17 steps to an intensely satisfying digital declutter

First Published: August 19, 2018  | Last Updated:

The gist: in this huge guide full of actionable tips you’ll want to start ASAP, learn how to go through a digital declutter to better focus on your work and avoid multitasking. Because the only multitasking we should be doing is snacking and Netflixing at the same time. 💁🏻

 

17 steps to an intensely satisfying digital declutter

Note: this post contains affiliate links to help the “Bberg loves fancy popcorn” fund! 💰 So basically, if you make a purchase through one of these links, I get a few shekels that I’ll spend on delicious snacks. 

I hear a lot of people talk about the KonMarie method to declutter their workspace, their life, what have you.

Mayyybe because I’m the one that told them about it. 🙃

I read the book a while ago, and while my apartment is still pretty full, it completely changed the way I think about collecting and storing things.

And honestly?

I’m less bothered by IRL clutter as long as my digital ish is under control.

When I’m sitting at a table and focused intently on my laptop working, I don’t even notice what’s on that table other than my laptop. I don’t even notice my boyfriend eating (ahem, STEALING) my chocolate gelato across the room, and no one messes with my gelato.

I’m not gonna lie, I’ve been sort of a hoarder in the past. Ask my mom how it made her feel growing up. 😉

But my digital workspace? The one in the computer? Freaking spotless.

It’s like Monica Geller lives in my computer.

judge all you want to 1

And I’m definitely not suggesting living in chaos if that would drive you crazy. The only reason it works for me is because it *doesn’t* bother me.

You do you, boo! 😘 But still, I want to ask you this:

Do you put as much effort into decluttering your digital office as much as you your physical one?

Because if you spend your whole day working at your computer, you absolutely need to show it the same love. ❤️

Do you put as much effort into decluttering your digital office as much as you your physical one?Click To Tweet

When you both love technology and rely on it to do your job, it’s really easy for that part of your life to get completely messy.

You can’t lie to me, people.

When I go to your webinars, when I see your videos and screenshots, I SEE what your computer’s desktop looks like! There’s no denying from the chaos! 😝

Since I used to work remotely for my day job and run two online businesses on the side, I pretty much spent 16-18 hours per day on my laptop. So that whole situation was exponentially magnified.

Somewhere in the middle of 2015, it got really, really, really bad.

My computer, and therefore my brain, was a mess. 🧠

It was too overwhelming to completely overhaul at once, and I don’t even think I could’ve stayed up long enough to do so, so I took baby steps, one at a time.

Now a year later, my online and MacBook Pro world are a much more peaceful place to spend my time. I’m talking hot stuff.

Like, I seriously can’t remember the last time my desktop has a SINGLE file on it. It’s *that* organized. 🤓

So here are some of the baby steps I took. The most effective digital decluttering tips are all laid out here for you to follow. Follow me and take a stroll down the same productive path.

(Pssst…if you like this guide, you’ll love the Productivity Power-Up workbook! It walks you through decluttering and debugging all different areas of your productivity, from tech to teams and habits. 🙌)

Table of contents

One particular area of your tech world in completely bad shape? You can use the table of contents below to jump straight to the section you need most:

And now, let’s get to it! 🙌

Declutter Your Desktop

When you work online, your computer gets cluttered up *fast*! Here are some great tips on getting it all under control:Click To Tweet

1. Keep all file names consistent

The first step I like to take whenever I’m organizing files and folders is making sure everything is titled following the same rules. That way you don’t need to memorize a bunch of file names in order to know how to find them.

Get consistent with naming and moving your files and folders so you can always find what you need quickly and don’t end up redoing work or saving multiple copies of the same file in different places.

Here are a few tips for coming up with a naming convention.

2. Customize your Mac’s finder sidebar

Let’s talk about the Finder on your Mac – or the PC equivalent. I’m not sure what it’s called but I know it exists!

You know that sidebar with shortcuts to different locations on your drive? You can actually customize that, and I thank the organization goddesses for it every day!

customize finder 1

By default, it will probably list a lot of the core folders or files that came pre-installed with your computer. Things like “Music,” “Wallpapers,” and useless BS like that. Things that your rarely, if ever, need to access – taking up PRIME real estate!

Who does my Mac think it is, to try to get me to use its Music folder, as if I haven’t been meticulously curating Spotify playlists since 2011?!

Remove the shortcuts to folders you don’t need, and replace them with your most frequently used folders – it’s so easy that you can even swap them in and out easily depending on what you’re working on most that month!

For example, I’ve created ones for my headshots, favorite styled stock photos, and my main blog and freelancing folders in Google Drive. And there’s always, always, always a shortcut to the GIFs. 💁🏻

If you use the colored file tags, you can also add bookmarks to those too!

3. *DO NOT* use your desktop as a default save location

Set the default location for new files to be your “Downloads” folder. Or ANYWHERE that is NOT your desktop.

