National “Clean Out Your Computer” day was Feb. 15th, but if you missed it (I did!), it’s not too late to do something about those overloaded and disorganized computer files. While digital space is harder to fill than physical space, it still needs to be cleaned out and re-organized on a regular basis in order to save you time, effort, and perhaps a little money, too! When cleaning out both paper and digital files, I always ask my clients these 3 basic questions:
Why are you saving this?
It’s just so easy to click and save our documents that we often do it without thinking about it. Then, before we realize it, our computer desktop and documents folder are littered with documents, folders, and downloads, many without coherent names or titles. While you may need to save a lot of stuff digitally, considering what you save and how long you need to keep it will save you time and hassle in the future. Every time you click “save,” take a second to consider those questions. If you’re really struggling as to whether you need to save something, one helpful question to ask yourself may be, “if I let it go, can I find it again in another place?” If what you’re saving is reasonably accessible online, or through another source, you may realize you can let it go, knowing you can find it again if you need it.
How are you saving this?
Also consider how you plan to find any folder or document again. This issue is directly related to naming conventions and how you create folders. So often, when we click, “save,” we don’t bother to carefully consider how to name a file. And if we do, it may be inconsistent with other documents and folders with similar material. Establishing a clear, consistent naming convention for your files makes it far easier to find them again. As you’re saving a document, or naming a folder, think about what word will pop into your head when you’re looking for it next time. Will you be looking by category, by date, or by company or client name? The first word or number in your document name should be what comes into your mind first, and then be EXTREMELY consistent when you name future related files so that they all fall into the order you need so you can limit your searching time. If it takes you more than a few seconds, or more than 2 or 3 clicks to find a document, you may need to consider re-naming and re-organizing the file structure it’s in. If you’re wasting time clicking and searching, clicking and searching multiple times a day trying to find something, you need to TAKE time to MAKE time in the future. TAKE time to re-organize and re-name any documents or folders that you find consistently difficult to find. While it may cost time in the present, it will help you MAKE time (and avoid frustration) in the future!
Another caveat: Stop saving stuff to your computer desktop! If you have more than just a few documents or folders sitting on your desktop, you run the risk of having items hidden behind other items and taking longer to locate than necessary. It’s like having a physical desktop littered with papers – things get covered up and take longer to find. Also, the more stuff you have living on your desktop, the longer it takes for your computer to boot up. So, get all of those documents and folders off the desktop and into your documents folder in your dock. Again, it will save you time and effort in the future.
Where are you saving this?
If you are a digital “hoarder” and haven’t taken the time to clean out your computer files in like, forever, you may be running the risk of running out of space on your hard drive. It also can really slow your computer down as you get close to filling up all of that memory. If this is an issue for you, and you’re really, really apprehensive about letting stuff go, consider moving some files to a separate, independent hard drive. Remember that a lot of what you’re saving may not even be accessible if the software you need to open it is obsolete. Another good reason to clean things out on a regular basis is to get rid of old apps or old software in your applications folder. If you haven’t used it in over a year, it’s probably out of date, or no longer useful for your needs. Clear out some hard disk space by deleting that old stuff, too.
And one bonus question:
Do you really need to keep EVERY email?
While I’ve only addressed documents and folders in this article, when you’re cleaning out, consider cleaning out those emails and email folders, as well. Here is a place where you may definitely be in danger of running out of digital space! Most people don’t realize that, for example, with a free Gmail account, they only get 15GB of space. While it sounds like a lot, Google counts EVERYTHING you keep on Google Drive in that allotment – emails, documents, spreadsheets, photos, etc. If you’ve got thousands of emails and a ton of photos, you run the risk of running out of space. The alternative is to either delete, move the stuff to a hard drive (emails can be saved as PDFs,) or pay for more space. Your company or organization may have limits on how many emails you can save on their server, or emails may only be saved for a period of time, such as 3 years, before they’re automatically deleted by the system. Don’t wait until panic time sets in before you have to make decisions about what to save and what to keep.
A good digital clean out can take time and effort, but will pay off in spades when you can find what you need when you need it, quickly and efficiently, and give yourself some future space to breathe!