How To Organize Your Online Life

This week, I’m in Salt Lake City attending Altitude Design Summit to present a talk: Getting Your Online Life Organized. Because this is a topic I’m often asked about in reader emails, I thought I’d share a few notes from my presentation today. Thanks to Hayneedle for sponsoring this post, and if you’re also attending the conference, please stop by our suite for a Great Gatsby-inspired party on the lawn Friday night!

Happy organizing!

Here’s the thing about organization: it’s a myth. Most of the time, getting organized has very little to do with fancy tools, tips, filing systems and techniques. Instead, getting organized is simply getting customized. It’s finding a personalized solution that works for you and sticking to it. Sounds easy, right? It’s not.

In today’s information-hoarding times, there is never a shortage of ideas, inspiration and to do lists. It’s a machine we’re happily feeding – continually bookmarking, pinning, pocket-ing. We’re collecting information for the “someday” that will never come – not because we’re too busy – but because we likely won’t be able to find it when we “need” it.

Of course, there are a few innovative tools that I use to help me stay organized online (I’ve posted these below), but here’s the thing: they might be completely useless to you. Because this is my system. And if a tool doesn’t work for you, then it doesn’t work. 

My #1 organizing rule? Be ruthless about what’s coming in. Whether that’s a simple step like pinning one less image per day, or a giant leap like giving up email altogether, maintaining some level of control over the passive streams of messaging is key to staying organized. In the same way it’s nearly impossible to keep an overflowing closet organized, it’s just as difficult to organize an endless inbox or to do list. By managing your input, you can maintain your output.

And guess what? There’s a beautiful byproduct that happens when your online life is seamlessly organized. Suddenly, there is space to think. To create. To grow. There’s a reason Inbox Zero is a much-desired goal for many. Because when you have zero messages asking things of you, waiting for you to act! and respond! and focus!, you have a blank page for you and you alone. A space to compose a message to whoever you’d like. Saying whatever you’d like. It’s a space to become proactive and take control over your business. To take control over your life.

Just as closing a door can often open an unexpected window, clearing an inbox expands a realm of possibility.

With that said, here are the tools I use to stay organized online. I encourage you to sift through a few, think about your own workflow and come up with a plan that might meet your needs. Let the organizing begin!

For Email Management:
I’m an avid subscriber to David Allen’s GTD method to maintain my own inbox, but if you’re too overwhelmed with your current state of messaging disarray, might I recommend Merlin Mann’s DMZ technique?

For Content Management:
To keep up with friends and colleagues, I swear by Feedly’s RSS system, which is seamless and clean. I also use a combination of Pinterest private boards and Pocket to save ideas and resources for future posts, but here’s the kicker: I delete anything unused within one week. Because if I’m not motivated/inspired enough to share it within a week, when will I be? And if I can’t remember it a week later without the help of online bookmarking, is it really worth remembering? Throwing out “someday’s” information means making room for “today’s” inspiration.

For Social Media Management:
My favorite social media management system is Hootsuite, because you can integrate a variety of different  networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+) from one account. Of course, I’m of the school of thought that social media is best used sparingly, so I keep my networks limited to three: Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

For Task Management:
If you’re an online to do list-er, TeuxDeux is beautifully and minimally designed with a handy “Someday” column for dreaming. I tend to prefer paper lists and have recently fallen in love with Whitney English’s The Day Designer planner. It’s spiral bound, modern and has plenty of room for scheduling, note-taking and tasking. If you prefer to use your inbox as a working to do list, GeeTasks app integrates tasks from your email and sends them to your phone for scheduling. Genius.

Any of you readers have a particular system you’re inspired to share? Feel free to post them in the comment section below; I’d love to hear!

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