Thursday, June 28, 2012

Digital hoarder

My path as a rigidly organized person is well documented in this blog. From the label maker to my color-coded filing system, everything has a place. This is true of my digital files as well. I have clearly labeled folders that lead directly to sub-folders (and sub-sub-etc.-folders). Everything is easily accessible in my office.
Screen shot of my digital files. No random documents, everything has a place.

The point of clear labels and purposeful organization is easy: it saves my sanity. Having everything in a digital "home" keeps me from a cluttered desktop, avoids random files getting lost, and maintains accessible files (which helps productivity!). I can find and place items with ease. My various email accounts all have the labels, folders, and sub-folders applied. I like my organized world. It gives me comfort.

Beware of this comfort, however! It is important to realize just how much you are saving--especially in those pesky email accounts. Readers, how many email accounts do you have? If you have over ten (I'm not saying I have over ten, but I'm not denying it, either), then you may want to take some time to check up on your digital files. Some of us may slowly become digital hoarders. Now, I'm not admitting to full on hoarder status with my digital files, I will own the fact that I have a tendency (okay, a STRONG tendency) to collect and hold on to many (okay, MOST) files.

I am the type that saves the various rough drafts and edited versions of each article, I have my data files in various stages, I can easily locate-in under 30 seconds or less-a teaching, research, or personal file. I have a bit of a reputation for this in my department. Folks stop by to say, "Can you forward me the minutes from that departmental meeting last fall where we did XYZ?" They know I kept the minutes that were emailed to us diligently by our Chair months ago. I'm just like that. Better to be safe and keep something than sorry you don't have it later. This is ONLY true in my digital world. I am incredibly streamlined and avoid saving excessive items that may clutter up my physical world.

But all of that well-intentioned organization can get in the way if you don't have a filter. Recently, my filter has become weak and I've begun unintentionally stockpiling one specific type of digital item: emails. 

My proud file trees made it so easy to just drag and drop an email into the appropriate space. This resulted in a tiny feeling of accomplishment that my inbox was once again returned to a manageable number. Over time, I apparently started to skip the important filtering of the keep/trash options and just filed the emails. After searching for an important email for nearly 15 minutes, a previously unknown process, I had to manage the sense of panic and discomfort before finding the email nestled in the wrong sub-sub folder. I realized just how quickly digital files can become digital junk. My nice collection had become a hoard. Important emails shared space with conversation threads about a meeting changing times or a conversation thread with a student. This set off a half-day email cleaning marathon that resulted in removing many sub-sub folders and shaking my head in wonder while I mentally groaned, "why on earth did I save that?"

If I were the type to have over 10 email accounts, I might have also spent that time grooming those accounts and even removing several that are out-dated resulting in another sense of accomplishment. Now, I (er, I mean that hypothetical person with more than 10 email accounts) would benefit from stopping the backlog of emails that can pile up in accounts that are not often utilized.

Don't wait for an intervention. Check yourself. Check your files. Check your in-boxes. Are YOU on your way to becoming a digital hoarder?

See additional organizational topics in previous blogs, including: 
Prepping for RTP - September 2011
When Sticky Notes Attack - June 2011
Working through Deadline Distress - May 2012
The Black Sharpie - January 2011

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