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One of the downsides of going digital is that clutter isn’t so obvious. When you’re buried under papers, boxes, and stacks of scattered miscellany, it’s all physical proof that you need to clean up a bit. Digitally speaking, however, the only real reminder of clutter is when hard drive space runs out.

Clutter is the death of organization. Consider how much time you spend searching through your computer, your smartphone, your music libraries, and everything else. How much time does that add up to in the long run? What if you could become more efficient while expending less effort?

Organizing Your… Computer

Perhaps the most important step in digital organization is taking the reins on your computer. If you’re the kind of person who downloads everything straight to the desktop, allowing it all to accumulate and eventually fill up the entire screen, then perhaps it’s time to take a breath, regroup, and figure out a better approach.

First things first, you have to believe that there are other ways of storing your files 3 Better Ways to Store Your Files Than on the Desktop 3 Better Ways to Store Your Files Than on the Desktop Did you know that storing files directly on your desktop can harm your productivity? Desktop storage is simple, but it comes with hidden drawbacks you may not know about. You can do better! Read More than piling everything on the desktop. In fact, there are actually several dangers to doing that — including the lack of file backups and file security — so better to kill that habit sooner rather than later.

digital-organization-computer

Check out our guide to organized file management Creating Order From Chaos: 9 Great Ideas For Managing Your Computer Files Creating Order From Chaos: 9 Great Ideas For Managing Your Computer Files It's frustrating isn’t it when you can’t find that file? When you’ve searched every folder imaginable on your computer, and somehow it got lost….or worse, deleted. Now, there are excellent search tools for Windows that... Read More for nine awesome tips that will keep your computer cleaner than ever before. It covers everything from proper folder usage to file synchronization on the cloud to quick deletion of duplicate files Delete Duplicate Files Quickly With These Tools Delete Duplicate Files Quickly With These Tools One of the fastest ways to clog up your hard drive is to store duplicate files. Most of the time, you probably aren’t even aware that you have duplicate files. They come from a variety... Read More .

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In addition, there are a few third-party programs that you can use to add organizational functionality that Windows lacks. A big favorite of ours is Fences (read our early Fences review Turn Your Windows Desktop From Cluttered To Useful For Free With Fences Turn Your Windows Desktop From Cluttered To Useful For Free With Fences I'd like to start this post with a small request: Hit Win+D for me. I'll wait here. Go ahead, do it. Okay, done? What did you see? Was it a hot mess of cluttered icons... Read More ), which allows you to group desktop icons together. If the $10 cost is an obstacle, there are free but lesser alternatives like Nimi Places.

Another useful program is RocketDock, one of the best docks for Windows 3 Multifunctional Docks To Replace Your Windows Taskbar 3 Multifunctional Docks To Replace Your Windows Taskbar Docks take what the taskbar does and make it better: beautiful, effective, and fun to use. Once introduced for the Mac, docks have long been available on Windows. Let me show you the best ones. Read More that lets you free up desktop space by putting icons on a dock. When combined with the Stacks docklet RocketDock + Stacks Docklet: Not Just A Dock, But A Complete Desktop Organization Solution [Windows] RocketDock + Stacks Docklet: Not Just A Dock, But A Complete Desktop Organization Solution [Windows] RocketDock has been one of the best choices for a Mac-like dock in Windows for years. That's why it's on our Best Of Windows Software page. In fact, you've probably heard of it. But there's... Read More , RocketDock proves to be a formidable tool for organization.

Organizing Your… Contacts

How many contacts do you have on your mobile device? If your social circle is small 3 Online Contact Management Tips Even Introverts Should Try 3 Online Contact Management Tips Even Introverts Should Try "Out of sight, out of mind." Does that describe your social connections? Socialization requires effort. Don't let poor contact management result in broken relationships. Read More , you’ll probably be fine with whatever default contact manager came with your smartphone. If you’re a social butterfly, however, then all of those contacts may be too cumbersome for a simple app to manage.

digital-organization-contacts

At that point, your best bet is to find an advanced contact manager like DW Contacts & Phone & Dialer. Don’t let the strange name fool you. This free app is packed with features like contact filtering, configurable contact lists, layered groups, a thousand speed dial numbers, and more.

