Organizing Passwords, PII and Email

As I prepare to start a new job on Monday, the first new job I’ll have started for more than seven years (God, please don’t let me get beaten up behind the bike sheds on my first day!), I’ve been making an effort to organize the detritus of my online life.

Loyal readers of this blog—if indeed such emotionally troubled individuals are currently blessed with reading privileges in the various jailhouses and detention centers they occupy—will recall my inaugural post about a password manager application I’ve been using called 1Password, made by a Canadian software company called AgileBits. As the name “1Password” suggests, the (IMO truly magnificent) app allows you to create one strong, memorable password that gives you access to a database into which you can enter all your other Web site log-in credentials, the passwords for which can be as strong and unmemorable as you wish. As if this functionality were not useful enough, the app also gives you the ability to log in to your favorite Web sites automatically, which in effect frees you from the very 21st-century hassle of entering slight variants of the same credentials into Web-based log-in forms time after tedious time.

In more recent days I’ve also been exploring some of 1Password’s additional capabilities, such as the way it allows you to store personal information (e.g., bank account, credit card and driver’s license information), in what the app calls “Wallet items.” Given my increasing reliance on the Web for performing financial and commercial transactions, having this information stored centrally in such a fashion has been proving pretty useful. Now, for instance, I don’t have to search my coat pockets for my actual wallet whenever I need my credit card for Turnov’s Small and Short men’s shop, a card whose number, expiry date and security code have escaped—or indeed have never been stored in—my memory. This liberating upshot is all the more satisfying given the numerous types of coat I’ve had to wear this winter here in the environs of Alexandria, Va., where the weather has been changing as much as a chameleon with multiple personality disorder in a dressing room.

To turn to, or at least look askance at, the subject of email organization, I’ve also been striving to exert a measure of control over my hitherto untamed Gmail inbox. This effort has necessitated creating a large number of labels and a not small number of filters. I now have as many as 17 top-level labels for my received mail, each of which has sub-labels that allow for more specific content characterization. Without wishing to give you too much insight into my personal life, here are the top-level labels I’ve settled on to-date:

  • Banking
  • Car (“Pollution-Spewing Heap of Rust” would be more accurate)
  • Credit Cards
  • Entertainment
  • Health & Fitness (just the one email under this label so far)
  • Home
  • Insurance
  • Investments
  • Local Government
  • Meetups (nice to get out of Chez Smith from time to time)
  • Personal
  • Personal Finance
  • Shopping
  • Taxes (would “Death and Taxes” last longer?)
  • Travel & Transit
  • Web Services
  • Work

Readers who take their mobility for granted might argue that going to such organizational lengths as these evinces a certain anal-retentiveness in me. And while I wouldn’t render them entirely unable to walk for arguing this way, I would suggest that if the feeling one gets from having an organized inbox is preferable to the feeling one gets from having a disorganized inbox, then the better feeling alone justifies the effort one has made in organizing it. So there, with highly polished brass knobs on!

In conclusion, I think “personal information architecture” projects like these will increase in importance as our weird, wired world becomes more data-centric and IT-reliant. Instead of finishing with a supposition, however, I’ll finish with a question: Do you—my loyal, incarcerated readers—attempt to organize your inboxes? Or do you allow them to grow untamed, like the tangled hair of an aging hippie?

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