business space with a messy and cluttered desktop

What is a typical day for you like?

Like most people, you probably spend eight hours working behind a computer. When you are on your break, chances are you are constantly checking your email or updates in social media via your smartphone.

Exercise is a great way to de-stress and what could be better than a run with your favorite tunes blaring in your ears? It was a good thing “Eye of the Tiger” was available for download at the iTunes Store.

It’s nighttime and you want to take your significant other out to dinner. Where to eat? No problem! All you need to do is access Yelp.

If you belong to the 33% of the population, you probably check your smartphone while tucked away in bed. A study by Deloitte showed that 1 in 3 check people their phones in the middle of the night.

You may not be aware of it but your online behavior is causing a build up of digital clutter; the habit of acquiring more and more information that will ultimately serve its purpose, becomes irrelevant and useless. If you don’t get rid of digital clutter, technology will become a hindrance, not an assistance, to life and work.

How Digital Clutter Impacts Productivity

Technology is a wonderful thing. It makes everything easier and more convenient to do. People who were born in the 1960’s still remember the days using the typewriter, calculator and the fax machine. Today you can do everything on a device that will fit the palm of your hand.

But digital clutter can make it seem like the 1960’s all over again. Your productivity can be weighed down by time wasters such as looking for files, clearing out irrelevant email and working with a slowed down computer.

And let’s not forget the distractions caused by social media. People who spend too much time on social media often feel like being in a digital prison: They just have to post.

Digital clutter can lead to a cluttered life. Instead of making everything easier, technology becomes the root cause of non-productivity and stress. The good news is digital clutter is a relatively simple matter to fix.

5 Ways to Simplify Digital Clutter

Take note that we used the word “relative” in our previous statement. If you want to get rid of digital clutter, you must want to make it happen. All you need is to take that all-important first step: Clear out all the clutter.

1. Clear Out Stuff You Don’t Need

If you’ve ever caught an episode of the riveting reality show “Hoarders”, the first step toward addressing hoarding behavior is for the patient to clear out stuff he or she no longer needs.

Are you a digital hoarder?

Your desktop, laptop or tablet could be packed with files, apps and programs that you no longer use. It will be harder to find the documents you need especially if you can’t remember the filename.

Digital clutter will also eat up precious memory and present a security risk. Unused or under-utilized apps especially those that have not been updated can leave your computer vulnerable to hacking.

Where should you start?

  • Email – According to Statista, 39% of Americans check their emails 1 to 3 times a day. This high engagement rate with email is one reason we are constantly bombarded with marketing content, junk correspondence, “phishing” expeditions and malware disguised as innocent communication. If you don’t clear out your inbox of useless email, it will use up your memory, complicate organization efforts and expose you to threats of hacking. Delete or file emails that you have already read, those from people you don’t know and suspicious messages in your Spam folder.
  • Music – The Internet has made it easy to put together an album of songs you grew up with and those that motivate you to work out. But while the classics will survive the test of time, your tastes probably won’t. “Eye of the Tiger” may have gotten you riled up for a 5k run but when was the last time you listened to it? The same goes for your compilation of “Hall and Oates” 1980’s hits. Clear out your hard drive with songs you hardly listen to so you can make space for new sources of inspiration.
  • Pictures and Videos – The saying goes that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. It’s great to share experiences with others and re-live the good times. But you should learn to let go of the past so you can move forward and create new experiences. And what about images that were poorly shot or out of focus? You will not be able to appreciate the images so there is no reason to feel attached to them. The same can be said about videos. Yes, “Ninja Cat” was funny and cute but the cat has grown up and so should your taste. After all with the Internet, it is easy to find old videos and images whenever you get that nostalgic feeling. Delete pictures and videos that no longer have value and store the rest in a file or a separate drive.
  • Apps and Programs – It’s easy to get caught up with the latest apps because we want to make life and work more convenient. If you believe the statistics, the Apple App Store grows by 1,000 new apps every day. This means your latest discovery today can be rendered obsolete by tomorrow. Apps need to be updated regularly and this will be hard to do if you have too many to keep track of. Remove apps that you no longer use to save memory and to protect your computer from hackers. Remember, hackers can use your stored apps as a conduit for their malicious attacks and target your mobile device or PC.
  • Social Media – When you are working, shut off all your social media accounts. The last thing you want while finalizing a report would be to receive notifications from Messenger. As a matter of fact, you don’t have to open an account in every social media platform. If you are using social media to market your business, choose only two networks that are relevant to your trade. It is easier to manage and you don’t have to deal with additional sources of distraction.

