How to declutter your digital life: an expert shares tips and her favourite apps
Whether you want to back up files, organise emails or tidy up your photo albums, there are plenty of apps to help. Digital business coach Deb Lee shares her favourites and offers handy tips to get your electronic life in order
Technology moves fast, very fast. Blink and there’s a new app – or six – promising to help you deal with kids’ art, minimise junk email, organise photos, keep a to-do list.
According to Deb Lee, a digital business coach and productivity consultant, there are tools to stay organised, manage that growing digital clutter, and increase productivity.
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Lee explains that digital clutter is similar to physical clutter. If we don’t use our digital devices effectively, everything we’re gaining in convenience is outweighed by the frustration and anxiety it causes, not to mention the lost time. She offers the following tips:
To-do lists and calendars
If you struggle with missing deadlines or forgetting tasks, Lee recommends apps such as Evernote or Any.do for taking notes and keeping lists. Evernote has features such as the Web Clipper, searching for text in images and business card scanning.
Lee likes Any.do for its to-do list, as well as its collaborative and reminder features. Google Keep is also popular, though more simplistic. Each of these apps is available across platforms and has free and paid options.
Lee says it’s fine to give up on the concept of having no emails in your inbox at the end of the day, because requires a lot of time to achieve. Instead, she recommends focusing on decreasing junk email and organising emails that you want to keep.
Many people have no idea that apps can help manage their inboxes.
Astro gets high marks for its email and calendar functions but only works with Gmail and Microsoft’s Office 365.
The Gmail app is also well regarded if you use Google services, and the Outlook app can sort and show only the most important emails from people you interact with most often, keeping them separate from bulk emails.
A US consumer watchdog has recently recommended a free app called Unroll. Me to decrease junk email. It shows your email subscriptions, and you choose what to do with each: unsubscribe, keep or receive a “roll-up” digest in a daily summary. Be diligent about not signing up for too many lists, and unsubscribe from unwanted lists as soon as the first email arrives.
Accurately and consistently name and file documents you receive via email. Using dates and detailed descriptions for file names will allow you to retrieve the files quickly and help you avoid having to recreate or duplicate documents later.
Lee recommends scheduling time in the morning and at night to review and respond to emails. If you’re constantly moving between a work document, your personal inbox, incoming texts and phone calls, you’re wasting energy and pressuring your brain to refocus on each new task.
Make sure your loved ones know how to access what Lee calls your “digital estate.” Much of our personal information and finances are increasingly online, and if you die unexpectedly, someone needs to know how to access your computer, your phone and any other devices where you access banking, credit card information, investment statements, tax returns and photos.
Keeping track of passwords and knowing your login information will save time, but it is imperative that someone close to you knows how to access your digital files, too.
Either write down all of your important passwords and give them to a friend or relative for safekeeping or, better yet, store your digital access list with your lawyer or by using a password management service such as LastPass or Dashlane.
Give the master password to someone you trust. If you are nervous about encryption or security with online services, Lee recommends calling the company to ask how it will keep your information safe.
Digital maintenance and backup
Just as our physical spaces require maintenance to keep them decluttered, so do our digital spaces. Set aside time each week for filing documents, updating to-do lists, and deleting unwanted emails and duplicate photos.
If you have a busy week, just do a little more the following week. It may take longer in the beginning, but once you’ve developed a system, maintenance will be more straightforward.
You can organise documents and emails all day, but if your computer dies or is stolen or destroyed in a fire, none of that will matter. It’s critical that you back up your computer to either an external hard drive or a cloud service.
Cloud services are increasingly preferred because they allow you to access your documents, including photos, videos and music collections, from anywhere, and syncing features can make your backup automatic.
Lee recommends Bynder, which not only stores and backs up your files but also uses artificial intelligence to organise images.
Lee also recommends that we unplug completely for several days or even a week at least once a year. It’s beneficial to be reminded that we can, in fact, survive without our devices, and there’s no way to do that unless we put them away and talk to people.