Clear Your Digital Clutter: 5 Simple Steps to an Organized and Peaceful Workflow

Whether you’re juggling lots of creative projects or seeking inspiration for the next big one, taking the time to clear your digital clutter can make all the difference in your workflow. Research shows that digital disorganization can be just as anxiety-inducing as a messy physical space. The stress doesn’t really go away when we turn off our screens, and we know it. Often, the only way to regain peace of mind is to roll up your sleeves and get rid of the digital clutter once and for all.

Just the simple act of organizing your digital clutter can help reduce stress and leave you feeling calm and recharged. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, we’ve got five simple tips to get ahead of the chaos and achieve a state of intentional, well-organized bliss. Just like Marie Kondo’s KonMari Method, we’re going to give you five simple categories to approach organizing your digital clutter once and for all. You don’t need to be a digital hoarder to benefit from these practices. Trust us — even if you can already find everything you need, this is going to be like a spa day for your workflow. So, light a scented candle, take a deep breath, and let’s dive in.

  1. Deal with Your Desktop Files
  2. Purge Your Inbox
  3. Clean Up Your Font Collection
  4. Organize Your Digital Assets
  5. Break Bad Browser Habits

1. Deal with Your Desktop Files

If the first thing you see when you turn on your computer is a desktop full of digital clutter, you’re not off to a peaceful start for your day. A busy desktop isn’t just an eyesore. It can actually slow down your computer. And if you’ve ever had to screen share and show your messy desktop to your coworkers, it can be just as embarrassing as a messy work station or personal space.

The amount of digital clutter on your desktop can actually say a lot about your personality and approach to workflow. It doesn’t necessarily indicate being “disorganized” at all. But even if you can find absolutely everything you need in that sea of files, creating a system for storing and organizing digital assets on your computer can help you feel more organized and calmer throughout your workday. It creates a foundation for organized digital asset management, and it’s also one of the fastest digital declutter projects on this list.

When it comes getting your desktop digitally organized, don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress. This task can usually be accomplished pretty quickly. Just fifteen or twenty minutes is usually plenty of time to get even the most chaotic of desktops in order. Carve out some dedicated time on your calendar, put on a favorite playlist, and watch how quickly you can get rid of digital clutter on your desktop.

Start by creating a few basic folders to categorize all the photo assets, design files, and documents on your desktop. Drag and drop your digital assets into those folders. Add additional folders as needed and consider the nested folder structure to make things even tidier. Our article about creating a manageable folder structure is intended for company-wide organization, but it has some great tips for creating a digital asset management folder structure — even if it’s just for your own personal use.

Whenever I do this, I find that I have a lot of duplicates of photo assets, early versions of creative work, and other stuff that just isn’t relevant anymore. Organizing the digital clutter on your desktop can also be a great opportunity to delete digital assets that are no longer useful. As a finishing touch, select “Clean Up” on Mac or try adding fences on a Windows desktop. Now, your desktop isn’t just clean, it’s straightened up.

2. Get Rid of Digital Clutter in Your Inbox

Fun fact: it never occurred to me to delete my emails until my mid-20s. And can you blame me? There’s information in there! Why would I ever get rid of it?

It’s true that hoarding emails ensure you always have certain information, but it can actually make it harder to search and find the exact email you need. If you’re looking for a specific important email, and your search is turning up dozens of emails, it may be time to clear your digital clutter and purge your inbox. Like a cluttered desktop, a jam-packed inbox can also slow things down.

You don’t need to aspire to an empty inbox. The goal here is simply to get rid of digital clutter: older, irrelevant, and useless emails.
Here are a few tips for cleaning out your inbox:

  • This process is usually faster and easier on a computer than on a mobile device.

  • You can begin with older emails, where you’re more likely to find outdated information.

  • For emails with attachments, save necessary attachments to well-organized local folders, then delete the emails if they have no other purpose.

  • For emails with work information, ask yourself if that information is available somewhere else — a project management space, a single source of truth, etc. If the information is accessible elsewhere and you can find it easily, you probably don’t need to hold on to the email.