 2. Organize Your Files

Once you’ve cleared out the clutter, organize the rest of the files that you have decided to save. Organizing even on the digital level can be challenging especially if you haven’t done this before.

But with a few simple steps, any beginner should have an easy time arranging his or her files in the most efficient and effective way possible.

Here are 3 simple tips you can use to straighten out your PC or mobile device:

  • Create folders for your personal files and then break them down into sub-directories.

For example, you can create a file name “Family” and then have “Birthdays”, “Christmas”, “Vacation” and “Special Events” as sub-directories. You can further distinguish each sub-directory by another sub-directory such as by year. So for “Family” it could be Vacation/2015/Puerto Rico.

  • You can store your files in your hard drive or “C” drive but if for some reason you computer gets infected, everything could be damaged beyond recovery.

Consider storing your files in a removable drive or on a Cloud-Based platform such as DropBox which has high levels of encryption for data security.

  • If you decide on storing your files in your PC desktop, arrange the folders from left to right because this is the normal orientation for reading. Start out with the most important or frequently viewed folders or documents.

It is a good idea to scan and save important files and documents onto these cloud based platforms. Your business registration papers, marriage and birth certificates should be at the top of your list.

3. Use Online Tools

The Internet is ripe with tools you can use to minimize digital clutter and improve productivity. We already presented DropBox as one of these online tools that can be effective for organizing your files and keeping them safe. Here are a few others you can consider:

  • Evernote – This is primarily a note- taking application. But it is packed with features that will make organization a breeze. If you want to learn more about Evernote, you can click to our article “How to Organize Life and Work with Evernote”.
  • Password Manager Programs – If you are like most people who have so many online accounts to manage, you might occasionally encounter some difficulty remembering the username and password to access websites you hardly use. Enter the password manager program which will keep track of all the passwords and usernames you use. You can learn more about password manager programs in our article “Why You Need a Password Manager Now”.
  • Google Drive – This is an effective way of organizing the work you do for different clients. Simply create a folder per client and store all the work you’ve done for each. Then send individual links to each client.
  • Asana – Asana is one of the best project management tools you can use. It is a great way to keep track of current projects and to ensure everybody on your team is on the same page. Other good project management tools you can consider are SalesForce and WebEx.
  • Skype, Slack or Viber –  Communication is an important component of every business. In order to reduce the risk of mistakes or misunderstandings, it is a good idea to frequently stay in touch with your people.

But using traditional phone services will be expensive. It would be more cost effective to use one an online communication tool that has chat and calling features. Skype, Slack and Viber are very popular, easy to install and best of all, free!

4. Patronize Online Services

Today you can transact with almost any service provider online. You can do online banking, pay your utility bills or update public records. As much as possible, use these online services so you can reduce your usage of paper.

Phone companies send your monthly statement online via email. You can pay your bill through their website or PayPal. It is simpler, easier and without the inconvenience of having to drive to the bank.

There is no need to keep paper records. In case you have to, you can simply print out the scanned copy that is usually attached on the email or request for one from the service provider.

5. Clean Your Web Browser

Since you are migrating most of your work or activity online, you will be using your web browser extensively. Bookmarking is an efficient way of accessing websites that you frequently visit.

Make it a point to clean your web browser of links that are no longer relevant. It will be easier to find the websites that you need to use when there is less to scroll through.

Conclusion

As the world becomes increasingly dependent on mobile technology, more people are spending more time online than ever before. We are searching, processing and consuming information at a rate that will only rise exponentially over the next five years.

Collecting data becomes second nature. We don’t give much thought on creating systems that will organize files, documents and apps because as far as we know, “it’s just there somewhere.”

Yup, just like the other argyle sock you found under the pile of unused workout wear. The argyle sock you were looking for a week ago.

If unmitigated, our practice of constantly acquiring data will lead to digital clutter which could be just as bad; or maybe worse, than physical clutter.

We hope we gave you valuable insights on managing digital clutter in your life. Do you have other tips you want to share to our readers? Please feel free to post your comments in the section below.

If you want to learn how to use technology to organize everything you need to do at home and at the office, please do not hesitate to give us a call or an email.