Nothing kills productivity like digital clutter. It’s way too easy to lose an afternoon down the digital rabbit hole. Here are 5 ways to get that time back!
Digital Clutter Hinders Productivity
Most people can’t work well in a cluttered space. Eliminating physical clutter and creating a cozy and inspiring workspace is a great way to get more done, but there’s one aspect of clutter that often gets overlooked: digital clutter.
In this day and age, most aspects of our lives are digital. We store so much information on our computers and smartphones, and online. It’s just as easy to let our digital space become overwhelmed and disorganized, and it’s just as important to regularly clean it out if we want to be productive.
1. Start with your Inbox
Most of us clean out our physical mailboxes every day, and your email inbox should be no different. It’s likely that your email inbox sees much more use than your physical mailbox, and can become cluttered much more quickly. According to a study the Radicati Group published in 2015, the average person with a business email account receives 94 emails per day. No wonder it’s so easy to get backlogged and overwhelmed.
If you have a huge backlog of unread emails, the first step is to delete everything that isn’t essential. If you’ve been letting emails build up for months, it’s unlikely that you’re going to read and respond to them anytime soon. Start by getting rid of everything that’s more than 30 days old. Unless it’s important financial information or some other essential communication, delete it. You’ll immediately feel better.
Another good tip is to stay on top of new emails as they come in. Take time every day to respond to anything that will take less than five minutes to reply. Some responses will take longer, so set aside time on a specific day of the week where you reply to those emails.
You should also designate time to unsubscribe from newsletters, promotional emails, marketing emails, etc. It seems like every time you purchase something online, a slew of emails will follow. Prevent future email build up by unsubscribing from everything that you don’t care about or don’t want to see. It may take some time initially but will save you time in the long run.
2. Move on from Old Files
The next step in cleaning up digital clutter is to take a hard look at your files: documents, photos, videos, downloads, etc. Hanging onto files you no longer use doesn’t just make it harder to find what you need; it also takes up space on your hard drive and slows down the performance of your computer. An easy place to start is with eliminating duplicate files. From there, move on from anything you no longer use or need. If you don’t want to get rid of it completely, but don’t anticipate using it anytime soon, consider moving it to an external hard drive. This will cut down on the amount of stuff you have to sort through each day and free up some storage space on your device.
3. Uninstall old Programs
Chances are good that your computer came with dozens of programs already installed, and you’ve likely added to that number. While you’re doing your digital purge, take the time to uninstall any outdated software or programs that you no longer use. If you haven’t accessed it in the last year, chances are good that you don’t need it.
4. Clean up your Desktop
This might be a personal pet peeve, but it makes me instantly anxious to see a desktop littered with icons. I hate, hate a messy desktop. Every program on your computer can be accessed via another menu, (Start on Windows, Launchpad on Mac), so you probably don’t need a desktop shortcut.
Personally, I prefer to keep my desktop entirely free of icons. I pin my most-used programs to my taskbar at the bottom, and I don’t have anything on my desktop except the recycle bin. I know that system isn’t for everyone, but even if you do like desktop shortcuts, limit them to the programs you use most often. It can also be helpful to group the icons by type or by frequency of use, i.e., Microsoft Office programs together in one section, games in another section.
5: Don’t Skip your Smartphone
Digital clutter doesn’t just happen on your computer. Most of us use our smartphones for everything, which means that digital clutter extends there as well.
A good place to start on your smartphone is with your photos folder. Personally, I’m a screenshot maniac. I tend to snap photos of anything that catches my eye. Often, those photos are only relevant to something I’m doing at that moment, and I won’t ever need them again. If I don’t take the time every few months to sort through and delete them, I’ll end up with a backlog of thousands of photographs.
Smartphone clutter doesn’t end with photographs, either. What about the apps you downloaded but never opened? The music you don’t listen to anymore? All those notes you wrote for yourself? There’s probably a lot of stuff you don’t use taking up space on your device.
Keep up the Fight Against Clutter
If you’ve been allowing your digital clutter to build up for a while, it may take some time to get it back under control. Once you do, it’s important that you keep it up. Devoting a few minutes each week to clearing out some digital clutter will help you feel calmer and keep you at maximum productivity.