Prepare Your Data for the New School Year

It’s August. Around this time of the year, many of us will be moving into our new apartments or dorm rooms for the next nine months. Moving can be an annoyance to some, but one of my favorite things about moving is that it means I get to start completely over with my room, returning it to a state of organization seldom seen otherwise. This is especially helpful for school, where a messy abode can be the bane of your studying, and be a constant distraction from productivity. Something many of us probably don’t think about cleaning as much is our information systems. Here are a few steps to help you manage your data now, so you can focus on productivity during  the school year.

On our hard-drives, and on the internet, we tend to accumulate a massive amount of data over a relatively short amount of time, and at some point, it is likely to breach the walls of manageability. This leaves us with a situation quite similar to the messy room I mentioned before. I find that if my computer is disorganized, it can distract me to the point that I never even accomplish my original task, or at least give up temporarily. Have you ever needed a specific file or piece of information that you knew you had, but then completely failed to find it where you thought it was? Me too. But right now, before we begin the school year and amass a whole new generation of data onto our devices, is the best chance we have at trying to tame the data beast. So, let’s get to it.

The first thing to do is figure out what sections we need to organize, so let’s list them. These are what I cleaned up this year, but you can list whatever you use to manage your data.

  • Dropbox – Do you use it? If not, it’s a great place to keep school assignments, where they are backed up and available everywhere (also, sharing files through the public folder is sometimes quicker and easier than e-mailing them).
  • Evernote – Oh, Evernote. What words could be good enough to explain my love? This software has changed my life, and is incredibly important for managing my creative outputs and goals.
  • Offline Data – My hard-drive. This includes music, videos, games, and anything else that won’t fit on Dropbox or Evernote.

Now that our list is made, the skeleton of our new system must be mapped out and formed. The reason that it’s so easy to organize when we move is because our new room is completely empty and ready for new things, and likewise, we need a new set of logical locations for our data.

Here’s a rough sketch of my skeleton, made in paint:

my information skeleton

As you can see, building this skeleton isn’t complicated, it just takes a few minutes to write down what kinds of data you use, and where you think it should go. After that, pick one of your sections to start on. I’ll choose Dropbox since it’s the smallest for me.

Take the guidelines that you just set out, and create locations that meet them. In my case, it’s as simple as creating a folder for each of my requirements. Now do this for any remaining sections you have, making sure that it is both logical and scalable to your needs; your skeleton is now ready to take on its body. This is normally the tedious part, where you start taking all of your old data and placing it in its new location, but now that you know where everything should go, you don’t have to do it all at once. You can sort sections of things, one at a time, until everything is there. Trying to sort everything at once can quickly become frustrating when it’s hard to tell how much you still have left to do, but now it’s as simple as putting the square block into the square hole.

Don’t spend hours shuffling everything around in the same cramped room. Build a new one.

Martin Boehme is a web developer, language nerd, and Nintendo fanboy. Talk to him in English, Spanish, French, or very basic Japanese on Twitter.

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