Creating and maintaining an inbox free of digital clutter takes time and routine maintenance. Depending on how many emails you have, this might be more of an ongoing process than a one-time task, or you could follow Fast Company’s guide to cleaning up your inbox in one hour if you’re ready for a digital declutter sprint. You’re also bound to become even more comfortable deleting unnecessary emails as you receive and read them, which will help you stay digitally organized going forward.

3. Clean Up Your Font Collection

It’s not uncommon for designers to have hundreds or even thousands of fonts. We get it. Fonts are awesome. But absolutely no one, not even the greatest typography geek among us, can memorize that many fonts.

If you use fonts on a regular basis and haven’t already invested in a font management solution, we’d recommend getting an amazing font manager to save time and make your life easier. The right font manager can handle more fonts than any human brain ever could, all while integrating with your creative tools, improving consistency, and speeding up your workflow.

If you’re using any of Extensis’ font management solutions, you also have the ability to organize your font collection how you want. Many designers choose to organize by style (such as sans-serif vs. serif), project, or client. Others choose to organize their collections by font foundry or type designer. Since we all take different approaches to organization, it’s important to clean up your font collection in a way that feels intuitive and sustainable for your workflow.

If you absolutely love your fonts, taking the time to organize them can be a truly enjoyable way to clear your digital clutter.

4. Organize Your Digital Assets

As you work on getting your own workflow and asset collections more organized, it’s also worth considering the digital assets that you and your team use together. Just like our own inboxes and desktops can become full of digital clutter, repositories for brand assets are also susceptible to disorganization.

If your team has an established system for storing and sharing digital assets in place, workflow can usually stay well organized, but routine maintenance is always helpful. It can also be useful to rethink your digital asset management folder structure if your needs have changed over time, as you’ve acquired significantly more assets.

Before you decide to start organizing digital assets for your team, get the all-clear from management, and check in with them before making any major decisions that could alter workflow. It’s also common courtesy to alert your team to significant changes.

Here are some of the most effective ways to tidy up your DAM:

  • If recent and current projects aren’t organized, expand your folder structure as needed and assign the projects’ assets to where they belong.
  • Ask coworkers and teammates to add all relevant files from individual devices to ensure all assets can be managed.
  • Consider archiving assets that are no longer needed, so that they don’t show up in search results.

Organizing digital assets for your team’s workflow won’t just make your life easier, it will also be appreciated by your colleagues. You can learn more about digital asset management here.

5. Break Bad Browser Habits

Multiple tabs can be a matter of love and hate. Some people find multiple tabs to be the epitome of digital clutter. Personally, I love opening multiple tabs in a browser window and using them like items on a to-do list. I work from left to right, closing out tabs as I complete the tasks associated with them. As a content writer, I do a ton of online research. Where some people might see digital clutter in my tabs, I see an effective workflow for skimming information and completing tasks.

The only problem is that tabs inevitably pile up, leading to incredibly crowded windows. It’s easy for our browsers to go from functionally organized to a full-fledged digital hoarding within a matter of hours. The tabs go from being helpful to being an impediment. And, you guessed it, too many tabs can also slow down your computer.

From a self-identified tab fiend, here’s what I find helpful when you want to clear your digital clutter and get back down to one tab:

  • Start using your browser’s bookmark function more diligently. This is a great way to stash resources for later without keeping them in separate tabs. Organizing separate bookmark folders makes this even more effective.
  • Delete tabs as soon as you’re “done” with them if applicable. This means that once that post-meeting Zoom tab pops up, delete it. Once you’ve read an article and gotten when you need from it, close it.
  • If you’re really in a bind, take a shortcut and sweep it under the rug. Plugins like OneTab allow you collapse all your tabs into one for when you need a fresh start, or if you just want to screen share without shame.

There you have it: five approaches to organizing digital clutter once and for all. May your workdays be free of clutter and chaos.

Interested in getting your whole team digitally organized? Share this article and check out Extensis’ Best Practices Guide: How to Choose a Digital Asset Management Solution.