Organize Your Online Life, Part One

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We started school last Monday in my house which means my already hectic life just got even busier. My daughter uses an online virtual academy homeschool program so I’m her learning coach. My son started one class in college and we are also  taking some community ed classes together. It’s exciting (and a bit scary) to be starting a new chapter in our lives. It’s also very important that I’m organized! I can’t very well accomplish all the things I need to do each day if I’m scrambling to find the information and resources I need. For me, the beginning of the school year is a much better time than January 1st to refine my organizational skills. This is the time when the new year really begins for me and I know that many of you feel the same way.

Getting organized is not a one-time achievement, it’s an ongoing process! Even when you feel like you’ve finally “got it”, life has a way of changing it all up on you so you need to re-evaluate your own systems. That’s where I’m at right now and so I’ve been taking a hard look at what I do online and how I organize that part of my life. I thought I would share my game plan here in hopes that it might be of help to some of you.

Step One – Make a list of what you do online

This might seem too basic, but I promise that it’s a helpful exercise. The best way to do this is take a day (or even better, an entire week) and track where you go online. An easy way to do this is to just check your browser history. Here’s a link that tells how to do that in Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera. Here’s how you do it in Chrome. Or you can simply keep track of the sites you go to during the day and make a list of them or file them in a bookmarks folder.

I think it’s important to take some time to make a list of the places you visit and include what you do there and the reason you frequent that site. Here’s a list of the places I go online almost every single day along with links to related posts here at The Daily Digi.

There are also several other sites that I use on a regular basis that I like to use bookmarks for. I’ll cover those in the next section. The important part of this step is to spend time figuring out where you go online and prioritizing what is important about each of those sites. It’s a great time to cut out any that aren’t really valuable!

Step Two – Organize your shortcuts

Once you have your list of online stops, find a way to minimize the time you spend getting to them each day. It’s important to me that my system is accessible from any computer I work on so I like to use Chrome and save my settings. Then when I work on a different computer, I can login to my Google account and access all of my Chrome settings. If you don’t use Chrome, be sure to check to see if your browser has the same option.

All of the sites I use on a daily or almost daily basis are filed directly on my bookmark bar (I use Google Chrome) so that I can get to them in one easy click using the icon. Sometimes I shorten the name of the link so I can fit more on the toolbar. I love it when websites use a favicon because then I can recognize the site just by image.

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These are listed in the order of most importance for me to check each day. I always need to check my email and calendar. I check The Daily Digi each day to make sure the post went up as scheduled and to keep on top of the content and comments. The Flickr group is another one I need to check out at least once or twice a day. Those are my priorities. After those are taken care of, then I read blogs, hang out on Pinterest, Facebook, etc. as my time allows. If you can’t stay off sites like Facebook when you should be doing other things online, you might want to consider not putting a shortcut to it right on your toolbar.

I’m very picky about what gets to take up real estate space on my toolbar! For a website to get it’s own icon bookmark on the bar, it has to be a site I visit nearly every single day.  The rest of my toolbar is filled with folders.

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The folders store links to sites that I visit often enough to keep them easily accessible via bookmark, but they aren’t everyday stops for me. When I hover over the folder, I can quickly access the links inside of it.

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I’m not going to list out the content of all of these folders, but I will give you a general idea of what they hold.

Blog: contains links to blog login pages and other resources relating to my own blog and The Daily Digi.

Digi: links to digi shops and online classes. If you need some ideas on where to shop for digi supplies, check out all the stores and designers who have contributed to The Digi Files in the past. You know they will have high quality designs!

Photograph: a few photography sites and Flickr – Where I keep all of my online photos. Also a favorite hangout for inspiration.

Read: A small handful of links of items I’m in the middle of reading or want to look at in the next week and then delete. I do not use this as long term storage for links because they would just get lost. Anything I want to keep goes into my Springpad or Pinterest accounts.

Computer: links to sites like Dropbox, Adobe, Linked In, Google accounts, etc.

Home: Items relating to home management such as my bank – I pay almost all my bills online and check my balances. I don’t receive any paper statements anymore. Also Mint.com – my favorite site for organizing my finances.

Me: links to Oh Life, My Fitness Pal, and a few other websites that help me stay on track with my personal goals.

A folder for each of my children: I keep links to schoolwork, recreational activities, and other current projects relating to each child in a folder just for them. It helps keep us all organized.

I’ve put these in the order I use them from left to right, except for my kids folders on the end – I like to make them easily accessible. The important thing is to put your shortcuts and folders in a pattern that makes sense to you so you reduce time searching for them.

