My desk at home is tidy: its surface is clean, drawers organized, plants watered. But my desktop, until recently, was a hodgepodge of image files and documents, cluttered folders, and forgotten emails. A change was needed and to kick off the year, I've cleaned up my act. You can, too. Here, 10 tips for streamlining your entire tech experience, laptop, tablet, and smartphone included.
Above: Minimalism achieved in the office of glass designer Ingegerd Råmen at her house in Sweden designed by Claesson Koivisto Rune.
1. Keep your desktop clear.
Whether digital or three dimensional, a cluttered desk is an impediment to clear thinking and getting work done. Delete downloads you no longer need, organize file systems, and devote time daily to clearing out the unnecessary. That includes emptying the trash.
2. Reap the benefits of a smart calendar.
Who needs a virtual assistant when you can use Tempo? This app connects to your calendar, your contacts, and even your email if you'd like. For a “breakfast, 9 am, Scott/IDEO” meeting, Tempo will pull up Scott’s contact information, IDEO company information, as well as any relevant emails or documents for your meeting. (It might even suggest the best pancake place in the area.) My husband, Jay, also swears by Google Now, which has similar knows-what-information-you-need-before-you-do capabilities. It pulls up our current flight information before we’ve even packed a carry-on.
Above: Kinfolk editor Nathan Williams' desktop computer at home along the Oregon coast via Hear Black.
3. Effectively manage your To Do’s.
In his book, Get Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, author, consultant, and international lecturer David Allen recommends taking your To Do’s out of your cluttered mind and writing them down, yes, but also: further breaking them down into Next Action lists. A single To Do, such as “set up meeting with IDEO,” actually involves several steps: find the contact, send invitation, decide where to meet, etc. There are a slew of task management apps— Evernote is one of the most popular; others include Things and Wunderlist—that will handle your lists in all of their parts. One important tip for email-based To Do’s: enter the action item (ie. call Julie Carlson) into your task management system of choice, and then delete the email.
4. Get a handle on your newsletters and junk mail, and bring your inbox down to (nearly) zero.
Now that you’ve cleared out your email-based To Do’s, your inbox is still cluttered. Why? Oh, right: your daughter’s school newsletter, plus sale notifications from the zillion places you shop online, and so on. The genius site unroll.me will manage all of your newsletters/subscriptions/invitations for you. When I logged in, I had (eek!) 354 subscriptions, most of which were junk. In one fell swoop I unsubscribed from 310 sites and “rolled up” the rest. Now, instead of receiving 44 emails scattershot throughout my day, I receive one “rolled up” email per day that includes all blasts from newsletters, digests, invitations, affinity groups, etc. Genius.
Above: The app Self Control allows you to keep out distractions.
5. Work sensibly and productively online.
It’s hard to concentrate when reading, socializing, and shopping are ever lurking, just one click away. Self Control lets you block your own access to distracting websites, your mail servers, or anything else on the Internet. WasteNoTime is a browser extension (for Safari or Chrome) that will also give user-defined limited Internet access. The Time Quota feature, my personal favorite, blocks access to a site after you’ve reached your quota for the day. (Because really, do we need to spend more than ten minutes on Facebook?) The Internet-blocking productivity software Freedom (for Windows and Mac) will block your Internet access entirely for up to eight hours at a time.
6. Take frequent breaks.
As author and founder of The Energy Project, Tony Schwartz explains, the daily battle is not about time management but energy management. Our bodies (and brains) need us to work effectively and sustainably, not to log in extra hours confined to a seated-and-going-blind-from-the-glare position. One tool to this end: Timeout. This app will remind you to take periodic breaks (whether to rest your eyes, take a quick walk, realign your posture, or get in a few stretches). Customize the app as you like, and then on schedule your screen will start to slowly dim as your breather begins.
Above: Emma Persson Lagerberg's office via iDeasgn. See her kitchen in our post, Steal This Look: A Mint Green Kitchen from a Scandinavian Stylist.
7. Organize your files in the Cloud.
Keeping track of your files and making sure that everything is safely backed up is relatively pain free thanks to programs like SkyDrive, DropBox, and GoogleDrive. Personally, I use GoogleDrive for all of my files (giving me instant access from any browser) and DropBox for storing photos.
8. Streamline (and boost the security of) your passwords.
1password helps you to create strong, secure passwords for all of your accounts—and equally importantly remembers them for you. It can also safely store your credit card information, and stands ready to securely populate forms for you.
9. Consolidate apps on your tablet or phone.
Go through all of your apps and delete the ones you never use. I also suggest deleting the ones you do use but don’t actually need. I deleted my Facebook and Instagram apps—while they are good boredom-killers, I don’t need more time wasted on social media. Put your apps into category-based folders like travel, music, or food.
10. Expand your access.
LogMeIn allows you remote access to your desktop from anywhere. It's a lifesaver for those of us who have ever run out of the office for a meeting, only to find the very document you need is saved to your (now blessedly uncluttered) desktop.