Trustworthy guide: How to organize your digital information
By Kristin Hoppe
December 9, 2021
Electronic information competes for our attention every day. Whether it’s text notifications, a flood of email promotions, or those old family photos you still haven't organized in 10 years, neglecting your digital well-being comes at a cost. It makes your day-to-day virtual tasks more clunky and contributes to a sense of chaos and being overwhelmed.
The average person now has at least five bank accounts, 150 passwords, 10 or more loyalty programs, and takes over 20 photos a day. It's easy for all this information to spin out of control. But here's the good news: There's plenty that you can do about it — and you can start taking concrete steps today.
Step 1: Prep and plan
Define your goals
Organizing digital information includes a huge set of tasks. Maybe you've reached this point because you have old family videos that desperately need organizing. Maybe it's because you want to make a comprehensive estate plan and know your information is spread out all over the place.
Before you get started, take a moment to sit down and define your goals. For example:
I don't want to feel overwhelmed with an overcrowded desktop every time I open up my computer
I want to share my favorite memories with my loved ones and organize them in a way that makes it easy for everyone to find
I don't want it to be difficult for the executor of my will to find necessary information after I pass away
I want to easily navigate my information without getting lost in folder mazes or feeling frustrated about forgotten passwords
I'd like my family information to feel streamlined and organized, so we have one less thing to worry about
Use your own statement as a north star as you go through the process of organizing your digital information. This will help you prioritize, instead of focusing on everything at once and getting lost in the weeds.
Take stock of devices and programs
Before you start rummaging through your digital clutter, think about this:
Is there a certain pain point that keeps making your daily digital routines unpleasant? Do you want to focus solely on your desktop, or your cell phone as well? Consider the devices that need organizing: Taking stock of hardware will help you consider your priorities.
Electronic devices include:
External hard drives
Keep in mind that some cloud storage programs centralize your data organization across multiple platforms. For example, if you use Apple iCloud for music, photo, and entertainment storage, this will organize your information across synced devices such as your laptop, iPhone, and tablet. Remember that anything you have saved locally (not in cloud storage, but on a specific desktop for example), will not benefit from the same universal organization as items backed up in the cloud.
Break up organizational projects into manageable tasks
Now that you’ve given some thought to the goals and priorities you’ve listed in the first step — and the current devices you’re working with — reverse engineer your plan from there.
Maybe you want to get your family IDs, financial information, and estate planning information into a digital space that's easily navigable for you and your spouse. Break it down into smaller milestones that you can achieve over time, instead of trying to do it all at once. This might look like:
Monday – Locate your family IDs and estate documents
Tuesday – Research the best platform to securely store and share your sensitive family information
Wednesday – Migrate your family information to your platform of choice
Thursday – Remove old information from previous platforms
Friday – Close out unnecessary accounts as needed
Once you've achieved a specific goal, turn your attention to other digital information projects you want to prioritize, such as photo organization or cleaning out your inbox. The key here is to break it into small, achievable steps.
Step 2: Do your research
Select software to centrally organize your information
Saving documents, information, and mementos locally (just on your PC or laptop) is a massive risk. If you only have these items on a specific device, it could easily crash — leaving you with nothing to salvage.
It’s best to back up information in the cloud on a regular basis. Ask yourself: What kind of digital storage do you want to use that works best for your devices, information, and budget?
Popular options include:
Google Drive offers cloud storage to share and collaborate on files and folders from different devices. Drive integrates with other Google tools like Docs and Sheets, and is frequently used by companies for collaboration on work documents. Storing sensitive information on this platform does carry a risk due to its lack of high-level security protection. You can upgrade to Google One for $1.99 a month for 100 GB of storage.
OneDrive is a personal cloud storage solution from Microsoft that allows you to access photos and files from desktop or mobile. They offer a variety of plans that integrate with other Microsoft software offerings. While most of the information isn’t securely encrypted, you can use a “Vault” feature to store more items for an additional cost. Users get 100 GB for $1.99 a month, though family plans range up to $99.99 a year.
