We live in an increasingly digital world. The pandemic brought virtual happy hours and remote work into the mainstream. Our phones now function as credit cards and gateways to virtual realities. And a portable screen is often the first thing we look at when we wake up and the last before we go to sleep. With the world at our fingertips, more and more of our lives are playing out on screens, but at what cost?

Our health is often affected by the spaces where we spend the most time. The health benefits of a tidy physical space—improved focus, reduced stress and increased productivity—can extend into an organized digital life. Here are easy ways you can get started decluttering your digital world so you can reap the most benefits while reducing the risk of digital-induced health impacts.

Set a goal

Setting an intention for what you want to tackle or how you want to feel once you’re done can help hold you accountable. Are there specific digital areas that are causing you the most stress? Your photos? Files? Emails? Social media? If a digital space was organized and things were easier to find, would it make your life easier or would you feel better? That might be the best place to start, then!

Create a plan

As with any goal, breaking it down into actionable steps can make it feel more doable. Writing down your plan or drawing it out can help you stick to it once you get started. When organizing your digital photos, for example, write down the categories or folders you want to organize them into and where you want to house them all. This allows you to have a real sense of what the end result will look like before you even get started.

Set realistic expectations

It’s been more than 10 years since many of us started using social media and other digital tools. It’s unrealistic to think you can whip everything into shape in just a few hours. It’s important to just get started chipping away at your plan.

Follow-through

Can you block your calendar or set aside a small amount of time each week to organize? Can you enlist a family member to help you sort your family’s digital photos? Use any and all tools at your disposal to help you stick to your plan.

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Tips on organizing specific areas of your digital life

Because we spend so much time on our computers and phones, there’s a seemingly endless number of areas you could choose to start organizing. We’ve compiled some of our favorite tips and ideas to help make each space a bit easier to tackle.

Photos

  • Know that organizing your photos may take time as you enjoy going down memory lane. This activity can be especially fun if you grab a friend or loved one to share memories with.
  • Start by deleting photos you don’t want or won’t look back on, like screenshots you shared with someone.
  • Try to get all your photos into one digital space. You can do this by backing up your phone photos to a cloud service or creating albums on your phone.
  • Think about how you want to experience your photos and memories in the future. Does it make sense to organize them by year, event or a different category?
  • Turn your favorites into physical albums. There are online services and apps that can help you do this easily. Or display a digital photo frame so you can enjoy your memories outside of where you store the photo files.

Emails

  • There are different methods for organizing your inbox, so it may take time to find the method that works best for your personal and professional inboxes.
  • One idea is to think of your inbox as your to-do list. Only keep emails in your inbox that need to be addressed. For other emails, move them to labeled folders.
  • Instead of deleting promotional or junk emails that you no longer want, first scroll to the bottom of the email and click “unsubscribe.” There are also online tools that can help you mass-unsubscribe from companies in just a few clicks.

Files

  • Do you have files spread across different computers, hard drives and cloud services? The first step is to assess where all your important digital documents live.
  • Next, create a plan of where you actually want those specific documents to live so you can find them more easily in the future. Can you move all your work files solely to your work computer? Can you move all your financial documents onto the cloud and a backup hard drive?
  • As you move your files into their new respective folders and homes, consider if you need to keep them at all.
  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has recommendations on how long to keep financial records. It ranges from two to seven years, depending on the situation.

Calendars

  • Do you have a different calendar for work, family and personal affairs? There are calendar services available that can help you sync multiple calendars together.
  • Color coding by family member, work or personal or other categories can help you visually prioritize and organize your master calendar.
  • While you’re in your calendar, add a recurring block each week or month devoted to digital organizing and decluttering.

Passwords

  • If you have passwords saved across different browsers and devices and in paper form, try an electronic password manager. These services require you to remember one “master password.” After entering the password, you can then see all of your other passwords.
  • Password managers can be more secure. They also allow you to vary your passwords across services without having to remember each one.

Social media

  • Social media platforms encourage endless scrolling. One way to combat this is by ensuring your feeds only contain people and information you care about. Set a timer as well to encourage you to close the app.
  • Clean up your feeds and your friends lists by asking yourself:
    • Do I enjoy the content posted by this account?
    • Does their content add value to my day or help me stay up to date?
    • Do I have negative feelings when looking at their content—fear of missing out, jealousy or sadness?
    • Do I want to follow this person moving forward?
  • Use the above questions to help you be more intentional about who and what you follow in the future.
  • Take a look at your privacy settings to ensure you’re only sharing exactly what you want to share.

Subscriptions

  • You may have signed up for a free trial at one point or are paying for a subscription to a streaming service without even realizing it.
  • Take stock of what you’re subscribed to. There are services that can help you do this, or you can look through your credit card and bank statements for recurring charges.
  • Cancel or modify any unwanted subscriptions and save money and mental energy in the process!

Apps

  • If you’re a folder person, create app folders on your phone’s home screen to organize and help you find things easier in the future.
  • While moving around apps, think if there are any you can delete. Have you opened the app in the last six months? What are the benefits of keeping the app on your phone?
  • Within your phone settings, you can see how long you spend on each app. Review and reflect on how often you use each app. Make changes to your app usage if you feel it would improve your mental and physical well-being.

Digital detox

  • Your phone is your number one digital tool, but don’t let it control you. Too much electronic use can increase stress and reduce the time we spend with our thoughts.1 Check out your phone’s do-not-disturb and time-limit settings. You can choose the hours you get notifications and the amount of time you spend on specific apps.
  • For example, if you’re prone to getting caught in the endless scroll of specific apps, set a time limit for the day. Your phone will alert you when you reach it, which can be a great mental wake-up call to stop scrolling.
  • Chimes and vibrations from app notifications are one of the most powerful ways to steal our focus and pull us out of the present moment. Make an active choice on which people or apps you give that power to. Go to your notification settings and customize how and when each app can have your attention.

Recycling old electronics

  • Before getting rid of any electronic that has previously held your personal information, be sure to securely get rid of your data. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has tips on how to protect your data.
  • After doing a thorough clean-up of your digital spaces, do you have electronics or appliances that are no longer working? If so, consider donating or recycling them.
  • If they’re working, and you just don’t personally need them, check to see if there are groups within your community who could benefit from them.
  • If they’re broken or too old to be useful to others, recycle them instead of throwing them away. Look for programs and recycling drives in your community. Many electronic stores also have electronic recycling programs.

From the digital to the physical and all the well-being areas in between, Teladoc therapists can help you sort out your thoughts and feelings. Get confidential counseling on your schedule. Experts are available to talk by phone or video at a time that works best for you.

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Keep the organizing streak going! Check out our tips on organizing your physical space.

Published April 18, 2022

1https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-personal-renaissance/202001/is-clutter-controlling-your-life

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