FROM THE ARCHIVES | Here's how to tidy up your digital space

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Learn how to tidy up your digital space with these neat tips from Marie Kondo. (Photo: Getty Images / Gallo Images)
Learn how to tidy up your digital space with these neat tips from Marie Kondo. (Photo: Getty Images / Gallo Images)

You've organised your sock drawer, neatened up your spice rack and rearranged your bookshelves. At least there’s one silver lining to lockdown: your home has never been so tidy. But what about all the clutter on your computer and other electronic devices?

Even though your housemates can’t see all the stuff you’ve hoarded – photos, files, old PowerPoint presentations – it’s there, taking up valuable storage space, slowing your machine down to a crawl and making it impossible for you to find what you need.

And now with working from home being the new normal, it’s more important than ever that your devices run like well-oiled machines with no time-consuming disruptions.

In this extract from her new book, Joy at Work, Japanese tidying guru Marie Kondo gives you a battle plan to tackle digital clutter.

TIDY UP YOUR DIGITAL SPACE

Many people use their desktop as a dumping ground. I used to store so many files on my desktop, I couldn’t even read the file names.

But one day when a fan came over to talk to me while I was working on my laptop at a café I was mortified about how cluttered my display was that I’ve kept my desktop tidy ever since.

Now the only things I keep on my desktop are a folder marked Storage and any items such as photos that I want to use that day.

I consider my computer desktop to be a workspace, just like my desk, so I display only those things I intend.

marie kondo, digital
Keep the digital folders you need and delete the ones you do not need. (Photo: Getty Images / Gallo Images)

DON’T LET EMAIL TAKE OVER YOUR LIFE

Don’t confuse your email with your work. Email is one of many tools to get your job done, but it’s not the work itself.

The only emails I keep in my inbox are those that are pending, such as emails requiring a reply or some kind of action, or ones that I want to read thoroughly later.

To keep the volume manageable, I limit the number of pending emails to 50, the maximum number that can be displayed without scrolling. If I need to save any of them, I put them in a few simple folders labelled Work, Personal and Financial.

Emails are particularly easy to find with the search function, so there’s no need to make a lot of categories. I delete emails I don’t need, such as newsletters I’ve finished reading, right away.

The spam and trash folders are deleted automatically after 30 days, but it makes me restless when emails pile up, so sometimes I delete everything from these folders manually.

Perhaps I’m a bit extreme in my approach, but even feng shui practitioners say that tidying up your inbox will bring you the information you need when you need it.

If you notice that you haven’t been getting good information in a timely matter, or you want to increase your luck at work, I really recommend tidying up your inbox.

YOU DON’T NEED HUNDREDS OF FOLDERS

Search technology has improved so dramatically that it makes finding your documents much easier. You can minimise the thought that goes into where to put or find something if you limit yourself to just a handful of primary folders.

Everyone’s job has different requirements, but the three main folders I use should fit many types of work: 

Current projects Inside this should be a subfolder for each project.

Records These should include the policies and procedures you regularly access. Usually, these files are provided by others and you typically don’t modify them. Examples include legal contracts and employee files.

Saved work This consists of documents from past projects that you’ll use in future. Examples include files that can help you with new projects, such as a presentation from a previous client that can be a good template for a future one.

Staying organised is much easier once you have a small set of intuitive primary folders. If you decide to keep a new file, put it in the most appropriate folder. Otherwise, delete it. The usefulness of your folders will improve as you consistently place similar files in the same place and keep only what you need.

WHERE TO START

For most people, digital life has three main parts: documents, such as reports, presentations and spreadsheets; emails and smartphone apps. 

All three share the same problem. It’s easy to save every-thing, so that’s what we do – so much so that we eventually feel like we’ve lost control over the technology that’s meant to help us. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and want to do a cleanup, the documents area on your hard drive or network drive and its underlying folders is a good place to start as it contains most of your digital documents. 

Examine each file and ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Do I need this document to get my job done?
  • Will this document provide me with guidance or inspiration for future work?
  • Does this document spark joy?

If the answer is no to all these questions, delete the document. If a subfolder shares files on a topic that you’re not keeping, go ahead and delete the entire subfolder. 

I don’t want to get you in trouble, so be sure to follow any document policy at your organisation or any industry standards around keeping files.

If you can’t technically delete files, move them to an archive area outside your main documents area.

Although they’ll still take up storage space, the files will be separated from those you actively want to keep. With less visual distraction, it’ll be easier to find what you need.

marie kondo, digital
The author suggests you do not clutter your computer. (Photo: Getty Images / Gallo Images)

Regardless of industry or organisation, most people can delete draft versions of documents and completed to-do lists, as well as empty their computer’s recycle or trash bin. I clear out mine on the last day of every month.

CLEANING UP YOUR APPS

The average person uses a smartphone 85 times a day. There’s a reason for that: many apps are specifically built to be addictive so fewer apps means less distractions.

Although it’s exciting to download the latest app, for most people the default is to never delete an app, even when it’s no longer needed. By cleaning up your apps, you’ll save space and preserve battery life for those apps that spark joy. 

Just like your computer desktop, the home screen on your smartphone can actually be an important source of joy if it’s kept clutter-free.

I keep frequently used apps, such as my mail, calendar and photo apps on the home screen and put the rest into three folders named Business, Life and Joy.

I have only about 10 apps showing, and I make a point of dividing them up among three different screens and lining them up at the top. That way I can see what really sparks joy for me every time I look at my phone: photos of my daughters.

This is an edited extract from Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life by Marie Kondo & Scott Sonenshein (Bluebird Books, recommended retail price R469)

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