Clutter… Mental clutter, visual clutter, physical clutter, emotional clutter. There are so many kinds of clutter and they all drag us down. Regardless of what form it takes, clutter saps our energy and determination - both key traits for being a successful small business owner.
The sneakiest form of clutter we deal with on a day to day basis is electronic/digital clutter. What does that mean? It’s the full email inbox of sales and marketing, the content-filled newsfeed, the overstuffed bookmarks bar, the files overtaking your desktop screen.
They are all little pings for our attention, whether we realize it or not, and keep us in multitasking distraction mode instead of focused priority mode.
I know you know that scattered, frustrating feeling. It’s the one where you sit down at your desk in the morning and sift through the latest round of emails, read an article or two, go down the rabbit hole of Facebook, jump on a webinar, make a phone call, create a graphic or two for social media, and on and on…
Until the end of the day when you feel like you’ve been ping-ponging around all day and been super “busy” but have actually accomplished very little. I don’t know about you, but that leaves me feeling tired and unsettled.
How would you feel if you sat down at your computer in the morning and felt focused and ready to take on your priorities? Pretty good? Energetic and like a total entrepreneur badass? Yeah. That.
Most of what vies for our attention has to do with emails and digital/internet content. The good news is this is a totally fixable problem! I love nothing more than a quarterly unsubscribe and delete session, and I’m going to teach you exactly how to do it so you can take your day back.
Let’s start with the biggie - email. Privacy and consumer protection laws have made it so much easier to unsubscribe and report unwanted emails - so use them!
I might sign up for a newsletter with the best of intentions, but I often find after a few emails that they are 1) not adding value to my life, or 2) not right for my focus and priorities at the current time. The easiest way to know if this is the case, is if a particular newsletter remains unopened day after day.
Example: I love Gary Vaynerchuk and I think he’s brilliant and insightful. Gary produces so. much. content. that I can’t keep up. Between the YouTube videos and the subsequent content, I was getting multiple emails and notifications a day. While I think his content is valuable, I would rather be spending that time working on my business instead of hearing about his business.
Nuzzel is a great example of a tool that was built to try and help people consume content more efficiently. The reality is that the notifications and emails from them were so numerous I was constantly getting distracted by the latest article about social media marketing. When I want to know what's going on in social media, I go to my Feedly collection of carefully-selected blogs and news sites and read up on it.
There are many email apps and overlays that work within Gmail and Chrome that are designed to help you manage and designate your overflowing inbox. This is the same as buying more containers to corral all your stuff - instead of getting rid of the junk you should have gotten rid of years ago. If you de-clutter, you won’t need to figure out how the hell to manage all of it.
I make it a daily habit (which takes practice at first) to unsubscribe from any emails that don’t provide value or aren’t right for where I’m at in my business.
Contrary to most people’s habit of diving into their emails first thing, I leave this for my end of the day wrap up. If there are emails left in my inbox that I know I’m not going to open anytime soon or don’t really apply to me, I unsubscribe without mercy.
What you’ll find after doing this for a few weeks is that your email inbox starts to become a place where only relevant, useful, and money-making (gasp!) emails land.
This is a powerful place to be in the fight for your business. Imagine you open your email in the morning and you only see one or two newsletters (that you actually love to read), notifications of customer purchases, client inquiries, and conversations with peers and collaborators. Amazing, right? Totally achievable if you’re honest with what adds value and diligent about unsubscribing from everything else.
Other action steps to consider to de-clutter your emails are 1) label and archive EVERYTHING, and 2) empty your spam and trash once a week.
Your internet browser bookmarks bar is another wasteland of maybe-someday-kinda-sorta useful crap.
Have you ever tried to find a bookmark, only to be smacked in the face with so many that you get overwhelmed and try to re-find it by searching on Google instead? Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose?
I had so many old and pointless bookmarks in my browser I can’t even tell you. It was downright ridiculous. Links that didn’t work, old content, old subscriptions to apps or software I didn’t even use, old clients stuff, old research. Sound familiar?
To be honest, this was an overwhelming task for me because I was afraid of getting sucked into a content rabbit hole by going through everything. So I ate that elephant one bit at a time.
Every day I took on one folder in my bookmarks bar and decided if each bookmark should stay, go, or be saved for later. It took me a couple weeks, but I went through every damn bookmark and made a decision about it. When all was said and done, I ended up with a little less than 20% (!!) of the bookmarks I had saved as keepers. I mean, wow. (Pareto Principle anyone?)
