Organizing Your Cyber Life

Remember when we were promised that the digital world was going to turn our worlds upside down, making them so much more efficient and easy? Well, sometimes it can feel like we were all sold a bill of goods. From Blackberries that buzz at all times of the day to in-boxes crammed with messages we don't even care to read ("Prescriptions from Canada!" "Find Singles in your Area!"), it can be enough to send us running and screaming back to the simple pen and paper. But don't head for the hills just yet. Chances are that your computer use has made a huge impact on your life in many good ways too. You probably even had one of those "what did we all do before the Internet?" moments this week alone or maybe you've reconnected with someone from ten years ago thanks to the likes of Facebook. Rather than allowing frustration to build because of inefficiencies, you can employ a few, simple techniques for containing the cyber clutter.

Sarah on "Backing that thing up!"

"We've all heard those nightmare stories where a friend of a friend loses everything because of a hard drive failure (or an unfortunate coffee spill). Perhaps it has even happened to you. Backing up your hard drive has never been easier or less expensive. You can either buy an external hard drive (we like the LaCie Rugged 500 Gigabyte model that retails for $139 on NewEgg.com), or rent backup space virtually via companies like Dropbox.com, Mozy, and iDrive. I personally use Dropbox. Any file I create I save to a Dropbox folder on my computer. While I work away, all the document is being saved to a virtual server. The best part? I can access all the files on my computer from any machine, anywhere. One word of caution, be careful how you backup your email and contacts. I use the MobileMe service from Mac so that I could sync my desktop calendar with all of my other mobile devices easily. Unfortunately for me, the first time I synced it, I inadvertently pressed the wrong button and my entire directory of contacts and worse, my very detailed schedule went poof in a matter of minutes. Whenever you are syncing, be sure you select "merge information" rather than replace. Not only that, be sure you back up your email, contacts and calendars regularly. I had not, and it ended up taking me many hours to recreate that information from scratch. Now I back up that to my Dropbox folder as well."

Alicia on "making it simple"

"According to the National Association of Professional Organizers, the average person wastes up to an hour each day trying to find something they know they have but can't put their finger on, so you can only imagine how that extends to our digital world. In order to avoid wasting precious time, I try to make things as simple and straightforward as possible. I make liberal use of folders and save every file with the same naming convention Date_(Name)_version#, so I can easily find the latest version of the document I'm looking for. Nobody is looking at your files except for you, so make it something you'll remember without having to open and close ten different documents to find the right one."

Here are three other ways to help control the cyber clutter:

1. What's in a name?

In this case, it's the key to the contents. Nobody is judging your file names for the next Pulitzer prize, so make it something you'll know and understand. Try employing a system that you use across all platforms, so your Excel files and Word documents are all saved as "date created, file name." It doesn't matter what your system is as long as you do it consistently.

2. Regular Clean-up Sessions.

Just like you schedule your time to clean the gutters or plant the bulbs, you need to set aside time to regularly clean out your files. Whether it's five minutes on Friday afternoons or once a month, make sure you take the time to keep only the files you need and discard the rest. You'll be surprised how much stuff you have saved on your computer — do you really need to save a copy of that kitten video from YouTube?

3. Save, Save, Save.

We don't mean your pennies (though that's good too). When you schedule your regular clean-up sessions, remember to back up what you do want to keep. It doesn't matter whether you use a portable disk drive or use a web-based back-up system, but keeping yourself on a regular schedule will ensure that Murphy's Law never comes your way.

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