Over the course of three moves (1 out-of-town, 2 out-of-state) I began to realize that years of paper accumulation was cramping my style. Even after moving, the change of availability of storage space required me to rethink my systems, even after processes of decluttering. Gradually–and at first unintentionally–I began shifting to digital organization. I installed web clippers instead of printing every article or website passage I wanted to save. I tried out various receipt scanning apps.
After several years of implementing new processes, I decided on systems for digital organization. I created efiles for records of previous and current years (academic work, research notes, medical tracking).
Success in this sort of endeavor depends largely on two things: 1) your degree of attachment to paper documents, and 2) your aptitude for and access to technology.
You will need to assess both of these factors carefully before deciding to convert your files to a digital format.
Many of us are already familiar with some version of cloud storage, which allows us to save and store documents without using up storage on our devices. Cloud storage, when synced correctly, also offers the ability to access those files on several devices. If you own an iphone or Mac, for example, you are probably at least somewhat familiar with iCloud. There are many other digital storage and organization apps available. After trying quite a few, I have selected the following, which I use on a regular basis:
Evernote describes itself as a “note-taking” app. It is both popular and unreputable. Several online discussion forums demonstrate that many people cannot deal with its glitches and bugs. Evernote was one of the first digital organization tools I installed and, while I have spent many hair-pulling hours re-scanning work that somehow wasn’t saved, I have also realized what I need to do to prevent such problems. Among the advantages, I have become almost dependent on the ability to link notes to other notes and save & view pdfs within notes. Although basically user-friendly, the interface could offer additional flexibility (folders within folders would be helpful!), but I think the web-clipper alone is worth installing the app–at least the free version.
Asana is a task-list–or that’s how I use it. It also offers team coordination and task assignments among team members, but I don’t use those features. I appreciate the no “bells and whistles” simplicity of Asana’s design, and I use it to track payment due dates, project due dates, and other “to-do” list items. These can all be organized by category and viewed either as a checklist or in a calendar.
Dropbox is a cloud storage system that can be helpful with sharing and sending photos and documents. I find its smartphone app scanner superior to Evernote’s app scanner (especially for documents with numerous pages, and definitely if you want to save the scans as a pdf), so I often scan with Dropbox and then transfer the file to Evernote–which has superior organizational ease.
Trello is comparable to Asana in its ability to track project due dates and collaborate with others. While I use Asana as a general “to-do” list, Trello hosts my editorial calendar.
Google Drive requires a Google account, so it is especially applicable to gmail users. It is an alternative to Word and Excel and also stores photos. Files can easily be shared with other approved users (via a share link).
As with any new habit-development process–it takes a little while to adapt your thinking. I’m still in the midst of converting paper files to digital storage (I have the results of years of research in printed pdfs), but I’m slowly transferring my paper trails and clearing my clutter–and becoming more readily mobile in the process. Additionally, when my research and notes are organized digitally–I’m much more likely to refer to and actually do something with them.
Questions about digital organization? Contact me. Or leave a comment with a description of your favorite digital organization tools and practices.
Let’s get organized!