The world we live in today is as much online as it is in person. Not only are we busy rushing around at home and work, wearing ourselves our physically, but we’re also busy people in our digital realm. Research from Hootsuite and We Are Social earlier in 2019 showed that we’re spending on average 6 hours and 42 minutes online each day. Half of that is spent on mobile devices.
That figure is massive, even if you take into account the fact that many of us rely on the internet for our work. Dare I add it up and say how many hours that equates to over a year? It’s more than 100 days of internet-based activities – nearly a third of the whole of 2019 was spent online. It doesn’t even include the time we spend on our computers writing documents or editing photos.
I’m as guilty as anyone else. I use a computer all day for work, and am permanently attached to my phone, and my favourite hobby – blogging – is online based. Even though I’m almost certainly online for at least the number of hours mentioned in that report, I reckon I have a pretty decent balance most of the time thanks to all the outdoors time I like to get. I could definitely do better, but I’m not terrible these days. It’s definitely one of the reasons I started One Hour Outside. It can still feel like I’m “always on”, and so I do try and take conscious steps to choose indoor activities that don’t involve a screen, such as colouring in my OS Great British Colouring Book and reading my new book, How to Read Water by Tristan Gooley.
It’s important to remember that the internet isn’t bad. Your computer and phone aren’t evil, and you do not need to give either up or anything super drastic like that – not unless either is causing you significant distress, of course. Using your computer and phone to communicate with friends and family, be creative, listen to music and watch videos, is all good. It’s the stuff that gets in the way of us enjoying other things, the stuff we do without even being conscious of it, and the stuff that makes us sad and anxious that we should concentrate on.
In this post I want to offer up a handful of tips and suggestions for consciously having a bit of a digital declutter. My only expertise in the subject is knowing the things that work for me when my digital world starts to overtake my real life, but I think there is some sound advice here if you feel you need it. None of this is rocket science, but hopefully reading through these will prompt you (and me…) to take a look at your digital lives this winter, have a bit of a declutter, and rejig the balance back in your favour.
Eleven Ways to Digital Declutter this December
Clear out your files
Let’s start with your computer. Whether you’ve got a PC or Mac, laptop or desktop, I bet you’ve got a load of documents saved everywhere and nowhere. Start this digital declutter by organising the ones you need and want to keep, and getting rid of the rest. The first place to look is at anything you’ve saved on your desktop, next up is that default downloads folder, and then the documents root folder. It’s surprising how much rubbish you end up putting in those places, without even realising it sometimes. Put the things you need to keep in some kind of proper folder based filing structure, using names you will understand when you need to find things in a month or two, and set up an automatic backup of the files that are important so you really can stop worrying about it.
Sort out those bookmarks
Do you know how many bookmarks or favourites you have saved on your favourite web browser? I wonder how many you saved by mistake? I wonder how often you just Google it anyway?! Head to your bookmarks list and have a purge, you might decide to get rid of the whole lot and start again, or you may end up organising the ones you have so they’re easier to use.
Unsubscribe from marketing emails
Now is a great time of year to unsubscribe from all those marketing – spam – emails you thought you might want once, or you now get after making a one-time purchase or entering a competition, because companies are sending hundreds of them! Rather than just hitting delete without thinking, take a few seconds to break the cycle. Once a day, open each marketing email, scroll to the bottom, and hit unsubscribe. It won’t take long before you notice a significant reduction in incoming messages and your inbox won’t be bursting after just a few hours without checking it. Fewer emails equals fewer minutes in your digital world.
Download your photos
Open up your main photo album on your phone… how many images are in there? Go on, how many? There are over 1000 in mine, and I am normally pretty good at sorting my images out! Set some time aside this winter to sort through and file your photos so you a) have a phone with space for the next 1000 images and b) can find the images you want to keep easily and c), which is almost certainly the most important, don’t risk losing your favourite sentimental snaps when you drop your phone and it actually breaks this time. The easiest way I find is to plug my phone into my computer and copy my photos across, and then save them in folders named by the date and activity. I also use Picasa to tag and caption my images so if I really want to find that shot of me hunting for Winnie the Pooh near Winchester, I can very quickly search for it. I save all my “keepers” to OneDrive so I can get them from anywhere, too. This one certainly takes a bit of effort, but it’s worth it.
