An entire year of working from home can wreak havoc on your computer system, and disturb your behavioral pattern of digital life. Here’s a holistic approach to performing a digital declutter, and retuning your dependency on the digital world as we move forward.
Even before a pandemic of biblical proportions took over, we have been deeply entwined into the digital world. Whether it is by the line of work you are in that requires you to stay connected to the World Wide Web, or your dependency on the internet for any form of social connection during the socially-distanced year we’ve had – the abundance of digital elements is both, a blessing and a curse. At times, the overwhelming number of files and folders, social media apps, and a bucketload of emails in the inbox can put a roadblock in your ability to multitask and hinder digital productivity.
Since a large chunk of the global workforce was confined to their homes the past year, most of our meetings, business transactions, and even schooling happed over the web. Being glued to the computer screen for hours has not only caused most of us to pick up a few pounds but has turned the home computer and laptop into a honeypot of bulky files, scattered documents, dozens of applications, and so much more. As the New Year begins and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, it is time to start fresh and heal some of the self-inflicted damage on our digital lives.
Guide to digital decluttering
When you talk about decluttering a living space, you probably wonder about it in the general sense of organizing your wardrobe and furniture in your home and throwing away everything you don’t need anymore. It is essential to keep your home space litter-free, but it’s also essential to take some time off to sift through your digital pile of images, data files, and apps. Here’s a definitive guide on how some of the necessary steps you can take to clean out the digital garbage and free your mind for increased productivity and break down the stress that comes along with hours of being glued to the screen.
Start at the Home Screen
Whether you’re planning to get an email in or editing some pictures and sending it out, the first thing you look at is your home screen. Wouldn’t you steer clear of a house that has trash bags and piles of magazines dumped on the porch, so why would the same be tolerable on your home screen? On the macOS computer, keep the Dock limited to a maximum of 5 – 10 apps that you use daily while pinning the same number of apps to the taskbar for easy navigation.
The fewer icons you have on the home screen, the faster the computer screen will load up, which makes it essential to boost the system performance. Most apps create a desktop icon by default, start by deleting the ones you don’t use daily, while compartmentalizing documents, images, and other files into folders. You can choose to organize apps into folders based on their utility, or even color-code the data you use together, hence cleaning up the home screen for a fresh start.
Take Out the Trash
Recycle Bin (Windows), and Trash (macOS) gives you the ability to retrieve some of the crucial media or documents you may have accidentally deleted. The safety net does give you some peace of mind and can often be a lifesaver, but at the same time, hoard plenty of unwanted junk that does have an impact on the computer system and performance. Since the content you delete is not truly deleted until you empty the Recycle Bin, your “deleted” content is still pretty much-occupying disk storage space.
If you’re too nervous about losing an important file when you hit the “empty” button, we recommend that you take a dumpster dive and take a look at the files you’ve discarded over time. There is always the option to restore files that you deem necessary in the future, so take the time to sort the files out. But once you’re done with the sorting, taking out the trash will bring back some much-needed disk storage and enhance the system performance.
Organize the Folders
Whether you downloaded the presentation for work 5 times over the weekend or ended up downloading the university online curriculum every week, all of it adds to the mess. We’re not going to put you out in the cold, risking the loss of any valuable document, so before you go off on a deleting spree, make sure you move all of your essential documents to iCloud, Dropbox, or Google Drive. If you aren’t too keen on online cloud storage, the option of an external storage drive exists too.
Begin by performing an audit of the files saved on the computer drives and start by deleting the files you are certainly not going to use again. Rather than dumping all of the PDFs and Word document files into the Documents folder, sort them out using sub-folders such as “Invoices”, “Personal”, “Legal”, etc. At the same time, organize images based on the date system by either diving them into “Location” or “Year”, or move them all to a service such as Google Photos if you’re running low on disk storage.
