Digital Declutter: 12 Step Process for a Tidy Digital Space
Contrary to popular thought, a cluttered desk is likely a sign of laziness, not of genius. The same is true for digital desks and workspaces.
Did you notice that you spend a bit longer online these days? Are you knocking yourself on the head over being distracted by old and unnecessary files on your computer? According to clinical psychologist Dr. Scott Bea, a messy workspace becomes a problem if it is impeding your productivity.
When this happens, you need to perform a major digital declutter.
What Is Digital Decluttering?
Digital decluttering is a simple method that helps you organize your digital workspace. This includes your computer and online accounts, basically every wired or online space that you use for work and play.
Information is cheap. Every day, there is a boundless volume of data coming at you—some you keep, some you use. The truth is that most people don’t organize things properly. This is where digital declutter comes into play.
Clutter isn’t just too much of a bad thing. Too much of a good thing can also clog up your digital life. Switching between browsers for no reason when one works just fine can count as cluttering. Another example is using multiple employee monitoring apps—rather than a single excellent one—just because you can.
How Do You Declutter?
Decluttering your digital space is easy. It requires you to do four things:
● Do an overview of everything in the digital space.
● Remove any and everything you don’t need.
● Rearrange and organize what is left.
● Make a habit of monitoring, cleaning, and reorganizing your files.
The key to effective decluttering is to adhere to these four steps in every extension of your digital universe.
Decluttering Personal and Work Computers
Computers have become an indispensable work assistant and tool for entertainment. However, your PC can quickly turn to a digital basement where useful and unnecessary things are randomly thrown together.
Folders are flexible extensions and file holders. Because of their nature, it is easy to create as many of them as you like.
You must make a practice of keeping a fixed number of folders for everything. The typical computer designs default folders for documents, audio files, pictures, and videos. You can choose to use these.
Routinely check the number of folders on your desktop. If there are more than ten, you need to do some trimming.
Keep Root Folders to a Minimum
It is fine to have folders within folders, but the number of ‘root’ folders is the most crucial at this point. This is where the default organization of folders is helpful. You can simply keep all your documents inside the Document folder, the music files inside the Music folder, and so on.
If you are someone who spends a lot of time working with documents, you might need to personalize your folders. Some people create two root folders: one for personal use and the other for work.
However, keeping your work files/folders inside one master folder is the sensible thing to do. You can easily navigate to this folder when you need to work on something. This saves you from wasting time, not to mention the frustration and headache that comes from rummaging through your PC for a specific file.
Use the Eisenhower Matrix
Within the personal and work root folders, you can create another organization scheme based on priority or purpose. Based on the Eisenhower Matrix, this method lets you categorize folders according to priority:
1. Important and urgent files
2. Important but not urgent files
3. Unimportant but urgent files
4. Unimportant but not urgent files
The underlying principle for this organization is based on relative importance and urgency. So, important and urgent files go into one folder, while unimportant and urgent files go into another. You can create another folder for the miscellaneous: important but non-urgent under one folder, and unimportant and nonurgent under another.
You’re going to have more files than folders on your computer. This cannot be helped. Files are ‘smaller’ and a million of them can be kept inside one folder.
Some people declutter their digital space by organizing their files based on file type. This is not a very good method since there are too many file types. It is far more practical to organize your files based on purpose.
Name Files Efficiently
When it comes to conducting a digital declutter, you need to know the importance of efficient file naming.
Due to the changeability of files, you can name your files whatever you want. Most of the time, this is exactly what we do. Now, because we want to get things done right away, we don’t give enough thought to choosing good names for our files.
‘List of things to get at the mall’ is a better file name than ‘To-do list 2.’ The first is more specific and infinitely better for you. So, change all those filenames that read like encryption codes to fit the actual content of the file.
Naming your files this way will help you maintain a proper and effective organization scheme. It is only after you have renamed your files appropriately that you should reorganize them into suitable folders.
Check Your Files
Don’t forget to carry out reconnaissance. Check all the files in your user folders and delete the dispensable ones.
Some of these would carry the designation ‘File.’ Away with them. They are usually duplicates of other files or extensions that are no longer necessary.
The next step is to reorganize the remaining files. This is where the priority and purpose organization scheme comes into play again.
Keep work files in the work folder. Remember the important-urgent scale. Systematically fix your files into these folders.
Desktops and Downloads
At one time or another, we have all used our desktop folders as the location for downloads. It is just easier to reach these files. The flipside is it messes up your desktop.
