Have your computer and other devices accumulated the digital equivalent of dust?
Do these out-of-date files can reduce your efficiency?
And if that’s not enough, COVID-19 and working-from-home (aka:WFH) offer more reasons to clean up, purge and organize your digital life.
Because a cluttered computer makes your thinking disorganized and easily distracted.
Even worse, your devices can get sick too!
Take it from me—my computer died and corrupted my backup drive in the process!
Don’t worry—We’ve got you covered!
For Spring Cleaning Your Digital Life, you can:
- Read the entire Spring Cleaning Your Digital Life Guide,
- Jump to the specific sections you need using the Table of Contents, and/or
- Download your copy of The Ultimate Checklist To Declutter Your Digital Life.
Table Of Contents: How To Declutter Your Digital Life
- How To Create A Structure To Organize Your Information
- How To Protect Business IP And Customer Information
- How To Create And Maintain Your Swipe File
- How To Back Up Your Computer and Digital Devices
- How To Create And Manage Your Computer Passwords
- How To Protect Your Digital Privacy
- Software and Apps: How To Check For Updates
- How To Declutter Your Digital Documents
- How To Declutter Your Download Folder
- How To Declutter Your Desktop
- How To Organize Your Digital Photos
- How To Organize Your Videos
- How To Spring Clean Your Email
- How To Spring Clean Your Other Digital Information
- How To Organize Your Offline Documents To Store Online
- Spring Cleaning Your Digital Life Conclusion
TL;DR: What You Need To Know About Spring Cleaning Your Digital Life
Why do you need to declutter your digital life on a regular basis?
- Save time finding information and documents with less distractions,
- Keep your computer and other devices working efficiently, and
- Provides you with new ways of seeing your information as well as personal progress over time.
5 Keys to spring cleaning your digital life success:
- Create a consistent structure for organizing your information,
- Develop a consistent approach to filename files and downloads and photos.
- Remove software, apps, subscriptions and documents you no longer need,
- Check and change passwords to maintain security, and
- Backup computer, smartphone and other devices on a regular basis.
The Ultimate Checklist To Declutter Your Digital Life
Want to work at peak performance?
Then decluttering your digital life across your computer(s), smartphone and other devices.
Author of The Age Of Influence, Neal Schaffer recommends:
“While COVID-19 affects every business differently, use this time to better optimize everything you do. So make sure every tool and process still makes sense for your business and/or personal life.”
To purge your digital life of information you no longer need and to organize the rest, download “The Ultimate Checklist To Declutter Your Digital Life”.
How To Create A Structure To Organize Your Information
The key to digital organization success for work-from-home employees, entrepreneurs and small business owners starts with developing a structure for your information.
Further, apply it across content formats and devices.
To help you file, find and use new and existing documents when you need them.
So decide on your file, folder and information structure first. And, where possible, keep it consistent online and offline to save you time in the long run.
In Information Anxiety, Richard Saul Wurman pointed out:
While information may be infinite, the ways of structuring it are not. And once you have a place in which the information can be plugged, it becomes that much more useful.
One of the best ways to organize information is to use Wurtzman’s LATCH Method:
To organize your computer, folders, files, email and other information:
- Create a root structure for your computer, nested folders and file names.
- Apply this organization to your offline information where appropriate.
How should you name folders and files?
Select names that have meaning for you.
- Choose from-date, company name (For example: ConEd), and/or type (For example: utilities)
- Keep filenames to a reasonable length of characters (to avoid getting cut off.)
- Use hyphens or underscores instead of spaces.
Move from a document format-based structure:
To a function-based structure:
- Current work. Create a sub-folders for each project and use its name. Within each project folder include sub-folders for WIP, brainstorm, output and archive.
- People. Include management, staff and/or clients
- Departments. Include marketing, technology, sales, finance, legal and other.
- Swipe File
- General. Include folders for yourself, partner/spouse, children and parents
Actionable Digital Organization Tip:
- Outline or mindmap your information structure first. This helps you to figure out what you need to organize and where it fits best.
How To Protect Business IP And Customer Information
If you are an entrepreneur, solopreneur or business owner, protect the security and privacy of the personal information your employees and customers and of your business IP.
- Create policies, procedures and protocols to protect the privacy and security of information related to your employees, customers and business. Also decide how to handle your business’s intellectual property (aka: IP).
