Those undeleted emails, icon-covered home pages and layers of tabs can clutter your mind as well as your hard drive.
You may not think you’re a hoarder, but your hard drive knows better.
Those emails, photos and attachments that sit there in your computer or smartphone for weeks, even months, eat away at drive space and slow every log-on and complicate every keyword search.
You already know that, sure, but when was the last time you did something about it?
“Even the most organized person can have issues with their email,” says Jen Cohen Crompton, a Philadelphia-based small business productivity consultant.
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Digital hoarding may not be as visually obvious as stacks of paper spilling off a desk, she said, but those undeleted emails, icon-covered home pages and layers of tabs can clutter your mind as well as your hard drive.
That makes for a less productive workday that can snowball into less productive work weeks and work months.
Digital hoarding feels different than physical hoarding, which requires some active collecting. Emails fill the inbox whether we ask for them or not, so digital hoarding can simply be the result of benign neglect or excessive multi-tasking. In those instances, the problem usually lasts only until you have a few minutes to organize.
But too often, the digital hoarder shares one key characteristic with the physical hoarder: An abiding fear they may one day need that file they’re about to delete. Crompton’s response: “If you haven’t touched that document in the last 12 months, you’re not going to need it.”
For the hesitant, she suggests adopting a mindset that, “Nothing terrible is going to happen if I get rid of this.” If it’s sensitive, or has long-term importance, put it on a flash drive, she says.
And for the already-buried, she recommends cleaning and organizing small chunks at a time, starting with those stored photos and gigabyte gobbling attachments.
There is a counterargument, and chronic hoarders have an esteemed ally in Albert Einstein, who is credited for saying, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
A 2013 study by three University of Minnesota researchers found that cluttered space is more conducive to creative thinking, where an orderly desk puts you in a more conventional frame of mind.
The authors noted “a large and growing industry centered on instilling environmental orderliness” with “multiple billions of dollars” in annual revenue.
“In contrast, many creative individuals with Nobel prizes and other ultra-prestigious awards prefer — and, in fact, cultivate — messy environments as an aid to their work.”
So those reluctant, or simply stubborn, about cleaning out and organizing their digital files can always claim their creative talents require a degree of messiness.
But their computer will still run slower.