Step Three – Do the same for your mobile devices

If you use a smart phone or tablet, it’s worth taking some time and effort to evaluate what you do online with those devices. You can apply the very same principles to streamline your mobile workflow. In most cases, you will probably be able to use apps instead of having to rely on browser based bookmarks. You will probably find that you use your mobile devices to access online resources in a different way than you use your computer.

I prefer to use my iPad for watching movies and tv shows, reading, taking notes, and accessing social media sites. Because I use my iPad for more entertaining purposes, I’m more likely to get actual work done when I’m at my computer. I browse through sites like Pionterest and Feedly while I eat breakfast. I can easily check my calendar, mark our school attendance, or read a few paragraphs of a book when I have some down time. I love the portability of a tablet device!

I’ve bookmarked a few key sites in my Safari browser, but almost everything else is done through apps. I like to keep my most frequently used apps in the bottom icon dock. Then I make sure my most accessed apps and folders are along the edges of my screen.

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The most used apps on my iPad are kept in the bottom dock:

  • Mail (gmail)
  • Calendar (google calendar)
  • Safari
  • Netflix
  • Videos

In the row above the dock:

  • Kindle app – for reading ebooks
  • Pinterest app
  • The Daily Digi app
  • Springpad app – so I can look over all those great things I’ve saved
  • Notability app – I can take notes and sync them through Dropbox

In the 2nd row up, I have mostly social media sites:

  • Portfolio to Go – a Flickr app for browsing your photos
  • Facebook
  • Pinstagram
  • Hootsuite
  • Feedly

Everything else is in folders by topic.

  • Multimedia – for all music and video related apps
  • Photography – Flickr, photo editing, photo learning apps
  • Creative Fun – fun stuff like Red Stamp, Skitch, Art Rage, and Notica
  • Two folders of games
  • Organization – settings, contacts, calculator, finances, etc.
  • Learn- learning tools, flash cards, index cards, etc.
  • Travel – not used very often on my iPad since my phone is my travel buddy
  • Shop – amazon app, itunes and app store, Ikea catalog, Target app, etc.
  • Good Eats – meal planning (if I ever get serious about that), My Fitness Pal, ebook cookbooks

My iPhone goes everywhere with me and it is the most condensed version of my online life. Maybe that’s why I love it so much? I don’t bother with any browser bookmarks on my phone. I figure if I’m going to sit down and read and explore websites in depth, I’d rather be on my iPad or computer. The main purpose of my phone is to keep me in touch with people and with what’s going on in my world. There are also some entertainment purposes involved and my favorite use for my phone centers around photography.

Katie phone

Again, I use the top and bottom rows for my most used apps and I keep the apps and folders I want to access most frequently around the edges of the screen. From top to bottom:

  • Camera – my most used application
  • Shazam – up on the top row because my son always wants to Shazam songs when we are in stores.
  • Weather – a girl’s gotta know what to wear!
  • Clock – another heavily used app, it’s my alarm clock each day
  • Multimedia folder – similar to the one on my iPad but used less frequently on my phone
  • Organize – boring stuff like settings, contacts, calculator, dropbox, etc.
  • Travel – map, compass, mapquest, Delta app, – all used for traveling
  • Surf – the websites I go to on my phone
  • Games and more games – mostly to keep my son entertained when we are waiting somewhere
  • Picture and Picture 2 – a huge array of photo apps. I love to play with my phone photos!
  • My Fitness Pal – so I can keep track of my food and exercise
  • Notes – in case I need to jot down a few things to get at the store
  • The Daily Digi app – great for reading blog entries and playing with the challenge feature!
  • Google calendar – keeps my life organized
  • Phone – oh yeah, you can make phone calls on this thing!
  • Mail – gmail, of course
  • Safari – for when I need to look something up
  • Messages – I text way more than I call

Do you see how I’ve analyzed the way I use each device and customized my organization to fit the use? It didn’t take me long to get everything set up, and now when I sit down to my computer, or pull out my iPad or iPhone, I have some direction on where to go and how to use it effectively.

If you want to organize your own online life, follow the steps I’ve outlined for you. Take some time to figure out what you do online and why and then think about the best way to get there. The approach will probably be different for each device you use.

I’ll post part 2 of this series in mid-September so try to spend the next few weeks whittling down your bookmarks and getting them organized. You’ll be glad you took the time to get organized!

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P.S. The title graphic was created with The Tattered Pear Chalklet. The font is Sharpie.