If you do lots of work online, one of your biggest challenges is to create a virtual workspace that makes you run as efficient as possible. I mean, seriously - working online can be like being sucked into a galactic black hole if you don't know how to manage your time.
How your workspace is organized has a powerful effect on your mind and it seriously affects your productivity.
There's a common objection many people have to this whole organizing thing. It goes something like this: 'My workspace is cluttered and it might look disorganized to you but I like it that way. It works for me!' People who say this generally have never had a tidy online workspace for a length of time. When you eventually get organized on a consistent basis, you'll quickly see what a difference it makes. Don't be attached to online clutter!
One of the absolute biggest clutter areas of all is email. I used to feel like my inbox was a gigantic swamp with murky, green water where people would send emails and they'd never be seen again. I'll never forget one day when I sat down to look at my inbox and just froze. Yup, that's an image of it below. I had over 11,000 emails sitting there...unanswered, because I said to myself "I'll look at it later".
Know what that does to someone who is already busy? It just paralyzes you.
So...I went about cleaning up that big mess by setting some rules in place for myself and integrating tools to help me keepmy email organized. I took the following steps:
- Decided what order of priority I wanted to follow - i.e. which email addresses were tied to people and content I had to reply to immediately, which ones could go into some kind of "read later" folder, which ones were bulk messages that I didn't want to get anymore, and so on.
- I then sought out online tools that would help me set up rules in my inbox to automatically move my messages by priority. Two of my favorite right now are ActiveInboxHQ (works great with Gmail) and Sanebox.
- Next I scheduled time on my calendar to check the "read later" box and other non-essential folders.
- Finally, and most important, I committed to myself that I would not be a slave to my inbox! If it ever got to that point again, I would hire an assistant to review the non-essentials.
Now on #4, some time management gurus will tell you just go ahead & delegate the whole thing. If this works for you, absolutely take a look at this as an option. I personally have a bit of a control complex, so I knew that wouldn't work starting out (hey...the first step is admission, right?). I know this works very well for some so consider outsourcing your email as an option.
Another area where we tend to get tied up and completely frazzled is keeping up with contacts. Though I can't say I'm 100% where I want to be on this one, I can definitely say I'm a thousand percent better off than I was just a year ago. All because of my dream tool --- Contactually. This is so awesome and it works great with Gmail! When you link up the tool to your email, it will track and prioritize email addresses (contacts) based on frequency of contact with them. It even sends you follow up messages to let you know, "hey, it's time to connect with XXX".
The best thing about Contactually is how it lets you create buckets based on categories you choose. So in my recent program, Spice Up Your Brand Online, I shared with my students how to create a Circle of Success and within that circle they developed virtual "buckets" of contacts they can use and transfer over to Contactually to track.
Okay, what if you don't want to do all of that?
Here is the main tip for organizing contacts --- find a system that helps you categorize your relationships, set follow up dates, and take action. That way you don't miss out on opportunities for developing strong relationships with your ideal connections.
It may not be a piece of software. Maybe it's a list on a sheet of paper, a box of index cards, an app on your iPad tablet. Whatever you do, keep all your key contacts in one place and create your follow up plan. Oh...and don't forget to stick with it! When you get behind, it only gets harder to keep up.
The final clutter-attracting online workspace I'll cover is documents. Your workspace is going to likely hold documents - i.e. Word files, text files, videos, slides, etc. - maybe you're creating content or receiving documents that need tracking. Where do you put all of this stuff? The answer is easy - use a document management system.
Remember how we used to have to organize documents into folders just to be able to find them later? Now, you can search just about anything digitally and find a file simply based on a few keywords. This is what makes document management tools so popular. And unlike before, because of "cloud" software, these tools now offer a ridiculous amount of space for storage.
My favorite document management tools right now are DropBox and Evernote.
Here's the big difference in how I use them - DropBox is the tool I use for storing content like articles I write, client information, presentation slides I'll deliver. I use DropBox in this way because it's simple to share links, easy to organize folders, and easily integrates across different platforms.
Evernote is best for saving swipe files, URLs of sites I find, quick notes I record from my phone, and more. (If you want more tips on using Evernote, watch my free webinar).
Again, the key is deciding on a system or combination of tools that work for you.
- First, decide if there are common categories you want to set up (if you do want folders, or even if you use "tags" to mark your documents -- these are like virtual labels that help you connect similar items together).
- Next, every time you create or open a document you want to keep up with, file it either using a folder, a tag, or a combo of both.
- Final tip? Keep similar things in one place.
The more you commit to a consistent set of tools and methods for cleaning up your online workspace, the easier it will be to find what you need when you need it. You will feel better about turning on your computer and getting your work done, and your customers and colleagues will absolutely love you for keeping your promises!
Hopefully you were able to take away at least one tip for organizing your online work space. Share which one was your favorite tip in the comments, or let me know what else you do to stay digitally organized.
Side note: If you'd like to use my affiliate links for any of the tools I mentioned above, you can find them (if I have one) on this page. No pressure, just wanted you to know because it's one way for me to earn while you learn and I only refer tools I have a good experience with.