Spring cleaning isn’t just for the home anymore. As more workers transition to the home office, the need to conduct a digital spring cleaning becomes integral to productivity, success, and keeping your personal information safe. Just like clutter around your home, cyber clutter can cause a professional mess. You don’t know where to find emails, your laptop may lack updates, and your passwords may have become compromised over the last year. While the garage and basement may need your attention this year, don’t forget to de-clutter your digital life. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Go Folder to Folder on Your Laptop, Desktop, and Smartphone
One of the first steps to take in your digital spring cleaning is to go through each folder on your laptop, desktop, and smartphone. Before you go through these folders, however, you should divide files into three categories:
- Storage and backup
- Save to the device
As you go through your files in each folder, choose one of these categories. Saving files is straightforward; if you need it for work or leisure, leave it where it is, provided it’s categorized correctly. Choosing which files to delete/purge and which to put into storage or backup is a bit more difficult. As a general rule, store and backup any files you’re not 100% sure you want to delete. By doing so, you won’t have to worry about forms and documents that you may need in the future.
Pro Tip: Rather than store files on your laptop, purchase an external hard drive or cloud storage solutions. If your laptop crashes, you drop it, or it breaks for any reason, you have the peace of mind of knowing your sensitive or important files are safe. A 1 TB (terabyte, which equals 1,000 GB) external hard drive runs about $40. Or if you don’t want the additional hardware, you can purchase cloud storage for as little as $1.99 with Google Drive for 100 GB. Keep in mind that you can only access the cloud with an internet connection, so have a contingency plan incase your home internet goes down.
2. Go Through Your Email Inbox
Even the most organized individuals can experience an inbox that has hundreds or even thousands of emails since their last digital spring cleaning. While Gmail does an adequate job at filtering social media emails, personal emails, and promotional emails, you still need to through each one to remove irrelevant, redundant, or unnecessary emails.
As you’re going through your emails, start to think about various categories. These categories should serve as a basis for organization for the emails you need or want to keep. For example, you might have email folders such as:
- Client emails (each client should have their own folder)
- Tax documents
- Invoices and Receipts
- Non-work-related or personal emails
These are just examples; make sure to tailor the list to suit your needs or organizational senses.
3. Change Your Email Address (If Necessary)
You may also want to open a new email account to separate business and personal affairs. If you’re a freelancer, an email address that includes your name without any numbers is paramount. If you’re using something like firstname.lastname@example.org, it doesn’t exactly put off a professional vibe. For the sake of ease and brevity, you can keep this email for personal matters. Just make sure to create a new one for business. Not only will you appear more credible, but you’ll also make organization far easier.
4. App-Check and Update Your Phone
Over a year, you may have accumulated dozens of apps on your phone for a particular purpose. But more apps on your phone can make navigation difficult for both personal and business reasons. Like you did with the folder-to-folder cleanup of your laptop, do the same with your apps. If you haven’t used an app in a year, you should consider deleting it. Removing unneeded or unnecessary apps not only declutters your phone but also frees up extra storage space on your phone for apps and files you actually use. If you’re feeling hesitant about tapping the uninstall button, don’t fret. Every app is easy to download again via the Apple Store or Google Play.
Once you’ve eradicated the apps you no longer want or use, the next step is to update all the apps on your phone. Though updating your apps may feel superfluous, it provides an important function. Updates often include bug patches, as well as security updates to keep your sensitive and personal information safe. If you don’t have auto-update turned on, you may want to turn it on as part of your digital spring cleaning to ensure apps remain updated without having to do it manually.
5. Update Your Passwords
Thanks to password-checking websites, you’re now able to see whether any password associated with your emails has been compromised. At least once a year (or more regularly), make use of these websites to check all of your passwords to ensure that no website has been hacked. You may also want to check if any of your most commonly used apps or websites have had a security breach within the past year. If so, make sure to change the password to that account and any other non-related account that uses the same password. Hackers are a crafty bunch, and they’ll use the password they steal across any number of accounts using your email. Don’t let it happen to you.
If you don’t have any hacks or password changes to deal with, you’re safe for the time being. But take this time to improve your password security. Most websites now have two-factor authentication to prevent security breaches and password hacks. Two-factor authentication uses a secondary method (phone call, text, or email) after you input the correct password. Adding this to your account can usually prevent any problems unless the hacker also has access to your phone or email.
If you need to change your password, consider a random mixture of numbers, letters, and characters. Such a combination makes hacking far more difficult. If you pursue this avenue of security, write the password down. Or better yet, use a password manager to keep all of your passwords secure in a single place.
6. Update Your Security Software
Now that you’ve updated your passwords, you should take your security measures one step further. As part of your spring digital cleaning, update all of the security software on your computer or renew your subscriptions. Although Macs come equipped with XProtect (100% automated) and Windows offers Windows Defender, these programs may not be comprehensive enough to cover your security needs. Instead, think of adding a free or subscription version of security software, including:
- Virtual Private Network (VPN)
With this three-pronged safety net, you can maintain the integrity of your laptop, protect sensitive information, and reduce the incidence of hacking or identity theft.
7. Check Your Social Media
Whether you’re embarking on a remote career for the first time or you’re a veteran of the work from home lifestyle, a clean social media profile is ideal. To start, delete suspect photos or ones that may be considered controversial. Don’t leave this to chance; consider “controversial” as anything that political correctness or conservative attitudes might frown upon. Take this time to also review your posts to ensure that they’re equally as safe for work.
During this purge, you may also want to update the privacy settings of your profile. Making your profile partially or completely private can reduce the risk of controversial material leaking through to clients, co-workers, or potential employers. And as a final coup de grace, go through your friends and contacts. Although deleting contacts seems counterintuitive, doing so will free up your feed for the people who actually matter in both a business and personal magnitude.
How to Prevent Cyber Clutter in the Future
After taking hours to do a digital spring cleaning, the last thing you want is all your efforts to be for naught. Thus, cyber clutter prevention should become part of your daily or weekly routine. With a focus on digital organization, your spring cleaning becomes a continual process — one’s that more manageable and causes less stress over time. Some tips to help you prevent cyber clutter in the future might include:
- Spend five to 10 minutes each day on digital organization
- Move files to the correct folder immediately when you receive them or complete a project
- Consider programs or apps that help you stay organized such as a password manager or note-taking app
- Stay on top of emails as you receive them and move them to the proper folder in your inbox
- Use spreadsheets to help you stay on top of projects and invoices (if you don’t want to spend money on programs or software)
- Try digital sticky notes (Post-It notes) that appear on your desktop
The key to preventing cyber clutter or a crippling amount of digital spring cleaning is all about consistency. But don’t expect it to happen overnight. Perseverance is vital, as studies show that habits typically form after 66 consecutive days So strap in for the next nine or 10 weeks, focus on organization, and your digital spring cleaning won’t feel like such a burden.
Make Digital Spring Cleaning an Everyday Occurrence
If you aren’t an organized individual or you wait for digital spring cleaning to come each year before you take action, you’ll probably feel overwhelmed. To combat this feeling of dread or stress, just remember that organization and “spring” cleaning is a continual process. Instead of taking an entire day to go through all aspects of your digital life, five minutes each day will achieve the same result. Create a de-cluttering plan that works for you, and you’ll always be able to find that email, file, or document you need at a moment’s notice.
Do you have any digital spring cleaning tips? What’s worked for you in the past? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts and tips. We’d love to hear from you!
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