I actually took this bookmarks bar process one step further. None of the bookmarks stayed in my browser. I put them in a google sheet to be easily referenced should I need them. By making an agreement with yourself that any bookmarks must be put into a spreadsheet instead of clicking on that little browser star, your threshold for what is valuable to save gets much higher. Get access to your own copy of what I use in the Rockstar Resources Library.
The only bookmarks I have in my browser are the URLs for my business’ social media profiles and website, plus any software/app programs that I am CURRENTLY using for business.
Like bookmarking URLs, it is far too easy to download and save anything and everything to your desktop. Before you know it, you can’t even see your carefully-selected desktop wallpaper and you have no idea where to find anything or even what you have.
Confession: I have downloaded the same file multiple times because I had no idea I actually had it already. Zoinks.
Until you get your files under control, take on one folder a day. Go through just like you did your bookmarks bar and decide if it stays, goes, or is saved because you know it will be relevant for later.
Note: “Relevant for later” is not the same as saving old, ratty towels because someday you might need them. It means that it directly relates to something you have on your goals or plan within the next year.
For example: I know that this fall I am doing a planning challenge to help people plan their digital marketing strategy for 2018. I would save for later articles and pdfs that have to do with running a challenge and/or planning. I would not, however, save pdfs that having to do with starting a membership site or a podcast because those things are not on my list this year. Make sense?
I currently have on my desktop the following folders:
- Chace Digital, LLC
- Software/Apps (instead of having them all separately on my desktop)
- Stock Photos (I use them, A LOT)
- Imported Pics to File (this is where all camera and phone upload go until I can put them in their proper place)
- Resources + Education (my relevant for later and things I use as constant reference)
That’s it. No other icons or random jpgs.
As a way to motivate myself to keep my desktop free of clutter, I created a 2017 vision board as my wallpaper. If my desktop is cluttered, I can’t see my vision board.
Once a week, I make sure anything I’ve downloaded that’s sitting out in the open on my desktop is filed away or deleted.
It’s an empowering feeling to open up your computer and not be overwhelmed with a bajillion icons. Instead, you see a clean “work surface”, or in my case, my goals and affirmations.
Now for the cause of so much emotional and visual clutter - your Facebook Newsfeed. This applies to all social media networks, but Facebook is the biggest culprit and has the most users - so it likely applies to you.
Facebook has become a minefield since the most recent US election, and to be frank, I’m tired of being inundated with nonsense and overly opinionated bullsh+t. Fortunately, Facebook has made it easier to “unfollow” people and businesses so you stop seeing their posts, without having to unfriend or unlike and make it awkward.
Again, my “unfollow” routine is merciless. I do not hesitate if the content, business, or person does not add value in any way to my life. It breeds second-guessing, comparison-itis, and old hurts.
All the productivity recommendations of “don’t get on Facebook” were useless to me because, well, my business IS Facebook (among other things). So how do I avoid getting sucked down the rabbit hole of cat videos and expertly targeted advertisements?
This amazing Chrome Extension won’t let you see your regular Facebook Newsfeed on your desktop. You can still navigate to your groups and pages (what I actually get paid for on Facebook), but the rabbit hole is no more.
If I still want to scroll mindlessly at the end of the day, I do so on my phone on the couch while I’m half watching tv like the rest of the content-consuming population.
A note about saved links on Facebook: this can quickly get out of control just like your bookmarks bar. I use the save feature a ton because when I am actually scrolling through content in the evening, I’m not working or at my desk.
At least once a week I go through my saved links and schedule any content I want to share for business, or input the URL into my bookmarks spreadsheet.
Make it a habit
All habits require a bit (or a lot) of inertia in the beginning, to make them more subconscious decisions than against-the-grain conscious efforts.
Here are a few tips to get that inertia going and make “unsubscribe” and “delete” your most powerful weapons. And by weapons, I don’t mean hacking away like a loon with a machete. I mean calm and strong, like business jujitsu.
- Create your bookmarks spreadsheet in a web-based app like Google Drive so you can access it anywhere.
- Create appropriate labels for your email for when you start archiving your inbox.
- Schedule 15 minutes per day to start tackling the steps above to get your digital clutter under control.
- Schedule time each week (with a calendar reminder) to clean up your digital clutter and put anything out of place where it needs to go.
Doing the above steps consistently for a couple months will rewire how and when you save anything digitally you think you might need.
Remember to get access to the Rockstar Resources Library to get your copy of my bookmarks directory, free!