I don’t know how I picked up a passion for personal Organization.
If I look back, it started in my youth. Right from my childhood, My mind used to be filled with a volume of thoughts, some called me scatterbrain, but a lot of great ideas came out of that volume. All my accomplishments in life trace back to that volume. As far as scatterbrain is concerned, I am not alone. As per Microsoft Canada’s published study in 2015, the average time a human remains attentive to a task is about 8 seconds.
In this state of mind, the result was not immensely encouraging; a) I was not able to give full attention to detail, b) I became forgetful, c) I couldn’t prioritize d) I dropped the ball on commitments. There was a running joke in the family, “Don’t ask Ramesh to look for an item at home. He won’t be able to find it!”
Possibly, those thoughts led me to get better at organizing my life. I became passionate about new tools, methods, discipline to be better organized. Once people around me noticed that, they started seeking ways to better organize with me. In this blog, I will list a few tips from my experience, hoping some of them will help you.
These tips become more critical with the pandemic, resulting in lockdowns and remote working, as many people are looking to find productive ways of working. Please note that these tips are based on my personal experiences; it is not meant to be an exhaustive list.
The focus of the tips below is on the personal data organization, not work or company data.
Cross-platform and Cloud
The first and foremost requirement for any organization tool is to keep it accessible from all platforms, including Windows, Android, and iOS. The data the tools operate on, need to be consistent. That means using cloud storage for the data. The tools must sync to the same online data from any of the platforms. Fortunately, most basic tools like emails, calendars, task tools are already cloud-based and available across the platform. I keep a backup & sync process running, so the cloud folders appear like any other device folders. I can edit on any device, and it syncs with other devices through the cloud.
Labels or Tags
Decide on a few top-level labels or categories that you keep consistent across all tools. Pick about 10 to 15 labels. I have labels like Career, Network, Personal, Finance, Toastmasters, Business, Education, Entertainment, Travel, Tech, Health. You may choose the labels based on your interests and needs. Then all the tools or systems you use for personal data need to be organized with labels. All tools like Emails, tasks, or calendar need to have the same appropriate labels. Create top-level cloud storage folders based on Labels. That way looking for a specific file on your cloud storage will be faster.
Once you have the cloud/platforms and labels in place, it is time to get specific tools. The first tool you must have is a password manager. The password managers have become very user-friendly and comprehensive in the features they provide. I use Lastpass, but you may shop around. These managers store passwords and fill them on the fly in any browser. They also store critical information like credit cards, insurance, passports, and so on. A family sharing feature lets you easily share specific passwords or critical information with family members.
Choose a contacts tool that meets the cross-platform and cloud requirement (step 1). Label each contact information with appropriate labels as per the standard top-level labels (as in step 2). You need to add some keywords for easy searching. E.g., If contact is an electrician, I make sure to add “Electrician” in an appropriate field (notes, or title or company name).
An essential part is to be disciplined and prompt about adding contact info. Every time I come across useful phone numbers or business cards, or email, I make sure to create an appropriate contact. I have contacts stored fo r the past 15 years. Another best practice is to export the contacts in an excel file and store on the cloud, just if your contacts app wipes out all data.
Note, You may invest in business card scanning to automatically create the contacts, but they tend to be error-prone. I have to manually correct in any case.
Personal Data Storage
Whereas the Calendar, Email, To-dos are well-defined data, and multiple tools/methods available to organize, the Organization of personal data (i.e. , documents, notes, scans, statements, reports) is challenging. First, the information is very diverse, intermittent, and voluminous over time.
First, choose cloud storage. I chose Google Drive. Begin with the labels as the top-level folders. My top folders match labels like Career, Network, Personal, Finance, Toastmasters, and so on. Then create appropriate subfolders. E.g., my Finance folder has tax subfolders, which have subfolders for every year of the tax filed. You get the idea. Try to name the files with the dates or months of creation when possible.
Notes are handy to record snippets of information on the fly. I use Google Keep. You may look around for a plethora of note apps on smartphones or Windows. They would be phone numbers, a lovely quote you read, contact name, web address, or whatever you want to reference later. Look for the information in chat windows (Facebook messenger, LinkedIn chats, Instagram, Facebook, Teams, or wherever you interact); If there is a nugget of data that needs is essential, add it to the notes. E.g. many people leave their phone numbers in the chat window that is temporary. You may lose it if you don’t save at the appropriate time or place.
There are many more feature-rich notes apps available on smartphones, but make sure they are accessible on the desktop too, and all are synced up.
In the next (concluding) part of the blog I’ll publish soon, I’ll cover extremely critical tools for Calendar, Emails, Journal, SMS, and others. Don’t miss out!