Tips for Cleaning Up Your Digital Workspace

Summer’s here. Time to get your digital life in order.

“Summer vacation” is a phrase that, in academia, comes with well-earned scare quotes. But the summer months do play an important and unique role in the academic year. Having fewer interactions with students frees up some time and resources that can (hopefully) go toward some rest. The summer is also a good time to reflect on your work processes, habits, and environments and consider ways of improving them. This doesn’t have to be a magically aspirational pursuit, replete with vision boards and fortune tellers, but can sharpen your commitments and offer you a chance to experiment with and hone your workflow—hopefully an investment that will pay dividends when classes resume again. 

The pursuit of enhanced productivity and endless optimization can not only be self-destructive goals but also elaborate wastes of time. (I have seen some people who keep bullet journals so ornate that they require the attention of newborns.) However, because digital environments are designed to be distracting—with multiple programs always open and notifications popping up—I think that some optimization can create a much more positive digital work environment. 

Below, I’ve brainstormed a few tips for cleaning up your digital life and hopefully bringing a touch more sanity to your workflow.

Clean out your bookmarks

During the rush of the semester, a bookmark feels like a quick solution for information overload. But bookmarks become incoherent and unhelpful when you have too many. Summer is the perfect time to go through the pages you have saved. If you tend to save a lot of articles (which is easy to do when there are so many good ones out there), you might try a bookmarking service like Pocket or Instapaper. These tools have additional browser plug-ins and phone apps, which allow you to quickly save articles to read later all in one place. The apps are especially useful, because you can catch up on your to-read list on your phone when you have a few minutes to kill.

Create templates for standard emails and documents

Like most people, I find myself sending a lot of the same emails: instructions for completing paperwork, document receipts, and gentle (GENTLE) reminders. To keep from rewriting them, I save boilerplate copies as templates in Microsoft Outlook (or Gmail) and just tailor them to my specific needs. Similarly, if you frequently use the same document formats in Microsoft Word—for instance, invoices or receipts—you can also create and save custom document templates. Though templates can be slightly cumbersome to create, they will improve your workflow almost immediately.

🌟 More productivity tips from LibTech Insights:

Delete unused accounts

Most websites require you to make an account to use them, but you probably don’t use most accounts more than once or twice. Maybe you tried a to-do app for a couple weeks but went back to your byzantine bullet journal, or perhaps you registered to use online software for a class activity but changed your lesson plan. Whatever the case, it can be tempting to abandon these accounts, letting them fall dormant. However, these accounts can become security liabilities, and your data might be resold. Though it can be a bit of a hassle, deleting your old accounts is the far better option. Wirecutter has a sleek guide for finding your old and forgotten accounts and deleting them.

Unsubscribe and filter unnecessary emails

Nothing is more overwhelming than opening your inbox on a Monday morning and seeing a phalanx of new emails to contend with. But on closer inspection, many of the emails are likely from listservs you never signed up for, websites that auto-enroll you in their marketing emails, or newsletters you signed up for but never read. Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe! You’ll appreciate the cleaner inbox. If you can’t unsubscribe from notifications or if you like some emails from a listserv but not others, you can quickly create a filter with specific rules to sort or discard new messages (in both Gmail and Outlook).

That said, be sure to keep the important newsletters so you don’t miss out on 🔥hot content🔥.

Curate your social media feeds

Summer can be a good opportunity to try a “digital detox” and abstain from social media for a few days or weeks. Social media can easily be detrimental to your mental health. While abstaining from it might be the ideal option, it isn’t always the most practical one. Perhaps more important is to take time to reflect on how you use social media, what sort of content you like/dislike seeing, and why you use social media (to be informed, to laugh, to take a short break during stretches of work). These reflections can help you curate your feeds.

Take an hour or so to unfollow or mute accounts that you’re no longer interested in and unsubscribe from unnecessary notifications. You might also consider putting a time limit on certain apps or making them available only during certain time windows. It is easy to become passive toward your social media consumption. Taking a more active role as a curator will help mitigate the more irritating aspects of these sites.

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