5 Ways to Manage Digital Packrattery

I am a digital packrat. I admitted this last night on the new forums for one of my favorite productivity sites, Zen Habits, and it made me think about how I think about keeping and storing information.

Inspired by that, I’d like to present my five ways to manage information for digital packrats.

  1. Put it all in one place – and I don’t just mean stacking a whole bunch of burned CDs on a spindle or in a CD album. If the files you have stored aren’t easily accessible, you might as well not have them because you’ll never bother to use them. If the list of files you think you need stored is less than a few gigabytes, I’d suggest backing them up to either a USB drive or a spare gmail account.
  2. A USB drive is a wonderful way to carry your research and projects with you, particularly if you use software like PortableApps to carry the software you need as well. However, USB drives are also easy to misplace – make sure that any sensitive data you have on one is encrypted with TrueCrypt or LockNote and include information for someone who finds the drive to get it back to you.
  3. Gmail storage is particularly useful if you have a lot of files that are difficult to browse on your computer or that you don’t need often, but need to keep. I set up an email address specifically for archiving. Every time I finish a project for a client, all the relevant files are zipped and sent along as an attachment with a useful label like “Client.com Website Archive” and any keywords I think I’ll use to find it later are typed in the body of the email. Old stories and poems, journal archives, and even archived versions of websites are stored here and accessible to me via google search. I can also backup my WordPress website and have it automatically sent to my archive email.
  4. If you’re the sort of person who keeps their entire media library on their computer, I’d suggest having an external hard drive dedicated solely to media. It’s certainly more convenient to have only one small box to take the place of all your CDs and DVDs – just make sure nothing happens to that hard drive, since one accidental disconnect could trash it.
  5. Finally, the easiest way to manage digital packrattery is not to be a packrat. I know it seems silly to worry about it when so much storage is so easy to have on hand, but like any clutter, the sheer volume of information can make it hard to remember what you have and where you have it. If you have a good organization system, this can be mitigated, but every system will break down eventually.

Besides, do you really need to keep those old hacker text files or the emails from your first internet crush, the one you haven’t talked to since since he stalked you in 2001? Somehow I think you wouldn’t really miss them if they were gone. I don’t.

You may also want to check out Geek to Live: Carry Your Life on a Thumb Drive

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