Modern Life

How to keep work, school, and home life organized and secure

When everyone is at home, getting your house in order means new ideas for separating and safeguarding your documents and information.

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg — January 21, 2021

When COVID-19 forced her classes to go remote, Austin, Texas-based pastry chef instructor Ellen Sternau scrambled to learn how to use an online learning management system to teach her classes, while also juggling a new digital platform for her daughters’ virtual learning. It’s been a blur of keeping track of student IDs, new iPad passwords, virtual assignments —  for both her pastry students and her own kids — plus other important paperwork for work, school, and everyday life. 

“It’s so hard to keep up with everything,” Sternau says.

For many of us, our lives are colliding not only in the same physical space, but on the same devices, creating a scenario in which important files can get lost in the digital shuffle, and sensitive information could be put at risk at a time when no one needs one more challenge to manage.

The sheer volume of files to wrangle as work, school, and home life overlap can be overwhelming for even the most organized among us, as about 42% of the US workforce continues to be fully remote and 65% of students are attending school online.

“Sometimes you don’t realize that not having things organized can add another layer of stress in what’s been in a challenging time,” says Alex Brzozowski, CEO of Be Organizing, a San Diego-based company that specializes in digital organizing.

Coming up with a better filing system, securing your documents, or even downsizing your digital photos, can make a difference, and taking a few steps to rein in some of the digital and physical clutter can make our new reality of a blended work, school, and home life more manageable. Here are a few ideas on how to keep the documents, photos, and data scattered across multiple platforms more organized and secure.

Mom and daughter looking at photos printed by HP.

Courtesy of HP

Consider printing digital photos taking up space on your devices into objects you can enjoy off screen, like coffee mugs, calendars, and photo books.

Keep digital spaces and physical supplies separate

To prevent everyone’s digital lives from blurring together, set up different user profiles on shared devices, particularly for students who need to access many of their classroom activities with their student or school profiles. Create work zones for everyone working and learning from home, with the supplies, resources, and documents they need stored near their space. “I believe in designated spaces — everything has a home,” says Leslie Appelbaum, senior stylist and organizer at the home organizing business Tidyhaus, in Los Angeles. Use a rolling supply cart, storage bin, or basket for each child’s school supplies and books. To cut down on clutter, invest in a pair of wireless headphones, a home charging station like the Vogek 5-Port Charging Station, and an inexpensive paper shredder to protect private or work-related information before recycling. To manage multiple chargers and cords, consider a cord management box.

Get more from your printer

For important files and documents, print out hard copies as a backup. That way, if anything happens to the digital version, you can re-create it. An HP survey found that 69% of families are printing more at home during the pandemic. 

“I have a filebox where I keep all of my important papers,” says Houston, Texas, attorney Mike Higgins, who uses his HP ENVY 5055 printer and scanner to preserve documents. With two daughters learning virtually and Higgins also working from home, the family has blown through ink the last few months, and he’s considered subscribing to an ink subscription service like Instant Ink from HP, which delivers ink to your door before you run out. HP+, a new offering from HP, combines HP Instant Ink with HP printers and the HP Smart App, letting you print remotely from virtually anywhere on any device, and includes a private pick-up feature that prints documents only when you’re near the printer, so multiple family members or roommates can keep their documents separate.

“Not having things organized can add another layer of stress in what’s been in a challenging time.”

—Alex Brzozowski, CEO, Be Organizing

File it first, so you can find it later

Set up a clear, consistent filing system and make a habit of filing important documents the first time you look at them. Brzozowski recommends keeping one small bin of crucial personal and professional physical documents, and having the rest virtual, backed up by an external hard drive and a cloud service. She sets up physical files in alphabetical order to make it easier to access documents. “But you have to create the filing system that works for you,” she says. When choosing folder names for your computer files, pick the first name that comes to you to make it easier to locate files when you need them. “Some people overthink it,” says Brzozowski, and end up with duplicate folders when they can’t locate the one they’re looking for. “I say, the simpler, the better.” You can also tag digital files with keywords to make it easier to search for them.

Bringing back the fax

While it’s easy to manage many business tasks from home, the Wi-Fi at home typically isn’t as secure as business networks. Instead of emailing documents that could be intercepted, small businesses or employees who send a lot of signed documents and contracts can turn to mobile scanning and faxing for added security. You don’t even need a separate fax machine to do so. The HP Smart app, for example, allows you to send a secure fax using your mobile device or your computer. HP research shows that 3 million faxes were sent from the HP Smart app in 2020.

Dad and son carrying plastic containers to organize their home.

Getty Images

As our time spent at home remains indefinite, keeping our spaces organized and clean is key.

Turn digital photos into physical keepsakes

Use a service like Shutterfly, Snapfish, or Popsa to turn the digital photos taking up space on your devices into objects you can enjoy off screen, like coffee mugs, calendars, and photo books. You can also help cut down on the number of digital photos you’re storing by periodically going through your pictures and deleting duplicates or pictures that aren’t essential to hold onto. For the digital photos you are storing, a photo cloud storage service like Google Photos makes it easier to find photos when they’re grouped by year, or even by person or subject. You can also change the settings on your smartphone so that photos are automatically backed up.

Safeguard your privacy

Use a service like LastPass to securely manage multiple passwords. HP laptops like the HP Spectre x360 13 come with a free trial of LastPass to make it easy to manage passwords from day one. If you’re worried about your webcam and hackers, some computers come with a webcam kill switch, which cuts the power to your laptop webcam and makes it inaccessible to hackers. HP’s Spectre x360 15 has a webcam kill switch and a mic mute button to help you control when your computer can “hear” you. When it comes to keeping video chats secure, always make sure you have the most up-to-date software installed. If you’re using a service like Zoom, you can use its Lock Meeting option to make sure no uninvited guests sneak in.

Getting used to a new filing or password system or enhancing your security can take time, and if you don’t get everything in order in a weekend or even this month, that’s OK. Brzozowski says the best way to approach getting organized without getting overwhelmed is to do a little bit each day. Take five minutes every day to clean up your desktop, empty your downloads folder, or create folders for different digital files. “Every step gives you mind space,” she says. “And some progress is better than no progress.”

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