Is paperwork getting top of you, especially since you have been working at home? Perhaps it feels like even when you have spent ages organizing everything, your desk always seems to be chaotic. Research shows that if you spend just thirty minutes a day looking for paperwork, files, and receipts – whether on your physical desktop or computer desktop, you will waste an alarming three weeks every year. Imagine what you could do with that amount of time!

While living digitally may seem like much of the paperwork and chaos is cut out, in reality, it just shifts the problem elsewhere, and let’s face it, almost everyone still has post-it notes and scraps of paper lying around with various notes, phone numbers and to-do lists jotted down.

How do you make yourself truly digital and remain organized and on top of everything at the same time? Here, we take a look at some tips to help you.

According to a survey by Summit Hosting, the average American has around 83 bookmarks saved, seven open browsers or tabs, 582 photos stored on their cell phone, and 13 apps that are unused. While the only physical space these take up is on your cell phone, computer and on the server on which your data is held, it takes up a huge amount of headspace. When your head is full of clutter and you cannot find what you need quickly and easily, it can be overwhelming and make it difficult to focus. This reduces your productivity and creative output, which in turn can make you less effective at work and at various things in your personal life, so it is important to organize yourself digitally as far as possible.

When it comes to having a digital declutter, the four overarching concepts include:

  • Audit all of the information that you have – files, photos, videos, images, audio, apps, etc
  • Delete anything that you no longer use
  • Reorganize what is left into a logical and easy to access system
  • Keep up and maintain the system, decluttering regularly

College essays and papers, out of date bank statements and receipts, scripts – your computer is probably holding on to all sorts of random and unnecessary documents. Here are some tips for setting up a backup system that will never let you down and an organized system to store and access your files as you move forward.

Make sure you store and backup everything

Before you do anything, you need to have a secure and reliable backup system. The last thing that you want to do is to lose everything and not be able to get it back, especially things like photos and documents that can never be replaced. It is a good idea to have at least two different backup systems – a hard drive based one and a cloud based one. That way, if one fails or is corrupted at all, you still have another one to fall back on.

Some of the options that you could choose from include:

  • Computer hard drive
  • An external hard drive
  • Memory sticks
  • Dropbox
  • iCloud
  • Google Drive
  • Amazon Photos

You then need to audit the files that you have. Look at where they are all stored, how they are organized, and how you have named them.

Delete, delete, delete

Now it is time for the sometimes scary part of the process – deleting files. Unlike decluttering physical stuff, it is important not to be too ruthless here. The things that you have stored and have been stored because at one point or another they were important to you, and they can not be easily replaced. If the process feels overwhelming, move the files that you need to sort through to a new file – perhaps named something like TO FILE, asnd go through them bit by bit.

Organize a file system

Now is the time to organize your files and documents into some sort of system. It is important that this system makes logical sense to you and anyone else that needs to access them. If it isn’t, you are never going to be able to find what you want and things are going to be back to the same old disorganized mess very quickly.

Sometimes, it can be easy to draw out your filing system and hierarchy on paper to give you a visual overview of where everything is. Make folders and then break things down into subfolders, perhaps by months. For example, if you work for yourself as a freelancer, you may use your computer for both personal and work, so your top-level folders might be ‘personal’ and ‘work’. Under ‘work’, you might have subfolders for clients, and then within those subfolders have folders for work completed each month and so forth.

Clear off your computer desktop

Once you have sorted out all your physical files and drawers in your desk, would you leave bits of paper scattered all over the surface of your desk? No, you wouldn’t, you would tidy it away. Do the same with your computer desktop. File away everything on there into the appropriate folders. If you struggle with keeping it clear, motivate yourself by having a picture of your family or dog or something that you want to see as your desktop wallpaper.

Use file naming systems and conventions

Use a standard file naming convention to ensure consistency and to keep your files in the right places. Try not to make them too long and use the same format for all file names. You can find a great guide to file naming conventions by clicking here.

Consolidate what you use

Many of us were brought up learning how to use Microsoft Excel or the like to create spreadsheets, perhaps moving onto Google Sheets as it became more popular. However, these cam be very limited when it comes to working in sync with other apps and pieces of software. Look at alternatives, such as Airtable, which can be used in conjunction with other systems to reduce the amount of documents and sheets you have. There are plenty of Airtable API Integrations available to make life much easier for you.

Clear out your email inbox

Are you one of those people that never looks at emails, or reads them and just leaves them in your inbox? The chances are you have hundreds, if not thousands of emails lurking about that you just don’t need. Again, these do not take up any physical room as such, but when you do need to find something, it can be overwhelming and difficult to find what you actually need.

If you have more emails that you can even begin to deal with, declare yourself ‘email bankrupt’. To do this, select all of them and move them into archive, or at least another folder that is not your inbox. If and when you have the energy, you can go through them individually, but if you don’t, they are all there in case you need them, but out of sight and out of mind.

As you get new emails come in, deal with them straight away. If they are newsletters or fromn organizations and companies that are no longer relevant, don’t be afraid to hit the unsubscribe button. Unwanted emails simply add to mental clutter, and that is exactly what we are trying to eliminate.

Just like your files on your computer, you need to set up some sort of folder system for your emails to organize them. Correspond them to your needs – work, school, appointments etc. From this point onwards, aim to end the day on Inbox Zero – go through all the emails that have come in that day and either unsubscribe, delete, respond or move to the appropriate folder so that it is empty, ready for the next day.

Clear out your bookmarks

Look through your bookmarks; how many of them are things that you have never looked at since bookmarking? Or, if you have, can you even find what you need easily? Probably not. Instead of bookmarking random pages or news articles or blog posts to read again, make use of a bookmarking app such as Pocket. You can save articles to it, tag them with an approproate label so that they are easy to find again and access them whenever and wherever you need to. It’s a great way to organize all of the things that you do want to come back to and read or refer to at a later time.

When the world started moving towards digital systems, we all naively believed that it would be the end of paperwork clutter and a much more organized life. The truth is, for many people, it just shifted the disorganization to another medium. By following these tips, you can organize your computer, emails and bookmarks and lead a much mroe streamlined and organized digital life.