When it comes to organization, I am a bit of a conflicted soul. It really bugs me when things are out place, but I am often not as well organized as I would like.

This feeling of disorganization is further enforced with all the time we spend on the computer. We have personal files, music files, photos, work files, bookmarks, favorites, videos, and all kinds of other stuff we need to keep track of. Now that I also do most of my work online, this has compounded even more.

The thing is, I know what causes the disorganization. Correcting the problem however, isn’t quite so easy.

The problem comes from bad planning or no planning at all.

The bigger problem is that once a system is in place it’s not easy to change. If you are like me, then maybe you have bookmarks in several places, photos on multiple hard drives, and in my case, different kinds of files among different types of operating systems. Finding all of those files and then organizing them is a much bigger project than properly organizing them in the first place.  Because of this, most of us just keep using the messed up system that we have.

However, chances to start over can come in unusual forms.

In my case, that was my main computer’s power chord breaking. It was also the fact that I needed to use one of my external hard drives for a different purpose. This forced my to get rid of a lot of documents I didn’t need and consolidate the rest into one place. I also have a new computer on the way that will allow me to keep everything in one place

Getting Organized Online

Now I am by no means an organization guru. However, I try to learn from my mistakes, and have done a few things that allow me to stay better organized.

Email- Over the years I have used a lot of e-mail programs and tried a lot of different e-mail accounts. I like having all of my e-mail available regardless of the computer or location, so I have gone online with that. I have had an MSN account from years and years, but I mostly use Gmail.

Online bookmarks– I have moved all of my bookmarks from my browser to an online bookmarking service. That way I can have my bookmarks no matter what computer I am on. Do be careful however, as I have seen a lot of start up companies shut down, and you don’t want to loose your bookmarks. I use Delicious.

Documents- Word documents, excel sheets, ect are all other things I have brought online. There are several services available, but I use Google Docs since I also have a gmail account.

Photos/videos- This is one I still have difficulty with. I use Picasa to view them, but i keep my pics stored on an external hard drive marked by event and date. I would like to move them online, but I am not sure if I am willing to pay for a service to host my pictures. Companies like Flicker/Picasa Web offer free storage, but only up to a certain limit. Any recommendations? I came across this blog in my search which has a pretty good list of photo sites: photo sites.

Readers- If you are like me, then you are probably subscribed to many blogs. Keeping up on them all can be difficult. Using an RSS reader makes it much easier. I have been using Google Reader for the last several years and I am happy with it. The one thing I recommend is to delete blogs that you no longer read. This will help from the “unread” numbers getting to overwhelming.

Calendar- This is something that I just reviewed recently as I was looking for a better option. I have been using Google Calendar, but since I use it for my classes, I never wanted to let it get cluttered up with daily tasks.  I also felt the tasks tab didn’t work well. However, after looking at other options I decided to stay with Google Calendar and use it slightly different. For my daily tasks time doesn’t really matter. So I mark them as “all-day” and they show up at the very top of the page. I only use the tasks bar for things I need to consider or think about.

Planning out your organization

My new computer should be arriving sometime next week or the week after. How well I implement the system I have created will depend on how well I have planned it out. I have spent countless hours trying to change bad planned organization, so spending a few to make a better system from scratch is time well spent.

Mind Mapping Software

At the moment I am creating two systems. One is how I organize information and data on my computer. The other is my work flow. Mind mapping software is a great option for this because it allows you to put everything down where you can see it and think out the process. However, it isn’t necessary. You can always use a pen and paper as well. For those who are interested in the software, check out this page.

Update: After writing this I tried free mind, and found it to be a bit difficult to use. I finally gave up on it, and then tried bubbl.us. It’s real easy to use and free. It doesn’t have a ton of features, but it gets the job done.

How do you stay organized?

I would love to get your feedback and hear your stories of success (or horror). Let me know what programs you use, and what system you have found best. Do you prefer the way of technology or do you like keeping things on paper?