While we’re at it, how many contacts do you have that aren’t on your phone? For example, business cards 5 Ways To Create Your Business Card 2.0 5 Ways To Create Your Business Card 2.0 Read More are still an important method of networking. With a tool like ScanBizCards for Android, you can snap a photo of each business card and the app will safely store it for you. The app is available on iOS too.

Organizing Your… Media

Media management can be a big stumbling block. If you aren’t already using a powerful media player The Top 5 Free Media Players for Windows The Top 5 Free Media Players for Windows Strong media player apps always rise to the top and it's not important which one you use. The best media player for you is the one you most enjoy using. We suggest the following... Read More , that should be your first step. Choosing the right media player can be the difference between enjoyment and frustration. Supplement it with a feature-complete music player 5 Lightweight Music Players That Don’t Sacrifice Features 5 Lightweight Music Players That Don’t Sacrifice Features For some time, I have been searching for the best free music players out there. Time and time again, I find myself coming back to my tried and trusty Foobar2000, but every once in a... Read More and an Android music player 5 Free Apps for Managing & Playing Your Music [Android 2.2+] 5 Free Apps for Managing & Playing Your Music [Android 2.2+] Whether you’re a tech-geek fanatic or a tech-illiterate layman, there’s at least one thing that resonates between both groups - a love for music. Regardless of genre, whether it's country, metal, classical, or dubstep, most... Read More .

That should cover most of your playback needs. The next thing you’ll want is one or more of these media management tools 4 Fantastic Tools to Manage Your Massive MP3 Collection 4 Fantastic Tools to Manage Your Massive MP3 Collection Music library management can be an entirely frustrating experience, especially if you have years of unorganized music waiting to be sorted and labeled properly. Poor music library management will come back and bite you later... Read More which automate many of the manual aspects of management, such as tag removal, bulk renaming, downloading album art, and more.

digital-organization-media

What about photos? If you use Dropbox as your main form of cloud storage The Cloud Storage Showdown - Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive & More The Cloud Storage Showdown - Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive & More The cloud storage scene has heated up recently, with a long-awaited entry by Google and a revamped SkyDrive from Microsoft. Dropbox has gone unchallenged by the major players for a long time, but that’s changed... Read More then you may want to try using Carousel, a photo management app that integrates seamlessly with Dropbox. Otherwise, Picasa has always been a great choice when used in conjunction with Google Drive.

Another app worth mentioning is Shoebox. For those who have a lot of photos from the pre-digital age, Shoebox will ease the transition. All you have to do is take a snapshot of a paper photo and Shoebox will convert it into a digital one. It has edge detection and perspective correction features that make this more than just an app that lets you “take pictures of pictures,” which would admittedly be somewhat pointless.

Organizing Your… Passwords

Using a weak password is one of the most common security mistakes 5 Common Security Mistakes That Can Put Your Privacy & Money At Risk 5 Common Security Mistakes That Can Put Your Privacy & Money At Risk How vulnerable are you? Ask any person who’s been robbed if it came as a surprise - I guarantee you it did. As the saying goes, the thief always comes in the night when you’re... Read More you could make. No matter how many times we hear about creating an unbreakable password 6 Tips For Creating An Unbreakable Password That You Can Remember 6 Tips For Creating An Unbreakable Password That You Can Remember If your passwords are not unique and unbreakable, you might as well open the front door and invite the robbers in for lunch. Read More , I know we’re all tempted to shrug and keep using the same passwords that we’ve been using for years.

