Laura. “Organizing your files will not only save your sanity, but it will also give you back around 20% of your time to do other things in your business [that are] more important [than] searching for and filing documents.”
Laura describes this system as “nature’s organizational model,” calling it the most efficient way to store food, water, nutrients, and even digital files.
“Here’s the basic structure: First you have your trunk; this is the one place or folder where you store all your documents (letter A). Then, you have your fundamental branches; about five buckets that support your tree (letter B). Then, you have littler branches; those are your subfolders (letter C). Finally, you have your leaves; your leaves are your files (letter D). In the tree method, your trunk (letter A) is the one place you store all your documents.
A. The Trunk
In this system, your trunk may be your Documents folder, your Google (or other cloud-based) Drive but it is not your downloads or desktop folder nor is it your C: Drive (hard drive).
B. The Fundamental Branch(es)
Connected to your trunk, which acts as a foundation for the rest of the tree, are your fundamental branches. Laura recommends coming up with about five main folders that represent the main pillars of your life or work. “For Digital Helpmates, [this looks] like finance, marketing, HR, and so on,” shared Laura. “These folders can and will contain subfolders. However, your trunk should not have individual files on the base level. In other words, it should not have leaves attached to the trunk.”
After all, have you ever seen a leaf attached to the trunk of a tree?
Next, are the subfolders within the folders of your fundamental branches. According to Laura, you can have as many of these subfolders attached to the branches as needed. But, she warns, as a general rule of thumb, if you get to the point where you have to scroll to see all existing subfolders, you may want to take that as a sign to consolidate. “So, these subfolders can also contain other subfolders. You can think of those as smaller branches.”
Finally, you have your leaves, otherwise known as your files. “As a general rule, folders should not contain both folders and files,” Laura warns. That means, there are no files until the very last set of folders in your organizational hierarchy. “[When you get to the leaves (letter D)], these are your files, your documents, your spreadsheets, your pictures, your music, your presentations –– basically anything that you have to click to open –– these belong at the end of your branches, or your subfolders.”
Now that you have a system, how do you go about clearing up your digital mess in an efficient manner?
Laura estimates you may be able to get it done in as little as an hour, depending on how many files you have, of course. If not, she recommends chipping away at it for 30 minutes on the same day, every week, for a few weeks. “You’ll get it done,” says Laura. “And you’ll be saving yourself tons of time, almost from the very first time you do it.”
And what about your desktop? The one Laura advised not to choose as your foundational trunk? She finished off the session with one final pro tip.
“I’m not saying that you can’t store your documents on your desktop,” Laura explained. “But, for most people, it ends up becoming an unwieldy place to keep a lot of files because you only have so much real estate. For me, the best use of a desktop is to think of your actual physical desktop. What do you have on your actual physical desktop? I have working files, files that I currently need to grab every day or every couple of days because they’re part of a project that I’m constantly working on. When I’m done with that project, I file [them] in my filing cabinet. To me, that’s the best use of your [computer] desktop.”
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