How to Overcome Digital Document Hoarding: A Primer for Small Business Owners and Household Managers

How to Overcome Digital Document Hoarding: A Primer for Small Business Owners and Household Managers

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When it comes to digital files, almost everyone hoards. Digital storage limitations of even a few years ago may have forced some to purchase additional hard drives to store basic necessary files, but today’s laptops make it easy to store massive amounts of data with virtually zero financial cost. Unfortunately, the ease of downloading a file or scanning receipts or other important documents belies the fact that, without proper organization, many may still feel the anxiety and difficulty functioning that are commonly associated with tactile hoarding. A desktop full of unfiled documents or multiple “untitled” folders with miscellaneous contents can lead to anxiety about having too many disorganized files.

At the same time, organizing digital data can feel overwhelmingly time-consuming compared to the payoff: unsubscribing from email lists can take days, exhaustively organizing and cataloging each and every digital photo, video, song, and text document could take years. But for small business owners and household managers, conquering digital clutter is as much about purging unnecessarily hoarded files as it is about organizing critical information.

Fortunately, it’s not necessary to choose between a life dedicated to organizing and a life spent waking up every morning to face the anxiety of a disorganized computer desktop. With the right information and tools, purging clutter and organizing files can be relatively straightforward.

Here are three key steps to get started:

Consult State and Federal Guidelines for Important Documents: Without knowing whether a digital file needs to be saved, it might seem easier to leave the file alone rather than waste time deleting or cataloging it. Remove any doubt by consulting the IRS guidelines for recordkeeping. While some files must be kept indefinitely (property records) or for a lengthy 7-year term (any item deducted on a tax return), others can be deleted after just 45 days (non-deductible receipts).

Schedule Short Periods of Time to Review Documents: Although it may seem more costly to devote time to organizing files, actually blocking off time on the calendar to organize now can save time and money in the long run. In fact, some studies report that the average cost to locate a misfiled document can be as high as $120. Save future time and money by blocking out time today to purge unneeded files and organize necessary ones. Start by creating folders for each calendar or fiscal year and moving all documents into their appropriate chronological folder, then create folders based on the type of file (tax deductible receipts, employment records, etc.).

Stay Organized and Prevent Future Hoarding with a Smart Organizational Software: The first step to turning document hoarding into document usage is organizing the ones you need and deleting (or at least moving into a folder marked “Ready to Delete”) the ones you don’t. The second step is extracting useful data from important documents—and that’s where smart organization software tools can help. Important documents can be easily added to smart organizational software by emailing them as an attachment. Once imported, not only does the software extract necessary information but it also removes the need for the original file.

It’s easy to hoard digital data. Not only is the cost of acquisition significantly lower, but it also requires less devoted space to store it. However, digital hoarding and clutter can still prove to be disruptive in the absence of effective organizational systems and tools. Fortunately, small steps and smart organizational tools like Neat software can help household managers and small business owners overcome digital hoarding and get organized.

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About the Author — Jen Cohen Crompton is an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Neat Company who has extensive experience with small businesses, including founding her own business, Something Creative, in 2008. Since joining The Neat Company, Crompton has worked as an ambassador to small-business owners and managers by offering thought-provoking insights into how they can work smarter.

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