Welcome to Tidy Tuesday!

If you read my earlier introductory post about choosing to tackle your data organization challenge, you were almost certainly left wondering what are the next steps? This is a totally fair question, and I didn’t touch it in that first post because the entire Tidy Bytes website, course, and community are coming together to provide a methodical, thorough, achievable answer. However, you don’t need all that to grasp the high-level plan and start thinking and moving in the right direction.

The IFO Method

The approach that I’ve used for years is simple and works well. You can do this whether you have five minutes or five months. It’s intended to fit into any schedule, around any quantity of data, without forcing you to achieve perfection before you see results.

Here’s the plan, which I call the “IFO” method:

  1. IDENTIFY – Where is it? Make a list of the services or data storage methods and locations that you currently use. You can tackle a single category, such as email or photos, or you can choose a single device, like your laptop or smartphone. Or, if you’re ambitious (or bored) enough, you can try to catalog everything you have all at once.
  2. FILTER – Can I get rid of it? See if there is anything that you obviously don’t need anymore, whether specific data or entire services or storage tools. Some good reasons to get rid of files are that you haven’t needed them or thought about them in years, or they contain information that nobody will ever really care to see. Some good reasons to stop using services are that they are redundant, outdated, inefficient, expensive, confusing, or annoying. Don’t overthink this one; be as aggressive or conservative as you want to. You can always filter through it again later.
  3. ORGANIZE – Where should it go? After you know where your stuff is and you’ve made a quick pass through to determine what to keep, it’s time to put things where they belong. This step usually takes the most time, and there are many ways to accomplish it. However, the technique you choose is almost irrelevant; far more important is that you apply your technique regularly and consistently.

Those three steps provide the basic framework for all the digital organization I’ve ever done, or will probably ever do.

Applying the Method

Although the basic approach isn’t hard to explain, converting it into achievable actions can present a real challenge. You might not even know where you should start looking to identify your data. Or maybe the idea of listing or categorizing your data is confusing; do you need to detail every file or photo, or just folders or albums, or stay high-level and just list your computing devices and any cloud services? And what about filtering, and—heaven help us—actually organizing everything?

These questions have many different and equally reasonable answers, and the next many posts will explore which specific methods worked well for me as well as some alternatives that might fit your needs or your style better.

Do One Thing

Make a list of at least three devices or services that have your data on them.

For example, that might be “laptop, smartphone, Gmail.” If you think of more than three, add them to the list. This exercise should help you pull some useful information together and start thinking about the scope of your personal data collection. Yes, it might look scary at first, but remember: you don’t have to deal with everything right away! Focus on small steps and celebrate small wins.

See you next week!

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Ready to get your data under control? You can do it!