For the love of Beyonce, do NOT use your desktop.

Whatever you choose as the default save folder, for most of us, becomes the most cluttered, chaotic folder on our computer. The desktop is too center stage for that. Don’t put that mess right in front of your face all day. Otherwise, “Hi anxiety! Here’s a reminder of all your open projects!”

phew GIF

4. Set a recurring task to clean things up

Set a recurring to-do item in your task manager or appointment in your calendar app to go through that default folder, clean it out, and move everything to its permanent home. Spoiler alert: so much of it can go straight to the trash.

How often you should do this depends entirely on how quickly you feel it gets too full…my Todoist task is set to recur every other Friday. 🤓

5. Go fullscreen to focus

Whenever you can, work with whatever app you’re using in fullscreen mode. This eliminates the distraction of any other apps and windows you have open, and helps you beat the urge to multitask.

You won’t have another project poking out and reminding you that it’s not done yet. You can’t see the corner of your unfinished to-do list. You can totally focus and singletask.

It’s the same reason moving files off your desktop background is helpful.

6. Anchors away – go dockless

Hide your Mac dock or Windows start menu until you need it. 🙈

Like any other windows you have open, those icons remind you of everything else you have going on. They’re begging for your attention. Don’t give it to them.

Do as much as possible to put your current task front and center of both your brain and laptop screen.

7. Clean your Mac at least once a week

Run CleanMyMac once a week or so. (There’s a PC version too.) This is a less noticeable cleaning task, but gets rid of unnecessary files, empties your trash, and other good stuff we always say we should do, but don’t.

Things that keep your computer in top shape, which is the IRL biz equivalent of having a roof over your head.

CleanMyMac 1

I mean, look at how much work it’s done for me over the past six months. 🙄

The first time I used this, it found a horse crap ton of stuff to get rid of, and even running it once a week, it always finds several GBs of clutter to say “girl, bye” to! 💁🏻

Get Smarter With Your Smartphone

Your smartphone is a tiny thing, but it can hold a lot, and it becomes cluttered fast. Here's how to make it all less distracting:Click To Tweet

8. Cut down on apps

There’s an app for everything – which sounds great, but it’s actually awful for productivity. 🙈

If you have apps for everything on your phone, they’re all there to distract you.

Delete infrequently used apps on your phone.

Seriously, so many websites have great mobile websites or web apps now. If not, chances are that it’s at least usable.

So if you’re only using a service once a month or something, use the mobile site or web app instead of keeping the app on your phone all the time. You can also download apps just when you need them. For example, here in NYC I use local rideshare services more than Uber, so I only download Uber when I’m going out of town.

9. Turn off push notifications (strategically)

It’s common advice to turn off all phone notifications so your phone doesn’t keep lighting up and distract you while you work. That’s great advice.

So are a few alternatives: not having it out in the first place or keeping it face down.

Butttt…I like to add a unicorn rainbow twist! 🦄

Instead of turning notifications completely off for certain apps, I set them to display only as banners, the kind that run across the top of the screen quickly while the phone is in use.

That way, my phone still doesn’t distract me while I work. But when I unlock my phone on a break, each notification pops up and goes away after a sec. It effectively gives me a super fast, news ticker-style quick digest of all the notifications I missed.

That way if I see anything important, I know to go check that app, but otherwise, I’m all caught up. 🙌

10. Create a recurring task to manage your camera roll

You know that recurring Todoist task I mentioned earlier? It’s not the only one. Oh, no, no, no.

Recurring tasks are amazing in general, but for “housekeeping stuff” like this in particular.

Between sending friends memes, screenshotting things as “notes to self,” and Instagramming all the livelong day, that roll sure does roll up quickly.

So once a week, I take a few minutes – 5 tops – to back up any photos I want to backup, and delete anything I don’t need anymore.

(If you’ve ever strugglebussed to fit just one more offline Spotify playlist on your phone, this tip will be amazing for you!)

11. Keep as many apps as possible in folders and on page 2+

Finally, I took that whole “minimalist” approach from my desktop and moved it to my iPhone as well. For the apps that did make the cut and stayed on my phone, I kept most of them as hidden as possible.

When I unlock my phone, I only see the few apps I’m most likely going to be using. The ones that are probably the reason I’m unlocking the phone. Because I have spent too much time unlocking my phone, dicking around, and then forgetting what app I was checking in the first place.

The rest are hidden away in folders on page 2. I didn’t need a page 3, but feel free to take it just to keep page 1 as empty as possible! Make yourself work to procrastinate, yo.

Here’s what my home screens look like now (and note that notification badges are turned off for the icons, too):

Declutter your iPhone home screen

Un-intimidate Your Email

Make your inbox less overwhelming to deal with by decluttering it. Here's how:Click To Tweet

12. Get ruthless with newsletter subscriptions

I’ve talked about newsletter management before, and it will never stop being important. You really do need to be ruthless about it.