Turn off notifications
It’s time to turn off all those notifications that cause you to pick up your phone every two-and-a-half minutes, the number one cause (in my opinion) of time in my digital world that I didn’t know I had. These days I only have notifications for voicemail, text messages and Whatsapp messages (and only those for certain groups, I’ve muted most groups I’m in so I only see new messages when I open the app – sorry friends!), calendar appointments where I’ve set reminders, and a very small handful of other apps I feel I need. I don’t have notifications for twitter, Instagram, Facebook or messenger, YouTube, or anything like that. I promise that you don’t need to know instantly if someone has retweeted your post, liked your photo, or asked you a question, it can always wait until you decide you want to check your social media – your choice not someone else’s. While we’re here, also change the email settings on your phone to only check for emails when you actually open the app, so you’re your phone doesn’t keep automatically downloading them and telling you with an annoying number in the corner; this is also a good way to save data as you can choose to only look at your email when you’re on a wifi connection.
Unfollow the haters
While we’re talking social media, here’s something we should all do a bit more often… unfollow. Part of the reason our digital worlds are so hard to deal with a lot of the time is thanks to all the negativity that festers on the channels we use. It’s not all negative, I genuinely believe social media is a wonderful thing most of the time, but negative people, trolls, haters, even the whingers, shouldn’t have a place in our feeds. While it is very important to make sure we don’t always live in a bubble of like-minded opinions and views, in order to learn more about the world we live in, there is a lot to be said for surrounding yourself with people who share your values, and who want to spread love and not hate. Spot something you don’t like or agree with? Unfollow.
Organise your apps
As a tidy desk is a tidy mind; a tidy phone screen is a tidy digital world. When was the last time you had a look at the apps you have on your phone, deleted the ones you no longer use and organised the rest into folders that actually make sense? We’re very good at downloading this that and the other, using it once and never opening it again – get rid of all those. Being able to find things quickly is one way to make sure you spend less time on your phone forgetting what you picked it up for, so make use of folders, different screens, or whatever helps you keep things neat. I’ve just been through and deleted a bunch of shopping apps – hopefully that’ll save me some money, too!
Check your contacts
A digital declutter is as much about making sure you have the right things stored on your phone and computer as it is about getting rid of stuff. Do you have four numbers for Johnny and three entries for your mum? Have you moved doctors, dentist or opticians but still have the old ones saved on your phone? Do you still need the number for that person who you met twice and kept their number just in case? Have you ever sorted out the contacts on your phone?! I have hundreds of phone numbers on my phone, for some people I don’t know which number is the right one, and I still Google the number for my doctor whenever I need to call. Go through those contacts and sort them out – and take the opportunity to text or phone some long lost friends while you’re there.
I know it’s super easy to get into a YouTube hole, I’m partial to one myself sometimes, but as part of your digital declutter it’s well worth taking a look at your subscriptions list – and your YouTube notification settings – and unsubscribing from anything you don’t enjoy, that makes you feel rubbish, or where the channel has changed and you don’t really watch it anymore. Do you really need to watch other people spending money and doing their chores? Maybe you do, but probably not as much as you do. If you’ve got a bit more time, take a look at the Facebook pages you follow and get rid of some of those, too. Facebook has a tendency to hide things you don’t really look at which makes it harder to see just how much stuff is in your feed, but you can show a full list and go through in one go rather than having to wait for them to pop up on your feed.
Be strict with your email
There is lots of advice out there on how to manage your inbox so it doesn’t manage you, and taking heed of those tips has to be part of any digital declutter that is going to stick. Set aside time to read and respond to email, rather than leaving Outlook open all day or having immediate downloads set on your phone. When you do sit down to check your email, act straight away – make a quick decision on whether it needs a reply, to be filed or deleted, and do that. If it needs more time or research then flag it so you can come back to it later. Finally, set up folders, labels, categories and whatever else helps keep your inbox neat and tidy – and then use them. My inbox feels cluttered with only a handful of emails in it, and so I do my best to keep things organised, it’s not always possible but once the structure and habits are there, it’s easy to get back to feeling in control again.
I couldn’t write a blog post about sorting out your digital life without mentioning spending time outside. Yes, I use my phone for mapping and as my camera too, I never leave it at home, but I use it much much less when I’m out exploring than I do when I’m sat at home on the sofa. Make an effort to get some fresh air and natural light away from your computer every single day – use One Hour Outside as your challenge if that helps – and be a bit more mindful about how and when you use your phone when you are out. Choosing screen-less activities when relaxing indoors is also a good way to declutter your digital life, and this is certainly something I’m working on at the moment. Think card and board games, colouring books, painting pebbles, knitting, reading books and magazines – there are lots of options that don’t involve your phone, your computer or even your television.
What tips can you add to this list of ways to have a digital declutter this December? Are you up for an online clear out to start the new year – the new decade – with things more organised and easier to deal with?
If you’re interested in stats, the ones I use in the opening paragraphs are from the Digital 2019 Reports, a summary of which can be found here.