You wake up first thing in the morning.
After making yourself a cup of coffee, you decide to quickly check your emails. Once loaded, you’re greeted by more than thirty unread messages each claiming to be more important than the rest.
You sigh in distress at what you have to deal with every day and then spend half an hour going through them.
Afterwards, you search your computer for the interesting article you had planned to read or the video that your friend had recommended you watch.
Eventually you find it, but only after you’ve spent five minutes searching through a bunch of random files, images and links wondering how they ever managed to get into your digital space.
An hour later, you head to work unsatisfied and unfulfilled with how you’ve spent your morning.
During your lunch break, you take out your smartphone hoping to use the time to connect with somebody close to you, or maybe feed your mind with something interesting and meaningful.
But then, you are bombarded by a bunch of notifications, each one trying to shout louder than the rest in a desperate attempt to grab your precious attention.
Of course, you could just ignore them.
But every time you face this situation, you also find yourself asking; what if it’s important?
You sigh once again, knowing that not too long from now, you’ll probably be dealing with the same thing…
If you can relate to any of this, then you no doubt have experienced the troubles of digital clutter.
How digital clutter differs from physical clutter
Your digital devices are likely some of the most important tools you use in your life.
But like physical space, digital space can also become cluttered with things that don’t bring you value.
And while digital clutter might not seem as problematic as physical clutter, it’s effects can be just as damaging to your time, focus and wellbeing.
In this post, I’d like to share twenty tips that you can use to simplify your digital devices.
Before we begin, I’d just like to say that you don’t have to apply all twenty of them in order to reduce your digital clutter.
If you would prefer to pick out the tips that you think will work for your particular situation, that’s perfectly fine.
Now, let’s get started!
#1 Choose the smallest storage space possible
In correlation with Parkinson’s Law, data expands to fill the space available. Look what happened when Microsoft offered free unlimited online storage with OneDrive. Soon after, they had to withdraw the option as some users had managed to store as much as 75TB!
When dealing with digital clutter, limitations are your friend. By choosing the smallest amount of storage space that could possibly meet your needs, you give yourself no other option than to be mindful of your digital space and to allow in only the things you truly need.
#2 Use less apps with more content
Sometimes having so many apps on your devices can defuse your attention. Limiting the things you do down to just a small number of apps can improve your focus while reducing digital clutter.
This approach might suit you if there are a small number of apps that you love working with. If so, why not see if you can replace the apps you use less often with the ones you use most often and still get the same task done.
#3 Use more apps with less content
If #2 doesn’t suit you, try doing the opposite. Instead of reducing the number of apps you have, use more. This can reduce the density of your content, since each app will likely contain less than when you manage everything with just a few apps.
This approach might suit you if you have several different projects and want to keep them separate from each other. Speaking of which…
#4 Limit what you do
This one kinda falls under #3, but I figured it was important enough to get its own number. Imagine being in an empty room with absolutely nothing accept a random book. Even if the book was about something you find boring, the chances that you’ll read it are pretty high since there’s nothing else to do.
Separation can do wonders for your focus, which is why ninety-five percent of the work I do for this blog, is handled in Evernote. When I open up Evernote, I know that there’s nothing else within the app that demands my attention, except this blog.
#5 Be a better gatekeeper
While the invisibility of digital space can be wonderful for minimalism, just because you can save something digitally doesn’t always mean you should. Before you allow anything to enter your digital space, make sure it’s either important or valuable (if not both).
If you can’t find a logical or legal reason for keeping certain files, then there’s a very strong chance that you’ll live just fine without them.
Email, notifications and social media
#6 Use one email address (and no more!)
While some people might find benefits from using more than one email address, it can also be problematic. You might confuse the passwords or forget which email address you used as a username for different accounts.
If at all possible, use just one email address or at the very least, have a work address and a personal address, but no more. Nine times out of ten, it’s much more effective to use one email address that’s well managed and organised than to use several that are unorganised and cluttered.
#7 Clean your inbox
On the topic of email, make sure that your spam filter is in place and working. Few things can be more frustrating than being notified that you’ve received junk email.
Also, unsubscribe from any promotional newsletters that serve no purpose other than to sell you things. My recommendation is that you use email strictly for the following and nothing more;
• Personal communication
• Following blogs/websites that you find interesting
• Staying up to date with events you’d like to attend
• Managing bills and accounts
#8 Reduce notifications
The number of notifications your devices and accounts receive has spiralled out of control over the past decade. While most of them are unimportant, they still do a very good job at pulling your attention away from other apps that you might use to be productive.
Adjust your notification settings so that you’re less likely to be disturb by something unimportant such as a Facebook “like”. Personally, when it comes to social media, the only time I allow notifications is when I receive a direct message, nothing more nothing less.
#9 Choose your social media platforms carefully
While social media has the potential to bring you value, it can often be very demanding on your time and attention especially when you have an account with several different platforms.
Are there any social media channels that just aren’t bringing you much joy? Do you feel like you’re keeping up with what’s going on just for the sake of doing so? If so, you’re likely better off letting go of the accounts you don’t use and focusing on the ones that better suit your personality and interests.
