Digital Declutter — 15 Ways to Become More Productive and Less Distracted

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Digital declutter - image of a pile of different digital devices

Call it a digital declutter, a feng shui exercise, whatever you like — but this blog post is aimed at giving your digital life a thorough spring clean, so that you can become less distracted and more productive.

Let’s go!

1. Unsubscribe from everything you never read

The first step towards your Zen-like digital existence involves saying goodbye: goodbye to any email subscriptions that you don’t find of interest or value.

Scan your inbox for any e-newsletters that you never read, and hit the unsubscribe link on them (grouping your email by sender can help with this — see next tip for details).

This means less stuff clogging up your inbox in future, and less clearing out of your inbox.

And speaking of which…

2. Clear out your inbox – in a smart way

Let’s face it: emails are the bane of everybody’s existence.

All they do is create a glorified to-do list that actively gets in the way of getting anything useful done. So, the holy grail when it comes to emails is to have as little of them stagnating in your inbox as possible.

The easiest way to get rid of email is to group everything by sender. Doing this allows you to get a quick summary of everybody who’s currently occupying your inbox, and to bulk delete or archive multiple emails from particular senders in one go.

Grouping (and deleting) by sender is easily done in Outlook and Thunderbird; less so in Mac Mail and Google Workspace (and in most mobile apps).

If your mail app doesn’t permit grouping by sender, then the next best approach is to sort by sender, and manually select emails to delete or move.

3. Clean up your desktop

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a desktop completely covered by random files that you never open.

This always makes it harder to spot the applications and files on your desktop that you do need to use on a regular basis.

Be ruthless with these — drag as many of them to the recycle bin as possible and delete them forever. Sort any remaining files by kind, so that when it comes to what remains, you know what’s what.

Finally, remove that adorable but incredibly loud and colourful picture of your child that you are currently using as your wallpaper. Replace it with a plain background which allows any icons remaining on the desktop to be easily identified and accessed.

4. Uninstall any software you don’t need

Look at all the software on any device you own and uninstall any apps you don’t need.

Not only will this give you more valuable storage space, but it is likely to improve the speed of the device in question.

5. Delete the contents of your downloads folder

It’s really easy for your downloads folder to get out of hand and take up a large quantity of hard drive space.

Get rid of any unwanted downloads in here — this will make your drive more roomy and again potentially speed up your system.

6. Disable non-essential startup programs

If you’re sick of your desktop or laptop computer taking ages to boot up, then focus on the likely culprits: start-up programs. Take a look at every application that’s running at start up and disable the ones you know you definitely don’t need.

You can find out how to do this thanks to the good folk at – Windows instructions are here, and Mac instructions are here.

7. Turn off non-essential notifications on your smartphone

Go through the notifications settings on every app you use and ensure that you are receiving only the absolutely essential ones.

This, in essence, means saying goodbye to a lot of social media notifications.

These (usually trivial) notifications drain your device’s battery and disrupt your thought process — getting rid of them will help you focus better on the task at hand and give you enough juice on your device to let you complete it.

8. Clean up your web browser

There are three key things you can do to improve the speed of your browser:

  • remove non-essential websites from your browsing history

  • delete cookies

  • disable or delete any superfluous extensions / plugins.

Doing so should speed up your web browser — and as a bonus, increase your privacy.

9. Check what your mobile device’s apps are doing in the background

Go through each of your mobile device apps and take a look at what they are doing in the background.

Many of them will be doing a ‘background refresh’ or using location services when you don’t really need them to — this can make your device behave sluggishly and drain your battery.

Disable both background refreshes and location features where possible.

10. Turn off unnecessary visual effects

Unnecessary visual effects slow your computer or mobile device down and stop you getting stuff done. Getting rid of all but the essential visual effects will give your device (and hopefully you) a bit of extra zip.

You’ll usually find various options for removing visual effects in the settings section of your device.

11. Sort out your files and folders

Devote serious time to organising your messy folders into something logical that lets you access files quickly. Same goes for your browser bookmarks.

You’ll feel better for it.

12. Don’t put up with poor Wi-Fi any more

Poor Wi-fi connections slow us down enormously – and yet we tend to put up with them way longer than we have to, continuously rebooting our routers or moving devices around the house until we’ve found a spot where the wi-fi actually works.

Put an end to all this disruption by buying a better router, using Ethernet or investigating a good mesh Wi-Fi solution.

(While you’re at it, take some time to audit and improve your Wi-Fi security — Norton has some good tips on how to do this).

13. Upgrade your operating system and applications to the latest versions

If you’re running ancient versions of applications and operating systems, upgrading to the most up-to-date software will usually give you more functionality and a more secure, robust system.

Note however that you should proceed with some caution here as older devices may not respond hugely well to certain upgrades and newer versions of applications sometimes jettison particular features that you may find particularly relevant to your line of work.

But in general, you should get a more stable and secure setup by staying on top of software updates.

14. Buy more memory and storage

Investing in memory and storage can turn a slow computer into one that zips along.

RAM is fairly cheap and many devices allow you to add it easily. Same goes for storage.

If you can afford to replace your existing hard drive with solid state one (SSD), you will be particularly happy with the performance gains.

15. Reduce screen time

There’s an increasing amount of research that suggests that screen time isn’t that great for us; and it’s certainly a drain on productivity.

At best it’s an opportunity cost: you could be doing or learning something instead of being distracted by fairly pointless content on a screen.

So, this year…

  • Try to cut down on social media use. Generally, it just gets in the way of doing anything remotely useful, unless your line of work involves appraising photos of cats!
  • Use screen time monitoring apps to find out what you are doing and for how long on your phone — and cut down on the non-essential screen usage.

Good luck with your digital declutter!

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