Clutter. It doesn’t usually happen overnight, but piece by piece, it can accumulate. Over time, if not dealt with, it can impair your ability to focus.
In a study done by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute:
Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.
In layman’s terms, what that means is that too much stuff in our sights makes our brains shut down. What we see in front of us, has a direct effect on our ability to process information.
In my work with clients over the years as a Professional Organizer, and more recently as a web presence consultant, I find many people have overflowing inboxes and chaotic desktops (both digitally and physically). They often find themselves misplacing emails, yet not deleting or filing them for fear of losing them. They have no structure or system in place, and end up missing appointments, income, and just looking darn right unprofessional.
What is the way to get out from under it and get things streamlined and manageable? Can you imagine looking at your inbox only to see that lovely smiling sunshine image that pops up from Gmail saying : “You have no mail. Enjoy your day!”
Simply put, clutter creates chaos, and can prevent us from being productive and efficient.
I’m going to address digital clutter specifically here, as it is the thing my clients wrestle with the most. This includes, email, social media, passwords, desktop, documents, photos, email subscriptions. The best way to keep digital clutter at bay is to create a system to keep it from building up in the first place.
1. Simplify your email.
When you login to your inbox, do you see thousands of emails? Do you get a notification on your phone every single time someone sends you an email? Do you find yourself struggling to find emails, or getting late fees because you never read emails?
It may be time for an inbox decluttering. I am personally a fan of “inbox zero,” developed by productivity expert Merlin Mann. Your inbox should not be your to-do list, or your place to save emails as unread.
I am also not suggesting you obsessively and incessantly check emails all day long to attain this. Choose times to look at your email daily — whatever works best for you.
When you read an email, you can delete it, file it, or mark it as important to respond to later. After you respond, file it away. If it includes to-do items, add those to a task list or to-do list for fulfillment. Get OUT of your inbox.
2. Simplify social media.
Newsflash … you don’t have to use ALL social media outlets to find out what’s going on, share your news, or market your business. Pick a few that really resonate with you, or are most effective for the type of business you are in.
3. Simplify your passwords.
Numbers, uppercase, characters, oh my, it can sometimes be tricky to remember those secure passwords you create to protect your identity online. Use a password manager site to protect your passwords, so you don’t have to remember them all, and still keep your information safe and secure.
4. Simplify your desktop.
Think of your computer desktop like a dinner table. You wouldn’t want to eat dinner on a table piled with tax documents, receipts, dirty plates, and photographs.
Having a cluttered computer desktop is much the same. Visual clutter can impair your ability to focus, think clearly, and most importantly, to be able to find files that you need, when you need them most.
I recommend downloading files to your desktop that you are working on, and at the end of your work day, delete or file those images accordingly. When you open your laptop the next day, have a clear desktop to start fresh.
For your desktop wallpaper, choose something soothing as well. Try out a plain white or black background and notice how productive it feels the minute you turn on your computer.
5. Simplify your documents.
Take the time to scan your important paper documents into a digital file and then use an online file storage system to house them. You can reduce your paper load into something digital, and be more mobile, more sustainable, and have greater freedom when you need to find something important.
6. Simplify your photos.
Same as important documents. You can save or save and organize your photos digitally. No more photo albums collecting dust or taking up space in storage. If you don’t love a photo, let it go. Keep what makes you feel great.
7. Simplify your email subscriptiuons.
If you signed up for an email subscription intentionally, to get valuable content, and you love getting it in your inbox, then keep that subscription.
Oftentimes, however, you get signed up for lists automatically when you purchase a product, or sign up for something else. Take the time to freely hit the “unsubscribe” link if something no longer gives you value, rather than letting it take up precious space in your inbox. Cut it off at the pass.
Be diligent. Be persistent. Take the time to set up your systems and stay on top of it to keep digital clutter at bay.