Today I want to give a few tips on something that I know we could all do better and it’s something we all need to do as well. That is how to declutter and keep a clean digital workspace. If you are a business owner, you probably spend 80% of your time working on your business.
Most of which is within your digital workspace in one form or another. Whether it is on your laptop or on your Google Chrome, where you are toggling in between different tabs, you definitely spend a majority of your time in your digital workspace.
How does it feel to have a cluttered workspace?
Now, how does it feel when you know that there is a cupboard or a room in your house, which hasn’t been organized or cleared from things you don’t need? It brings some sense of anxiety or unease, right? That’s how I feel as well when it comes to my digital workspace when I know that I haven’t cleaned it up.
Or when I know that I have 1,001 files in my downloads folder that are disorganized and I probably won’t use or open half of those ever again. It kind of gives me this feeling of unease like there’s something that I know needs to be done, but I just keep procrastinating on it. And I know one day I will have to open that download folder and look for a really important file or folder. And I kind of dread when that time comes.
So, it is totally okay to feel that sense of unease or overwhelm or not even wanting to think about that cupboard that is just going to come tumbling down when it comes to your digital workspace. Whether that’s your downloads folder or your camera roll on your phone, or even the 1,001 tabs that are open on your phone or Google Chrome on your laptop.
The effects of ignoring your digital clutter
However, ignoring the digital clutter that is clouding your mind and keeping you feeling unease in your business, is just going to make the problem worse. Because at some point you are going to have to deal with it. At some point, it is going to stop you in your tracks from making progress. It could even result in habits that we do not want you to pick up.
Some of these habits include multitasking and having the multi-tabs syndrome. For me, that happens a lot! Because I am trying to look for things and then I have so many tabs open and then it’s so easy to get distracted. And then after half an hour, I’m like, okay, where did the half an hour ago and what have I done? So, we do not want that to be happening as a result of digital clutter.
Another thing that it could be causing, which you may not be aware of is the time that you are spending toggling between those tabs trying to find a file. And sometimes it could sound like it’s such a small amount of time. I mean, it’s just one minute, right? It really won’t make a big difference. However, when you start to add up the time, you’re spending toggling between those tabs, trying to find that file that you worked on three days ago, those minutes add up.
I did a bit of math to just see how much time we spend trying to find files or toggling between taskbars. And how much time is wasted from doing these type of activities? And we really shouldn’t be wasting that time as the CEO in our business. Because we could be using that time on revenue-generating activities.
Let’s say you take two minutes every single day to find files or toggle between taskbars to find that one specific file that you need. Or to scroll on your camera, looking for that one specific graphic you want to post on your social media page. Two minutes doesn’t sound a lot.
However, when you add it up, on an annual basis that comes to 32 hours. That is a whole work week that is spent every year just trying to look for files or trying to toggle between taskbars. And I’m not even counting the time that is wasted because of the habits that kick in. Such as, multi-tab syndrome or multitasking, which really wastes even much more time and really reduces your productivity.
I hope you are now convinced that you need to declutter your digital workspace every so often. And I know it’s not the easiest of things to do. Just like decluttering your house isn’t the easiest of things to do. I know I have one or two cupboards out there that I have been procrastinating on for the longest time. But hopefully, I will get it done soon and this is a pep talk to me as well.
Here are a few tips I would like to give before I even go into the process of how to actually detox and declutter your digital workspace.
1. Don’t try to do it all at once.
Even if you give yourself a day to do a digital cleanup exercise, you will not have finished everything by the end of that day. So, tackle it one step at a time. You could even declutter one area of your digital workspace at a time instead of trying to do it all at once. Give yourself some grace, because digital decluttering is something that we all have to do.
There is no one who has this all under wraps and perfect. Every one of us has some form of digital clutter that needs to be dealt with. So do not beat yourself up because you have to do this. What I would say you should do is get into the habit of doing it often. So even if it’s just once a month, get into the habit of doing it.
Then you can even just commit to one hour a month for starts to do a digital cleanup. And there are people who are actually organizers of digital workspaces. So, if you want to just hand this over to someone else by all means do so. But if you do not have that ability, or want to get into the habit of cleaning up often, then commit yourself to just one hour a month to do a digital cleanup and organization.
2. Compartmentalize the process
Next, compartmentalize the process. In the same way, you don’t want to say, I am going to do a cleanup of my house and a decluttering exercise this weekend. And then what happens on Saturday morning? You just go back into bed and you’re like, maybe it will happen next weekend. But today I really don’t feel like doing it. Versus if you just thought of it in terms of one room at a time. So just think of it as I’m going to deal with the master bedroom today. And it is going to be a big, big win if I can actually do it. That sounds and feels so much less overwhelming and so much more doable than if you try to do the entire house at once. The same thing goes for your digital workspace.
The process of decluttering your digital workspace
1. Cleaning up your offline workspace aka folders
The first thing you want to do to declutter your digital workspace is cleaning up. When I am decluttering, I remove things that I don’t need from my downloads folder and cloud drives. I also delete duplicate photos and uninstall apps that I do not use. Well, that is clutter that can be easily cleaned up.
