Productivity & Performance

Ideas to step out of the glowing screen

There is so much time spent in front of a glowing screen that’s unnecessary.

It’s either time spent on activities unrelated to work or mindless entertainment. I’d argue that’s when you’re not in front of a screen; you’re inside of it. 

Here are some ideas to step out of the glowing screen.

  • Choose typing over tapping. The mobile experience leads to procrastination.

  • Choose audio over video. Watch video content only whenever significantly beneficial to learn something. Video is very stimulating and can lead to a craving for consuming more video. That’s why more content creators are pushing videos to get more engagement.

  • Listen to short briefs of the news via podcast episodes. Most news stations have this short format daily audio program.

  • Rely less on a screen for entertainment by experimenting with other activities away from a screen.

  • Transfer any consumption of written long-form content to a Kindle reader. It’s a great way to transfer to a distraction-free environment, and give the eyes a break.

  • Delete email subscriptions you haven’t open in the past 60 days, and schedule time to “process” email.

  • Whenever possible, record recurrent work or team requests tasks to delegate these to a virtual assistant, or save as a resource to enable your team to rely less on you.

Less screen time will lead you to feeling less busy and more mindful to see more, be more, and feel better.

How to declutter, organize, and name your digital files

Holding on to files that you think you may use later makes sense. But when you haven't touched some of these files in over three years, why keep them? 

If you can't articulate a reason with a date in mind to continue to keep a file, hit delete. Otherwise, you'll end up on a fast track to digital hoarding. 

The problem with digital clutter

Too many folders and files later, the original purpose of keeping these in your digital library diminishes over time. You may have saved them for one reason, but when it was time to use them, you didn't even remember you had them. Not even searching for them could have helped you in this case. On top of that, the search feature is only as good as how you named your files in the first place.

Getting started decluttering your digital files

Schedule a time to go through all your files and folders and delete what’s no longer relevant. Consider removing everything you haven't opened in over three years and don't have a set date to use them again. So for example those scanned tax documents are OK to keep until they're no longer subject to an IRS audit. Finally if you have an empty folder or folders with less than two files, hit delete. The purpose of folders is to organize groups of files—not to make it more difficult to access a file.

Dealing with a massive digital library?

If your digital library is gigantic, you may have to take a different and faster approach to cleaning up your digital space. After all, the intention here is to increase your productivity.

Consider putting everything in one folder. Then start moving files out of that folder as you use them. Then whatever is still in the folder after let's say a year or two, delete.

Yes, it's a riskier approach. But it'll free you from being attached to a digital monster that does nothing but slows you down. Or even worse, hiding from doing real work behind a never-ending digital decluttering project.

Now it's time to organize

Folders are the drawers of the digital world. They help you find files by grouping them into categories that make the most sense to you. The rule of thumb is to keep folder names short and simple. E.g., family and work; marketing, sales, operations; or whatever your use case is.

Then use subfolders (folders inside other folders) as needed. But don't get carried away, where you have to click through too many folders to access a file—that doesn't seem more productive. 

There is no magic number of how many subfolders you should have. But no more than three layers deep will keep you from going to infinity and beyond. 

Finally, after organizing your digital library, re-organize it as you use it. Match what you had top of mind—when you were looking for a file and couldn't find it—so that's easier to find next time!

Don't let digital clutter happen again

Now that you have a clear and organized digital space don't let it go back to a mess. Schedule a time, like a "spring cleaning," to go through your files and folders and delete what you no longer need. This regular practice will help you preserve a useful digital library.

Best practice for file naming

Search is as good as how you name your files. And there are many ways to approach naming your files. But here's one approach you can use and why.

Put a date at the beginning of each file. It'll give you a new reference date than the file's created or last modified date stamps. This manual date is specially useful when working with documents associated with a future date. E.g., A sales page copy for an upcoming product launch.

Use a hyphen between words. Even though most digital files support spaces, some others don't. E.g., some online libraries will populate %20 per space in the file's URL.

The underscore is another victim. Some systems will process underscores as non-existent—no spaces. So hyphens are your safest bet to preserve the spaces in your file names in most systems.

Finally, use a consistent naming convention for your whole library, or by folder. When using a different naming convention by folder , create an empty subfolder starting with "_". Then use the description of your naming convention as a reference to stay consistent. For example "_date-category-author." The purpose on the underscore here it's to bring the reference folder to the top of the list when sorting by name. 

Special thanks to productivity consultant Debbie Rosemont for advising me on this topic. I included many of her ideas in this post. You can listen to our conversation on digital decluttering and organizing here.

A cheat sheet to achieve inbox zero and save time

Here are three simple tactics to improve your email productivity.

Reduce input

The more email you get, the longer it'll take you to clear your inbox. So the first thing you can do to improve your email productivity is to unsubscribe.

Free yourself from those ongoing emails you signed up for who knows when. Keep only the ones that matter to you today. Don't overthink it, if you change your mind later, you can always re-subscribe. To streamline this task, you can use unenroll.me to audit and update all your subscriptions in one page.

Auto-organize

Some ongoing emails may be critical to keep for reference, e.g., system notifications. For these type of emails that don't have a call to action, auto-organize them in folders.

You can do these with most email clients with either their filters or rules feature.

Set rules or filters to auto organize these emails in folders that make the most sense to you. So that if you need to see these for reference later, you can do that without letting them clutter your inbox.

Don't check, process

If there's one thing I want you to leave with after reading this post, is "stop checking your email." Opening your email to see what's new is a waste of time—procrastination. It also clutters your mind with other people's agendas over your priorities for the day.

If part of your job is to be available 24/7, then this advice would not apply to you. But if others are counting on you "to execute" more than "to be instantly available," then keep reading.

Here's how to process your email effectively:

  • Consider scheduling two to three small blocks of time a day to process your email. In my experience 11am and 3pm work best.

  • Start from top to bottom, so that if you're looking at an email with a running list of replies, you can see the full thread.

  • Process each email by taking one of the following actions. Delete if the message doesn't need a call to action or is spam. Reply if is something that will take you two minutes or less. Move it to folder for future reference and add it to your to-do list.

Using social media for your business (without the addiction)

An interesting podcast interview by lifestyle entrepreneur Lewis Howes with author Cal Newport on his new book Digital Minimalism [1]. My favorite part of their conversation was Cal's advice for those who use social media for business.

On the one hand, Cal preaches that we're better off without social media. On the other, Lewis teaches people how to use social media to build and grow their business as he has done for himself. So it was natural that Lewis would ask for Cal’s advice for those who use social media for their business.

Cal's advice is very practical. If it's clear to you that social media is essential for your business, treat it as something important. Use social media like a pro.

Social media pros are not on their phones 24/7 checking their company's social media channels. They use professional desktop tools to manage their social channels to fulfill a business strategy.

So don't use the excuse of using social media for your business to continue to justify your addiction to it. There is no need for you to be doing social media for your business while you're in the toilet, at the dinner table, or in bed.

To make it right for yourself set boundaries or in Cal’s words "put some fences around it." Block time in your calendar to maintain your social media channels, schedule your posts, and use social media management tools to avoid ads and other distractions.

Reference:

  1. The power of digital detox with Cal Newport