I’ve been a naturally organized person my whole life… except in my digital life. That has always been hard to control, especially with working on the computer all day. My breakthrough came with the realization I’m never going to get my digital life in order if I don’t implement good practices into my daily, weekly and monthly routines. It’s now been three years and my devices stay clutter-free, no matter what file havoc my daily work causes.
Not everyone is that lucky. I see people all over social media and forum threads say they’re struggling to keep their files and online presence under control. The overwhelm is real with this one! Digital clutter is just as bad as physical clutter, from my own experience, I’d say it can be even worse.
Life is too short to be overwhelmed, so I want you to find your way out of this mess. To do that, there are some practices we need to establish. Why is that? You can declutter and reset your devices to factory settings, but if your mindset and habits stay the same, you’ll end up in the same place sooner or later.
Just to prove how important this is, I decided to make this my first point. If you want that six-pack, you’re going to work your ass off in the gym at least five a days a week, aren’t you? You’re going to stay committed. The same thing applies to gaining control over your hard drive, inbox or Google Drive. Once you get started, you’ve got to stick with it. You can do it!
Do you want to be a slave to your phone? No one does, but if notification beeps make you check your phone every time, that’s what you are. Just saying, don’t hate me. Notifications kill productivity and ruin lives. The more apps you use, the more they run your life. It would be best to turn off all notifications (calls and messages aside) but I found that my productivity skyrocketed when I also set my phone on silent during work hours. Not everyone can do that, but if you can, try it and thank me later.
DEDICATE TIME TO CHECKING SOCIAL MEDIA AND EMAIL
Now that notifications have been disabled, you’re not bombarded with information every five minutes and you can decide when and where you want to get social. Rather than checking emails every 10 minutes, make it every two hours if your work is fast-paced or three times a day if more relaxed (happy balance to me).
You found a cool app, wanted to try it so you installed it. You tried it once (or thought you’d do it later and then forget about it), but now it just sits on your phone (maybe even neatly tucked away in a folder). Ring a bell? Yeah, if you don’t use it, it’s safe to get rid of, so go scroll through your phone once a month and discard useless apps. Same goes for your computer. Doing this regularly keeps your devices uncluttered and running smoother, too.
TAKE TIME TO UNSUBSCRIBE & CANCEL ACCOUNTS
Before you start working toward inbox zero, stop new unwanted emails from coming in. You can do this by searching for “unsubscribe” or letting unroll.me find the offenders for you. Unroll is very efficient at detecting subscriptions and their roll-up feature is nice if you’d rather get your subscriptions in one email per week (that’s reasonable).
But don’t stop there – if you have an unused account on the site you’re unsubscribing from, cancel it. In most cases, this means going to the website and locating the “delete account” button. Sometimes, however, you have to contact the webmaster and request account deletion. Yes, it takes a little time, but it’s worth it.
SWITCH TO STREAMING
Do you still consume physical files when there are streaming services out there? In modern times, there are few if any things you can’t stream: Netflix or Hulu for video, Spotify or Pandora for music, Steam for gaming. Let services store the files for you and free up space on your hard drive and in your home.
It baffles me to see people advocating moving all your files on an external hard drive (even worse: keeping that drive attached to the computer most of the time). Do you want to lose your files? Because that’s how you’re going to lose your files. People, external hard drives are not foolproof! Drives fail all the time (I still miss some files my old external hard drive took to grave with it).
It’s okay to keep a backup copy on an external hard drive, but you always have to have a backup of a backup (this is the only case where this is allowed). There are many services out there and you can pick and choose based on your needs and budget but personally, I use Backblaze* (affiliate because I truly love them – as much as you can love a company). It runs in the background and quietly backs everything up without hogging resources.
IMPLEMENT A CONSISTENT FILE NAMING SYSTEM
Randomly named files such as “file1”, “DSC_4567” (shoutout to my camera) or “essay” aren’t helpful when you’re searching for something specific. File names should be descriptive and have a unique identifier (dates are common but it can be whatever makes sense for you). Setting up a system takes time, but inarguably simplifies your life in the long run. I’m going to address this in more depth in the next posts.
FILE IMMEDIATELY (OR AT LEAST WEEKLY)
When new files are downloaded or created on your computer find them a home and save them there (or delete). Dumping files on desktop or downloads is easy, and it’s also the root of file clutter problem.
UTILIZE ONLINE NOTEBOOKS
Instead of storing files on your hard drive, consider using online notebooks such as Evernote, Onenote or Google Keep. The biggest advantage is the syncing. I use Evernote to manage my recipe collection (by far the most organized way to do it) and magazine clippings. Google Keep, however, is my absolute favorite notes and to-do list app. All pictures taken for reference are uploaded to Google Keep.