15 ways to declutter your digital life
The start of a new year presents you with a familiar scenario. As you settle down to your first day back at work you find that your computer takes an age to start up, your inbox is overflowing and your applications keep crashing - and you're too busy checking Facebook on your smartphone to do anything about it all.
Call it a decluttering, a feng shui exercise, whatever you like – but this blog post is aimed at giving your digital life in 2017 a thorough spring clean and letting you reboot your digital life with cleaner, faster devices that enable you to be more productive and infinitely happier about being stuck in front of a computer all day.
Well that’s the plan, anyway.
1. Unsubscribe from everything you never read
The first step towards your Zen-like digital existence involves saying goodbye: goodbye to any email subscriptions that you don’t find of interest or value. Scan your inbox for any e-newsletters that you never read and hit the unsubscribe link on them (grouping your email by sender can help with this - see next tip for details). This means less stuff clogging up your inbox in future, and less clearing out of your inbox. And speaking of which...
2. Clear out your inbox – in a smart way
Let’s face it: emails are the bane of everybody’s existence. All they do is create a glorified to-do list that actively gets in the way of getting anything useful done. So the holy grail when it comes to emails is to have as little of them stagnating in your inbox as possible.
The easiest way to get rid of email is to group everything by sender. Doing this allows you to get a quick summary of everybody who’s currently occupying your inbox, and to bulk delete or archive multiple emails from particular senders in one go. Grouping (and deleting) by sender is easily done in Outlook and Thunderbird; less so in Mac Mail and Gmail, and in most mobile apps. If your mail app doesn’t permit grouping by sender, then the next best approach is to sort by sender, and manually select emails to delete or move. Or alternatively, you can use one of my favourite mail apps (and certainly my favourite for mobile device users), Inkymail, to group and manage your mail.
3. Clean up your desktop
If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a desktop completely covered by random files. Be ruthless with these: drag as many of them to the recycle bin as possible and delete them forever. Sort any remaining files by kind, so that when it comes to what remains, you know what’s what. Finally, remove that adorable but incredibly loud and colourful picture of your child which you are currently using as your wallpaper. Replace it with a plain grey background which allows any icons remaining on the desktop to be easily identified and accessed.
4. Uninstall any software you don’t need
Look at every app that’s currently on any device you own and uninstall any you don’t need. Not only will this give you more valuable storage space, but it is likely to improve the speed of the device in question.
5. Delete the contents of your downloads folder
It’s really easy for your downloads folder to get out of hand and take up huge quantities of hard drive space. Getting rid of any unwanted stuff in here will make your drive more roomy and again potentially speed up your system.
6. Disable non-essential startup programs
If you’re sick of your desktop or laptop computer taking ages to boot up, then focus on the likely culprit: start up programs. Take a look at every application that’s running at start-up and disable the ones you know you definitely don’t need. You can find out how to do this thanks to the good folk at howtogeek.com – Windows instructions are here, and Mac instructions are here.
7. Turn off non-essential notifications on your smartphone
Go through the notifications settings on every app you use and ensure that you are receiving only the absolutely essential ones. This, in essence, means saying goodbye to a lot of social media notifications. These (usually trivial) notifications drain your device’s battery and interrupt your thought process; getting rid of them will help you focus better on the task at hand – and give you juice left on your device to let you complete it.
8. Clean up your web browser
There are three things you can do to improve the speed of your browser: clear the history, delete cookies and disable or delete any superfluous extensions / plugins. Don't hesitate to do them all.
9. Check what your mobile device’s apps are doing in the background
Go through each of your mobile device apps and take a look at what they are doing in the background. Many of them will be doing a ‘background refresh’ or using location services when you don’t really need them to: this can make your device behave sluggishly and drain your battery. Disable both of these features where possible.
10. Turn off unnecessary visual effects
Unnecessary visual effects slow your computer or mobile device down and stop you getting stuff done. Getting rid of all but the essential visual effects will give your device (and hopefully you) a bit of extra zip. You’ll usually find various options for removing visual effects in the settings section of your device.
11. Sort out your files and folders
Devote serious time to organising your messy folders into something logical. Same goes for your browser bookmarks. You'll feel better for it.
12. Don’t put up with flaky wifi any more
Flaky wi-fi slows us down enormously – and yet we tend to put up with it way longer than we have to, continuously rebooting our routers or moving devices around the house until we’ve found a spot where the wi-fi actually works. Put an end to all this disruption by buying a better router or investigating a powerline network solution.
13. Upgrade your operating system and applications to the latest versions
If you’re running ancient versions of applications and operating systems, upgrading to the most up-to-date versions will generally give you more functionality and a more secure, robust system. Note however that you should proceed with some caution here as older devices may not respond hugely well to certain upgrades (I’m looking at you, iPhone) and newer versions of applications sometimes jettison particular features that you may find particularly relevant to your line of work (I'm looking at you Final Cut Pro).
14. Buy more memory and storage
RAM is cheap and many devices allow you to add it easily. Same goes for storage. Investing in both can turn a sluggish, full computer into one that zips along. (If you can afford to buy an SSD drive you will be particularly happy with the performance gains.)
15. Avoid social media
Try to cut down on social media use, unless it’s essential to your job. Generally, it just gets in the way of doing anything remotely productive, unless your line of work involves appraising photos of cats.