If your daily life is hectic, start calming it down by organizing your workspace--with the help of our tips for Gmail and desktop search, among others. Whether you need to neaten up your PC desktop or the actual top of your desk, here are some simple things you can do to make things tidy, searchable, and in sync.
Manage Multiple E-Mail Accounts in the Gmail Interface
Most folks have accumulated a handful of e-mail addresses that they are not prepared to stop checking altogether. If you're a Gmail user, Google's e-mail app is particularly adept at consolidating several e-mail addresses so that you don't have to log in to five different accounts every day. You can either set up your other accounts to forward all incoming mail to your Gmail account or use Gmail's "Get mail from other accounts" feature to automatically import every message you receive to your centralized inbox. Gmail even permits you to use it to send e-mail on behalf of your other, non-Gmail addresses.
If you prefer to do things the Microsoft way, Microsoft Windows Live Hotmail offers much of the same functionality as Gmail, but in an interface that's the spitting image of Outlook.
Use Google Sync Tools to Manage PCs and Phones
If you have a smartphone, a desktop PC, and a laptop or netbook, that amounts to at least three different places where you might want to add an appointment to your calendar, edit your contacts, or access an important file without worrying about keeping all your data in sync. Google to the rescue again! If you're managing your days in Google Calendar and keeping track of your contacts in Google's Contacts application, Google Mobile Sync provides two-way, wireless synchronization of your calendar and contacts. Microsoft Outlook users should check out Google Calendar Sync for the same two-way calendar sync. Finally, if syncing up a folder's worth of files is important to you, look at Dropbox, a free service that syncs up to 2GB of data between any number of computers, the Internet, and even your iPhone or iPod Touch.
Find Any File on Your PC With Desktop Search
Even if you have organized every last file on your PC, you're still bound to lose something in the digital haystack every now and again. You could go the obvious desktop-search route with Google Desktop, or if you're running Vista you can just use the built-in Instant Search functionality. But we're going to stray from the beaten path a little and suggest Everything, a free, no-nonsense desktop search app that finds files on your desktop as you type, with lightning speed.
Scan Paper and Unclutter Your Home Office
Effort: Initially high, minimal over time
Cost: $350 (at press time)
Your home office is a haven for all your pet projects and personal finances, but it's useless if you can't find anything under a giant stack of papers. To remedy that, take a two-step approach: Toss out all the junk, and then scan and file or shred the rest.
An intelligent sheet-fed scanner such as the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 can handle large stacks of paper in a range of sizes and turn any text on a page into a searchable PDF file on your PC. Just gather up all the papers that are multiplying on your desk, toss them into the scanner, and press the scan button. The next time you need to find a particular receipt or invoice, for instance, simply search your computer (see "Find Any File on Your PC With Desktop Search," above). You get the surface of your desk back, and you may never have to rummage through a creaky file cabinet again.
Untangle Your Cables
Have you followed the tip above to clear away paper clutter? Great. Your desk would look perfect now if not for the ugly cables running from every gadget you own to its respective power supply. IKEA sells an inexpensive cord basket that's ideal for hiding your cables. Just screw it in, unplug your gear, and put everything back together one cord at a time, tucking each cable into the basket.
Similarly, you can set up a charging station for your cell phone, MP3 player, and other gadgets, either by using your own ingenuity or by purchasing a dedicated product like the Kingston Charging Valet.
(Illustrations by Greg Clarke)