Get Organized Plan:Week 3 – Electronic “paper”

How to handle your electronic “paper” so you can find what you need quickly is the third in our series on handling the papers in our lives. We have set up a system to handle the incoming mail and papers (see blog dated January 12) and we have cleaned out our files (see January 19). Are you still with me? This week we are going to tackle our electronic “paper” and that includes documents, emails and Rss feeds.


First up is your email inbox. Stop and take a look at how many emails are in your inbox (23 now down from 154 for me). Many of them you have probably looked at, but maybe there are some that you still haven’t opened. If it were real paper mail would you leave the unopened mail in the mailbox? Of course not, so why are you leaving it in your inbox?


Just like in other organizing we can use Elizabeth Hagen’s acronym S.T.A.R.T. for our electronic paper too. If you have more than one email account you will need to follow the steps for each account. Once you have a manageable number which I would say should be 25 or less then you will know that nothing is slipping through the cracks.


No more postponed decisions, let’s get S.T.A.R.T.ed! We can combine the first two steps of sort and toss because it is easy to make those decisions at the same time.  First Sort your entire inbox by name (I use Outlook Express) and then you can see how many emails have come in from each source. You may not need to read many of them because you know what they are. Use the shift key as you highlight each email and then you can delete (Toss) a group at a time. If you see a large group you can use the shift and control key to highlight the first and last email and everything in between will be highlighted and then easily deleted. Next is Assign a home. The emails that you need to keep should not be kept in the actual inbox but in subfolders. Please remember that the Pareto rule applies here too. 80% of what we save we never look at again. Think carefully before saving. Create subfolders that make sense to you. I have a folder for each family member, close friends, genealogy information, etc. in my personal email account. My business email has many more subfolders. There is also a TO READ folder in each account. If you absolutely need to save the email then you can RESTRICT it to a container/folder by dragging and dropping it into the appropriate folder. Keep going through the entire list or set aside 15 minutes a day for a week to go through your inbox until you can get it down to just those that you need to take action on. You can also “flag” items to mark their importance. Try to deal with the email as it comes in. I know David Allen of the Getting Things Done system likes to keep his email inbox at zero. I am happy when all the emails fit on one screen and I don’t have to scroll down. Get to the point that makes you feel like you are in control and then periodically go through your inbox and folders and sort and toss to TAKE BACK CONTROL. (Don’t forget to delete the sent items folder if your program automatically saves a copy of each email you send.)


You can do this same process with your documents (Word, Excel, Publisher etc). Start with setting up subfolders in your My Documents folder (if you use Microsoft Office) that make sense to you. Save items with titles that are meaningful so you can quickly find what you are looking for and save them in the appropriate folder. Clean out those folders periodically as well. If you just save all your documents in the My Documents folder then you need to search through every document you ever saved looking for one specific one. That is much more time consuming. Make it easy on yourself. If you realize you have saved something in the wrong folder, then save another copy using the “save as” feature and delete the one in the wrong folder. I have over 50 subfolders but they have rather specific names so that I can quickly find the folder I am looking for (Blog, Correspondence, Household, Website, etc)


For you avid blog readers you may have subscribed to several RSS feeds (I use Google Reader) and are notified of new content on each. Sometimes this can get ahead of you and quickly mount up. Take time to clear these out too. Scheduling 20 minutes a week to go through and read the ones that interest you and mark “as read” the ones that don’t may help you keep it under control.


Last place I see clutter on a computer is on the desktop. How many of those icons do you really use? You can delete the shortcuts (those with the arrow on them) without deleting the programs they belong to. You can group the icons together in ways that are meaningful to you or set them up by frequency of use. All programs can be accessed from the start menu so ask yourself if it is really saving you time to hunt through fifty icons to find the one you want or is it easier to use the start menu? Isn’t it nice to see the wallpaper again? Good luck with this week’s organizing task as it may be a bit time consuming, but well worth it in the end. Let me know how you do by clicking on the Comments below.


Next Tackle and Tame Your Mountain of Paper Workshop is March 19, 2009 at 7pm at the Norwell Middle School Community Room. Register to attend…it’s FREE.