- Then, have a lawyer review these policies. (Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer.)
- Further, review the Terms and Conditions of the software and cloud services your business uses. As reported on Inc, Amazon has shown a willingness to compete with startups hosting their software on Amazon Web Services (aka: AWS). Also with others that provide services and tools to AWS users. In the chart below, Brian Roemmele, a go-to resource for tech startups and investors, points out the size of AWS.
Actionable Small Business Tip:
- Include processes related to information security and privacy in your business documentation.
How To Create And Maintain Your Swipe File
Used by marketers and advertisers, swipe files consist of useful examples of work by other brands and businesses.
- Study them to learn what works for others and how to apply them to your business. Examine content structure, titles, words and voice.
- Save welcome emails, nurture campaigns, sales emails, About pages, headlines, cost structures and pricing and other useful marketing tips. Take screenshots and include URLs.
Don’t STEAL or PLAGIARIZE this information.
Tamsen Webster of “Find the Red Thread” provides a stellar example of #swipefile use.
- Read Washington Post and New York Times. Then scan RSS feeds in Feedly (under #swipefile, naturally) every morning. I save stories that look interesting or are within my topic areas. I use the “Read Later” feature built into those sources’ apps. [Note: Scott Monty uses Flipboard to curate his reading.]
- Scan the stories I saved weekly and choose 10 of the best to share. To do this, I load them into Buffer.
- Save articles I’m sure I’ll reference again to Evernote. [Note: Tamsen uses #swipefile and keywords to search her Gmail.]
Actionable Small Business Tip:
- Use your swipe file to curate useful information for your newsletter and social media. To save time, batch there tasks.
How To Back Up Your Computer and Digital Devices
The key to backup success requires a regular process and/or a scheduled backup.
Do you feel you’d be lost without the information on your computer, smartphone or tablet?
Then backup your computer and devices to an external drive or the cloud!
Only one quarter of US computer owning adults backup their computer annually (2018).
Although you should backup your computer up at least daily or weekly depending on how much new content and information you add. Or use software to automatically backup your computer.
To backup your computer, smartphone and other devices, Chris Penn of Trust Insights explains:
External hard drive backup.
- Use a backup hard drive equal to two or more times the capacity of your computer’s hard drive. Backup drives with a minimum of 500 GB of space or more allow you to restore quickly and easily from an entire hard drive to a specific file.
- Further, if you don’t use cloud backups, buy a second hard drive. Then backup your computer and devices to it. And store in a different location.
- Update you off-premise backups twice a year when you change your clocks.
- Select a cloud option. They include services like Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive, Dropbox and Amazon. These options often have fees that vary based on different plans. For example, David Berkowitz of Serial Marketer likes Dropbox since it works across devices.
Also, some companies regularly backup employees’ computers. If your employer does this, don’t keep personal information on it or it will get saved to their servers.
How To Create And Manage Your Computer Passwords
To secure your digital life, choose hard-to-guess passwords. Use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols.
Don’t make passwords too difficult to remember. Or people will them post somewhere less safe.
Use a password manager for the “Don’t Make Me Think Approach!”.
And avoid these easy-to-guess options:
- 12345678 or 87654321, and
- Simple words, family names and birthdays.
Further take these password precautions:
- Use different passwords for each financial institution and medical organization,
- Regularly change passwords.
- Don’t put usernames and passwords in the same email or text. (Yes even system admins do this!) and
- Create a paper backup for the passwords for your computer, other devices, financial accounts and medical records. Use this precaution in case something happens to you, and others must access your information. NOTE: Don’t put this information in a document or email!
Actionable Small Business Password Tips:
- Keep a separate list of codes for your regular WiFi accounts.
- Save license codes for software and devices. Find this information on packaging or purchase emails. Print a hardcopy and file it.
- Have an alternate Internet option. Use 2 different Internet providers so if one goes down, your business can keep going! Also know how to use your smartphone as a WiFi hotspot.
- Practice safe computer use. Take care when using your computer in public. Security cameras and free WiFi routers can be hacked.
- Disable Bluetooth when not using it. Use wired headphones in public places like conferences and co-working spaces.
How To Protect Your Digital Privacy
To protect your digital privacy, requires two types of actions:
- Computer, smartphone and/or device based-activity and
- Human activity.
