A Business Technology Place

No Nonsense Declutter

I don’t like clutter in my spaces.

Maybe it’s as simple as saying I like for things to be in their place. Each thing, at work or home, has an assigned space; or at least the space I want them to be. To me, clutter and piles of things laying about in my spaces create a to-do. It’s a to-do I’d rather not do. So my aim is to avoid the clutter from the start.declutter-your-computer

To declutter is as much about routines as any particular tool or method. We have to be intentional in our actions and create habits that minimize clutter from the start. I’m not afraid of throwing away and deleting things which is a key requirement for a decluttered environment.

What’s clutter to one person could be perfect balance and harmony to another. I get that. We all have varying definitions and tolerance levels for stuff, things, etc. So it may be easier to frame-up the discussion in terms of a actions and routines. Here are a few of my routines. I’m always looking for more so let me know what tactics you use!

Inbox with a purpose

I’ve seen co-workers that keep all their email messages in the inbox with no subfolders. They don’t delete messages. The inbox is just one big master list. These co-workers use the built-in email functionality for sorting and searching to manage to their workflow. That works for them, but to me it looks and feels chaotic. Clutter.

I use the methodology that after reading an email message it should be immediately filed, deleted, or kept for action. This means that my inbox is really a to-do list. It contains either unread messages or messages that require further follow-up.

Documents stored sensibly

Saving a document with a modified name to mark version differences is one way show and track changes through the life of a document. I see workers use an editor’s name/initials or even the edit date in the title. This system works for some people because it creates a visual when scanning documents to find various versions. But to me it creates clutter because I see multiple files with similar content in a folder. Typical problems with this method include finding the latest version and consolidating feedback from multiple editors into the final draft.

There are many tools available for document group collaboration and versioning. Google Docs, Microsoft SharePoint, Oracle Universal Content Manager are just a few examples. The great thing about a content management system is the document stays in a set location where each group member can edit. This beats passing around updates via email attachments where editors can’t see what other editors have done and can’t be sure they are working on the latest version. It also declutters the inbox!

About Printing

I don’t hear much about a 100% paperless office anymore. The good news is that as society we are definitely reducing the amount of paper we use. Ask the Post Office how that’s working out for them.

But printed documents is still a number one source of potential clutter. My first rule of thumb is to avoid printing if at all possible because most documents can be viewed, edited, and stored electronically. There are times when I print for readability, compliance, or portability reasons. But I try not keep paper on top of my desk (physical inbox). As with email, the paper is either filed, recycled (deleted!), or kept as a to-do.

What’s your system?

I use organizers like OneNote for filing work documents and keeping a to-do list. I use email to pass links to documents rather than attaching documents when the audience has access to shared storage. I avoid paper when possible and I’m comfortable deleting things when I feel they will have no future use. It’s my version of decluttered life. What’s yours?

When email holds you back


I often hear people talk about how they are overwhelmed with email. They end up not responding to email or responding after the subject matter is no longer relevant for decision making or valuable input. It probably doesn’t surprise people that know me, but I try to abide by the 24 rule for email. I either respond, delete, acknowledge, or file a new email within 24 hours. I do not use my in-box as one big folder where email is sorted by name. Instead, the email in my in-box is sorted by date and generally kept to a page or less on the viewing screen.

Today I was thinking about another inefficiency of email. When people use email as their primary means for communication it not only compounds the amount of email they have to process but it also lengthens the amount of time required to complete tasks and reach decisions. As I think about it, this is only logical.

  1. Written communication is often misinterpreted and can require multiple messages to reach an agreement
  2. Email is often not responded to if the recipient(s) does not keep up with their email or has bad email habits. The risk of this is compounded as more recipients are added to the email.
  3. It can take weeks to determine the right person(s) needed for a decision or resolution. How many times have you received an email forwarded to you that contains a chain of email responses representing days or weeks of time?
  4. If a recipient is out of the office and forgets to set an out of office reminder, the sender could wait unnecessarily before reaching out to others to solve the task or reach a decision.
  5. Written communication often creates other questions from the recipient. Additional exchanges are required to answer the question(s).

So should we abandon the use of email? Of course not. Email does have purpose and can facilitate interactions if used properly. But for items in your work life that require timely decisions and resolution, pickup the phone and call or schedule a meeting. You’ll be more efficient, more likely to meet deadlines, and reduce the amount of emails in your in-box.