August 27, 2013 9:53 am

Digital clutter part 1: Why you should clear your digital clutter

It’s hard to believe, but in 1971 a computer with 1.2 megabytes of storage would set you back nearly 1200 euros. Today, you can get a hundred thousand times more storage for ten euros a month. Yet, just because your digital life can fit into a tiny physical space and you can buy extra storage so cheaply, that doesn’t mean it isn’t getting in the way.

Free your mind

If your physical workspace is littered with documents, paper, files and clutter, you’ll probably find it hard to concentrate. Your electronic workspace is no different. Clutter there not only slows you and your devices down, it affects your productivity too.

Neuroscience tells us that our brain capacity is limited, so having to sift through clutter or test your memory remembering where something is or what you’re supposed to do next creates extra work for your brain. When you clear the clutter, you’re freeing up brain capacity for more important tasks.

Simplifying your electronic life will increase your chance of reaching flow – the mental state where you’re fully immersed in the work you’re doing. Graham Allcott, author of How to be a Productivity Ninja says:

‘”Clutter gets in the way of flow – if you’re having to stop and find things it takes you out of flow. Most of us don’t experience flow very often in our work, so we should try and preserve it.”

Go with the flow

Another problem with electronic clutter is that it contributes to stress, which has a well-documented impact on your productivity. Simply put, it can cloud your priorities.

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“Stress is the opposite of flow, and it often comes from uncertainty and feeling out of control. Electronic clutter contributes to uncertainty, because you don’t know what you need to do, and how long it will take you to do it,” says Allcott.

He adds that decluttering isn’t just about making things look neat and tidy. It’s actually about creating certainty about where things are and what it is you need to do. So how do you start to declutter your electronic world?

4 top decluttering tips

1. Declutter

The approach you take to decluttering your inbox will depend on what state it’s in – 100 unread emails will take far less time to sort out than 10,000. If your email backlog runs into thousands, email bankruptcy might be an option. Email bankruptcy means deleting or ‘marking as read’ all your emails and asking people with an outstanding query to email it to you again.

2. Organise

Both David Allen’s Getting Things Done and Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero suggest that rather than using your inbox as a to-do list or file storage system, you should use it as an arrival point for emails, and then deal with them elsewhere, for example files or folders for things you need to action, things you need to reply to etc.

You can also reduce your email burden by setting up rules to send certain emails to folders. For example: emails you know you don’t need to respond to can skip the inbox altogether, as could things like social media updates; email newsletters that you value can go to a folder to be read later; emails with a subject line or from a person that you know you need to respond to quickly can go to a priority inbox.

3. Reduce

You could also think of ways to reduce your incoming email as you go through the process of decluttering and organising. Look at where your emails are coming from. Are there emails you can unsubscribe from? Are certain people sending multiple emails a day that you could ask to be combined into one daily email? Are there discussions going on over email that would be better suited to a phone call or meeting?

4. Schedule

The final step to break is the habit of checking your email repeatedly throughout the day. Email is an important communication tool, but constant checking makes it hard to get into the ‘flow’ state where you get your best done. Try scheduling a set time or times each day, when you can really dedicate yourself to dealing with all the emails in your inbox.

Hopefully this expert advice will help clear the clutter and make each and every one of your days more productive. Needless to say, if you have any top tips that make your working life easier, we’d love to hear about them in the uncluttered comments below.

Tomorrow we’ll be back with part two – how to declutter your devices.

Image credit: meddygarnet

This is part of Nokia’s Smarter Everyday programme, which aims to inspire you with the latest ideas on productivity, collaboration and technology adoption. To download our latest ebook on designing your day, visit http://nokia.ly/DYDebook.