It sounds a bit silly but the truth is that knowing where to find what you’re looking for is one of the most important parts of getting things done. Whether you’re replying to email, finding the right cable to hook up your printer, or writing a novel, how you’ve organized your technology determines how much time you can spend on your work, and how much you have to spend just trying to find the things you need.
Email: Anyone who uses their email often needs to be able to have it function as well as it can. Organization makes that happen. It doesn’t require training or special skills, and it doesn’t cost you anything but a little time. Set aside an hour, put on something comfortable, maybe play a little soothing music, and organize your email with folders. Most people do this already, but I’m suggesting making a folder for anything you have at least 10 emails for. Instead of a place to direct “Family” emails, make a folder for each person you’re regularly in contact with, and you’ll be able to find the last thing your cousin sent you a lot easier.
Making another folder for “Pictures” means you can pull the family emails that have photos attached and keep them in one place, so you’re not hunting through 100 letters from Aunt Joy (all with amusing cartoons attached) to find the single email which has the pictures of your family reunion. Work emails should go in their own folder, as should emails from any side work you might do, and emails that have notifications of online purchases should be kept separate from the ones which contain travel details.
Better yet, as you rearrange your emails, delete anything you know you don’t need.
Data Files: Same as with your email, making a few new folders on your computer’s desktop could save you a lot of time. I have one for writing I’ve completed (and in there are several folders for the different kinds of writing it is) and another for works in progress, so I know where to find the story I’m still working on as well as the one I sold last month. Photos sorted by date mean I can find just dozen I took at a convention in July, instead of staring at each the 8000 pictures I took in the last few years, one at a time, to find that of what happened in the bar when … well, you get the point.
It’s easy to think that you can find a file, or email, simply by searching for the name or the sender, but the truth is that when your computer ages it slows down. Multiple files could have similar names, or generic names like “photo12.jpg”, which could be anything. You could find that a search for one person brings up hundreds of emails, or more (I have one folder, for a friend, that contains nearly 2000 emails, between me and only one other person). Breaking large groups of items into folders means that you’re searching a much smaller area, and that gets done a lot faster.
Cables: Being a person who loves technology I’ve acquired a lot of cables. Almost everything comes with its own cable, but since many plug sizes are becoming standardized (like the micro-USB plug which fits my nook as well as my previous phone and my roommate’s digital camera) I end up with multiples. Cables, left on their own in a box or drawer, have this odd ability to become a tangled mess. Try keeping them in different spots around the house and they may be less tangled but it’s much harder to find what you’re looking for.
I solved this problem by finding an empty spot on the wall, hammering in a few nails, and hanging my cables up. No longer in a box, they don’t tangle, and since it’s easy to see what I have, I know where to find what I’m looking for and I also know when I have enough of something that I don’t need more. Just last night I rearranged my home’s router configuration and – because I had a spare Ethernet cable and knew exactly where to find it – I got Internet on a laptop which doesn’t have a wireless adapter, by running an Ethernet cable to where I use that laptop the most. What matters is that it took only a minute to find the cable I needed and determine that I could do what I wanted. (Most importantly, I didn’t waste time setting everything up only to find out at the end I didn’t have the cable I needed.)
Calendar / To-Do List: I love my white-board so much I have three of them in my apartment. Cheap, rewritable, and eye-catching, white-boards are designed to let you just down quick notes – like grocery lists – but can be used for so much more. The one in my dining room is large enough to have a space for emergency phone numbers, another space for keeping track of which monthly bills still need to be paid, and another for that shopping list I mentioned. There’s room left over so my roommate and I can leave each other notes.
The other two white-boards are a lot smaller, and are in the corner of my bedroom that I use for an office. One came preprinted with calendar lines so I can see my month in advance. I use it to mark down any events I need to go to (like next week when I’m chaperoning a field trip), school closures, appointments, and so on. The other board has a list of my writing deadlines, with the title of each story, the date due, payment information (for motivation) and my current word count.
Phone: These days a phone is more a mini-computer than it is just a device for making calls. Many of them have Internet access, music players, and cameras. Even the simplest of phones have a built-in digital address book. Updating your contacts is an easy way to save time. Taking a few hours to put in all of the information you have on the people you need to stay in touch with saves headaches in the long run.
Making sure that your child’s doctor is in your phone means you can call them to make an appointment, but by adding the office’s address, you won’t need to look it up when filling out the forms that every school requires (which usually need to be completed again every year). Having your spouse’s office address means you can have items shipped there when no one’s at home (without having to call to get it every time). Grandma’s address, stored in your phone, lets you mail cards and packages without having to find the scrap of paper you wrote it down on.
Many phones let you store more than just a telephone number and mailing address. Input emails, birthdays (so you can appear thoughtful by remembering them), the # of your dog’s microchip (in case he runs away), your student ID number for college, the license plate number for your car (in case it gets stolen), or your child’s shoe size. If you’re going to need it away from your desk, chances are good that the only database you’ll have on hand is your phone. Use it.
Spending an evening getting your office or computer in order is an investment that will repay you many times over. Whether you tackle one of these tasks, or all of them, you’re sure to find that your life has gotten a lot more functional.