When spring cleaning your digital life, check the privacy settings on your computers, smartphones and/or other devices.
- Clear cookies from your browser such as Chrome, Safari or Firefox. This can be done manually on each browser you use. Or use a tool like PrivacyBadger. In addition to advertising tracking, cookies can contain other information you may like having such as shortcuts to special webpages.
- Check the privacy settings on your social media profiles. Also take with the amount of information you add to profiles and share on these networks. Bear in mind digital information from different sources can be combined.
- Require Two-Factor Authentication so a password is sent to another device to verify your identity.
- Never save passwords on your computer or device.
But, digital privacy also involves human activity. And many people overlook this type of security challenge.
- Take care when calling financial and/or medical providers in public. Since they require at least your name and other personal information to identify you. People around you may record your information.
- Regularly audit your financial accounts. To check for unusual or unknown transactions. And contact your provider immediately when you see a problem. But limit the amount of information you share when you put a transaction in dispute.
- Don’t use your social security number, phone number or other special date as a password.
Software and Apps: How To Check For Updates
While spring cleaning your digital life, also check the software and apps on your computer, smartphone and/or other devices. This helps them to run more efficiently, protects you against viruses and malware, and saves money on data usage.
- Check for the latest software updates and run them to avoid malware and viruses. To add protection, use a separate anti-virus software, like Norton.
- Audit permissions, tracking and privacy settings on your computer, smartphone and other devices. For most smartphones, find this function under “Settings”.
- Review apps on your computer, smartphone and/or other devices. Then uninstall the apps you no longer need. Also deactivate apps that refresh and collect information in the background. Since they slow your phone down and cost money! Further, save messages and media files sent using WhatsApp and/or Viber.
- Clean your computer to improve its efficiency. Use Glary Utilities 5 (free) or CleanMyPC (paid) for PCs and CleanMyMac (free) for macs
- Check reserved and parked domains at least annually. To stop holding and paying for names that are irrelevant to your business. For example, one of my clients owned a large number of domain names based on their internal abbreviations. While holding domain names for competitive reasons makes sense. So they stopped paying for these URLs and saved.
How To Declutter Your Digital Documents
For most people, the hardest part of decluttering their devices is to decide what folders and sub-folders they need
When in doubt, create a new folder or sub-folder and review the need for it later. At least this gets you organized and you can change or modify the folders later.
- Organize digital documents into folders. Take time to put your digital content in relevant folders to find it faster when you need it.
- Delete redundant documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Don’t keep every version of every document created during development. After finalizing the content or project, purge interim versions.
How To Declutter Your Download Folder
Review and organize your download folders. Since they collect space hogs!
- Examine for clutter. Your download folder contains and stores information you forget about. Go through it to free up space on your computer and devices.
- Use descriptive filenames. Since the files names on downloads tend to be irrelevant for your needs.
- Get rid of duplicate copies of documents. Without realizing it, multiple copies of a document tend to get downloaded.
- Delete outdated information.
How To Declutter Your Desktop
Don’t use your desktop as a default file or staging area for projects, documents and/or images.
Instead put the documents and images you need into a few relevant folders. And file or delete the rest.
Then, select a soothing or motivating image to make you feel good. Also this will reduce your ability to leave random files on your desktop.
How To Organize Your Digital Photos
1.2 trillion digital photos taken worldwide in 2017 (Business Insider estimate).
Review your photos weekly or monthly to organize, tag and share them while you still remember what they contain.
Also, photographs can take up more space than documents!
Actionable Spring Cleaning Digital Photograph Tips:
- Put all of your photos in one place. Include photos from your smartphone, other devices, camera, email, and Instagram (and other social media). Then delete them from your device to minimize space use.
- Remove out-of-focus, duplicate and redundant photos. During this step select the best shots and delete the rest.
- Establish a folder structure for your photos. Organize photos by date using year, month and date. Further organize photos by personal versus business and/or people and/or location. Based on need, add folders for family, events, trips, work, records (such as receipts), and general or swipefile.
- Rename photographs with useful names. Use date, location, names and/or subject of the image.
- Use your favorite tools to improve your photos on a regular basis.
- Backup photos to an external hard drive or the cloud.