The desktop interface can only allow so many downloaded documents, music files, and photos. This is where a digital declutter brings out the best of your computer—and you.
If you don’t want to use the default Downloads folder, you can create a different folder solely for downloads. Here again, you can organize your downloads into subfolders for personal usage and work. From there, perform a ‘rinse and repeat’ of the steps for decluttering folders.
Sort the Folders and Files
Sorting your Downloads folders and files is an effective way to reorganize them. If the names are a mess, sort by time or date. This way, you will be able to categorize your folders and files based on when you got them.
Have a Download Folder on Your Desktop
You can keep your downloads in a new folder on your Desktop. This way, aside from the Work and Personal Folders on the Desktop, you will also have a Downloads folder.
This minimalist style will make it extremely easy for you to find and keep files where they should be. This also means that the next time you switch on your computer, you won’t be welcomed by a cluttered mess of forcefully condensed file and folder icons.
Like the Desktop folder, a cluttered taskbar is the root of much annoyance. The lag that comes from trying to pinpoint a particular program or file can drive anyone crazy. So, you need to make a digital cluttering checklist for your taskbar.
Although the taskbar cannot contain as many programs as we want quick access to, this has never stopped us. Whether the computer runs on Windows or macOS, you can have as many as 20 program, folder, and file shortcuts on your taskbar.
This is not good. It can be an eyesore, even if you organized the items by name. So, keep as few as necessary.
Cal Newport, the voice on Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, argues that having too many tasks is not the same as being productive. In the same way, a taskbar with all your computer programs is not very helpful.
So, reorganize. Remove shortcuts to programs that you don’t use all the time and keep only the essentials. After all, they are only shortcuts.
Clean Your PC
Most recent PCs come with 1 terabyte or more of storage, and this is a good thing because media and project files keep getting bigger. When you delete files you no longer want, they can remain on your computer until you permanently remove them.
Empty your Recycle Bin as often as possible. Use default programs/services to clear out unneeded files and folders.
There are many programs that you don’t need that are usually running in the background. Some of these launch on startup. They take up unnecessary processing space and slow down the computer. This is the kind of digital clutter that is not always visible but slows you down nonetheless.
So, check out the programs that launch whenever you boot up your computer. Deactivate (uninstall, if necessary) all of them. You only need a handful of programs to launch on startup. However, if you don’t mind manually launching them, deactivate every program that launches on startup.
Decluttering Mobile Phones
Mobile devices are as important as personal/home computers, if not more. For most of us, they serve as the bridge to our loved ones and work. However, a cluttered mobile phone is not as valuable as a decluttered mobile phone.
So, how should you go about decluttering your mobile device?
Reorganize Your Apps
Home screen apps are awesome. Although they vary in function and effectiveness, most of them allow you to sort your apps however you want. Take advantage of this.
Unless you are a minimalist, you are likely to have many apps on your phone. This is not bad. However, it’s not sensible when most of them loiter on your home screen.
Keep only a few apps on your home screen. If you must have a bit over a few, organize them into folders. Apps for chatting go into one folder and apps for productivity into another. Keep your gaming apps together and do the same for your media apps.
Whichever way you sort them, make sure that they are categorized appropriately. This cleans up your home screen and helps you navigate to needed apps without delay.
Sort Your Gallery
With phones breaking the limits on ROM space, you can have as many photos on your device as you want. This is not necessarily helpful, especially when these photo files are everywhere.
You know you have a cluttered gallery when you can’t say where a particular photo is. So, clean out and clear up your gallery.
Do a proper assessment of your gallery. Which photos are old and unnecessary? Either delete them from your phone or move them to an online drive. Whatever is left after this process, sort and categorize into needed folders.
Again, you can adopt the personal usage/work organization scheme. Family photos and selfies with friends can go into one folder, while photos from/for work go into another.
Under these folders, you can create subfolders. Just make sure that the selection is purposeful rather than haphazard.
Manage Your Folders, Files, and Media
With respect to folders and files, digital decluttering is easier to do on a mobile device than on a computer. Here, your area of interest is the personalized section of your folders. This stores your documents, photos, audio files, and videos, among others.
You don’t have to be so strict here as you were with the computer folders. Because the file extensions here are generally similar, you can organize your folders based on file type. So, you could keep your work files in one folder, then do the same for your video files.
You may need to create subfolders for categories, depending on how often you use them. You can move rarely used stuff to an external storage or the cloud.
Also, delete duplicates.