#10 Unfriend and unfollow
This can be understandably difficult when it involves people you know. But quite often, you can find your social media feeds full of posts that you’re not too interested in, from people who you aren’t particularly close to.
When you’re not truly connecting with somebody on social media and it’s not like you’ve known them for a very long time, sometimes disconnecting from them is the right thing to do for both of you. It gives you the chance to focus on the people who you wish to be closer to while giving others the opportunity to do the same.
#11 Schedule boundaries
Having your devices sounding and vibrating with calls, messages and notifications throughout the entire day is fatiguing and can make switching off and relaxing all the more difficult.
That said, it’s important to schedule time for which you don’t want to be contacted or notified. My personal preference is to use Apple’s Do Not Disturb feature (an equivalent should exist for Windows and Android). You can schedule it to activate automatically and while on, no notifications will sound and only the contacts saved to your favourites can call you.
#12 Be less social
Okay, I know that might sound a little cold but hear me out. Generally, the more you interact with others on social media, the more opportunity it creates for you to be bombarded with notifications later.
This doesn’t mean that you should ignore people or only use social media to read other people’s posts. Of course you should share with others! But try to only share and interact when you feel you’ll get a lot of value out of the conversation that follows.
Organisation and storage
#13 Use a password manager
With so many accounts, usernames and passwords to remember, keeping track can be tricky and stressful. While you may feel tempted to use the same password for everything, would you feel comfortable knowing that if somebody found out your one password, that they potentially had access to all of your accounts?
A better idea is to use a password manager. This will allow you to use a different password for all of your accounts, yet access them with just a single password. This way, you get the benefit of both simplicity and security. I personally manage my passwords with LastPass.
#14 Use a paper notebook instead of a digital one
This might sound surprising coming from me, an advocate of digitisation. But while I favour digital and use digital notebooks, I also acknowledge that analogue has its place too. And if your physical space is abundant, why not use it and save digital space.
Besides reducing your digital clutter, paper notebooks can sometimes be much more effective reminders since they’re more visible and don’t require a screen to be within sight.
#15 Keep your desktop clean
Your desktop is typically the first thing you see when booting up your computer. It can also become one of the most distracting places in your digital space if it becomes occupied by unimportant things.
Limit your desktop to hold only your most important files that you use often and need to be reminded of. Anything less than, can go elsewhere.
#16 Delete apps you don’t use
Do you ever unlock your smartphone and then totally forget what you wanted to do with it? While it can be tempting to keep certain apps because you feel you might need them someday, having apps you don’t use can be visually distracting from the ones you do use.
More often than not, a thirty day rule can suggest whether an app is worth keeping or not. If you haven’t used an app in the last thirty days, there’s a strong chance that you won’t use it in the next thirty days. And if so, you’d probably be just fine without it.
#17 Leave storage to more capable hands
Purchasing digital products has a lot of benefits. For example, its much easier to manage hundreds of songs digitally compared to physically. But like physical products, digital purchases can also take up space, even after you’ve finished with them.
Fortunately, many companies that sell digital products give you the option to download them again as many times as you want to. If so, I’d recommend removing any purchases that you’ve already enjoyed and likely won’t use again for a long time. This clears away the old and allows the new to have its chance.
#18 Organise with tags
If dealing with large amounts of content is unavoidable, tags can be a big help in organising your digital space. When used effectively, a tag essentially acts as a filter that hides files you’re not looking for, leaving only the ones you’ve asked to see.
I find a really good situation to use tags is when you’re dealing with lots of files that differ slightly yet still fall under the same description.
#19 Make your content searchable
While computers may be extremely good at processing information, one of the key skills that remains unique to human beings is our ability to ask the right questions.
Recently I’ve been experimenting with using search to find all of my apps and content on my Mac and iPhone. One of the key benefits I’ve found with this method, is that it prevents you from opening certain apps out of habit and forces you to think intentionally about what you actually want to do with your devices.
#20 Access, don’t own
The access economy offers many benefits to minimalism. And let’s face it, as minimalists who strive to live a simple life, we understand just how stressful ownership can really be.
Access on the other hand, allows you to enjoy the benefits of products and services without having to deal with the stress, responsibility and burdens of ownership.
By accessing digital products such as books, films and music instead owning them, you leave the responsibility of storing, organising and backing-up to companies who do it for a living, leaving you to do nothing except enjoy the benefits of what you’re paying for.
Decluttering your digital space
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s time to take action.
Write down all of the ideas from this post that you feel will help you. Then one-by-one, apply them to your digital space.
Again, the order you do them in matters little since they pretty much all lead to the same goal of simplicity in your devices.
As you do this, you’ll no doubt see an improvement in your time, focus and happiness when accessing your digital space.
You’ll wake up in the morning and spend no more than a few minutes dealing with your email.
You’ll be able to find what you’re looking for quickly and be able to give it your full focused attention.
In your spare time, you’ll be able to use your devices to engage with your interests and connect with others making your life more worth living without being distracted by unimportant notifications.
But most importantly, your devices will bring you value instead of draining it. After all, that’s the reason you have them isn’t it?
Craig Link is a minimalist and technology enthusiast with a passion for finding and sharing practical ways to live a simpler life with more time, money and energy for what’s most important to you.