Organizing Your Content Means Cleaning Out the Junk

But before you start storing every last piece of information you have, ask yourself if it’s really something you need. Just because you can save and store almost limitless amounts of content, doesn’t mean you should. 

I am willing to bet that if you look at your organization closely, the vast amount of content you create is used once or twice and then languishes forever, much of it forgotten by everyone except the author (and occasionally even him/her!).

You need to be smart about what information you keep and how you keep it. With that in mind, I offer a three step process to streamlining and organizing your content.

1. Clean Out the Junk

First things first, clean out the old junk. Accept that some of that information you're holding onto is just crap. It was useful once, but now it’s just taking up space on your hard drive, fileshare or in your Office 365 document libraries. So take some time to establish what you have, then organize it into three to four piles:

  1. Important to keep close.
  2. Important to keep.
  3. Should retain a copy just in case (i.e., archive it).
  4. Time to junk.

Decide what your rules are for each pile and start sorting. The key is to throw away (or archive) the content that is old and unused. The difference between archive and throw away is something you need to decide, but be realistic -- why do you need to keep a copy if it’s not important?

In the end, less clutter makes it easier for people to find the information they actually need. Despite the ability of computers to disseminate and classify content, it’s still nearly impossible to find something useful when you are presented with thousands of pages of options.

Plus, think about how much better you’ll feel when you clean out the junk. It’s liberating.

2. Forget About the Portal for Storage

Portals are a great way to collaborate and share content, and even to store key pieces of information, but using it as a repository for all of your content -- especially duplicate content that exists elsewhere -- results in it being cluttered, difficult to navigate and eventually, ignored by others.

By portals, I am referring to all the different tools where you share content and work on it as a team. This could be Office 365 SharePoint, or some other tool. It could even be your OneDrive for Business account (although technically not a portal).

You can store a lot of content in these locations, but what tends to happen is you drop something in without thinking about how to best organize for findability. Then you share it with others. After the document is finished, it’s used in some way -- for projects, for case management type processes, and so on.

Once the project is over, or the case is completed, the content is no longer required for active use. Go back to step one and clean it out: archive the key documents and get rid of the junk. If you still need to keep the information close, drop it in your “Important to Keep" pile. All I ask is that you don’t use your portal as permanent storage for all your content.

3. Classify and Tag the Important Stuff

I have spoken about how important taxonomy is in your SharePoint/Office 365 environment. While computer classification and search algorithms have come a long way, there's no replacement for you classifying your own content.

You know your content the best. You know what you created it for and why. Ensure you are tagging it based on that knowledge, because it will make all the difference in finding what you need when navigating the mounds of information. Plus, if someone takes the time to apply metadata to the content, it’s a pretty good indication that content is important.

There are many ways you can classify and tag your content. Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Know what content you have now that needs to be classified.
  • Bring together a team to decide on the taxonomy and ensure that everyone understands it. If you don’t take the time to explain the classification structure/tagging rules, no one will follow and you might wind up with a big mess. Don’t make it complicated.
  • Understand how content is used across the organization. Information shouldn’t be siloed, it should be made available to anyone who can benefit from it. So when you are defining classification/tagging structures, take its organizational flow into consideration.
  • Accept that your structures and rules might change over time and be prepared to adapt. Find a good tool that will help you do that easily, otherwise you’ll never do it.

If, after cleaning out your content, you find you still have a ton of information you want to keep, you might feel disillusioned to go through a classification process -- there’s just too much to look at.

Here’s a suggestion -- start with the most important content. That’s why I suggest having two important piles of content -- the stuff you need now and the stuff you just need. If you focus on dealing with the most important content, you have a better chance of getting a good classification/tagging routine happening. Look at the other important stuff later on.

There you have it -- three steps to getting organized. It starts with getting rid of the junk and ends with organizing the most important content you need today. This is something we regularly encourage clients to do, as well as our own team. I’d be interested to hear if you have any other ideas to help people get organized quickly.

Title image by Richard Thornton /