It’d be nice if we could move past passwords Why Usernames & Passwords Are A Thing Of The Past, And How To Cope With This Why Usernames & Passwords Are A Thing Of The Past, And How To Cope With This With every other hacked database and credit card scandal that occurs, it becomes more evident that we can't rely on passwords for much longer. But if not passwords, what else is there? Read More but that won’t be happening for a long time, so I implore you: start being serious about your password security.

digital-organization-passwords

Here’s the problem, though. Good password design involves passwords that are long and cryptic. Good password habits involve using a unique password per website or service. At some point, it becomes a hassle — even impossible — to remember all of them. That’s why you should really learn to use a password manager 5 Password Management Tools Compared: Find the One That's Perfect for You 5 Password Management Tools Compared: Find the One That's Perfect for You Choosing some sort of password management strategy to deal with the huge amount of passwords we need is crucial. If you're like most people, you probably store your passwords in your brain. To remember them... Read More ASAP.

We recommend LastPass. The free version is more than enough for most users, though power users will probably want to subscribe to LastPass Premium for $1 per month. There’s an Android version that’s only available as part of LastPass Premium, but there’s also a 14-day free trial.

Final Thoughts

It’s amazing to think how digital our lives have become. In addition to the above, there are so many other areas that could benefit from a digital broom: schedules 10 Awesome Google Calendar Features That You Should Try Out 10 Awesome Google Calendar Features That You Should Try Out Read More , appointments Ubooq: Not Just An Online Booking Website, But A Complete Appointment Manager [Giveaway] Ubooq: Not Just An Online Booking Website, But A Complete Appointment Manager [Giveaway] Ubooq is an excellent online tool that can help you cut down the time your on the phone by providing your clients a way to book appointments with your company through on online portal, without... Read More , money 10 Great Apps To Manage And Save Money In 2014 10 Great Apps To Manage And Save Money In 2014 Since your smartphone is always with you, it’s a great resource for monitoring your budget, calculating interest or finding coupons. Read More , and emails Google Inbox Review: A Breath Of Fresh Air Google Inbox Review: A Breath Of Fresh Air Gmail is a household name in the email department, but Google wasn't content with it. Meet Google Inbox, a new way of approaching email. Read More just to name a few. Hopefully we’ve tackled enough to get you started on the right foot.

How do you stay digitally organized? What are your tips and tricks? Let us know in the comments below!

Image Credits: Electronic data Via Shutterstock, Digital Files Via Shutterstock, Phone Contacts Via Shutterstock, Music Keyboard Via Shutterstock, Password Card Via Shutterstock

  1. adriana5
    January 5, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Interesting, great article. A great program that could be used to delete duplicate files is Duplicate Files Deleter

    • Joel Lee
      January 6, 2015 at 5:29 am

      Thanks for the suggestion. Cleaning out duplicate files can be such a pain without a proper tool that automates the process. Two other alternatives are dupeGuru and Duplicate Files Finder.

  2. Geert Vancompernolle
    January 1, 2015 at 8:10 am

    On Windows, I'm using the small-footprinted but extremely handy application called Everything (http://www.voidtools.com/). Very useful, it scans all your local drives (unfortunately no network drives... or is it fortunately???) in the background and when you need a file you can type bits and bytes of your file (in case you don't know exactly anymore how the file is called). With the blink of an eye, you have the document(s) corresponding to the search command you've given.
    I wouldn't wanna miss it anymore since I first found this nifty little powerful app (now already +5 years ago...).
    It doesn't matter how your files are organised, in fact, worst case, you can put all your files on one big heap and Everything will do the job for you. But I agree with many others, putting your files on one big heap shouldn't be the way forward...

    My 2 ct.

