Digital decluttering: how to clear up your mess and work more effectively

Digital decluttering: how to clear up your mess and work more effectively

Written by Professional Academy Management and Leadership Tutor, Kathryn Knights

Is digital clutter taking over your life? Here I explain the impact of digital clutter on your productivity and give you some advice to help you clear up your mess and work more effectively.

What is digital clutter?

Clutter is anything that isn’t where it’s supposed to be. Digital clutter can be physical e.g your phone hiding down the back of the sofa or non-physical e.g. action items hiding in your emails.

This clutter competes for your attention. Your mind is aware you have ‘things’ to do but cannot clearly see an order of priority. You feel overwhelmed and your inability to work through tasks logically creates underlying feelings of stress.

Digital slavery

Digital tools are often designed to continually grab our attention and take us away from what we set out to do. Rather than helping us work smarter these tools actually hinder our ability to work smarter. The more we subject ourselves to these tools the more reliant we become on them and our ability to do deep knowledge work diminishes as we lose the skill to focus and concentrate on any one task for a fixed period of time.

Fear of missing out

Do you pull out your phone every time you have a spare five minutes? Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a major reason for people being unable to put their digital tools down. When you allow yourself to be distracted it can take 15-minutes to get back on track. This decreases your productivity and increases your stress levels. If you allow yourself to be interrupted just four times a day, that’s one-hour of your time lost. And time, not money, is the most precious resource we have because it only ever marches forwards and you can never get it back.

The finer points of digital clutter

There are some things that appear to be digital clutter, but on closer inspection aren’t. For example, if you have files that are archived on a hard drive or in the cloud then, as long as they are really useful items to keep, then they’re not digital clutter.

There are some things can quickly turn into clutter. For example, if you keep a folder shortcut on your desktop for a project you are currently working on then that’s not clutter. However, once the project has finished the folder shortcut becomes clutter until you delete the shortcut and archive the contents of the folder.

How to declutter

Any form of decluttering can be an invitation to procrastinate. Looking through old photos can easily take up an afternoon while you reminisce over old memories.

Decluttering requires you to have a good decision making system in place.

To kickstart your decluttiering ask yourself two questions at the end of each day and write down the answers in a notebook:

1) What was most life giving?

2) What was most life taking?

If you do this for a period of two weeks you will see a pattern emerge that will help you understand where digital clutter exists in your life i.e. the things that were most life taking.

You can then start to remove the clutter. For example, you might notice that every time sometime leaves a voicemail message you never take any action, causing you to miss important pieces of information. To remedy this you could listen to your voicemails on a regular basis and put any actions straight into your task manager, so you can follow up on them at the appropriate time.

How to declutter a smartphone

Our phones are our number one cause of digital clutter – because they’re so darn addictive. Overcome this by turning off your notifications and badges. In this way you’ll look at the apps when you want to, rather than when your phone tells you.

Then move onto decluttering the number of apps you have on your phone. Start by moving everything off your home screen and onto the remaining screens. Over the next two weeks move back the apps as you use them. This will give you a visual record of what you use. At the end of the two weeks look at the apps that have earned their spot on the home screen and remove the apps on the remaining screens. If you need them in the future you can always download them.

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