Organisation

Digital Decluttering for the chronically distracted

My brain has too many tabs open!

Lest you mistake me for some kind of magical decluttering unicorn, I feel it necessary to expose the ugly truth about my digital life.

I am a digital, media and information addict. I took stock last month and I had folders full of the beginnings of blog posts. My Evernote was overflowing clippings. I was working on my Google calendar + my hardcopy calendars + my day planner – let’s just say they were not synced. (Sorry if I missed our brunch or if you copped an eyeful of my unshaven ankles!)

I had three and a half overwhelming inboxes (don’t ask) and about 20-35 (I didn’t count) tabs open across several web browsers. My desktop was intense and I got a little carried away and downloaded about 15 unnecessary apps on my iPhone last month – damn you Apple App Store you sexy timesuck and promiser of productive tools!

I’m not proud of it, but this is my life and yeah it’s been a little overwhelming! I share this all with you because I know for a fact that most of you experience the same thing. It’s called being a business owner in the 21stCentury.

The new human condition

When you’re running a business just about everything feels like a priority. You need to keep existing clients happy while prospecting for new clients. You have to come up with fresh content for your blog, your website needs updating, your social media channels are lacklustre and you haven’t engaged in meaningful ways with anyone.

Maybe you’re like me and sometimes you want to give it all up. But the technology and the information is not the enemy. These are beautiful, powerful tools designed to make our lives easier, better. Our problem is a lack of discipline and systems. We have to learn to live in the digital space with intention and purpose.

Today, I’m not speaking to you as your guru or digital spirit guide in this subject. I’m speaking as one for whom #thestruggleisreal. One who is still trying to hack the tension between productivity and distraction-free digital engagement.

How digital clutter affects our brains

So it’s time to get honest about our digital lives. Are you living with digital clutter that is slowly stripping you of any semblance of sanity that you have?

A study by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute into the impact of physical clutter shows that our ability to focus is restricted when our spaces are cluttered. Clutter is not only distracting, but it makes it difficult to assimilate information.*

Being distractible is a trait of creative personality types, but being constantly distracted is exhausting and devastating to productivity.

Digital clutter is even more pervasive than physical clutter, we are almost blind to it, until we get stuck in a wormhole of files or blog posts or social media for several hours. Your computer, your phone, your devices are your workstations, and these need as much attention as your physical environment.

The Princeton research shows that you will be less irritable, more productive, distracted less often, and able to process information better when your spaces are uncluttered and organised.

The places we hoard digital clutter

decluttering project woman at computer with clutter

There are FOUR key areas of our digital lives that tend to become hoarders’ dens.

Your personal computer – Of course. The desktop is covered with docs, downloads, photos, screen grabs and the icons of all your fave programs. Your folder hierarchies make no sense – or you’re like folder hierarchies??!! LOL!!! [insert cryface]

Do I need to bring up your email inbox? I knew a woman who had 10,000+ emails in her inbox. Just… No. That makes my fingernails hurt. I can’t.

Social Media – I get it. You’re grinding, building your business and you need to get your brand out there. But maybe you were a little zealous with the volume of social channels you signed up to and then did nothing with? Also are you following TOO MANY people but connecting with no one?

Phone – Arguably the greatest tool for productivity and procrastination in our lives. Our phones have become an extension of ourselves. It makes sense that the chaos of our minds finds the greatest expression in our most intimate device.

Subscriptions – Subscription-based services have become a core part of this brave new world. From digital storage to entertainment, from business networks to education and training – we’re all racking up subscriptions like they’re striped casual T-shirts. It’s easy for these $5/$10/$20/$40 per month subscriptions to tick away in the background without our even noticing it.

Taking stock of your subscriptions and making decisions as to whether you really need them is a great way to make space and save some money too.

How to start you digital declutter

Before you tackle the clutter. Make one promise to yourself… I WILL LET GO OF THIS SUPERFLUOUS CRAP!

Now you have a big life, I get that. The Atomic Bomb Strategy of a digital purge would be amazing – few days of intense deleting, prioritising, organising and TA DA! If you don’t have that kind of time, you may want to work with a One Bite At a Time Strategy.

Whichever way you do it, the key is to commit to continuous improvement. You can tidy as you go, and/ or schedule the labour into a 1 or 2 hour project every month.

I created my Monthly Digital Declutter printable to stay top of the clutter and stay accountable to myself.

Digital Declutter Checklist

 

Decluttering projects get you started:

  1. Your documents
    • Delete old or unnecessary documents
    • Refresh your document folder system and sort docs accordingly
    • Archive anything that you don’t need on hand
    • Remove as many icons from your desktop as possible. I have two folders on there, one called Reference and one called To read. Be ruthless.
    • Close all the browser tabs
    • Empty your trash can
  1. Tame your inbox
    • Action, sort, delete emails in your inbox. Aim for Inbox Zero at the end of every week or month.
    • Cull unhelpful email subscriptions
  2. Social media
    • Unfriend/unfollow/cull
  3. Software
    • Uninstall unused software, apps
    • If you have updates pending, update them already
  4. Photos
    • Update photo folders
    • Delete unusable photos
  5. Phone
    • Delete unusable and backed up photos
    • Delete unused Apps
    • Switch off all notifications
    • Close all the browser tabs
  6. Subscriptions
    • Take inventory of your paid subscriptions
    • Unsubscribe to anything that you don’t use
  1. Digital goal setting
    • Set 3 or 4 digital goals to curb or bring awareness to your digital consumption.
    • One of my weekly goals is to reset to zero – email, web browsers, smart phone web browsers, desktop. I want to treat it like a meditation to finish every week.