Dropbox is an online storage solution that individuals, families, and companies use to organize their information and collaborate. Most plans range from $120-$204 a year.
iCloud is a service from Apple that stores information like Notes, photos, and files. It syncs across devices like iPhone and iPad and comes with 5 GB of free storage. Maximum storage prices run up to roughly $120 per year.
Trustworthy is a Family Operating System® that specifically helps you organize important family information in a highly secure environment. It's a solution specifically made for information like family IDs, password management, emergency instructions, and estate planning.
While Trustworthy won't organize all the digital information on your computer, it acts as a helpful guide for organizing and centralizing your most important family information. Features like adding collaborators and securely sharing documents with links that expire will help keep you organized in a way that photo dumps and random folders simply can't.
Step 3: Organize your digital information
Consolidate and organize
Do you have the same documents or information stored in several different spots? Now that you're taking inventory, it's the perfect time to consolidate your information and centralize it in an easier-to-find place.
You might have photos stored on a flash drive or in iCloud and Dropbox, and digital information about your estate could be housed in Notes, desktop folders, or Google Drive. Storing information and files across half a dozen or more platforms makes it harder for you to easily access that information. It also makes it harder to securely share with key people in your life — whether family members or financial advisors.
Evaluate the best platforms for your information and files and consolidate accordingly. You may decide to transfer all your family videos to iCloud, then securely store all your estate planning and family IDs in the Trustworthy app. Knowing exactly where everything is will give you peace of mind and help you locate, enjoy, and use your digital assets in a way you haven't before.
Get a password manager
Signing up for a password manager is the best way to organize some of your most important digital assets — your account login information. Most people have dozens (if not hundreds) of digital accounts. Using the same or similar passwords for all of these accounts leaves you vulnerable to hackers and identity theft. Saving different passwords and account names in unsecured storage locations or on scraps of paper will leave you disorganized and at risk.
Related article: Why you should consider a password manager
Password managers help you diversify and strengthen all of your passwords, protected by a unique master password that only you know. This will help you stay organized and even parse through all the accounts you do or don't need, since they are conveniently listed within your password manager.
Setting up a password manager will also help your digital power of attorney manage your accounts if you're incapacitated. Similarly, it paves the path for the executor of your will to shut down accounts and properly distribute funds after you've passed away. Overall, it makes your life easier in the present, and other people's lives easier in the future.
Cut down on unneeded digital subscriptions
Using auto pay for bills and subscriptions can be a blessing or curse. According to a survey by creditcards.com, 35% of US adults have set up recurring subscriptions or memberships and enrolled in automatic payments without even knowing it. It's easy to start paying regularly for online entertainment when you only intend to use a two-week free trial. Comb through your credit card statements and flag any monthly subscription fees you may have forgotten about.
If you don't have the mental energy to do so, look into subscription tracker apps such as Truebill or Pocketguard. These apps help you track your finances and surface unusual expenditures, so you're not paying more each month than necessary.
Unsubscribe from digital junk mail
We've all been there: The spam that keeps on giving. Most email apps now automatically filter out the majority of spam mail, but that doesn't keep everything from trickling through. There's also all that "indirect" spam that builds up in your inbox over time — newsletters that now bore you, or regular updates from a brand you used to be more interested in.
Set aside semi-regular "spring" cleaning time
Digital organization is a job that's never quite done. Just as with any organization project, scheduling semi-regular time for maintenance will ensure that your information is up-to-date and doesn't start getting out of control again.
Once you've started the difficult work of getting things in order, set a reminder on your calendar every three to six months to take stock of where everything is. Is your information starting to get unruly again? Maybe you just went on vacation and brought back 500 photos, or maybe you finally got your estate plan in order and want important people to know how to access it.
As with many projects, getting started can often be the hardest part. Keeping up with what you started will be much easier.
Trustworthy can help
Trustworthy is the Family Operating System® that has everything you need to keep your family organized and prepared in one place. Whether it’s family IDs, emergency preparation, or estate planning, your digital information will be delightfully organized for any scenario. Try a free two-week trial here.