7 ways to quickly clean up your digital clutter

Everyone knows the winter break is a classic time to stop, take stock of the previous year and set goals for the coming months. 2015 might be the year you finally get into photography, or learn how to use Adobe After Effects. Maybe it's time to get that side project off the ground or actively start winning bigger clients.

In fact, Computer Arts issue 235 is dedicated to helping you make 2015 your most successful year ever, so if you're finally ready to redo your portfolio, get commissioned by your dream client or kickstart that killer idea, it's packed full of advice and tips for helping you make it happen.

However, whatever you want to achieve in the coming year, one of the best things you can do first is take the time to organise yourself and reduce your digital clutter. Sounds boring, yes. But, like paperwork that piles up, digital clutter can be overwhelming – and a major productivity killer.

So, here are seven tips for clearing through the chaos and getting everything in order to make 2015 your best one yet…

01. Sort out your inbox

You know you're a digital hoarder when your inbox has 1,328 unread messages and the total messages reaches well into five figures. A clean inbox can be highly satisfying – but how can you stay on top of email when you're being bombard by hundreds every day? For some, it can be helpful to avoid checking email first thing in the morning. Try tackling the day's most important task first – then open up your email.

Also, avoid constantly checking your email throughout the day. Set regular intervals, or allocate times throughout the day, that best serve your needs – and those of you clients and collaborators. It might be once an hour; it might be mid morning and the end of the day. Whatever works.

When you're working through you inbox, deal with each email there and then. If it's junk, delete it – and unsubscribe to all unwelcome newsletters. If it needs time to read, stick it in a Read folder; if it requires action, incorporate that action into your to-do list. For more tips, check out Leo Babauta's helpful Email Zen post.

02. Get rid of duplicate files

Digital clutter isn't just stressful, it eats away at storage space, slowing down your machine. One good place to start tackling the problem is by deleting all duplicate documents - you know the ones, where you couldn't find that file so you recreated it or downloaded it again. They'll typically be called X.ai(1) and X.ai(2) and they do your processor no favours. Try running a program Duplicate Cleaner or Tidy Up to get rid of duplicate versions of the same files.

03. Get a system

If you haven't already set up a decent folder system on your computer, do it now – unless you want to use Search every time you need to find a file. First, rename any folder called 'New Folder' – and delete anything you don't need.

Then set up a logical system that's convenient for you and anyone else (clients, studio members and so on) with access to your files. Once you've got a solid structure in place, make sure you use it. Saving to desktop is a bad habit and a quick way to raise stress levels.

04. Remove all icons

While you're decluttering your desktop, remove as many icons from it as you can. Like your physical desk, a tidy desktop is easier to use and will help you focus on the important tasks that need doing. If you don't need them, delete them entirely.

05. Delete all programs you don't use

Now that your desktop is clear, it's time to purge all unwanted apps from your desktop and mobiles devices. Apps add up like there's no tomorrow, slowing down your machine and increasing digital clutter. Go through your desktop and mobile devices: if you're harbouring anything that you no longer use, delete it. Once you're left with the essentials, try organising them into folders (creative, finance, music and so on).

06. Clear out your media folders

Got an overload of pictures, music and movies? Delete all poor quality photos before importing them and if you don't listen to that album or watch that film anymore, get rid of it. Be brutal. Photos, music and films can be some of the worse offenders for adding to digital clutter, so get rid of what you don't use and then sort through your libraries, filing everything you want to keep appropriately.

Streaming is a far more storage-friendly way to enjoy music and films so, if you're not already, try a service like Spotify to keep music files, for example, at a minimum.

07. Don't just stick it all on a hard drive…

Star tip: don't just relegate all unwanted files and documents onto a hard drive: if you don't need it, it's still clutter. Storage might be cheap, but the more digital junk you have, the harder it is to find what you actually want. So, if you don't want it on your machine, think strongly about whether you need it at all.

If you really do, archive it making sure you have a clear structure in place so that when the time comes to retrieve that file you'll be able to access it quickly and easily.

Computer Arts issue 235 is bursting with expert tips and tricks for making 2015 your best year ever, and reveals the illustration trends you need to know about for 2015. So if you're ready to be more creativly successful this year than ever before, pick up a copy here.

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