• United States
Contributing Writer

Clean out those data closets

Feb 01, 20063 mins

* Dealing with incoming data in an organized manner

Ask any organization pro for their top recommendation and more often than not they’ll say never touch an item or document twice.

The same is true in the digital world. From e-mail to file folders to image repositories, you need a solid system for putting away items as soon as they appear. How many times have you opened and reopened e-mail only to have it remain in your in-box for days, weeks and even months on end? Before you know it, you have years of data that has no clear relevance to current projects, which is both a mental drain and takes up computing resources.

The better approach is to deal with incoming data in an organized manner. You should open a message, determine its best destination – i.e. a clearly named folder or the trash – and move it there. You’ll notice a big difference in your ability to easily locate critical information.

Downloaded files and images should be handled similarly – once they’ve been viewed for the first time, they should either be filed or discarded. Files should not linger in the ether or on the desktop as they eventually will build up and bog you down.

It is perhaps hardest to apply this rule to applications, even for the most organized user. The best way to deal with applications is to uninstall anything you don’t use right away. For instance, if you download an application for a specific project, make sure you delete it when that project is completed. This will help keep your computer finely tuned.

But merely putting things away in files is not true organization. You need to have a system for aging your documents, images and messages.

The first thing I recommend is making sure that you’re not a long-term pack rat. If you like to keep all your “Sent” messages from Outlook, then sift through them once in a while and get rid of unimportant e-mail and duplicate attachments.

Then, make sure you move those messages to back-up storage at regular intervals. For example, I transfer my Outlook files to an external hard drive every six months. Then, if I need to access them, they are available, but don’t slow down my system.

I also go through my folders – which I organize by writing projects – and delete files that are no longer necessary, i.e. closed business. There are few things that you’ll miss once you’ve gone through this process, but you’ll feel more in control of your information.

I then make sure to move folders that are more than six months old over to the external hard drive. Having this stuff off my main disk helps me get the most of my computer investment.

The last step is to move photos and other images I’ve gathered over the year – such as vacation pictures – to storage. Keeping all of these large files on the desktop is a severe waste of space.

Once you’ve cleaned house you’ll realize how easy it is to access the information that is most pertinent to your business today. And remember, if you need to dust off an old file and call it up, it’s a mere USB port away.

What are your tips for keeping your information under control? Let me know at