How do you keep track of all the bits of information in your life? When I say bits of information, I am talking about ideas, things to remember, and information you may need to reference at another time. We need to keep track of things, but how do we do it? Especially if we want to reference them later.
This has been a constant struggle for me.
When life was less complicated, when I was single, I didn’t have any issues keeping track of things. Yet, when I got married and added three kids to the mix plus assets it got much more complicated. Each time we have added something new to keep track of I have had to change up my system a little bit.
However, lately, I have gone back to a much more simple system with a very simple application.
While I have been thinking a lot about systems for managing my ideas, files, documents, and anything else that comes to me, I realized this is a struggle for other people. As I talk with friends, family, and coworkers, I realized that many people don’t have a good setup for keeping track of everything in their lives.
Everything Needs To Be Digital
While I understand that people are uncomfortable with the idea that things can get “hacked,” I have come to the conclusion that everything we keep needs to be digital now. There is no reason to have boxes and boxes of paper sitting around your house.
I do have one caveat to this, financial paperwork that you should keep for tax reasons should probably stick around. This amount of paperwork will likely only require one box however and you can shove it in the back of a closet.
All that to say, everything in our lives should be digital now. Paper is nice to hold, but it takes up space, kills trees, and is really easy to lose. When we are looking to keep track of everything in our lives, we have tools that are completely digital which we can use.
Creating Your Digital Filing System
When I first started keeping track of everything going on I used a series of notepads and an alphabet filing system. The notepads were for different projects I had going on at any time and the filing system was where I would deposit anything based on the first letter of the title I put at the top of the page.
This system worked great for a few years right after college. However, as I moved into a digital, remote work role, I had to change things up quite a bit.
With the changes to my work environment, I had to learn to go digital and make it work for me. I couldn’t carry around the notepads and filing folders everywhere I went. So, I started using Evernote. Evernote is like a giant filing cabinet/notepad rolled into one space. This would be the space I would keep everything for years.
Over the last couple of years, I have migrated everything from Evernote to several other applications, however, the principle has been the same no matter the application I have used. The key was keeping information for reference and having a place to store my work-in-progress projects.
I also use a very simple filing system for word processing documents, spreadsheets, and other files on my computer. Focusing on the year and the project. It is simple so I can move ongoing projects to the following year if I need to and if not, they can stay in place to reference later.
In this post, I will share with you how to create your system for reference and project management.
5 Steps To Creating A Digital Filing System
These five steps are what I have used to set up my initial system and then update it along the way as I moved from one program to the next. These are the most basic and practical steps to start today.
№1 — Decide where you will work on projects.
I started out using Evernote for its depth and functionality. However, this took me down many rabbit holes and I lost productivity and became overwhelmed. After that, I moved to Microsoft OneNote but didn’t like its functionality.
I currently use Apple Notepad. Oddly enough, it's plenty simple, I use the search function to find things, and it updates from my MacBook to my iPhone with ease.
Pick your application for project management.
№2 — Set up your digital filing system for documents.
This is very basic, all you need to do is create a new folder for the year: “2020.” Then, create folders for every single project you have going on in your life. Currently, in my “2020” Folder, I have projects for books, courses, and home improvement projects.
Anything that will go to next year will simply get moved to the “2021” folder in January. Also, I would highly recommend setting up cloud storage so you can use it on your computer and phone, or tablet.
Set up your filing system.
№3 — Set up your project folders in your project's application.
Spend some time creating “workspaces” for every open project you have in your project application. In Apple Notepad, I have them set up for my life plan, different places I publish my writing, scripts for podcast and youtube, etc.
These are the places I do the work that doesn’t require standalone documents. And once I am done with these different parts of the projects, I file them away in a reference folder for that project. This is what it looks like:
- @work-in-progress (project)
- #Reference (project)
Create your folders for all ongoing projects.
№4 — Organize all ongoing projects, documents, and details into your system.
This can take a little time, but I would suggest you do this all in one sitting. Move every random piece of information into your project application. If you have any paper documentation, scan it into your computer and add it to your digital filing system for documents.
Make sure you get everything in place before actually using your system otherwise, you will get distracted by trying to find things.
Schedule 1–2 hours to organize your new digital system.
№5 — Schedule time to review ongoing projects weekly.
If you have been following along with me you will know I am a big fan of weekly reviews. This is a time when you review your goals, life plan, tasks, schedule, and of course open projects.
The key is to review your open projects to look for the next actions for your task list and schedule time to work on everything in your master calendar.
Schedule your weekly reviews if you haven’t done this yet. If you have, add it to your list.
Digital filing is so much easier than we think. If you still use paper, it might take a little work to set things up, but you will have everything you need at your fingertips once you turn it into a digital format.
One of the most important things is to make sure your system fits you.
If you are extremely detail-oriented, then make your system detailed. If you are more like me and just need it in place to keep track of things, keep your system simple. The goal is to find a place to keep everything so you aren’t losing or forgetting the important information in our already information-overloaded lives.
When you follow these five steps, it is easy to set up this system and start working through open projects and filing information. Over time, you will become more and more comfortable with this system and it will help you keep track of everything in your life and enjoy life a whole lot more.