How To Organize Your Videos
In 2019 , the average person globally, watched 84 minutes of online video, up from 67 minutes in 2018 according to Zenith Media.
Videos take up more room than photos especially on smartphones. So transfer videos from your phone to your computer or the cloud as soon as possible.
Like digital photos, change the filenames to include the date and other useful information.
If your videos are an extension of your photo collection, then co-mingle the files using the same structure or by adding a separate video sub-folder for each date.
Alternatively, if you use video for work or other needs create a separate folder for each effort. To keep your videos organized, use these sub-folders:
- Raw photo shoot by camera
- Edited photos
- Graphic elements
- Audio including both sound and music
- Final video
Actionable Video Marketing Tip:
- Post finished videos to YouTube where appropriate. And add relevant text to support your search efforts.
How To Spring Clean Your Email
Email remains a key form of communication in our digital lives, regardless of age.
Email spring cleaning success depends on:
Establishing a structure to organize email as soon as you receive to efficiently act on, file and/or delete it.
Because email is a time hog!
Instead of constantly checking your email:
Set up processes to handle email at regular intervals.
Ask family, friends and personal contacts to use your personal email address only. And, yes, this includes your mother!
To keep your personal communications private and off of corporate servers!
What Data Tells You About How To Declutter Your Email
Before decluttering your inbox, let’s look at the data from a marketing point of view understand how people use email.
On average consumers have 2.5 email addresses. And about half of them don’t have a business email address. (UK DMA 2019)
The average lifespan of an email address:
3 out of 5 consumers never delete an email account. (UK DMA 2017)
Although businesses close employee accounts when they leave.
Less than half of email users achieve “Inbox Zero” where they have no email in their inbox! (Adobe 2019)
But Laura Petrolino and Gini Dietrich of Spin Sucks claim these tools save them 10+ hours per week.
Email averages (Campaign Monitor Research 2020):
- Open rate: 17.8%
- Click-through rate: 2.6%
- Click-to-open rate: 14.3%
- Unsubscribe rate: 0.1%
- Bounce rate: 0.7%
After an email enters a consumer’s inbox,
There’s no data on how long an average email waits until it’s read, deleted and/or filed.
Messages sent to a person’s primary email account are 14 times more likely to get read based on research by ReturnPath (now Validity).
Actionable Email Marketing Tips:
- Use a professional email name. Or you may not be taken seriously.
- Get a Gmail account if you still use an older provider like AOL, Yahoo or Hotmail. It makes you look old to the recipient.
- Add email to your blog or website if you own your own domain. It makes you appear more professional.
How To Organize Your Email Inbox To Increase Efficiency
Like other organizing digital documents, set up an organization structure for your folders to help you before you start purging emails.
Email marketing expert Ryan Phelan says:
What does this mean?
Create folders based on departments or activities and sub-folders by individual or specific event/effort.
Move email out of your inbox when the “task” is completed or resolved. So your inbox becomes a project list of things you still need to resolve.
I align my email folder structure with my digital document structure. It looks like this:
Newsletters (Note: Ideally use rules to avoid reading them in your inbox.)
- Work. Includes marketing and/or business focused newsletters across a variety of topics, top players, and thought leaders.
- Personal. Includes finance, hobbies, and inspirational
- Clients include prospects
- Swipe File
- Finance. Include banking, credit card, mortgage, loans, investments, and insurance. As a business owner, I break out personal and business accounts.
- Family. Use a folder for each family member.
- Shopping. Add rules to route shopping and brand emails to a “Shopping” folder. Save receipts to financial folder.
- Travel. Breakout general travel from special trips. Also, use rules to send promotions to a folder for review before purchase. Again, keep Frequent Flyer and Hotel membership numbers in a separate document and/or keep a paper copy for reference.
How To Clean Out Your Email: 15 Email Management Tips
Follow these 15 email management tips to keep email under control.
Also, practice the “1 Minute Email Rule”:
Answer emails you can handle in under one minute.
Actionable Email Management Tips:
- Create folders and subfolders as needed.
- Set up, add and/or delete email filters. File newsletters and alerts for batch review.
- Unsubscribe from newsletters you don’t read or need.
- Stop unnecessary alerts. Include Google, social media, and others.