This can take a long time if you haven’t done it in a while or you haven’t done this at all since you started working on your business. However, you want to do the cleanup first, before you start organizing things. Because if you start organizing amazing things that you don’t even need, I mean, that doesn’t make sense, right?
Have you watched home decluttering and cleaning TV shows? The first thing they do removing things and cleaning up the mess. Removing things that haven’t been used in the last probably six months and getting rid of things that they know won’t be used again.
2. Cleaning up your online workspace
Then you want to do a cleanup of your online workspace. So, the folders are more of your offline workspace. Your online workspace includes; Google Chrome or Safari or any other browser you use. Do a cleanup of that.
The first thing you can do is clear your browsing history, clear the cache, and then remove any passwords that you do not use. Remove any bookmarks and shortcuts that you do not use. Just clean it up completely. And if you haven’t used it in the last three to six months, chances are you are not going to use it again.
The same goes for your email inbox. If you have 1,923 unread emails mark them all as read. This will help you organize your inbox easily. Should you want to go back to those emails later, they’ll still be there. But chances are, you are not going to go back to them. That way, you don’t have that number staring at you and making you feel a sense of anxiety.
3. Organizing your files
The next step to declutter your digital workspace is to organize your files. Have a consistent hierarchy across all your different folders or all your different workspaces where you save and store files.
I have a hierarchy on my Google drive that I replicate on my laptop in terms of the main folders. Have the same folder structure across your business so that you don’t have to think twice when you have to try and locate specific files.
How I do it is I use the four core areas of the business to organize and create that hierarchy. In my case, the four core areas of business that I have replicated onto my folder structure is; Operations, client management, marketing and product & service delivery.
I have a main folder for each of these core areas of business. And then within those folders, I do have some subfolders. But the main aim is to make sure that your files all have a home to stay in. You do not want any files that are just hanging and lurking around. That could cause you unnecessary overwhelm or anxiety.
How to ensure you stick to the organization hierarchy
1. Changing your browser download settings
The next thing is to ensure that you actually stick to the organization hierarchy. One of the things I noticed last week, is to make sure that every time I try and download something from Google Chrome, it asks me where I want to save it.
Instead of just clicking download and it goes straight to the downloads folder. Otherwise, that just clogs up your downloads folder and creates even more anxiety, especially when you’re trying to find something.
Change your Google Chrome settings so that every time you try and download a file, it asks you where you’d want to save it, and immediately save it to its rightful home.
2. Email Inbox Management
Managing your inbox is vital when it comes to decluttering your digital workspace. At this point ensure that you have marked all your old unread emails as read, and you have tried to delete the emails that you know, you’re not going to look at.
The next thing you want to do is to, unsubscribe from any newsletters that you have not opened in the last two to three months, even one to two months. If you haven’t opened it, chances are you won’t open it. Or it is just not useful for you at this point in time.
And you can always resubscribe to people’s newsletters. Unsubscribing from someone’s newsletter now does not mean you are divorcing them forever. It just means that it’s not the right time for you to be consuming their content. So why do you want to clog up your inbox with their content when you are not even consuming it?
3. Creating filters
Then you want to make sure you create filters for emails you receive often for them to go to a specific folder. If you know that you do not need to read that email, but you know, you need to receive it create a filter. For example, invoices that are coming through, create a filter and have a folder for those invoices. And then at the end of the month, you can deal with them or your accountant can deal with them if you have one.
You can actually create an automation such that for every email that comes from a specific person, the files that are in those emails are saved onto a folder in Google drive. So, you never have to even open those emails.
4. Reduce the number of times you check your email
Then as a general rule of thumb, reduce the number of times you check your emails on a daily basis. Try and start with two times a day and then gradually reduce that to once a day. Because you do not need to be in your inbox all the time. I know it kind of feels like fear of missing out but there is nothing that is so urgent that requires you to be in your inbox more than twice.
Set auto-responder if you want to keep people at ease when it comes to your response time. Set an autoresponder in your email that lets people know that you only read your emails once a day. You could also include some frequently asked questions in the autoresponder.
This could instantly save time because maybe someone is sending an inquiry and your FAQs section on your autoresponder could actually give them the information they need. At the same time, people will know and expect that okay, she’s not going to look at my email immediately. But if she hasn’t responded within the next 48 hours, then I can send a follow-up. That way, it’s a win on them because you’ve managed the expectations. It’s a win on you because you’ve minimized the time you are in your inbox and you are spending that time on more productive activities.
5. Set a specific time to act on your emails
Lastly, try and have a specific time when you act on your emails. You could be looking at your emails once a day. But the fact that you are reading your email does not mean you need to do that action immediately. Instead, you could create a task in your task management tool to act on that email at a specific time in the future. When you know it is going to be the time to be working on those specific tasks. So never ever feel that you need to act on emails immediately. This is especially if you’ve already managed the expectations of the people who are sending you emails by setting that auto-response.
I hope you have found this helpful. Remember, take it one step at a time. Just commit to one hour a month, or even better one hour a week to declutter your digital workspace. Also, try and do it as often as possible so that you don’t get into that phase of overwhelm and you don’t adopt unneeded habits. Because being in your inbox all the time all is not a CEO activity. Multitasking across different tabs is not something that CEOs who are scaling their businesses do.
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