Six tips for decluttering your digital workspace

August 19, 2019

By Dawn Wotapka at Journal of Accountancy on August 12, 2019

Just as cluttered stacks of paper can become overwhelming in the workplace, so can an overflowing email inbox or a computer desktop littered with electronic files.

"From a productivity standpoint, a cluttered desktop and files equals a cluttered mind," said Melisa Celikel, chief executive of Let's Get You Organized, an organizational business consultancy based in San Diego. "Tasks and to-dos may go unnoticed, bills unpaid, and emails unanswered."

While spring is typically the season for cleaning physical environments, there's no traditional season for purging digital messes. As a result, it may rarely — or never — get done.

That means you could find yourself frantically organizing your desktop or email while on deadline with a client project or clearing space just before your boss wants a key presentation.

The good news is all this is preventable. Here's how:

Avoid being overwhelmed. If you haven't digitally decluttered in some time, be aware that the process can be overwhelming, said Katie Corritori, a professional organizer in the New York City area. That doesn't mean you shouldn't start.

She suggests setting a timer for between 10 and 30 minutes a day. "When the timer goes off, you're done for the day," she said. "Shorter bursts of focused time can be more sustainable and effective, especially when the project is quite large." 

Start with your computer. For most of us, the computer (desktop or laptop) is our digital headquarters, so it makes sense to tackle this first. Delete unused files regardless of age, clear out downloads, scrap unneeded screenshots, and purge the digital trash. Then, pick a time each week to designate 15 minutes to keep it clean, suggested Alexis Haselberger, a time-management and productivity coach based in San Francisco. "Having a regular day to do this ensures that it doesn't get out of control or overwhelm you," she advised.

Robert Siciliano, a Boston-based security awareness expert and speaker, suggested that you periodically organize music and photos into folders, uninstall programs that aren't frequently used, and control icons by consolidating them or deleting unused ones. "A desktop cluttered with icons will slow boot-up time," he explained, adding that removing an icon won't delete the program — just the shortcut.

Control the tabs. Haselberger also suggested closing out all of your open browser tabs at the end of the week if you, like some people, don't shut down your computer daily. "If the articles weren't important enough for you to have time to read this week, you're unlikely to read them in the future," she pointed out. "Cut your losses and move on." 

Take on email. Now, turn to your email, which can quickly overflow with messages. "Start with your inbox. What's been sitting there for ages that you'll never open? Delete it," Siciliano advised.

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