In honor of Earth Day yesterday, one of the best days of the year, here is your guide to becoming virtually organized!
First of all, I cannot apologize enough for the virtual hiatus! Between starting this business, interning at a D.C. non-profit, tutoring, babysitting, and being a personal assistant, it has been a lot to adjust to. On top of everything, my computer crashed. Turns out – it was a blessing in disguise, because I now have a nifty, sleek new laptop with which to organize my virtual life.
And let me tell you something, virtual organization is just as important as physical organization.
What I believe scares so many people about technology – and purging their paperwork – is that something important might get deleted or something confidential might be shared with an ill-meaning stranger. These worries are valid, but the organizational benefits of technology far outweigh the risks.
Here are a few benefits of virtual organization:
1. Eliminate paper clutter in your home or office.
2. Preserve the environment by receiving paperless statements and using electronic bill-pay services.
3. Access files with the ease of a computer search.
4. Protect confidential files with a secure password.
5. Keep important documents indefinitely with cloud storage – regardless of your device’s life.
6. Reduce time spent handling bills, statements, and other documents by simply dragging and dropping from your email inbox to the corresponding folder in your cloud.
Clearly, I’m a believer in virtual organization. I truly believe if people took a couple of hours to do it, they would reap the benefits time after time for the rest of their lives.
Here are some simple things you can do right now to get virtually organized!:
1. Make a list of all of your accounts (i.e. everything you send or receive mail for) – Include bank accounts, credit cards, utilities, rent payments, loans, insurance companies, EVERYTHING you can think of!
2. Sign up for cloud storage on your devices & back everything up – Dropbox.com is a great free option! My new PC came with OneDrive, a Windows program, that works well. I have a google phone which automatically backs up all of the pictures I take on my phone. And I use a combination of Spotify Premium and Google Play Music, which ensures I never lose my precious music.
3. Create a folder for each of the categories on your list – I would suggest downloading Dropbox to your desktop if you go that route for cloud storage, and within the application creating a folder for each of the categories on your list from step 1.
4. Organize your inbox – If you do nothing else, DO THIS! Email inboxes need organizing too – just because something is virtual doesn’t mean it doesn’t need a little TLC and organizing maintenance from time to time! I love my Gmail for automatically filing away “Social” and “Promotions” into separate categories from my “Primary” inbox. This gets rid of those annoying and useless Facebook notifications and Groupon deals. In fact, when I received Outlook with my new PC, I hated it! Choose whichever mail client works for you, and then make it work for you. I suggest creating labels, tags, or folders within your email for each of the categories on your list. For gmail, I use labels. I also love the unlimited storage it provides, because I never have to delete an email and can easily search through my thousands of emails!
5. Sign up for Paperless Communications – No more paper statements, marketing materials, or other communication! Please consider the environment, if not your own mental/emotional well-being! Almost ALL businesses now offer paperless statements and other communications that are delivered right to your inbox. All you have to do is opt in online! If their website doesn’t make it easy, check the FAQs or call their customer service hotline. It will save you some headaches in addition to trees.
6. Set Up Online Bill Pay – Unless you’re living under a rock, your bank probably offers this service. Most subscriptions require online payments nowadays, but setting up your utility, loan, and rent payments as well will save you time, stress, and late fees! I can’t tell you how many delinquency notices my clients receive because they couldn’t keep their bills and mail organized. Even if you are signed up for electronic statements, you must use this service to ensure you never miss a deadline and your credit remains in good standing!
7. Sign up for Mint.com – I adore this free online service that gathers all of your financial accounts in one place. I can see all the money I have, all the bills I owe, analyze my spending, budget for the month, and even set goals to save toward! I don’t know why everyone doesn’t use it and I HIGHLY recommend you go sign up right now! Download the mobile app while you’re at it.
8. Scan your physical documents into your new cloud storage folders – Everything you have to keep (e.g. bank statements that aren’t available through your online account, past tax returns, etc.), scan it and upload it to the appropriate folders on your computer that are backed up by your cloud storage.
9. Now Shred Away! – Shred those documents that you have scanned and saved that contain any confidential information (e.g. your social security number, account numbers, secret aliases, etc.). Be sure to recycle all paper!
10. Keep What You Have to Keep – In the next blog post, I will be laying down the law on what is absolutely essential to hang onto when it comes to paperwork. Things like birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports, and social security cards should be kept in a fireproof box. Other things are handy to keep on physical file such as up-to-date resumes for job seekers, official school transcripts, etc. We’ll go more in to detail next time, just be sure to let go of what you can and keep organized what you can’t!