Decluttering Digital Communication Platforms
Clearing your information and interaction mediums of clutter isn’t as straightforward as decluttering computers and mobile phones. The former is essentially a boundless network. This is where all information abounds. It is also where you easily get lost and pile up a lot of unnecessary stuff.
Monitor, Manage, and Sweep Your Emails
Your email is the easiest place to store and dump information. These digital containers are designed to make it seem as if you can effortlessly access information coming in (inbox), going out (outbox), and pending transmission (drafts).
This is not the reality.
Even the most sophisticated email service cannot completely sort your messages based on content. This is still something you have to do yourself. So, get on with managing your email account, starting from an overviewing of what is there presently.
Perform regular email spring cleaning. Check your spam folder, restore all authentic mails and delete the rest.
Your work email might be overflowing with old mails, junk, ads, and promotional items. Devote an hour or so to restoring order.
Having different personal and work emails will help with this. You can also Archive/Star important emails.
The key to effectively decluttering your email is to think of it as a physical mailbox. Would you want it overflowing with unread or unwanted messages?
Social Media and Chat Apps
The number of apps for chatting is increasing. We have normal social apps like Facebook and Twitter, plus straight-up messengers like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram. Video-oriented platforms like TikTok and Instagram also abound. There are, of course, also productivity-focused platforms like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, and Trello.
Social apps and interactive platforms are a dime a dozen these days. Each one touts some advantage over the competition. Collectively, they can be a disadvantage when they clutter your digital life.
There’s a temptation to download and use each flavor-of-the-month social app. However, having many social media apps on your phone or PC isn’t the same as using them. You might not have the time, anyway.
So, you might end up with redundant apps taking up space and focus. It’s much better to stay with what has been working for you and your team. Sticking with a few reliable apps will also prevent focus fragmentation. You can put all your attention on one platform instead of switching back and forth to interact with people and features on different programs. Doing this can stop you from overworking yourself and prevent mental breakdowns.
Take time to review all the sites and social media platforms you are registered on. Unregister from those you no longer need. This saves you from a deluge of subscription offers on your emails, as well as notifications on your phone.
These offers and notifications are only your friends as long as they are important and prompt. Outside these conditions, they are a nuisance. So, unregister, deactivate, or delete.
These are the platforms you use every day at work, whether remote or onsite. It can be a generic communication app or one specially designed for intra-workforce collaboration. Whatever the case, you should declutter it to ease your brainstorming and problem-solving with coworkers.
You can adopt any number of strategies here:
· Trim your DM list down to only your closest coworkers or immediate collaborators
· Set the chat notification to only deliver you priority notifications
· Mute all channels except your co-teammates in a specific subgroup
The same principle applies when you’re using a productivity tracker app. You should get rid of everything that can affect your focus so your true input can reflect at work’s end. Don’t forget to pause the tracking tool whenever you take a breather.
You cannot do without a browser. However, browsers are one of the easiest digital spaces that are cluttered through and through. They can benefit from a digital declutter.
If you are not using a browser tab, remove it. While browsers make it easy to monitor different web pages at the same time, this is only helpful when you are using said web pages.
Browsers like Google Chrome allow you to group your tabs. This is fine as it can help you maintain an organized digital space.
Also, clear out unneeded extensions. Some of them can compromise your security.
Why should you do a digital declutter?
It Is Good for Your Health
An Indiana University study revealed that people with cleaner houses tend to be healthier than those with cluttered or messy homes. If you spend the better part of the day online or on-screen, then you can also consider your digital space part of your home.
You are likely to suffer all shades of irritation and annoyance when you can’t tell left from right on your digital mini-universe. Now, whenever you perform digital decluttering, you’re taking a step towards a healthier life.
It Keeps You Focused
Procrastination may be the thief of time and productivity, but distraction is its godfather. It is probably the biggest side-effect of a cluttered digital space. As long as your workspace is home to too many things, you will constantly be distracted.
Where Should You Declutter?
The answer is “everywhere”!
The average person with an online connection uses multiple social media platforms. This is expected considering that some of the best opportunities for a decent income are online. Without digital decluttering, you are unlikely to use these platforms as you originally intended.
There are also digital tools that are not always connected to the Internet. Your computers, mobile devices, etc. are ‘places’ where you can pile up unnecessary stuff. These spaces can also enjoy the benefits of decluttering.
Keeping your digital space free of unnecessary stuff is not difficult. Any digital decluttering checklist would show you simple steps to clear away and clean out your computers and mobile devices. The key to effective decluttering is as follows: remove the unnecessary, organize what is important, and maintain the habit.