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Digital Spring Cleaning

Posted 5 months ago by Ryan R

Spring Cleaning Season is almost over as we NW Ohioans get ready to (finally) welcome summer! You may have decluttered your home, but have you thought about decluttering your digital life?

Even though we can't always physically see the mess on our computers or devices, it's as real as any other clutter in our lives- a cause of anxiety and feelings of overwhelm, and a time stealer keeping us from doing things we really want to be doing.

There's no perfect organizing solution. You may make certain choices based off of your specific needs for privacy and security, and that's OK. Choose what makes sense for YOU. Here are some tips to get started.

Like any decluttering and organization project, you'll get much further and keep momentum by breaking the project up into chunks. Choose what to focus on first, and knock that out, before moving on to the next thing. Don't try to do it all at once. That's exhausting for anybody!

Digital Decluttering: Common Areas to Focus On

Apps

The two biggest culprits for storage limits on a mobile device are often photos and apps. Unused and unwanted apps can seem to multiply overnight, turning your iPhone into a virtual junk drawer. It's OK to delete these. If you change your mind, you can always download the app again by looking at your "Purchased Apps" in the App Store. If you look in the storage section of your settings you can also see which apps are taking the most storage. Go ahead and delete the largest apps that you know you're not using.

Photos

It's OK to delete unwanted photos, too. The easiest way to keep your photos under control is to get in the habit of reviewing your photos daily or weekly, depending on how many you take. Are there any accidental shots of the floor or the wall? Those can go. If you have photos of a vacation or other special event, take time to go though them and pick out the best ones. Delete the "filler."

Cloud Storage and eMail Accounts

Many people have multiple accounts where they store stuff. Between iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft Accounts, do you know where all of your stuff is stored? Though it may be necessary to maintain a specific account used for work or school, try to consolidate and commit to just one service to store all the rest. Similarly, try to pare down your eMail Addresses to 3 if possible. One for work, one for personal use and maybe one for shopping or other online business if need be. Today's eMail services offer decent spam protection and filtering and easy ways to unsubscribe from newsletters or other promotional eMails. Hitting that Unsubscribe button or emptying a spam folder a few times a week is a lot easier than having to remember to sign in and check multiple accounts.

Online Accounts and Websites

Set aside some time - an hour to start is good - and audit all of your other online accounts. These are different from Cloud Storage Accounts. Consider the different social media accounts you have, any news sites, or shopping sites that require you to sign in. Get all of those Usernames (Usually an eMail Address) and Passwords organized and backed up somewhere. If you recently pared down your number of eMail Accounts, update your info to include the eMail you're using. Consider an online secure encrypted Password Manager like Dashlane, LastPass, or 1Password to backup passwords and easily see if you're using the same password for multiple websites. If you're unsure where to start, Android devices have Google Passwords built in, and Apple iOS devices have iCloud Keychain.

Shopping Sites

Take a look at the different shopping sites you use that might have your payment information saved. In most instances, it's OK if it is, but it's a good idea to take a look and audit the sites where your information is. Consider clearing out payment information from sites where you just made a one-time purchase (around the holidays, say). Some popular sites where you shop frequently and may keep your information on file might be: Amazon, eBay, Kroger, Target or Walmart, iTunes/Apple and Google.

If you don't have one already, consider a PayPal Account for online purchases. In the interest of reduction and simplifying, make purchases via PayPal at websites that accept it, instead of inputting all of your payment information in yet another website.

Managing eMail

A great source of overwhelm for many is their overstuffed eMail boxes. There are four aspects that can help you get your inbox under control in a hurry:

  • Use your Inbox as an Inbox; not as storage. Just as if you had a paper Inbox (hopefully not overflowing), take action with the items as they come in.
  • Take the appropriate action: Respond in the moment if you can, or add longer responses as an item to your task list, along with any other eMails that prompt you for further action. If it's an eMail that has information you'd like to save; archive it, or file it away into the appropriate folder or tag.
  • Try to limit your folders or tags for projects you're currently working on. Archive the rest. Most eMail services allow you to search for eMail by Date, content, or who the eMail was from or sent to. Let the computer do the work, and don't waste time with complicated file structures that can also get messy and unorganized.
  • Have set times that you check your eMail. Twice or Three Times a day should be more than enough for most people. The time spent not checking you eMail will hopefully feel like a productivity boost, and you'll be amazed with all of the "free" time you suddenly have.

Managing Files

Use the Inbox Concept as a Template for your Workflow

Borrow what you've learned from eMail management and apply it to how you store and organize other files on your computer. Inboxes aren't just for eMail anymore! Think of other devices or computers where you just "dump" stuff - maybe the desktop. Think of the computer desktop as your inbox. Try to only keep things there that you are actively working on for a current project. The rest should be filed away. Like your eMail folders, try to keep the folders on your computer as broad as possible and eliminate fiddly trails of folders and subfolders when you can. Start with the basic groups your computer came with like Photos, Documents, Music, and go from there. Use Keywords or Tags if you can, and think about how you will use the information in the future. Like modern eMail, today's computer file systems have robust searching, and there are ways to quickly sort files by name, date, and file types. Where do you think you would look for it, if you had to find it today? Another way to name files is by adding the date in front of every document like 20190515. When you view your documents as a list, they will all be lined up in chronological order. Easy!

Just Getting Started

We've just scratched the surface of digital organization. I hope you've found some helpful tips to make you feel more organized. If you're interested in learning more, here are some books for further reading.

Declutter Your Data : Take Charge of Your Data and Organize Your Digital Life by Angela Crocker
Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport

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