Much like a cluttered physical space, a messy digital life increases anxiety and makes it hard to focus. Just think about the overwhelming pent-up emotions you feel every time your inbox is overflowing and unmanageable.
As we become more and more plugged into our digital life, a cluttered system can quickly spread to other parts of your life. That’s why setting up a new sense of order by first cleaning up your digital clutter is so critical, says Justin Klosky, founder of the O.C.D. Experience, whose clients include Kim Kardashian, Sharon and Jack Osbourne, and Topher Grace.
Klosky tells Fast Company that he helps his clients regain control of their lives and set up effective time management skills with the approach below:
1. Scan and shred everything
One of the reasons people feel the need to keep physical copies of documents is because they’re afraid they might get audited one day. But the only physical copies you need to hold onto are cash purchases and large purchases you’re thinking of returning in 30 to 60 days. Otherwise, everything else can be scanned, labeled properly, and put on a hard drive.
According to Klosky, a filing cabinet is one of the worst things you can have in your space and 95% of the things people store are useless. Instead, he advises finding a scanner that is reliable and a no-frills, adequate shredder to jumpstart an efficient data storage solution.
2. Have a solid backup system that you control for digital assets
Cloud storage is an easy way to dump all of your files, but make sure you’re keeping the cloud organized, just like you would a physical space, or it starts getting expensive.
“The real key to any kind of organization, especially digital organization, is setting up a solid structure from the beginning that literally backs up your mindset,” he says.
Additionally, remember that the moment you relinquish your data to the cloud, you kind of just let it all go, so keep it off the cloud if it’s meant to be private. For your important–and private–digital assets, back them up to at least two external hard drives connected to your computer.
3. Transform your email into a functional To-Do list
The email inbox is the most cluttered thing in most people’s professional life, and it’s also the area that is most difficult for people to declutter, says Klosky.
When it comes to email, Klosky relies on the Inbox Zero philosophy to ward off distractions and decrease the level of stress resulted from daily email floods. In order to get there, Klosky advises his clients to set up a solid folder structure so that you’re always filing emails away. The simple way to achieve this is to create different folders to drag messages into once you’re done dealing with them. You can also create a larger folder structure that allows you to keep tabs on all your projects, clients, and even important correspondences like media interviews. Using flags and colors are fine for email folders, but make sure to keep it simple so that it doesn’t become overwhelming, warns Klosky.
“You’re using your inbox sort of like a functional to-do list,” he says. “Once you get the email structure going, you can mirror that into your overall document structure.”
4. Reclaim your things with an inventory management system
Every year, money goes down the drain because businesses lose track of their inventory. Whether you’re running a business or simply trying to declutter your personal life, Klosky recommends an inventory management system that keeps track of your things, like his O.C.D. Closet Inventory App, which allows people to track where things are and what they look like with photos, title descriptions, material, and even receipt capability.
Related: Seven Habits Of Organized People
In short, managing your digital life properly is the first step to establishing order in other areas of your life. Once you build a solid system in the digital world, you’ll start the habit of getting rid of things that no longer add value in your life. You’ll be able to regain control of your life. But first, you need to be secure enough to trust the process. Only when you’re finally free of clutter–digitally and physically–can you start thinking about things that really matter, like family, hobbies, and projects your care about, says Klosky.