Conquering the Chaos:
A Guide to Digital Organizing
In our increasingly digital world, staying organized can feel like a never-ending battle. Between overflowing inboxes, cluttered desktops, and ever-growing to-do lists, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unproductive. But with a few simple strategies and the right tools, you can navigate the mountain of information that threatens to bury you and reap the laudable benefits of going digital. What follows are my recommended five steps, and one bonus strategy, for getting a handle on things today.
Step 1: Declutter your digital landscape.
Think of your digital space as a physical room. Just as you wouldn’t let your bedroom become an impassable maze of clothes and clutter, you shouldn’t let your digital world become a wasteland of forgotten files and unused apps. Start by purging your inbox of old emails, deleting unused files, and uninstalling apps you no longer need. Unsubscribe from mailing lists that bombard you with irrelevant spam, and organize your remaining emails into folders for easy retrieval. This may sound super easy but it can take a significant amount of time. So schedule and block time on your calendar to spend a few minutes on this task each day. (And, P.S., enjoy those mind-boosting endorphins you’ll get from simply (digitally) cleaning up.)
Step 2: Embrace the power of the cloud.
The cloud is arguably the sharpest tool in our digital toolbox. Cloud storage services like Evernote, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft OneDrive offer a secure and accessible way to store your files, photos, and documents. This not only frees up space on your hard drive but also allows you to access your files from anywhere, anytime, and on any device. Two points to keep in mind here:
- Generally, I recommend choosing one platform for your storage so you aren’t searching between services for documents or files. However, I understand that some of us need to use unique platforms for different clients and or projects. Just ensure you have an established system and stick to it.
- Most cloud storage systems have a size limit. Monitor your usage, avoid redundancies, and upgrade, if necessary, before it’s an issue.
Step 3: Master the art of to-do lists and calendars.
To-do lists and calendars are your digital command centers. They help you prioritize tasks, manage deadlines, and stay on top of your schedule. Countless to-do list apps and calendar tools are available; choose one that fits your workflow and preferences. But the key here is to only have one. If you are working with multiple digital and paper lists, it is time to consolidate them into one list.
Consider this one list your brain dump. By writing down all you need/want to do, you’ll be able to view all that you want to accomplish. And, importantly, dumping it all out frees up your mind — oh, don’t forget X — so you can formulate a plan of attack.
Some of us struggle with trying to do too much. Others have a hard time getting started on tasks that appear insurmountable. Some of us both, and more. Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the Pomodoro Technique and the Eisenhower Matrix, two proven strategies for getting your to-dos done.
Step 4: Automate as much as possible.
Technology is your friend, so let it work for you! Take advantage of automation tools to streamline your digital life. Set up automatic bill payments, schedule social media posts, and use email filters to automatically sort incoming messages. And don’t forget to capitalize on your smart home technology. The more you can automate, the less time you’ll spend on tedious tasks, freeing you up to focus on more important things.
Step 5: Back up your data regularly.
In the digital world, data loss is a real threat. Hard drives crash, computers get stolen, files get corrupted and cyberattacks happen. To protect yourself from losing precious files and memories, back up your data regularly. You can use a cloud storage service, an external hard drive, or a combination of both. Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Bonus Tip: Embrace the “one-touch” rule.
The “one-touch” rule is a simple but powerful productivity hack. When you come across a file, email, or task, deal with it immediately. For example, if you schedule time to process your email, you have built-in time for addressing straightforward email tasks. If you can knock it out in a few minutes, don’t put it aside to deal with later. Either delete it, file it, or take action on it right then and there. This will prevent your to-do list from becoming overwhelming and keep your digital space clutter-free. The same goes for snail mail and processing hard-copy inboxes — don’t start another pile!
Digital Organizing is a Journey
Keep in mind that digital organizing is a journey, not a destination. There will be times when your system feels messy or you fall behind on your tasks. Don’t get discouraged and abandon the process. Step back in and recommit to your organizational goals. If you find that something is not consistently working for you, investigate alternative solutions, including what others in your network are using.
Digital organizing is a worthwhile endeavor. It doesn’t just reward us with greater productivity. Reducing chaos enhances our living, and we’ve got a lot of living to do!