Is Digital Clutter Killing Your Productivity?

Experts blame our overly cluttered environments for everything from unhappiness and lack of productivity to physical health issues and depression. Bottom line: clutter is debilitating in one form or another. Now clutter has migrated from our physical environment to our digital worlds, compounding its impact on our well-being.

Many of us spend the majority of our days in front of one kind of screen or another. This activity has shifted our focus from collecting physical stuff to collecting digital stuff. The same thought process that leads us to our over-jammed closets, stuffed attics and unusable garages, has now moved into our computers, tablets and phones. The “I might need this sometime” mindset has shifted from a box of glasses from college, clothes we might fit into someday, and CDs we haven’t listened to in 5 years to blogs we need to read, apps to help us monitor our exercise, and free e-books that will tell us how to start home-brewing beer.

True, computers and digital devices save us a lot of time, and programs and apps help us capture and organize all sorts of information, but if you’re finding yourself with an email inbox of hundreds of emails and device storage at its max, perhaps it’s time for some digital decluttering!

Email Inbox

An inbox full of (unanswered) emails can give you the same feeling of anxiety and overwhelm as a pile of unopened bills on your counter. To be productive, and reduce your anxiety, you need to be able to locate an email just as quickly as you need to be able to put your fingers on an important bill or receipt. The key is to have a system, use it consistently, and work toward a zeroed-out inbox.

How to keep a Zeroed-Out Inbox:

  • Deal with every email immediately – respond and file it or delete it
  • Create folders by topic and/or life area and move emails into folders immediately
  • Delete unnecessary subscriptions
  • Schedule time to go through your pending folders to respond, follow up or delete

Tempting freebies and “Learn More” links leave us all with unnecessary and useless subscriptions clogging our inboxes. Use a free service such as to get rid of unwanted email subscriptions.

Where to start? It is well worth the time to schedule one hour per day or an afternoon to go through your inbox and do this organizing. The time you will save on the other end will come back to you tenfold.

Social Media Accounts

Social media can be very informative and useful for many people that need to keep us with certain industry trends or markets, but we all know what a time-sucker it is. Take a hard line on what social platforms really impact your life in a meaningful and positive way, and what ones you really need to be current on for your work. Get rid of the rest.

How to be more Social Savvy:

  • Get rid of accounts and delete social media apps that you do not use regularly
  • Reduce your Facebook Friends to those that you really care about having in your life now
  • Avoid the urge to Like and/or comment on posts that you really don’t care about or do not impact your life in any meaningful way
  • Join fewer groups, play fewer games, poke fewer people


Who doesn’t love a free app that is going to organize your life, help you meditate or manage your to do list?! The problem is, apps are like shiny shells – they all look good and to really check them out, we have to download them. Soon, we find they aren’t really all that and we move on, forgetting about them and their little icons on our phone. Apps have become what free pens are in our junk drawers. The problem is, all those apps take up memory space, clutter up our screens when we are looking for something we actually need, and slow our devices down.

How to Clean Out Your App Clutter:

  • Delete all the apps you don’t use. Can’t remember? Delete it.
  • Hide apps you use less frequently.
  • Create folders to organize apps of similar uses (fitness, photo editing)
  • Keep your Home screen minimal with only apps you use daily.

Other Smart Moves

  1. Clean up your computer desktop, deleting anything unnecessary. This includes folders and files, programs, images, and apps. Create folders to move items to for easy locating and to remove multiple items off your desktop so it is streamlined to only the highest priority items.
  2. Clean up your tablet and/or smart phone screen, deleting apps you never use and/or put apps in files to keep your screen less cluttered. While you’re at it, turn off notifications in your settings so they aren’t popping up on your screen all the time, these are a huge distraction!
  3. Unfollow any feeds that don’t help right now or uplift you.
  4. Delete, delete, delete.
  5. Create systems for organizing your accounts, programs and apps and stick to it!

Still struggling with how to choose?

Professor and author Cal Newport, well-known for his work on productivity, suggests a way to choose the best tool for the job and get rid of the others. It’s easy to argue why we need every social media platform on our phone because they each serve different purposes, but the problem is that we rarely take the time to actually learn them all effectively and therefore get the best use out of them. Newport recommends thinking about your values – what is important to you? What do you want to achieve from how you spend your time? When you know what your values are, you can then pare down the programs and apps to those that provide the best tools to help you support your values.

Digital clutter is a real thing and it contributes to distraction and anxiety. When we are distracted and stressed, we are less productive and our time is not used efficiently. And we all can agree we need more time!