Is Your Computer’s Clutter Killing Your Business?

By Carolyn Campbell, MA, CPPC

computer fairyRecently, I came across an Edward Hopper painting called Room in New York. In the painting, the man sits at a table reading the newspaper. The woman is to his right, filing something into the secretary. (For anyone too young to know, a ‘secretary’ was a piece of furniture that was perfectly designed to organize important papers.)

As I looked around the room, laptops, cell phones, and tablets brought me back to our current-day, techno-infused living. We surf the web for our news. Phones are tethered to our body rather than the wall. And, instead of a secretary, we stash all sorts of data, correspondence, and lots of random bits of information into folders upon folders that we can’t really touch. Everything is hidden.

On the outside, life might look organized. But one layer down, beneath the clicking keys, mayhem often reigns supreme. I’ve noticed recently that many of my clients have hidden things so well that it often takes them upwards of 10 minutes to find a document or an important email.

In addition to being a frustrating time waster, being disorganized can actually jeopardize your business or your career search. While on an initial visit with a client who was struggling to reenter the workplace in a high-executive position, I asked to see three of his top position descriptions. He started to search, but quickly got sucked into opening a multitude of files. In that instant, it was clear to both of us where we would begin.

If you are one of those people who has your own odd-ball system that works, great! Read no further. But, if you are finding that you’re struggling with missing files, misplaced or hidden folders, or worse yet, in a meeting trying to find a document with all eyes on you – and you can’t – this is your wake up call.

Personally, I love using folders. They mirror my mind’s hierarchical system for organizing data. After receiving a free terabyte of cloud storage, I thought, “this is the perfect time to reassess my filing system”. 

There’s nothing like a new ‘room’ to start fresh. For those of you who are ready to reclaim, or perhaps initiate order, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Map your system. Before beginning, I took time to create an ‘excel grid’ of my file structure. For those of you who’ve made a website, it might be a wire frame. For those of you who enjoy making mind maps, use that. I have some clients who love using file cards with a different color for each level to lay out their structure.
  2. As you map your system, think about levels. For those of you who like to have a few upper level folders, take time to consider (and outline) subfolders. Notice where there might be overlap. For example:  when I did mine, I noticed that I had overlaps where I place my bios, grants, and articles. Working with my coach, I reoriented how I named my top-level folders.
  3. Copy your folders, rather than a cutting and pasting. That way, you can make adjustments without the fear of losing important data.
  4. Save your old system to an external hard drive. If it’s off your computer you’ll be less tempted to ‘double dip’.
  5. Then make the switch. It’s best not to try to navigate two systems.   

If you do this, the angels of techno-heaven will shine down upon you, your business elves will work happily in their workshop, and your brain will love you for cleaning up the mess.