Think digital storage is a cure-all for disorganization? Think again. Hoarding large amounts of digital data is just as bad as surrounding yourself with piles of paper. “The more hay we throw into this haystack, the more difficult it is to find the needle, even if you have the best search tools in the world,” says Melissa Gratias, productivity psychologist and principal of MBG Organizing Solutions. Confronting this digital abyss can be daunting, so take the time to clean up your virtual life.
Streamline Your Inbox
Digital clutter is postponed decisions, says local productivity expert Barbara Hemphill. Meaning: 500 unread e-mails are actually 500 unmade decisions. The average person receives about 27 e-mails each day—that’s almost 10,000 decisions to make this year!
One way to manage the influx is to keep e-mail subscriptions to a minimum. Even if you’re tempted by the 10-percent off West Elm will give you for joining its mailing list, make a point to unsubscribe (or adjust the frequency of e-mails) once you’ve scored your discount. And using Unroll.me, free software that consolidates promotions and newsletters into one daily e-mail, will keep sale reminders from bombarding your in-box.
Your coworker shared pictures of her new baby with you and 50 of her closest friends, and now everyone is replying? Gmail users can stop the incessant ping of Reply All messages by clicking the drop-down arrow at the top of an e-mail and selecting Mute to automatically archive these replies.
Gmail also lets users set up filters for certain contacts, such as members of your moms group, so all incoming e-mails go directly into a specific folder, bypassing your in-box. Yahoo! Mail’s “Smart View” automatically groups messages by category—Shopping or Finance, for example. At work, use Outlook’s “Advanced Rules” to sort and file important e-mails. For instance, you can adjust your settings so that if an e-mail from a designated contact hasn’t been read for three days, it pops up again at the top of your in-box.
Wrangle Social-Media Updates
We’ve all spent more time than we’d like to admit scrolling through social-media, a.k.a. the black hole of procrastination. Turns out you can actually be productive if you know how to optimize a few functions.
The rule of thumb: “Be more discerning about your connections,” says Gratias. Just because Twitter lets you follow 2,000 users doesn’t mean you should. Instead of scrolling through tweet after random tweet, categorize users you follow into Twitter lists such as News, Travel, or Cooking.
You don’t need to unfriend people on Facebook to unclutter your news feed. Next time Jessie from yoga posts yet another picture of her #healthy smoothie, unsubscribe from her posts by clicking on the right-hand arrow icon of her last comment, then Unfollow.
One way to filter your LinkedIn network is to analyze your home page. If your feed seems random, you’re likely connected to people who are irrelevant to your professional life. “You should not focus on amassing a big network just for the sake of bragging rights,” says Julie Inouye, director of corporate communication at LinkedIn. “If you can’t vouch for a connection or speak to their skills or expertise, maybe you shouldn’t connect with them.”
3 Apps That Will Change Your Smartphone Use
Inbox by Gmail: Think of this new app as your task manager. The interface automatically groups similar e-mails into bundles (you’ll find all your receipts under Purchases). It also lets you Pin important e-mails for quick reference and Snooze on messages when you’re busy (free for iOS and Android).
LinkedIn Connected: This app lets you zero in on the people in your network who matter most by sending alerts regarding their new jobs, promotions, and even birthdays. No more filtering through hundreds of connections (free for iPhone).
Photo Manager Pro: Finding a photo or video in your iPhone gallery can be a nightmare—until you download this organizing app. Create folders (and subfolders) that let you sort by date and file name. You can even star favorites and add captions ($3 for iOS).