- Don’t use your inbox as your “To Do” list. Purge irrelevant and/or useless emails. File and save emails for later use. And use Trello, Todoist and/or Asana.
- Use email shortcuts including keyboard shortcuts, IFTTT and Zapier scripts.
- Get removed from irrelevant mass emailings. Also ask list senders to not show email addresses in “To” or “cc” fields. Instead use “bcc” fields.
- Create templates for emails you send often.
- Save attachments separately. To find later, use a relevant filename.
- Search for and delete emails with last 4 digital of your social security number. Also ask senders to delete them.
- Remove out-of-office and automatic replies. Filter by “out-of-office” and “automatic reply”.
- Delete old and/or redundant event reminders. But file payment emails.
- Clean up form submissions. Sort by Wufoo and Typeform.
- Get rid of drafts. After checking for useful ideas!
- Check email signature file(s). Update and remove out-of-date information.
RECOMMENDED EMAIL TOOLS:
How To Spring Clean Your Other Digital Information
Lastly, review and clean out other digital stuff that doesn’t fit into a specific category.
Clean out feeds like Feedly. Eliminate feeds you no longer need or with duplicate information.
Review and clean out digital storage areas. Include Dropbox, Google Drive and Evernote.
Review and clean out bookmarks for pages or sites you visit regularly. Or use a document, Evernote or Pinterest for bookmarks.
Consider reviewing your Kindle activity. And, yes ,Amazon tracks this information!
Review and delete activity on voice-first digital devices.
- Check your Google services (myactivity.google.com). To review your device activity and get a comprehensive list of interactions. Also, browse, replay and delete audio recordings. Click on “Filter by Date and Product” and select “Voice and Audio”
- Review your Amazon Echo and Alexa smartphone apps (alexa.amazon.com.) Open Settings, scroll down. Then tap “History” to view recognized phrases, play recordings, and delete individual items.
Remove online accounts you no longer use to stop unwanted messages and potential security risks. Use Account Killer (free) to quit popular services quickly.
Physically clean your computer and devices. During COVID-19, they’re metal where germs remain up to 9 days.
- Dust your keyboard. Use an air spray or a keyboard cover.
- Clean the screen as prescribed by the manufacturer.
Remove information from old computers and devices before getting rid of them. Also, physically destroy old information storage such as CDs.
How To Organize Your Offline Documents To Store Online
In our increasingly digital device based world, your digital information often mirrors your offline information or hardcopy papers.
Why do you need paper?
For when you have no wifi or an important file gets corrupted. (Yes that happened when my computer died!)
Hard copy backups are useful for emergencies, especially for important government documents like birth certificates, social security, taxes.
So organize your paper information at the same time as your digital content. At a minimum, you ensure that you have hard copies of key documents!
Scan hard copy documents for online storage. Create a digital version and file it appropriately. And save originals where necessary!
Monthly invoices and expenses:
- Scan and track receipts with a smartphone app or camera. Then file related emails.
- Check credit card and bank accounts for recurring and subscription fees. Determine if you still use them. Or if you have similar services for entertainment, information and technologies.
Contacts and Business Cards:
Input information into your contact or customer management software within 24 to 72 hours. Alternatives include:
- LinkedIn app. Use the “Near Me” feature to connect with people at an event.
- Use your smartphone camera. At conferences, I take a photo of the person and their name badge to remember who they are
Finished Business Projects:
- Delete unnecessary versions and communications.
- Keep RFPs, contracts, bills, invoices, related documentation, client requests and final versions
- Debrief your team to improve and update internal processes.
Handwritten Journals and Notes:
Note-taking success depends on a process to review and file the information for future use.
- Paper. Include Bullet Journal, notebook or pads. Add an indexing system to find notes
- Computer, device and/or apps. Include document files or Evernote.
- Mixed handwritten and computer. Photograph handwritten notes to file them online. For example, some paper journals use related apps to story information online.
Spring Cleaning Your Digital Life Conclusion
While spring cleaning your digital life can be time consuming, the process can be cathartic.
More importantly, it ensures that the information you receive on your digital devices remains relevant.
By eliminating the messages and files you no longer need, you remove distractions to become more efficient.
What other suggestions do you have for spring cleaning your digital devices?
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published under the title, Spring Cleaning Your Digital Life Including Social Media on March 24, 2012. It was extensively updated and expanded.
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