A few weeks ago, I read Carly’s post “How I Organize Everything” and I seriously did not want it to end—so I decided to write my own version of the post today. I have always been an extremely organized person, and really feel off-centered when things are cluttered or out of place. Even as a little kid, my room and desk at school were always perfectly neat, everything in it’s place. To push my buttons, my dad used to come into my room, and turn some of the books on my bookshelf upside down so their spines weren’t facing the right way. I always noticed right away, hah!
Instead of focusing on how I keep everything organized, I thought I’d focus on how I keep my digital life organized—my email, my calendar, my photos and videos. My desk at work and my house are also very organized, but keeping those in line is something that comes naturally to me—I just put everything back in its place when I’m done with it and don’t hold onto items I no longer need. But organizing my digital life—especially my email!—is something I’m constantly refining, and my systems and strategies have definitely improved as I’ve gotten older.
I have two main email accounts I use—my personal email and my work email. For liability reasons, I use my work email for work, and work alone. Everything else about my life feeds into my personal email—including all blog emails. I have forwarding set up so that all emails addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org are sent to that personal inbox. It’s less accounts to check regularly and because Gmail allows you to set up your account so you can respond from multiple emails addresses within one account, it just simplifies my workflow. Once emails are forwarded from my blog email to my personal email, they’re marked as read, but are not deleted, so that I have a complete archive of my blog email should I ever need it.
My Work Email // My work email is more of a beast—I’m sure yours is too!—so I’ll tackle how I handle that one first. There are two types of people in this world—those that have thousands of unread emails, and those that have no unread emails. I’m definitely the latter. I love a clean inbox, and have a few systems in place to get me as close to inbox zero as possible—which are also described in this post.
First, I’ve set up automatic filters that are triggered by subject line so that anytime a new email hits my inbox, it’s labeled with the project name or type of work it is, i.e. admin, invoice processing, creative brainstorming, etc. My labels are color-coded so that when I’m ready to check my inbox again and see my new unread emails, I have a pretty good understanding of what’s in there at first glance. I usually then read my emails in the order of importance and quickly respond to any easy or short-burn messages, archive or trash the FYI or unimportant emails, and then leave the emails that require a longer response or work on my part in my inbox. In this way, I use my inbox as one of my main to-do lists that I supplement with good old pen and paper.
Then, a game-changer in the email game for me has been Boomerang. It’s an app for Gmail that allows you to “boomerang” an email back to you if you don’t receive a response within a certain time frame you select. So for instance, if I email my boss and need a response by Tuesday COB, I can have that email thread re-appear as unread in my inbox on Tuesday morning if she hasn’t gotten back to me so that I know to follow up. This allows me to archive emails after I send a response without worrying something will slip through the cracks. It’s definitely saved me a few times and is so helpful for longer burn projects. There is a free version available, but I pay the monthly fee to be able to Boomerang unlimited emails.
However, while these systems are great, my number one tip about email is to not let it rule your life. Whenever I am in the zone on a project at work, I try really hard to ignore my email. Even if it’s a simple new request or an FYI only email, once I’m clicking around in my inbox, my focus immediately drops. So, I like to look at my inbox first thing when I get to work and then whenever I’m at a good stopping point on a project.
My Personal Email // My personal email is set up very similarly to my work email—I like to label my emails, and archive the ones that don’t need an action item taken by me. I then work through any action items I need to take, and clear out those emails once I’m done with the task they require.
I do have Boomerang installed on my personal email, however, the one big game changer in the management of my personal email has been Unroll.me. It’s an app that allows you to see all your subscription emails and either instantly unsubscribe from those you no loner want to receive, “roll them up” into a daily digest, or keep them in your inbox. Between signing up for emails for discount codes, random people signing up my blog email address to listservs I didn’t agree to, and spam, I somehow was drowning in emails that don’t really matter to me until I found Unroll.me.
Anyone else live and die by their calendar? Seriously—if it’s not on my calendar, there’s a slim chance I’m going to remember it. I tried for a few years to be a hard copy planner person, mostly because there are so many cute planners on the market, but at the end of the day, I’m just a digital calendar gal—for both work and play. I sync both my work and personal calendar to my phone, and get notifications 15 minutes before any event is starting.
