Digital clutter

One of the things I do to improve myself is listening to interviews about a variety of topics related to being a happy, successful, well-balanced person.  The interviews come on an audio CD with SUCCESS Magazine, which sit in my 5-deck CD player in the car, ready to listen to - often many times over - as I drive back and forth to work.  Living and working downtown, the trip is usually no longer than 10 minutes, but it is still enough time to get inspired or challenged by a new idea.

In a recent issue they were talking about the need to reduce the clutter in our lives. As Robin Sharma says: "Mess creates distraction."  Clutter, once comprised of stacks of paper, old magazines, photographs and letters, has been supplanted by a new form of distraction and disarray, and it is most definitely digital.

Inbox irritation

Who has not complained about an overflowing Inbox?  Emails come at most of us by the hundreds, every single day.  If you go off the grid for a week, coming home to over 500 new messages, once a notion of science fiction is now completely normal, and more likely a low-ball estimate.

I'm convinced that we need to offer tips and lessons on how to manage the email bombardment that assails us 24 - 7.  It is the biggest time sucker, efficiency killer in the modern workplace, of this I am convinced.

Folder frenzy

Has this ever happened to you?  A photograph pops into your mind, that you know you have and that you'd like to send to a friend who needs it for a project.  You go from one folder most likely to contain it to the next, only to come up empty.  I know it's there, you think to yourself.  You'd go and do a complete system search but you're not 100% certain what you called the file, so you give up and start opening up random folders in hopes that you get lucky.

This happened to me yesterday, sadly, with a picture that I'd had this exact experience with several times previous.  Unfortunately, after finding it, I neglected to move it into the folder that made intuitive sense.  That was 15 minutes of a weekend I'll never get back.

Space crunch

Computers today have more storage space than we ever could have imagined 10-15 years ago.  But, somehow, magically, inexplicably, we still manage to reach the limits of our storage capacity.  Hard drives are the tickle trunks of today; they gather all bits and bites of memory and cling onto them for dear life.  And as big as they make them nowadays, we still require additional boxes of memory in the form of external hard drives and myriad flash drives.

I noticed yesterday as I was taking my digital inventory that my C-drive was becoming dangerously close to capacity.  What I discovered was that my picture memory folders were hogging space and needed to go into a different container.

Photo hoarder

When photography first moved into the digital age, I very neatly and carefully stored the memories.  At first, CDs were burned containing pictures sorted by month.  Then, with the advent of an online photo archive option, months turned into seasons.  Now, with digital photos coming from the SLR, iPhone, Instagram, Facebook and scads of other sources and from all directions, getting my digital photography house in order has become almost impossible.

Things move so fast.  It seems like yesterday when the College got its first digital camera that used a floppy disc for storage.  Images were in the 300 Kb range and we were stunned at the quality.  The memory cards got increasingly smaller as the image sizes exponentially got bigger.  Heather and I have a digital SLR that is going on 10 years old, but even then, it's outputting 11 Mb Tiff files.

Honestly, unless the picture completely blows, I don't want to delete it.  I'm a digital photo hoarder in the truest sense of the word, because in the back of my mind I truly believe that the moment I toss it in the trash, I'm going to need it for something.  Help!

Password merry-go-round

Has your head ever almost exploded trying to find the right password?  If you're anything like me, you have 3-5 passwords that run in rotation across multiple platforms.  At one time easy to remember, because they were short and memorable, secure passwords today require upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols if they are going to meet the complexity standard.

To a degree, we're wired for this memory game.  Back in the 80's we had things called combination locks.  Going back to my grandfather's generation, they had safes.  The difference between then and now is that the combinations never changed.  Today, if your system is good, it asks you to create a new password every 90 - 120 days.

The interview that inspired this post challenges us to reduce the clutter in our lives.  And yes, there is a physical manifestation of clutter that we need to deal with: our office, desk, study, etc.  But, we also need to spend some time on that which is largely unseen, yet which has a huge negative impact: our digital disaster.

KEY DIGITAL DE-CLUTTERING POINTS

1.  Slow and steady wins the race.  This is not a rat's nest you can untangle in a single afternoon.  Commit to doing a little bit every day, and over time, chaos will turn into order.

2.  Change your digital behavior to create lasting change.  In other words, if you can change the way you do certain things that solve the problems you've encountered, make the change.

3.  Seek learning opportunities that will equip you with knowledge to make more efficient use of the tools that surround us.  Are you making optimal use of your email program? Are there better filing solutions?  Is there technology that can help sort you out?

4.  Can you live without it?  This is a key question you will ask yourself over and over again as you slowly comb through document and image folders.  If you absolutely need to keep it, then make sure it goes into a folder where you know exactly where to find it.

5. Start with the end in mind.  What does a de-cluttered digital environment look like?  How does it make you feel?  How does it add to your productivity?  How does it add value to your life?

Oscar Wilde wrote: "Simplicity is Beauty and Beauty is simplicity, nothing more, nothing less." Dealing with our digital clutter will have a profound impact on how we work, live, learn and play.

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