- Making a Case for Using Less Paper
- Moving into One World of Data
- Understanding the Technology of Electronic Organization
Moving into One World of Data
To be certain of where your data is located, it is important to create one world of data. This means matching all your information systems to follow one master outline or structure. Currently, you might have one system for your paper files, a different system for email files, another system for electronic files, yet another system for tracking websites, and perhaps a database or two for collecting other types of information. When you receive paper and electronic information, that information might be filed in three to five different locations and categorized and subcategorized by different topic names within those systems.
When you use the "one world of data" approach to information management, you think of all your data as one entity, and no matter what form that data is in, it is stored in the same category or structure within all your information systems. Using this approach, all your information systems will be parallel to one another. That, in turn, simplifies filing and retrieving information, no matter where within the system it is stored.
Things You’ll Need
Current organizational information
Pencil and paper/word-processing software
Creating a Master Outline Structure
Back in high school English class, you probably were taught to create outlines of book reports and other papers. One of the challenges of that process was to determine the basic components of what you would write before you wrote it. Creating a master outline for information is much the same process. You need to determine what you have to organize before you organize it! Most office workers use the opposite approach for storing information—as information comes, they find a place for it somewhere in their system. Filing new information becomes frustrating when there’s no designated file location within a structured system. When you create a master outline structure, you have already determined where you will file all the data you receive, in whichever form you receive it. The structure makes filing and finding the data easier.
Determining Organizational Levels
Take a moment and think about your job and all the data you receive, including paper and electronic documents, mail, email, contacts, meeting notes, research, books, articles, and information from the Internet. Review how you are currently sorting and organizing all that data, and write down all the systems within which you have organized each of these types of data. Record your current method of organizing the data and list the names of files, categories, subfiles, and subcategories you have created within each system, as shown in Figure 3.1. You will use this list to help you create your master outline structure. Notice that in some areas your information is consistent within systems and in other areas there are differences.
Ideally, with your master outline structure you want to create at least three or four outline levels. The first level will be the primary categories of information. Your primary categories could relate to the company organization chart, your department organization chart, your primary areas of responsibility, associations, or major projects. Sometimes the primary categories are a combination of all those. Take a look at the list you created earlier, and highlight the primary categories that seem to be common throughout all your systems. Ideally, you should have 10–15 primary categories, but this number can vary from job to job.
After you have created your primary categories, you need to think about how you want to subcategorize each of them. Here are the standard ways in which to subcategorize information:
By subject—Documents are arranged by subject name or category, similar to topics in phone directories and in libraries.
By name/Alphabetical—Documents are alphabetically arranged by names. For example, this could be names of clients, suppliers, or employees.
Geographically—Documents are arranged by geographic location, such as by continent, regional area, country, state, county, or city.
Numerically—Documents are arranged by numerical order. This could be by an assigned job number, an invoice number, a project number, a client number, or an employee or Social Security number.
Chronologically—Documents are arranged by date order. This can be done by annual or fiscal year, by month, by quarter, or by date.
When determining how you want to subcategorize, consider first how you want to access your information. Which topic, name, or word do you first think of when you are looking for that piece of data? For example, assume you have a primary category called Clients that contains all your client information. When you need to access client information, you might first identify clients by the state where they’re located, then the name of the company, and then maybe the type of project you did for them. So, your primary category would be Clients, the second tier would be by geographic region or state, the third tier would be by name or company name, and the fourth tier would be by subject or project name. The subcategorization you choose will be different for each primary category.
Figure 3.1 Here is an example of an outline of a filing structure, used to indicate how you currently organize your data with paper, email, electronic files, and reference material. You will use this information to help develop your master outline structure.
When planning your subcategory structure, look at the paper and electronic filing structures in your own office and company. Ask your colleagues how they organize certain categories. You might discover a way to subcategorize that you had not thought of before. You also might want to be consistent with your office structure and create subcategories based on the officewide system.
For the most part, when you purge data, you do so because it is outdated. Thus, when possible and applicable, try to subcategorize data by years. This helps you in the future to purge outdated data very quickly without sorting through individual files and documents. It also makes archiving electronic data much easier.
Drafting an Outline
Below is a sample master outline. Yours will vary depending on your business and job. In some cases, the primary categories in the sample structure might be subcategories under a different primary category you have created. If you feel you don’t have enough information to create a second level, try to determine how, if the data increased in size, you would want to subcategorize it. This helps you in the future as you accumulate more data within that particular category. Some categories don’t require a third or fourth level. Determine levels based on the data you receive and the way you use that data.
In later chapters we discuss how you can customize your master outline structure to each of your information systems such as paper, email, electronic, and your contact database. For right now, though, you are just thinking of all your data as one world of data and developing the structure as if it were all in one big pile in the same form.
Here's a sample you can refer to when drafting your own master outline. In this example, each item is preceded by a number that represents its level within the outline structure:
1: Administration (second tier by subject)
2: Staff Meetings (third tier by year)
3: 2003 Staff Meetings
3: 2004 Staff Meetings
2: Policies and Procedures
1: Clients/ Customers (second tier by client name)
2: Company A (third tier by project number)
3: Project 1
3: Project 2
2: Company B
2: Company C
1: Financial (second tier by subject)
2: Budgets (third tier by fiscal year)
3: 2003 Budgets
3: 2004 Budgets
2: Sales Projections (third tier by annual year)
3: 2004 Sales Projections (fourth tier by month)
4: January 2004
4: February 2004
1: Marketing (second tier by subject)
2: Marketing Material
1: Personnel/HR (second tier by person's name)
1: Personal Information (second tier by subject)
2: Awards and Recognition
2: Health and Medical
2: Performance Reviews
2: Résumé and Recommendation Letters
1: Press and Media (second tier by fiscal year)
1: Projects (second tier by project number)
2: #111 (third tier by subject of project components)
3: Statement of Work
1: Reference (second tier by subject)
2: Budgets and Financial Reference
2: Leadership and Management Reference
2: Travel Reference
2: Trends in Industry Reference
Organizing principle number one—consolidation—is a key factor in moving into one world of data. Ideally, you need to consolidate all your existing data into one location. This will help you in the organizing process.
You might have electronic files on your personal C drive, floppy disks, CD-ROMs, and the shared server system. To make your electronic data easier to manage, consolidate all your data onto one drive before you begin to organize it.
The same consolidation is recommended with your email. You might have multiple accounts with different Internet service providers that you check in two different email programs. Consolidate by managing multiple email accounts from within the same email program. Microsoft Outlook, in particular, can be set up to receive multiple email accounts to be downloaded into one central inbox. This consolidation can save time and avoid the hassle of needing to check two different accounts in different email programs.
Paper files have a tendency to become fragmented because you have one paper system that is outdated and has not been purged in a few years, one paper system that was left by your predecessor, and one paper system that is current information. Ideally, it is best if you consolidate all three systems in one area and file system.