A new year typically signals a fresh start. Whether it’s eating healthier or getting your finances in order, the first step is to set a goal. But you’ll then need to follow through with action.
One popular New Year’s resolution is to declutter various spaces. In recent years, the urge to clean has broadened from closets and drawers to include the digital devices we use every day. From your smartphones and tablets to your laptops and computers, chances are, it’s been a while since you’ve taken some time to get your desktops, mobile apps, and online accounts in order.
Yes, time is probably at a premium. But a few hours today could provide years of rewards. Here are some benefits you’ll get from organizing your digital life.
- You’ll feel more in control. If most days have you overwhelmed and stressed, digital clutter could be one cause.
- You’ll have fewer distractions. Instead of spotting a forgotten folder on your desktop while you’re looking for something else, you’ll stay focused on the task at hand.
- You see only what’s important. When your devices are filled with clutter, it’s tough to home in on your current tasks and projects. Decluttering helps you minimize what you see when you log into your devices and apps so you can get straight to the point.
- You get a full picture of what you have. Whether you’re cleaning up your inbox or deleting unused apps on your phone, the process forces you to take a full look at everything you have. In the future, when you need something, you’ll likely know exactly where to find it.
- You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. Simply cleaning up your devices will give you an incredible sense of accomplishment. You’ll feel as though you’re free to make a fresh start.
Set Time Aside
When it comes to decluttering your devices, it can be too easy to put things off. There will always be time later to organize your file folders or go through a decade of photos and videos.
But that day never comes. The first step toward getting your devices in order is to make it a priority. Set aside a block of time for a thorough cleaning. If the idea of spending hours on the task seems daunting, instead separate it into chunks. Perhaps work on your email inbox for 30 minutes to an hour one day, then your file folders another. You can even declutter your smartphone in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or while in the pickup line at your child’s school.
Before you start deleting and moving things around, though, take some time to back up your devices. You may already have a backup somewhere, but verify that you’ll be able to recover any files if you accidentally delete something you later need.
Related Article: The One Month Digital Declutter Challenge
Take an App Inventory
Before you can conduct a thorough cleanup, you’ll first need to know what you’re working with. Gather all your devices, including laptops, tablets, and smartphones, and go through each app and file folder. If you have a PC, you can find a list of apps by clicking the Start icon. On a Mac device, you can find a list under Apps in the Finder.
On a smartphone or tablet, the apps are right there on your screen. Also take an inventory of your files, including photos, videos, and music. All of this can likely use some decluttering.
Once you make a list, you’ll be ready to decide exactly what you want to keep. Here’s a list of popular app categories to help you decide what should stay and what should go:
- Messaging (Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, Facebook Messenger, Android Messages)
- Document creation and management (Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, Adobe Acrobat, Dropbox)
- Social media (Facebook, Instagram)
- Videoconferencing and chat (Slack, WhatsApp, Zoom)
- Project and task management (Trello, Basecamp, Evernote)
- Accounting and finance (QuickBooks)
- CRM (Salesforce)
Related Article: How to Get All Your Apps in One Place
Consolidate Your Accounts
By now, everyone has a full suite of usernames and passwords, used across countless apps and platforms. Many people even have multiple accounts with the same platforms. Gmail, for instance, lets you have an unlimited number of logins, but you’ll need a separate username for each one.
The problem with all these accounts is that you have to log in and out, at least occasionally. For some apps, switching from one account to another within the platform may even mean logging out and back in again.
That’s why your decluttering process should include an account inventory. Determine just how many usernames and passwords you have and identify areas you can consolidate. If you can accomplish multiple types of tasks with the same app, consider moving things over to that app. With Gmail, for instance, you can store your calendar, set up task lists, and even use Google Keep for notes.
Inevitably, you’ll find accounts you don’t use anymore. Take the time to not only remove the app from your device and the bookmark from your browser, but also to cancel the accounts. This will give you a clean break and eliminate forgotten accounts that hackers could exploit.
Related Article: How to Manage Multiple Gmail Accounts
Organize Your Email
Most email platforms offer built-in tools for organizing your emails. You may even use some of them. But if you set aside time to put a system in place, it will pay dividends for years to come.
One of the first things to do is set up file folders for your most popular topics. Then create rules that send emails to the appropriate folder as they come in, rather than having them dump into one inbox. You can refine this as new emails come in, but this will at least get things started.
Next, make a practice to use the “FAST system” for dealing with incoming messages. As one comes in, either file it, assign it to someone, store it for future reference, or trash it. Use this tactic whether you’re checking email on your phone while on the go or while seated in front of your computer.
You should also make an effort to regularly go through each folder and apply the FAST system to every email. Many of the messages you need to refer back to later will eventually reach the point where you no longer need them. By removing them from these folders, you’ll keep things clear, making it easy to find messages quickly when necessary.
Related Article: How to Manage Multiple Email Accounts
Clean Up Your File Folders
Your email accounts aren’t the only area where your devices can become bogged down over time. The folders on your computer need to be similarly organized.
The first rule to incorporate relates to your desktop and your Downloads folders. Make it a practice to never leave files in either place. Either delete them once you’re finished with them or move them to a file folder that clearly matches the category of the subject matter.
But before you can do all that, you’ll need to come up with a folder system that effectively categorizes your past, current, and future files. If you run a business and have multiple teams, you may have a folder for each team. If you’re in accounting or HR, you may choose to separate items by year, with subfolders in each year that relates to the categories you use. Whatever system you choose, make sure it’s flexible enough to give yourself room to adjust things in the years to come.
Related Article: How to Manage Multiple Google Drive Accounts
Use the Right Tools
Does it seem like this will take way too much time? The good news is, technology can make it easier. There’s no limit to the number of tools you can employ in decluttering your electronic devices. Here are a few we recommend.
- Shift – Shift can pull all your apps into one easy-to-use desktop that lets you toggle between them. You can even set up multiple account logins that keep you from having to log out and in again.
- Charli – If you’re looking for an all-in-one solution to manage everything in the background, Charli is a must-have tool. You can connect up all the apps you use and have Charli organize your file folder structures, keep your inbox in order, and tag important documents.
- Unroll.me – Over time, email subscriptions can overwhelm your inbox. Unroll.me can pull all those subscriptions into a list that lets you easily unsubscribe from the ones you no longer want.
- Typedesk – Automate your responses to emails, social media comments, app store comments, and more. Simply type your responses once and let the app do the rest.
- Filevine – For legal teams, Filevine can help you keep all your casefiles and projects in one place.
Ready to get organized? While you’re setting up your systems and decluttering your devices, consider an app that can bring everything together. Shift helps you consolidate all your favorite desktop apps in one handy location. You can then easily toggle between the apps you need each day. To learn more about how Shift can help you declutter your desktop, take the feature tour.