If it feels like you’re waiting around to get things done, you might actually be right. Technology that’s meant to make us more efficient can sometimes bog us down. A 2013 study found that participants spent an average of 16 minutes per day waiting for their computer to start up, and a McKinsey report found that employees spend nearly two hours of every workday searching for information. Add it up: That’s four entire days of life each year spent on looking for files.
Americans now spend nearly half their lives in front of a screen, so you may not realize it at first, but each and every day there are pockets of time spent waiting that could instead be spent getting results. As a content marketer responsible for multiple mixed-media projects each day, keeping my “digital clutter” to a minimum can make the difference between a productive week and a disorganized mess. I get things done, and as an added bonus, my sanity stays intact.
Here are three ways to digitally declutter your device for the better.
1. Free up your hard drive
The laptop life is more ubiquitous than ever: About 5 percent of the American workforce reports being fully remote according to the Census, but other studies find upwards of 60 percent of employees work remotely at least once a month.Many people use their personal device for both work and non-work activities, especially consultants and entrepreneurs.
As software and files collect on your drive, your device will slow down in performance, and when hard drives are chronically taxed, their lifespans are shortened. A good rule of thumb is that if the fan inside your laptop kicks on, it’s because your drive is overheating. It might be time to move your files elsewhere. Consider uploading the majority of your files to the cloud, or using an external hard drive. Thanks to improving chip technology, even a hard drive item that holds thousands of gigabytes can sleekly fit into your laptop bag or even your pocket in some cases.
2. Get a password manager
I’ll cut to the chase: Hackers have gotten very, very good at capturing your personal information. A few common tactics include:
- Keyloggers, in which code that makes its way into your computer silently records all your keystrokes and sends them to hackers, letting them harvest your passwords.
- Fake Wireless Access Points, in which a hacker creates a fake Wi-Fi network in a public place and uses it to spy on your device.
- Phishing, which has been around for years, but continues to fool people in the form of scam emails, scam texts or scam messages on social media, allowing malware to enter your device and wreak havoc.
Nothing throws your productivity out the window like getting hacked, or worse, having your identity stolen. Compromised security can affect both your business and personal life. Assume someone could be watching what you’re doing on your computer at this very moment. Consider moving over to a password manager, which will encrypt all your passwords for you and help you manage having a different password for every site. I invested in 1Password personally, but there are both free and paid options that get the job done.
You may be hesitant to forget your passwords, but once you’ve taken your first trust fall, you never go back, and you’ll be able to reinvest the freed-up mental space into your business.
3. Organize your files and establish a process
Cloud services are the future; they’ve grown to become a $266 billion market and are projected to break $350 billion over the next three years. If you’re not storing files in the cloud as a way to keep your device itself free and clear, it’s time to get started. Consider putting some thought into folder and file names that will make them easy to locate later on. Renaming files in the moment can feel tedious, but putting a few keywords into the name of your file so you can track it down later will save you time in the long run.
Stanford University’s library website has some great tips. When in doubt, start every file name with the date in YYYYMMDD; this will let you easily organize your files in chronological format. It also helps to occasionally give your downloads folder a scrub, as duplicates and forgotten files often live there, cluttering up your device. A quick win is to open your downloads folder, arrange its contents from largest files to smallest and then start chipping away. Either move those bigger files to the cloud or trash them.
You’ll continue to work with and retrieve files day in and day out. By developing a system and keeping yourself protected, you’ll win back more time each week that can be used to go after what you really want.