Technology has lured us into thinking that if we can’t see clutter, it doesn’t exist. But as we accumulate more digital devices, and as we rely on them to store more information, we can quickly lose track of where everything is. What are supposed to be speedy, super-efficient digital helpers turn into so many overstuffed cyber-closets.
Consumer tech expert Jennifer Jolly has some tips and tricks to help get digital sprawl under control. “We know we want technology,” she says, “but most of us don’t know how to save what we want and get rid of the rest.” Her recommendations: Prioritize and “use tech to organize tech.”
Barriers to Overcome
- A gaggle of gadgets. “Studies show that one in every three Americans has from three to five different devices,” says Jolly. Keeping tabs of “what’s on what” and migrating data can be a real challenge.
- The “infinite cyberspace” myth. “We often think that we can just keep piling up digital property infinitely because cyberspace seems unlimited,” Jolly says. “That is, until our computer runs slowly or shuts down for ‘no reason,’ or we spend an hour searching three hard drives for that one tax document we need now.”
- The daily rush. When we’re in a hurry, we unintentionally create cyber-clutter as we go along: slapping things randomly on the desktop or in a hastily named file (that we quickly forget about), or emailing ourselves a document to file later and losing it in our inbox. Once we’ve accumulated all the clutter, we may feel that organizing our cyber-life is so stressful and time consuming that it’s not worth the effort. “Yet the time it takes to not have it organized is draining countless hours away from your life anyway,” says Jolly.
- Trepidation. People often don’t know how to organize or delete files, or are afraid that if they delete the wrong thing, their computer will stop working or they won’t be able to get the file back if it’s something they really need. “I often hear, ‘Where do I start, how do I start, and how do I create a system I can maintain?” Jolly explains.
Strategies for Success
- Prioritize. Choose the areas that are causing you the most stress and tackle them one by one. If scattered financial documents are giving you tax-season fits, for example, find and organize just the relevant tax documents. Don’t get distracted by other lost items you find along the way.
- End email overload. “More than 100 emails in your inbox is clutter,” says Jolly. “Most major email programs let you set up a quick filing system. Follow your program’s built-in tutorial, then spend just 10 minutes in the morning and at night reading, deleting and moving emails to your various folders.”
- Try a new tool. Had it with files and folders? Try a search-friendly app like Evernote (www.evernote.com), which lets you attach a variety of media to one labeled location. “Parents can put notes, photos, scanned projects and emails in a single ‘notebook’ labeled with a child’s name,” says Jolly. Bonus: Evernote syncs your info to all your devices.
- Ditch duplicates. Having multiple copies of the same file invites trouble. Jolly recommends Duplicate Cleaner (www.digitalvolcano.co.uk/content/duplicate-cleaner): “It finds duplicate files and folders on your hard drive, even if they have been titled differently,” she says.
- Get help. Still overwhelmed? Jolly recommends seeking tech support from an outfit like the Geek Squad. Their teams can help you find lost data, organize existing files and install new applications.
Expert Advice: Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award–winning tech editor for Tecca.com. She’s also a frequent on-air contributor to CBS This Morning, Rachael Ray, and ABC News.