Just because your office is virtual, it doesn’t mean it gets less cluttered than a physical cubicle. A misplaced file or unnecessary program here and there could grow into a big clutter monster. It may be digital, but it’ll affect the performance of your computer and, as a result, also affect your work. If you’re going to do some general cleaning anyway, why not consider these suggestions on keeping your digital workspace clutter-free?
Do an application inventory. Check every single application on your computer. Note the last time you used it, as well as how often you used it. An easy way to do this if you’re a Windows user is to go to your Control Panel, and click “Add or Remove Programs”. From this window, you can see a list of (almost) all your installed software, as well as sort them based on frequency of use or the last time you used them. This will give you an idea of how ‘necessary’ a program is in your everyday life. Alternatively, you can just look at “All Programs” from your Start Menu.
Eliminate ‘duplicates’. You probably have duplicate files and programs in your hard drive. You need to find them and eliminate the one you won’t be using. To find these duplicate programs, look at your inventory and make sure you can attach a unique purpose to each of them. Anything without a unique purpose should be considered a ‘duplicate’. For example, if you have both Open Office Writer and Microsoft Word, then you probably have one word processor too many. Choose the one that works best for your needs and remove the others – it’s unlikely that they both have exclusive, unique features that you can’t live without.
Note for Windows users: If a program has an “Uninstall” feature, use it instead of the remove option on “Add or Remove Programs”, as doing the latter still leaves your program listed in your Start menu. Alternatively, you can just do a Start Menu cleanup after you’ve gone uninstall-happy on your unnecessary apps.
As for duplicate files, you can search for them manually or use a program like Duplicate Files Searcher. If you can, archive old files and save them in an external hard drive or a good-quality CD or DVD to clear up some disk space.
Look for outdated installers and files. If you’ve already got Firefox 3, what’s that installer of version 1.5 doing in your hard drive? Once you’ve used an installer, either delete it or stash it away in your archives until the latest version comes along.
Be selective when it comes to future downloads. Do I really need to download that? Let that question linger in your mind for a few seconds before downloading the latest web app that the blogosphere gets all buzzed about. Downloading every app you read about is a great way to accumulate digital clutter. I usually wait until an app has been around for a couple of months before downloading, since by that time several reviews and articles about it are available. By waiting a bit, I can have a more realistic view of whether I can really use that app or not.
Realize that some apps don’t have to be with you forever. Here at WWD, we’ve often discussed RescueTime. It’s a great tool by itself, but when you become a highly efficient web worker, do you really need to keep it running? If you haven’t really found an application useful for the last six months, it’s time for you to consider uninstalling or deleting it.
Get a system in place. To make regular digital cleanups easier, it helps to have “catch all” folders for specific types of files. Personally, I use several free stock images on blog posts that I won’t be using again. I put them all in a folder so when it’s time to clean up, all I have to do is delete the contents of that folder. I do the same for downloaded application installers and PDF reports I only intend to read once.
Regular decluttering is also a must, because if you don’t keep your digital clutter in check, you might be faced with a bigger, more intimidating clean up in the future.
If decluttering your digital workspace seems such a daunting task, realize that you don’t have to do it all at once. Making small but regular steps can make a difference in the long run.
Is your hard drive clutter-free? What do you do to keep your files and applications organized?