One strategy and five benefits of dealing with your digital clutter

One strategy and five benefits of dealing with your digital clutter


The beauty of a clean digital workspace is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. For those who are constantly surrounded by files and clutter, this third instalment on how to manage your digital ‘messiness’ will help you find sanity from all the noise while improving productivity and freeing up space for new ideas!

The problem: Old files that clutter up your folders and filing system?

If you followed the previous posts and decided to implement some strategies already, you likely populated your new filing system with quite some content. However, with the increase in files, you probably still end up with more and more clutter. This is especially true if you want to keep multiple copies of files as a local backup or have files that fit into none of your existing folders. Thus, you end up with many additional folders, which might be unique to particular projects. Over time, this can become more and more confusing, and you start to slow down again. However, one simple strategy can help clean up this clutter.

The usual clutter without a place to store them separately

Figure 1: The usual clutter without a place to store them separately

One folder to rule them all and in the darkness bind them

A strategy that video editors use to combat this increasing complexity is to create a bin or archive folder. However, it is not the kind of bin you might think of. For example, consider the following: The quickest way to clean your room is to throw everything into a big bag and put it into the corner or wherever you have space. This same exact strategy works for your digital files and folders as well.

By creating an archive folder for older versions of files, folders and other items in your filing system, you create a place where you can put everything with one drag & drop motion. This approach to filing makes sure that everything outside the archive folder is up-to-date and represents the most relevant files. If I have to return to earlier versions of files, I can easily do so. My archive folders are the virtual (and much less organised) storage rooms, where I put things I do not need around. This can result in having just one file plus an archive folder for specific projects, such as my research articles.

A clean and uncluttered folder with only the most recent file visible

Figure 2: A clean and uncluttered folder with only the most recent file visible

The 5 benefits of having an archive folder

Two obvious benefits of keeping old files are (1) tracking your progress and having (2) backup files. This is especially important if you work on bigger projects. Unless the software you work in has a built-in backup system, you might not be able to revert to previous versions or recover lost files. For example, one of my students had this unfortunate experience of corrupt files for one of their documents which contained the analysis of two months of work. Also, the timing for this to happen was equally bad: Two weeks before the deadline. Luckily she had backup files and could recover most of her work. Thus, it can be quite essential to keep drafts in separate files.

A maybe less obvious benefit of having an archive folder is (3) peace of mind. Not only is it straightforward to implement this technique, but it also reassures you that if you need those files at any point, you know where they are without cluttering your more up-to-date files, which means you find what you need quicker.

A clean digital filing system can also result in (4) mental calmness and focus. In my experience, the less busy my screen is, the better I am at focusing on what I need to do. The most challenging part is to get started with cleaning and reorganising your digital filing system. Once you make this crucial first step, things will fall into place.

Lastly, having just one set of relevant files and an archive folder makes it easy to (5) remember which file I should work on. This is particularly true after one or two weeks of not looking at them. For my research articles, I even only have one file and one archive folder. It can be as simple as that. Everything else, e.g. notes, related readings, earlier drafts, are all in my archive folder.

“Systematically dumbing my files in one place without much thought feels oddly satisfying.”

The introduction of an archive folder in my filing system certainly helped me cope with an increasing number of files. Besides, psychologically it feels great to know that I have a place where I can systematically dump documents without much thought. Maybe that is just me. Let me know on Twitter whether this is something you already do or whether you found other ways to handle your digital clutter.

Until next time, remember to read, research, write and repeat.