Work Google Calendar // At work, I use my Google calendar all the time to schedule meetings and block off working sessions. My team also has several shared calendars for deadlines and vacations/work trips that I can toggle on and off as needed. All of my work-related events on this calendar are green, and then I put my exercise classes in orange and any post-work plans or vacations in purple. I keep many of my personal plans off my work calendar, but mark off anything I’m doing on the weekdays pretty generically [i.e. Happy Hour with Monica or Orangetheory at 6:30pm] so I accidentally don’t forget! My work calendar is the one I look at most, so I need to plug in a few reminders on there for myself.
One thing I do take advantage of on my work Google calendar is Tasks. These allow me to remind myself to do something by a certain date and time, and I use these a lot when it’s a task that isn’t necessarily tied to an email. For instance, if someone in a meeting asks me to follow up with them on something in a week, I’ll mark it as a task on my calendar. I also have several recurring weekly, monthly, and quarterly projects that are all marked as tasks on my calendar.
Personal Google Calendar // I used iCal for many years, but recently made the switch to Google Calendar for my personal calendar because it’s just so much more accessible on the go. (You can import iCal files into Google Calendar very easily, so I didn’t have to start from scratch when I transferred!)
Like with my work calendar, my personal calendar is color coordinated—pink is for general plans, orange is for exercise, blue is for vacations. These colors have no meaning, they’re just the ones I’ve been using forever! I make any important notes about my plans in the memo to myself, and have my calendar set up where it’ll pull events from my email automatically—flights, Open Table reservations, hotel stays, etc. Having so much information in my calendar has been really helpful when traveling since it syncs with my phone, meaning I can get pretty much any information I need on the go.
My Photos + Videos
I’m a bit OCD about backing up my files because back in 2015, my computer crashed, and I lost nearly a year worth of photos. Luckily, I was able to retrieve the photos I had shared on social media or emailed to others, but it was still a huge loss. I take a lot of photos for personal memories, and, in that regard, am the “historian” in my friend groups and family. Though I casually backed up my computer at that time, I now have a more robust system:
Dropbox // My laptop is nearly five years old, so it doesn’t run as fast as it once did! As such, I find that it’s best if I keep virtually nothing on my hard drive and save everything to my Dropbox account. I use the Dropbox desktop application that allows me to interact with Dropbox folders the same way I would folders native to my computer, so other than the files actually being on the cloud, not that much is different. Any Dropbox folders that are synced with your computer take up space on your hard drive, so I typically only keep the folders I actually need synced. The rest are living a happy life up in the cloud.
On Dropbox, I organize my personal photos and videos by year, month, and event. So for instance, when I get back from New Orleans on Wednesday, I’ll open up the 2018 folder, navigate to March (which I name 03. March so I can sort the months in chronological order—alphabetical sort is not my friend here!), and create a new folder called New Orleans. Within that folder, I’ll create one subfolder for all my iPhone photos* and one for all my DSLR photos. When I’m ready to edit my DSLR photos for the blog, I’ll move all my original photos into a folder called “All Original Photos” and move any photos I want to edit into a “To Edit” folder. I’ll then leave the edited photos out in the initial DSLR folder so that when I want to grab an edited photo later, it’s quick and easy.
I organize my photos and files [i.e. collages, graphics] for A Touch of Teal using the same year, month, post system I use for my personal photos. If I’m sharing photos on the blog that are also “personal,” such as a trip, I store them on the personal side of my Dropbox. But, if the photos are just for the blog, like a cocktail recipe or outfit shoot, I store those on the blog side of my dropbox.
iPhone Photos // About once a week or after any trip, I airdrop my iPhone photos to my laptop and then file them into their appropriate Dropbox folder. I used to back up my iPhone photos on iCloud and via the sync that happens when you plug your phone into your computer, but found that I liked having all my photos in one place on Dropbox, and since Dropbox is on the cloud, it’s still super easy for me to access my photos when I’m on the go if needed.
External Hard Drives // I actually have two external hard drives that I use regularly. One is for the Time Machine backup of my Mac. For those of you unfamiliar, that’s the built-in backup software on Macs. I typically run this one a month because if you go longer than 20 days without a backup, the pop ups start to become a bit incessant. The nice thing about Time Machine backups is that they don’t override each other as long as you have space on your hard drive. So if you accidentally delete something you need, only to realize it a few backups later, you can still access the files.
The second external hard drive is where I manually backup all my Dropbox files. I go in about once a month and copy and paste in the new folders I’ve added to Dropbox. That way, if my Dropbox account is ever hacked or I accidentally delete something, I have a hard copy backup, too.
Whew! I think that about covers it. If you have any questions about how I keep my digital life organized, let me know! And, I absolutely love any organization tips + tricks I can get my hands on, so please share any of your best workflows with me. x