Spring is my favorite time to purge and clean, and I’ve been working on my physical spaces since the New Year. It’s easy to see where you could make a difference in your office or closet, because you see the overcrowding and hate struggling to find important items. But your digital storage could probably benefit from a spring cleaning as well.
Digital clutter, on the other hand, can sneak up on you, taking up valuable computer storage space and making it harder to find important documents easily. Here are some tips for decluttering and becoming more organized in your digital filing.
First, make sure you have a great backup system. The only thing worse than having too many digital files is discovering some crucial documents are missing. Dropbox is a free system that stores files in the cloud and allows you to access them from anywhere (more robust pro plans start at $99 a year.) Carbonite is a cloud-based system that backs up your computer files every time you access the internet. Single computer backup plans start at $6 a month and multiple computer plans start at $24 a month.
Next, make sure your document naming and filing system is efficient and consistent. Name files using the unique part of the name first to make them easier to find. If you are storing multiple client invoices, for example, name them by month and year first. Name it 0319 client invoice, rather than client invoice 0319. Numbers appear first when files are sorted by name, so dated documents will always be easy to find.
Folders make it much easier to retrieve and organize your files. If you have everything jumbled all together on your drive, it’s time to organize them neatly in folders that make sense to you. This is one task you don’t want to delegate to anyone else – you must name the folders and file the documents yourself. If your storage system doesn’t allow you to intuitively look in the right places for the files you’re seeking, it will only result in frustration and lots of wasted time.
Organize files in large general groupings first: client invoices, draft articles, household budgets, etc. Then within the general folders, organize by year, by client, or by some other category that makes sense. You shouldn’t have to click more than a couple of times to get to an important file.
Decide how long you want to keep files. Sort files by date modified and make a decision on what you want to use as the cutoff date. If you’re worried about deleting documents, create a folder for them (like “2015 article drafts”) and file the documents there. You’ll dramatically reduce the visual clutter on your drive and will be able to delete them later (when you’re sure you don’t need them) with a single click.
Now that you have your files in order, it’s time to tackle email. Rule one: your inbox is not meant for long term storage. If you have more than one screen’s worth of emails in your inbox, you’re probably wasting valuable time searching for the ones that matter. Again, folders are your best tool for organization here. Create folders that allow you to slip important emails into a safe place and retrieve them easily.
You probably need to retain just a fraction of the emails you think you do. If an email has an important document attached, store the document rather than the email itself. If it’s the sender who’s important, create a contact and store their information there.
If you have replied to an important email, you probably don’t need to store it. Make sure your email settings allow you to keep sent items indefinitely so you can always retrieve them. Then you’ll have the full email chain whenever you need to refer to it. A quick “thanks” reply will guarantee the email stays around as long as it’s needed.
Take time weekly or monthly to delete emails that pertain to finished business. Trust me, deleting them gives you the same zing of pleasure you get when ticking something off your to-do list. I have a folder named “Trip Info” where I file emails related to my next business or pleasure trip (my airline and hotel reservation confirmations, for example, and e-receipts.) Once I finish the trip and file expense reports, I can delete the emails. Better yet, paste the important information like flight times, directions, and reservation confirmation numbers into a calendar appointment where they can be retrieved the day you need them.
Prevent email clutter before it accumulates by unsubscribing to emails you never read and subscriptions you just don’t care about any longer. Cleaning up digital clutter can give you a sense of accomplishment and save you hundreds of minutes a year you would have spent searching for files and emails. You’ll be able to focus more intensely and may even be more creative when your desktop is clutter free.
You won’t see any Instagram posts of gorgeous reorganized inboxes, but I bet Marie Kondo would still be proud.