Welcome to Part 2 of this blog series where I’m shedding some light on the state of our collective digital health and exploring findings from our recent Digital Etiquette report. Here, we’ll deep-dive into the messy world of digital hoarding, and share some techniques to banish bad habits for good.
If you haven’t already, I recommend taking a look at Part 1 first where I explore communication etiquette—looking at how our messages can get lost in digitisation and how we can communicate more effectively in the remote-working era.
Part 2: digital hoarding
Decluttering, obsessive organising, and figuring out whether your possessions ‘spark joy’ have become common practices in most people’s homes. Hoarding is vilified and minimalism is commended. But when it comes to our digital lives, many of us have a stockpiling sensibility that’s hard to shake.
What is digital hoarding
In its most extreme form, digital hoarding was defined in a 2015 paper as ‘the accumulation of digital files to the point of loss of perspective, which eventually results in stress and disorganisation.’ Its authors were referring specifically to a patient who took several thousand digital photos each day and then spent hours editing and organising them. It was interfering with his sleep and prevented him from performing everyday activities.
For most of us, digital hoarding won’t severely impact our lives, but that doesn’t mean that mild hoarding tendencies won’t slow us down, cause us stress, or make getting the job done that little bit harder.
What kind of hoarder are you?
Another study, carried out by CREST, looked into the prevalence of digital hoarding among 400 employees—some of whom had accumulated thousands of digital files—and then tried to determine the motivations behind why we hoard. They identified four key types of digital hoarders. Do any of these sound familiar?
- Collector—sure, you have loads of files, emails, and data stored, but it’s organised and systematic. You’re in control of your data.
- Accidental hoarder—disorganisation doesn’t even cut it. Your files and emails are a total mess. You don’t know what you have or where to find it.
- Hoarder by instruction—if it was up to you, you wouldn’t hoard at all, but you’re doing it for your job.
- Anxious hoarder—you wish you didn’t have to hoard, but you’ve got strong emotional ties to your data and are worried about deleting it.
The problems with stockpiling
If 2020 has taught us one thing, it’s that you don’t need 80 rolls of toilet paper in your house. And digital hoarding is no different. Sure, with the limitless cloud at your fingertips, you can stock up on Safari tabs to your heart’s content. The darker side to this prevalent practice means you probably shouldn’t.
Our survey showed that, on average, workers spend 45 minutes a day searching for information between tech platforms. The more you have to wade through, the less time you have to spend on what really matters.
You might not mind the clutter, but data protection legislation means your organisation could stand to lose a lot if you don’t know what information you have stored and where, risking reputational damage or a significant fine.
Stressed ain’t best
If not knowing where information is stored or deleting emails is causing you stress and anxiety, then your method clearly isn’t working. Rather than spend money on expensive hard drives, it might be time to face up to the problem.
Think about the planet too. If we all hoard ad infinitum, the more energy large servers will consume in their quest to store our data, impacting your organisation’s carbon footprint.
How to handle your hoarding
From desktops filled with detritus to inboxes overflowing with unread emails, digital hoarding is a very real problem. But cleaning up your act can feel like an overwhelming prospect. Here are some techniques to help get on top of it.
- Keep desktop items to a minimum, scheduling regular time to organise files into designated folders (e.g. planning, in-progress, complete) and empty your trash.
- Only pin apps to the dock that you use regularly so you can navigate where you need to go with ease.
Wake the unread
- If your inbox is stuffed with hundreds of unread emails, then chances are most of them will never need to be read. Tell your email system they’re all ‘read’ or delete them altogether.
- Actioned an email and want to hold onto it? File it away in an identifiable folder (i.e. don’t name it ‘Stuff’).
- Set up filters that automatically move new emails to specific folders.
Time to tab out
- If multiple browser windows with countless tabs are driving you to distraction, take the time at the end of each workday to delete tabs you’re done with and pin the most important.
- Review your pinned tabs on a regular basis to make sure you still need them.
- For Google Chrome users, try Session Buddy. It lets you save open tabs as collections and recover them easily after a crash.
- Once a month, go through your photos, downloads, and any other data, and ask yourself if you really want them. Don’t be too precious – lots of things you can easily download again, and how many of those cat photos do you really need?
- To get the job done, try the pairing tasks approach: clean up your computer while listening to your favourite podcast, for example. Only do the fun things at the same time as the not-so-fun things to make sure it gets done.
I hope this has made you more aware of your digital health. Join me in Part 3 where I discuss context switching and help you stay focused to increase productivity.
Are you struggling to know what’s right and wrong when it comes to digital etiquette? Read the Digital Etiquette report for lots more useful advice. And we’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic, so feel free to to get in touch.