How would you describe your digital life? If you don’t know how to organize or declutter your digital life, you would probably describe it is noisy, overwhelming, and distracting.
Many people sign up for 100 newsletters, listen to 50 podcasts, and click on every link that rolls through their news feed. Their consumption habits are reactive instead of proactive. They live their digital life by default instead of design.
Think about the digital junk we hoard, like the tens of thousands of photos bloating our smartphones or the backlog of files cluttering our computer drives, such as old work presentations, expense receipts and screenshots we have not opened in years. (nytimes.com).
Why You Need to Declutter Your Digital Life
My old business partner, Brian, offered a free consultation to Unmistakable listeners. One of the people who signed up didn’t remember where he heard the offer or why he signed up.
You might have your own version of this story. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can declutter your digital life to reduce overwhelm, increase your focus and multiply your creative output. But not until you take this first step.
Subtract Before You Optimize
For the last several years, my parents’ garage has been filled with all sorts of stuff. Nobody really knew what it was or why it was there. If you do an audit of your digital life, you’ll probably discover the same.
Over the Christmas holidays, my uncle visited us and took on the project of cleaning out my parents’ garage. As the entrepreneur in the family, I refused to help but offered to hire someone. As usual, they thought I was being a smart ass.
But when they got to work, they got rid of enough stuff to warrant a trip to the city dump. In other words, my parents were using their garage for their garbage.
When Cal Newport helps people to adopt a philosophy of digital minimalism, he has them wipe the slate clean. It’s easy to believe we’ll need something when it’s still on our phones. When you start from scratch you become more intentional about what you’re letting into your life.
Unsubscribe and Uninstall
- Eliminate email subscriptions of newsletters you haven’t opened in months (even mine). Do the same with podcasts you haven’t listened to, and services you pay for but don’t use.
- Uninstall apps and tools you hardly ever use or haven’t used in months. Don’t worry. You can always reinstall them later.
This will make space for what’s essential and make it clear what’s optional.
Avoid the Any-Benefit Mindset
If something in your digital life doesn’t have a clear function or serve any purpose, maybe you don’t really need it. All, myself included, sign up for cool new tools, apps, etc. and question whether they serve a real purpose. Otherwise, it’s too easy to waste time, money and attention on things that don’t add a significant amount of value to our lives.
If you’ve done the above, you should have a clean slate. Be honest with yourself about this. Do it more than once. Or your digital life will start to look like my parents’ garage despite your attempt to tidy it up.
Assign Every Tool a Job
Nothing provides more clarity around your digital life than knowing what function it serves. In our analog lives, most tools have a job.
We use forks for eating, knives for cutting, and keys to start the car. Bring the same level of intention to your digital life. You’ll be less overwhelmed, spend less money, and be far more prolific and productive.
We use 20 essential tools to run the Unmistakable Creative. Notice how each one does a specific job.
I encourage you to make a list of all the apps you use and assign each one a job. Make sure those are the only ones you add. What you’ll find as I did in the list above is some redundancy. Recognizing redundancies in your digital life can help you save thousands of dollars each year. It forces you to get rid of what you don’t need.
Use Cloud Storage To Give All of Your Digital Files a Home
Your brain is a lousy place to store information. And you don’t have to store it there if you learn to organize your digital life in the right way.
Let’s say that I came to your house at night. And I moved your silverware into the bathroom, toiletries into the kitchen, and your car keys into your tool shed. Unless you’re the Little Mermaid, you’re not going to brush your hair with a fork. Your morning would be a little chaotic, to say the least.
We need to designate a location for everything in our digital lives the same way we do in our physical lives. Fortunately, there’s an amazing new tool that helps with this.
When I first discovered Slapdash, I thought it was brilliant. You could find anything and “work at the speed of thought.” But when I looked at how disorganized my folders had become, I realized Slapdash would be much more useful if I gave everything a home. I’ve shared a screenshot below of how I reorganized my Dropbox folders. I’ve included a video below on how to do this.
Nobody ever changed the world by checking email. Yet, employees at companies are spending 3-4 hours a day on email. The Atlantic did a study on the cost of time people waste on email. It turned out the company could have bought a Learjet. Fortunately, there’s a simple hack that most successful people use to deal with email.
Set Up Two Email Addresses
Dan Kennedy says that he filters his inbox into two categories. Is this person trying to give me money or get me to do something? Why bother with the filters? Set up one email address for people who can or have given you money. And set up a second one for everybody else. This alone will drastically reduce the time you spend on email.
Create an Autoresponder
For your other email address, set up an autoresponder. Condition people not to expect a response. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to respond to every email you receive.
Use the Power of Automation
When I say yes to a potential podcast guest, they get an email from me with the push of a putting. Using a combination of Zapier and Airtable, my friend, Gareth Pronovost, automated this process.
Shortcuts and Canned Responses
Chances are, you send the same emails over and over, with some variation. For those situations, have shortcuts, or canned responses. While the time you save day-to-day might seem small, it adds up over a year.
There’s one thing that floods your inbox more than anything else. Giving people your email address. As somebody who loves to try new tools and services, this has been a problem for me. ThrottleHQ lets you create a separate email address for every service and sends you a daily digest. This alone can educe your email overload.
Avoid Unnecessary Meetings at All Costs
Mark Cuban told Chase Jarvis, “I don’t attend meetings unless someone’s writing me a check.” While this is definitely extreme, it’s also a good litmus test for figuring out which meetings are unnecessary.
The only people I take meetings with these days are my investors, podcast advertisers, speaking agent; and community manager, Milena. With the exception of these people and my best friends, I try to avoid meetings at all costs.
A few weeks ago, my friend, Victor Saad, sent me an email. He’s been a guest on Unmistakable Creative and has done some amazing work transforming the education system.
But I declined his request for a meeting. I told him I didn’t have the time and that I was trying to avoid all meetings that don’t lead to revenue. I also offered to answer his questions in a Loom video. When I thought he might be offended, he was impressed.
People who want to have unnecessary meetings clutter up your inbox and your digital life.
Use Set Schedules and Meeting Schedulers
Trying to schedule meetings, often leads to email ping-pong. Before you know it, you’ve sent 20 emails to find a time and accomplished nothing of value. If you do need to have meetings, use a scheduler like Calendly.
For the most part, I make 2 hours a day available for podcast interviews. I always tell people I’m happy to work around their schedule if those times don’t work. With rare exception, they usually do.
One other option is what Cal Newport suggests in Digital Minimalism. Have a set time when you take calls from people (i.e after 4 pm on any Wednesday). Give them your phone number and leave it at that. This is something a very busy Silicon Valley executive does and it seems to work wonders.
Distractions are playing a larger role in our personal and professional lives. If your digital life is like how my parents’ garage looked a few days ago, it’s impossible to make space for what really matters.
Your attention is a precious commodity. Mark Zuckerberg has become a billionaire by doing one thing: selling your attention to advertisers. That should convince you of the opportunity cost of distraction.
Learning to resist distractions and manage my attention changed my life. It enabled me to go sporadic to prolific. To sum it all up:
- Subtract before you add.
- Unsubscribe from things that don’t add value.
- Set up separate email addresses and an autoresponder.
- Avoid meetings at all costs.
- Figure out what matters most.
Given that the New Year starts tomorrow, there’s no better time to declutter your digital life. This is why we’re offering Distraction Mastery to everyone at the new subscriber price of $30. And we’ve even set up a free trial where you can explore a few of the modules before you buy.