How to declutter your digital desk


February 12, 2018 | by Nick Rowan

In today’s world, digital nomads and office workers alike can get all of their work done with just a laptop and a cup of coffee. Gone are the days of desks cluttered with staplers, notebooks, filing cabinets, paperclips, and so on. However, that makes it more important than ever to keep your digital desk in order. So here are some tips to get you going:

Clear out your desktop

The first thing you should do, just as if you were cleaning a physical desk, is clear off your desktop. It might seem easy and convenient to save the document you’re currently working on to the desktop, along with shortcuts to all of the apps you commonly use, but in practice, old files and unused shortcuts will slow down your work (and your computer) and ultimately reduce productivity.

It’s fine to keep a few files that you’re actively working on on your desktop (like a paper document on your desk), but once you’re finished, file it away. Your file management system doesn’t need to be to Marie Kondo standards, but it should at least keep things out of sight.

While you’re at it, go ahead and uninstall unused applications. In addition to making your most used programs easier to access, as the number of programs on your computer builds up over time, they can slow down your computer by running in the background. It’s easy to uninstall them on both Windows and Mac, and your computer will thank you. Oh, and don’t forget to empty your trash bin before it starts stinking up the place.

Organize your files and take advantage of cloud storage

After years of carelessness, organizing the files on your computer can seem like a nightmare. With triple nested ‘new folders’, it can be hard to figure out just what the past you was thinking.

The good news is that most of those old documents, other than a few notable exceptions, will probably never be needed. That doesn’t mean you have to get rid of them, but it also doesn’t mean you need to go back and try to organize them. Organizing by year or by client should be enough for now. A file of ‘2015 emails’ clears away a year’s worth of inbox clutter while still being a useful reference in the future.

Unlike a paper filing system, where 1 out of every 20 documents is missing in most companies, nowadays with digital filing systems a simple search can turn up what you’re looking for. Keep that in mind when naming your documents in the first place. A good file naming convention usually includes a good descriptive name, a version, and an indication of the date. Come up with your own system that doesn’t involve mashing your fist on the keyboard like we did in college.



Just make it searchable and you’re on the right path.

You should backup your documents before making any big organizational changes, and once you’re finished, use cloud storage to free up valuable space on your hard drive. Google Drive, OneDrive, iCloud, and Dropbox all have free storage to hide away those old unused documents and save current ones as well.

Use web apps for content creation

Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and so on are still some of the most powerful programs for creating images and other content to publish online, but they come with huge file sizes and eat up a lot of your computer’s resources. And really you should ask yourself, do I need the most powerful program in the industry to create a simple image for Instagram or Facebook?

Fortunately, there are several easier options to create the kind of content small business owners and social media managers need. Web apps like Canva and Desygner are powerful tools with free, easy to edit templates for all kinds of documents. Even better, they are saved in the cloud, and you can download them in whatever format you need (PNG, PDF, etc.) with just the click of a button.

Reducing your dependence on Adobe will not only save you the cost of subscription (or even better - a graphic designer), but it will free up space and clear clutter from your computer. For reference, the most commonly used Adobe programs can be upwards of 2 GB each.

Use browser extensions to manage unwieldy tabs

If you’re like me, you can’t help but open every new or interesting link in a new tab. As I write this, I have 12 tabs open (which is unusually low), and there are many times when I’m researching a topic with 50+ tabs open. At that point, the battle is lost.

Luckily there are tons of browser extensions and add-ons to help you manage your tabs. OneTab is an one example for both Chrome and Firefox that takes all of the tabs you currently have open and converts them into a single tab with a list.

If you’re more visual, tools like Toby can help you keep your tabs organized into neat little groups that display as cards with a page title, description, and favicon. You can create custom categories and save them for one time or everyday use. You will see a noticeable improvement in productivity when you don’t have to spend 30 seconds searching for the tab with that one piece of information you wanted.

Make an action plan

Decluttering your digital workspace is one of the best ways to reduce stress and increase productivity while working. Getting started can be intimidating, so here are a few simple things you can do to get yourself on the track being free from digital clutter:

  • Break the task down into categories, and focus on just one at a time. By finishing a single category (for example your desktop or past client projects) before starting a new one, you can make sure that progress is made every time you make time for it. Speaking of which…
  • Set aside a dedicated amount of time to declutter every day. It could be 10 minutes for those of us with short attention spans, or an hour for the truly motivated. Either way, chip away at it steadily and gradually.
  • Avoid creating more clutter. Stick to your file naming and management system (or at least create a folder for unfiled documents if you aren’t feeling it in the moment) and your future self will thank you.
  • Find a solution that works for you. There is no one size fits all solution to dealing with digital clutter and disorganization, but as you go along you’ll naturally find out what works for you.

Now go on and get to it!

Nick Rowan

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