    • Joel Lee
      January 6, 2015 at 5:27 am

      Thanks Geert. Search Everything really is awesome. I wasn't aware that it's been around for so long, but the fact that it's still around and still praised is indicative of its usefulness. I must say that I'm often tempted to not care about good organization practices since Search Everything makes it so easy to find stuff. :)

  3. bvssunnydale1930
    January 1, 2015 at 3:02 am

    Re hierarchical file management (emphasized in the link) - don't worry about it, just worry about your file-names (All my file names use a "yyyy-mm-dd Descriptive Name" format, let them get long if necessary AND get Void Tool's 'Search Everything' program, a free program that's been around many years and is remarkably fast at finding any well-named (which I define as having a string/word in that, 10 years from now, you'll associate with that file) files. [The latest version has forced me to use it's Tools | Options | Indexes | Force Rebuild but that might be because I swap external drives in and out a lot.. Still my boss is impressed that I find almost any file within second (among over 100K of them), going back 18 years, while everyone else is drilling through layers and layers of hierarchies. ] Search Everything is the best (assign it a shortcut to make it even easier!)

    • Joel Lee
      January 6, 2015 at 5:26 am

      Thanks for bringing up Search Everything. What a FANTASTIC program. One of the fastest desktop searches I've ever used. Everyone who uses Windows should install it right away.

  4. Lena R
    December 31, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    ReadandShare -- I have an Excel index for my paper files, which allows me to tag them into several categories instead of one hierarchy. Your system can get quite labor intensive, though, and I've yet to find an Excel reader on phone that allows Excel macros.

    Rob -- For backup, external drives are really small and light now. Just make sure it's the fastest (for windows, usb3).

  5. ReadandShare
    December 30, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    I wonder if anybody else out there organizes the way I do?? I have basically just two files: one Quicken file for finances and one Excel file for everything else.

    My Excel file (actually a Kingsoft Office workbook) has about 150 tabs. The first three tabs serve as tables of contents -- listing/linking to all the other tabs within the workbook -- and also to various other PDF or JPG files (scanned tax returns, statements, etc.). Everything is just a click or two away from the tables of contents.

    I guess what I have is a home-grown version of Evernote??

    • Tinkicker
      January 1, 2015 at 5:15 pm

      That's actually VERY interesting...I'm a spreadsheet junkie lol, and I'm always interested in new approaches to problems using them.
      I like your concept very much because it's ideal for people who still distrust cloud storage of sensitive information. I store the vast majority of my items on Google Drive, but never my personal financial information. This would be a great all-inclusive personal cloud solution!
      You wouldn't consider sharing a template with the world, would you?
      Pretty please?

    • Joel Lee
      January 6, 2015 at 5:24 am

      150 Excel tabs? That's crazy! Yet intriguing... How long have you been building that spreadsheet? I imagine that's at least a decade of notes compilation.

      I do something similar except I use CherryTree, which is like an offline desktop wiki with a tree structure. Everything is a page but pages can be made into subpages of other pages. I find it very easy for organization. :P

  6. ReadandShare
    December 30, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    @Rob:

    I travel with a camera and tablet, both of which use SD / microSD cards. Every day or so, I sync between the two -- duplicating photos onto my tablet -- and duplicating my journal onto my camera. Maybe something similar might work for you?

    As an aside, I dislike folks uploading their photos and burdening the already-slow hotel Wifi. Sigh...

  7. Rob
    December 30, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    Nice pointers, but the main issue I'm having right now is figuring out how to get through over 10,000 photos that I've just imported onto my new MacBook Air. I'm constantly traveling, with wifi being pretty slow, so figuring out how to keep these photos safe without taking up my entire hard drive is pretty difficult, as I don't necessarily want them on an external hard drive either... any pointers?

    • Mark O'Neill
      December 31, 2014 at 11:51 am

      Just open a free Dropbox or OneDrive account (or both), and upload them to there. Both have automatic backup as soon as you plug a smartphone into your laptop too, so that is a nice feature.

    • Joel Lee
      January 6, 2015 at 5:20 am

      Hey Rob. Sorry man. If external hard drives and Internet storage is out of the picture, I can't really think of a good alternative. Like ReadandShare mentioned, SD cards could work (just keep swapping them out of your camera as they fill up) but I don't know if that counts as "external" to you. It's a tough dilemma for sure.

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