Out of all the changes I made to my email habits, this one probably had the quickest payoff.

When you first stop keeping Gmail open, habit will have you navigating to it anyway. It’s not an immediate time saver until you break the habit. But cutting things off at the source – having less email to read in the first place – will save you from yourself.

You should be using Unroll.me, unsubscribing from things you no longer read regularly, and not devoting your time to reading newsletters, no matter how much you love the blogger or brand sending them.

13. Take less important email accounts off your phone

Most of us have more than one email account. I have 7 bajillion, and yes, that’s an exact number.

There’s my “personal” one, at least one email per blog/website that I have live, my day job, etc. And I used to have them all coming to my phone.

Oh my God, why did I EVER do that?!

The majority of those accounts weren’t important – they’re for personal stuff or hobby blogs. And all they did was dilute my attention from the emails I needed to be paying attention to.

Now I only have the inboxes for my day job and my main biz email address on my phone, and only check others as needed.

14. Stop keeping it open all day

OMG, keeping your email app or browser tab open all day is just idiotic for your productivity. Once I controlled how much email I was getting in the first place, this was the best, best, best decision I made for improving how much time I spent on email.

I know a lot of us are of the mentality that it needs to stay open in case of something urgent. But…I’m sorry…are we really that important? 🙈

Most of us solopreneurs aren’t dealing with life and death matters where the new email can’t wait just a little bit. Even the most important client or customer will understand a short delay, and will find another way to contact you if it’s really that urgent.

Instead, follow the overarching theme of this post and make yourself work to get distracted. Even if you still end up checking your email every hour, that still means it’s distracting you for a few minutes per hour, and then you’re completely turning it off to focus on other things for awhile.

(Although ideally, you want to get down to checking it just once or twice per day.)

15. Get the courage to let messages skip the inbox completely

I’m all about those Gmail rules to keep my inbox in order. And almost every other email client has their own version of rules, too.

I’d used them long before 2016 to “triage” my inbox by applying labels and stars and stuff, and to integrate it with other apps. But last year, I forced myself to start using the “Skip the Inbox” option as much as possible:

pasted image 0 1

If I didn’t need to read that email right away, it didn’t need to be there.

So things like shopping promos, newsletters, notifications and updates from apps I use, and all that “nice to have” info…it took a backseat and skipped the inbox, which I tried limiting to only things I had to take action on.

To do this as well, just make sure to create separate labels/folders to anything you automatically archive, so it’s easy to go back and find them during downtime to catch up on low priority emails.

16. Set up canned responses

Canned responses are another one of the best email inventions ever. If you’re using Gmail, this Gmail Labs add-on builds email templates into your “Compose New Email” pop-up.

If you’re not using email templates, or are copying and pasting them from Evernote or another app, you’re wasting so much time.

I was using a separate app for templates until mid-year last year, but it was annoying to have to go send emails from that app instead of Gmail anytime I wanted to use a template. So I migrated everything into Canned Responses, and started setting up templates more frequently because it was so much easier.

Now I make a conscious effort to set up, at the bare minimum, a fill-in-the-blank skeleton template for any email I’m going to be sending more than once.

17. Use multiple inboxes to organize things you’re not ready to archive

One of the main ways I was screwing up my inbox before was by using it as a to-do list.

And that’s where most people get stuck, too. But even if you do migrate information from an email over into your task manager, it’s still nice to have that email with the original details easily accessible.

So how do you keep it close and handy without mixing those things in with new messages and creating one big clusterfuck?

The Multiple Inboxes Gmail add-on creates separate “sections” of your main inbox page for different categories or labels. It. is. Amazing.

gmail multiple inboxes 1

You can keep important, but older, emails right on your “home page,” making sure they don’t leave your mind, but everything is still nice and obsessively organized. 😍

Start your digital declutter

Declutter your digital life and you’ll feel less overwhelmed when you open your computer and “clock in” every morning. ⏰

The things in front of you will be only the things you need. You can sit at your laptop all day without getting distracted, and log off breathing easier every night.

To take even more control of your productivity, check out The Productivity Power-Up to declutter the rest of your biz!

Power-up your productivity

Reducing digital clutter is just one part of having a more productive life. If your computer is clean, but your systems and work habits are a freaking mess, it won’t do crap for you.

You need to check your systems before you wreck your systems. 💁🏻

Step away from the computer for a day (I know it sounds hard). Conduct a productivity audit. Really dig deep to figure out what’s working and what’s not in all aspects of productivity and your creative systems.

In The Productivity Power-Up Workbook, I take you through a guided productivity audit, looking at your own habits as well as your tools and systems, before creating a super awesome action plan.

Power Up Your Productivity

Get The Productivity Power-Up Workbook Now

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17 steps to an intensely satisfying digital declutter marie kondo would approve of

This article was originally published on BrittanyBerger.com in January 2017 and has been updated and improved to get even more awesome over time. 🤘

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