I created my Digital Declutter printable to stay on top of my own digital madness. If you want to join me in taming your clutter, sign up, download it for free – and let me know how you go!

Posted by Mathew Green on April 29, 2017  /   Posted in Organisation

An 18-Minute Plan for Managing Your Day from Harvard Business Review

This article by Peter Bregman first appeared here in the Harvard Business Review. I hope that you enjoy it.

Yesterday started with the best of intentions. I walked into my office in the morning with a vague sense of what I wanted to accomplish. Then I sat down, turned on my computer, and checked my email. Two hours later, after fighting several fires, solving other people’s problems, and dealing with whatever happened to be thrown at me through my computer and phone, I could hardly remember what I had set out to accomplish when I first turned on my computer. I’d been ambushed. And I know better.

When I teach time management, I always start with the same question: How many of you have too much time and not enough to do in it? In ten years, no one has ever raised a hand.

That means we start every day knowing we’re not going to get it all done. So how we spend our time is a key strategic decision. That’s why it’s a good idea to create a to-do list and an ignore list. The hardest attention to focus is our own.

But even with those lists, the challenge, as always, is execution. How can you stick to a plan when so many things threaten to derail it? How can you focus on a few important things when so many things require your attention?

We need a trick.

Jack LaLanne, the fitness guru, knows all about tricks; he’s famous for handcuffing himself and then swimming a mile or more while towing large boats filled with people. But he’s more than just a showman. He invented several exercise machines including the ones with pulleys and weight selectors in health clubs throughout the world. And his show, The Jack LaLanne Show, was the longest running television fitness program, on the air for 34 years.

But none of that is what impresses me. He has one trick that I believe is his real secret power.

Ritual.

At the age of 94, he still spends the first two hours of his day exercising. Ninety minutes lifting weights and 30 minutes swimming or walking. Every morning. He needs to do so to achieve his goals: on his 95th birthday he plans to swim from the coast of California to Santa Catalina Island, a distance of 20 miles. Also, as he is fond of saying, “I cannot afford to die. It will ruin my image.”

So he works, consistently and deliberately, toward his goals. He does the same things day in and day out. He cares about his fitness and he’s built it into his schedule.

Managing our time needs to become a ritual too. Not simply a list or a vague sense of our priorities. That’s not consistent or deliberate. It needs to be an ongoing process we follow no matter what to keep us focused on our priorities throughout the day.

I think we can do it in three steps that take less than 18 minutes over an eight-hour workday.

STEP 1 (5 Minutes) Set Plan for Day.
Before turning on your computer, sit down with a blank piece of paper and decide what will make this day highly successful. What can you realistically accomplish that will further your goals and allow you to leave at the end of the day feeling like you’ve been productive and successful? Write those things down.

Now, most importantly, take your calendar and schedule those things into time slots, placing the hardest and most important items at the beginning of the day. And by the beginning of the day I mean, if possible, before even checking your email. If your entire list does not fit into your calendar, reprioritize your list. There is tremendous power in deciding when and where you are going to do something.

In their book The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz describe a study in which a group of women agreed to do a breast self-exam during a period of 30 days. 100% of those who said where and when they were going to do it completed the exam. Only 53% of the others did.

In another study, drug addicts in withdrawal (can you find a more stressed-out population?) agreed to write an essay before 5 p.m. on a certain day. 80% of those who said when and where they would write the essay completed it. None of the others did.

If you want to get something done, decide when and where you’re going to do it. Otherwise, take it off your list.

STEP 2 (1 minute every hour) Refocus. Set your watch, phone, or computer to ring every hour. When it rings, take a deep breath, look at your list and ask yourself if you spent your last hour productively. Then look at your calendar and deliberately recommit to how you are going to use the next hour. Manage your day hour by hour. Don’t let the hours manage you.

STEP 3 (5 minutes) Review. Shut off your computer and review your day. What worked? Where did you focus? Where did you get distracted? What did you learn that will help you be more productive tomorrow?

The power of rituals is their predictability. You do the same thing in the same way over and over again. And so the outcome of a ritual is predictable too. If you choose your focus deliberately and wisely and consistently remind yourself of that focus, you will stay focused. It’s simple.

This particular ritual may not help you swim the English Channel while towing a cruise ship with your hands tied together. But it may just help you leave the office feeling productive and successful.

And, at the end of the day, isn’t that a higher priority?

Posted by Mathew Green on April 26, 2017  /   Posted in Organisation
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