Scrub the Email Inbox
Even the most organized among us, tend to have an email inbox that is messier than the world of politics, but it doesn’t have to be. The chances are that you open up your email account every day for work, and missing out on a critical mail due to some promotional message can be infuriating. To successfully perform an email detox, you need to begin by unsubscribing to all of those newsletters from marketers, company mailing lists, and bloggers that aren’t useful to the cause.
The “zero inbox policy” is an excellent practice to keep, where you simply archive all of your emails, leaving a fresh space for the new ones to land. Email services such as Gmail also offer you the option to set filters, automatically separating the unwanted junk from the important emails. Additionally, email extensions such as Todoist allow you to set tasks based on the emails you receive, which saves you time and takes work productivity to a whole new level.
Curb the Screen Time
While visual media has been a game-changer for productivity since it stimulates the brain, going overboard can do more harm than good. An increasing number of people have been reporting constant burnout even before the pandemic took over, and the more hours you have at home, it translates directly into more screen time. It is a proven technique that adding some greenery to space allows your stress levels to drop, along with breaks between work time and physical movement improves cardiovascular health.
Studies suggest that higher screen time can directly result in disrupted sleep patterns, which is why setting your mobile phone aside during off-work hours is essential. Taking baby steps such as avoiding the TV during meal hours or replacing the evening news broadcast with an audio podcast can dramatically improve your overall productivity. The option of using Screen Time on iOS and iPadOS is a step in the right direction, while setting a Screen time on Windows PC can also keep the young eyes from being glued to the computer all day long.
Use Third-Party Programs
Unless you’re a tech-savvy individual who knows their computer system in and out, having some extra help to keep things digitally organized is vital. Whether you want to delete cookies, remove those space-hungry temporary files, or need a quick and easy way to disable startup programs on your Windows PC, we recommend the CCleaner Tool by Piriform. Built-in features for cleaning out the registry files, defragmenting the disk drives, and duplicate finder tools are some added bells and whistles to finetune the system.
Although the same tool is extended towards macOS users, our pick for Apple users would be CleanMyMac X by MacPaw. The reason we recommend CleanMyMac, especially for removing unwanted litter from the computer, is due to native features such as Cleanup tool to remove junk and Malware Remover to find and solve system vulnerabilities. The Space Lens gives you a visual map of the disk storage, as well as a built-in assistant to automate some of the processes with machine learning.
Set a Cleaning Routine
Performing a deep clean on your house or washing your car only once a year seems absurd, so why is it acceptable for your computer that you use every day? The fact of the matter is, no matter how thorough you are with your decluttering, the computer system or the mobile phone you’re using is about to hoard up media content, files, and everything in between. Here’s a general digital decluttering practice we recommend to keep things humming smoothly:
- Weekly – Start by backing up files to the cloud that you are positively going to need in the future. Keep the desktop clean and remove any unwanted app icons or unorganized files from the main screen. Ensure that the “zero emails” rule is maintained by the beginning of the week, and empty out the Recycle Bin or Trash.
- Monthly – Take a look at the Downloads folder, where most of the incoming files are saved and stored. Review the apps you have installed on the computer in the past month, and remove any that you don’t need.
- Every Three Months – Take up a day for media organizing and sort out the images based on location and year, get rid of the duplicates, and delete the ones you no longer need. Manage your social media account and prune the followers you have to keep the social feed nice and clean.
- Yearly – Get the system checked up by a professional, perform disk defragmentation, and create a complete system backup to the cloud for added security.
Conclusion – become a digital minimalist
The problem with a messy computer system or even a mobile phone is that it not only slows down the system and performance of the device but takes a toll on your productivity too. Staying focused from the comfort of your home, where pets, roommates, and children are all around you, can be a daunting task in itself. The added burden of a computer system plagued by distracting mess can put a wrench in your ability to schedule the work time and keep it all organized.
As we roll into the New Year with the Coronavirus pandemic still very much alive and kicking, it is time to run a detox on your digital life. We’ve devised some tried and tested commandments to streamline the way you make the most out of technology, maximize your productive time while still enjoying the social and entertaining aspects of the virtual world in every way possible.