Hello, busy business people trying to make it all work in our digital, social, mobile world! Are you or your staffers feeling burdened by all the files and photos required to be online and in the social feeds? Please dive into these practical tips to go “Marie Kondo” in your digital decluttering to spark joy in all aspects of your life. These are tips designed to improve organization skills in both your personal and professional lives. Share these insights with everyone on your team. I pinky-swear promise this will make you and your employees more productive…and sane…on a daily basis!

Many of the same principles for decluttering physical spaces apply to digital organization.

It’s better to tackle the laundry pile before it goes from molehill to mountain. It’s smart to put things back as soon as you’re done rather than leave them on countertops to accumulate. Likewise, it’s best to maintain your digital stuff on a daily (heck, maybe even hourly) basis. Without ongoing management of our emails, computer files, photos, etc., we will drown in the sea of disorganization.

1. Take the digital deep dive to achieve a baseline of manageability.

Has it been a long time since you’ve dealt with your digital stuff? Plan a clean-up/clean-out akin to the spring cleaning of your house. Don’t wait for the weekend. I experienced real transformation when I blocked time during business hours for my long overdue deep dive. I felt a little bit like I was not doing “real work” for the nearly two days I dedicated to get things in order. In hindsight, that was the best way to have spent that time, as it resulted in renewed focused and the highest productivity I’ve ever maintained for my biz.

Here are the two primary components of my clean-up/clean-out: 

Email batch filing: I had tens of thousands of unorganized emails sitting in inboxes across multiple addresses. It was an archaeological dig! Based on the nature of my business, I couldn’t do the “select all—>delete” tactic; I needed to keep the email trails. I opted to do batch filing to get messages out of the inboxes. I searched by customer or topic, then chose “select all” and moved the batch to the appropriate file folder.

Phone photos back-up and deletion: The nearly 10,000 images on my phone were a mix of biz and personal. I could’ve deleted many and not missed them. However, some images were from pivotal times in my personal life and needed to be preserved. Rather than burn precious time reviewing one by one, I employed the AirDrop feature that’s native to Apple devices (allows seamless sharing between devices that are in close proximity to each other; Android’s AirDroid offers the same capability) to batch transfer from phone to laptop. I then organized the photos in batches to Dropbox, my go-to solution for cloud file storage and sharing for business and personal life (you may prefer Google Drive or Amazon Photos; there are many viable options out there),and deleted them from my phone with no fear of having lost anything important.

Following this intensive effort, I set standards for myself: no more than 10 active emails in an inbox and no more than 50 photos on my phone by the end of each day. Everything that comes in and every image I snap gets attention and is relocated to its permanent storage place ASAP. Also, there are no files sitting on the desktop of my laptop because all my stuff is filed. I’m not bombarded by the visuals of too many digital files, and that frees up my brain to think, create, and produce with less mental obstruction. I have successfully maintained these standards for a long time now, and it’s made my business and life so much better. 

2. Keep it simple!

A sure way to doom your organization attempts is to overthink, overbuy for, and overdo your efforts. Keep it simple for sustained success! I manage my digital life—both personally and professionally—using very few apps and really basic processes. I go with the native apps and functionality provided on my Apple devices. I stick to Apple devices because it is easy to have a shared ecosystem from phone to tablet to laptop (if Android’s your jam, do the same with their solutions). I supplement with Dropbox. I back stuff up to a hard drive once a quarter. That’s honestly the extent of it!

Why so simplistic? I know myself. Once I excavated the craziness of my digital life, I knew I couldn’t allow things to ever go back to those unhealthy levels. That meant I needed to use the simplest organizational tools already familiar to me for immediate success and long-term maintenance. I didn’t want to lose time researching new apps or inventing processes; I went with what was at hand—what I already knew how to use. Think about it: when your house is really cleaned out, you need fewer boxes and bins to store stuff. Likewise, you don’t need all the fancy apps with whistles and bells to keep a well-managed digital life in order.

3. Don’t bother with what doesn’t matter.

In the vein of “keep it simple,” I invite you to not bother with what doesn’t matter. I have countless files saved to my laptop and/or Dropbox that are not in file folders. They just swim around loosely without being contained. And guess what? I don’t care! I can find them when I need them (thanks to having named them logically in ways that I can remember when searching). It would take a goofy amount of time to perfect my filing system, and though I do better with organizing new stuff these days, I let the ‘floating files’ remain as they are. It’s all good!

4. Go with the three Ds to keep emails organized.

I keep my inbox at the “no more than 10 by the end of the day” with what I call the “3 Ds” approach. The three Ds are deal, delegate and delete (I also say the three Ds can stand for “don’t delay decisions”).

Deal: I deal with emails as quickly as I can. I read them and reply if necessary in the moment. If the email involves something for which I must take action, I take the action ASAP or add a reminder to my calendar if the to-do item is less urgent. If it’s junk, I take two seconds to select “unsubscribe” and absolve myself of receiving future messages. I used to leave emails in my inbox as reminders to revisit, but the messages would just get buried by new ones. I don’t do that anymore.

Delegate: If the email involves a task I can delegate, I forward to the appropriate person immediately. Then I file the original message to get it out of my inbox, trusting that a new message will be sent to me at a time I need to touch the task at hand again. 

Delete: Anything that doesn’t merit filing or response gets deleted straightaway. 

5. Picture a life with better managed (and less!) photo documentation.

I use photos for business quite frequently, and I like to document my personal life. But let’s be real: why so many pictures, everyone? Because I’m committed to the “no more than 50 photos on my phone” standard, I’m not only better about “snapping—>saving—>deleting”, but I’m also better at not taking pics ad nauseam. Not only are my photos less cluttered because of this, but I also find I’m better at being in the moment. Life’s more lovely when seen directly and not through the screen on my smartphone! 

I’m really passionate about this topic because I’ve personally experienced the transformative power of digital decluttering. Need more ideas? Have specific questions? Let’s keep the conversation going!