A year and a half ago, I started working on a project that would help family, friends, and eventually anyone discover that they can conquer any amount of digital mess with the right approach. There’s still lots more work to do, but I’m excited to share how far things have come with the Tidy Bytes website and the Tame Your Data course and community.
I’ve seen plenty of services, programs, books, TV shows, podcasts, support groups, blog posts, forums, and newsletters addressing the topic of physical organization–which is certainly important!–but surprisingly few focused on the digital space. Why is this? The thousands or sometimes even millions of files spread across our devices disappear into the ether: practically invisible, and easily forgotten. We’re digital hoarders, and probably don’t even realize it. But our inaction is only making the inevitable reckoning worse.
Every day, we use devices that generate and collect an almost unimaginable amount of digital content: photos, videos, audio recordings, emails, documents, notes, lists, journals, receipts. And many of us already have multiple decades’ worth of hard drives, USB sticks, CDs stuffed into now-passé soft zipper cases, and even floppy disks.
Much of this data is unimportant, but you just know that those letters from an old friend, those photos from your daughter’s first day in kindergarten, or those tax records from a few years ago are buried somewhere in that messy, unstructured archive.
Of course, some people don’t struggle with digital organization. Maybe they don’t have much to organize, or maybe they already have a system that works for them. To these wonderful people, I tip my hat in admiration. But the rest of us realize at some level that, in a perfect world, our digital footprint should be a lot smaller, a lot more organized, a lot more under control.
Yet, if we allow ourselves to consider the true state of things, we quickly despair of any chance at success due to the sheer magnitude of the problem.
“Where do I even start? How do I choose what to keep? What is it supposed to look like when I’m done? What about those old computers in storage? How could I ever make it through that many emails, or photos, or…” [terrified scream]
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, and easier still simply to give up and not think about it. Ignore the mess, ignore the unread email count badge you sardonically yet guiltily show coworkers in a who’s-worse-off contest, ignore the random files on a dozen devices, ignore the half-a-million photos that consumed your phone’s entire storage capacity, ignore the multi-layered pseudo-archive you keep buying external hard drives for, ignore the non-existent backups, ignore the things that cause you stress.
…but, of course, we’re not going to do that.
Do one thing.
Take one small step, then another. Pause to celebrate, then take another.
If you try to comprehend and attack the whole challenge at once, you’ll quickly lose hope and motivation. So, don’t do that! Instead, start with one thing you know. Delete one email that you don’t need. Unsubscribe from a single mailing list that isn’t adding value to your life. Find one blurry photo to delete, or cull just one within a set of 50 where 45 of them look the same. Find one icon on your desktop that you don’t need, and move it to the trash. Pick one app that you never use and take it off your phone.
Prove to yourself that you can take at least one step, and progress is possible.
Dealing with any data organization challenge requires persistence. You must realize that you won’t achieve the pristine end goal right away, and that’s fine. There’s no magic button to press, no single app to install that puts everything right automatically. If it took you 10 or 20 years to accumulate everything you have, accept the fact that digging yourself out will also take time.
But once you believe it’s possible, once you see that first glimmer of hope for a task that felt impossible five minutes before, the next question is obvious: “What do I do next?“
I created Tidy Bytes to answer this very question. All the materials coming together now are designed to give you direction, to help you build the right habits, to turn off the firehose of new data, and to break big problems down into small steps. Then, we’ll dive deeper into the specifics of processes, tools, and organizational styles that worked for me (and that I continue to use today).
I’m building a personal data organization course called Tame Your Data to lay the groundwork and provide a ton of actionable steps that everyone can use. Beyond that, I’m also building a community to provide all kinds of resources and active support from me and other data tamers in every area of life, at every stage of the organization process.
If you’d like to participate in this, if this sounds like a breath of fresh air that gives you hope about your own digital data, stick around and check out the course promo video and subscribe to the newsletter down below to get updates when each new resource is ready.
I’m excited to get started, and even more thrilled to take this journey with you.