Wondering how to get out of overwhelm, increase productivity, and get organized once and for all? Today on Systems Made Simple™, business systems expert Courtney Elmer reveals 7 hacks to do just that.
That's why I've put together an exclusive declutter challenge episode for you today, where I'm going to dish on seven of my favorite tools you can steal right now to get organized, increase productivity, and streamline and simplify your digital workspaces.
As an entrepreneur, it’s important you know how to keep your digital workspaces clean and clutter-free so you can increase productivity, stay focused, and get real work done without all of those annoying distractions that suck your time, energy, and attention.
That's why this episode is structured as a declutter challenge of sorts — chock-full of practical, actionable advice you can apply right now to get out of overwhelm and get organized for good.
BY THE TIME YOU FINISH LISTENING TO TODAY'S SPECIAL DECLUTTER CHALLENGE, YOU'LL LEARN:
Are you up for the Digital Workspace Decluttering Challenge?
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You’re Listening to the Systems Made Simple™ podcast, Episode #44! And I've got a declutter challenge for you today. I'm dish on seven of my favorite tools you can steal right now to get organized, streamline and simplify your digital workspaces, and increase productivity. With more people working remotely these days, it’s important you know how to keep your digital workspaces clean and clutter-free so you can increase productivity, stay focused, and get real work done without all of those annoying distractions that suck your time, energy, and attention. That’s coming up next, so keep it locked right here.
You might not know this about me, but I have a background in design and decorating. Getting organized is something that comes naturally to me. My very first business as an entrepreneur was selling home decor products and helping people style their homes and get organized. Now as a stress and wellness expert helping entrepreneurs streamline and simplify their businesses and increase productivity, I have an affinity for that special place where aesthetics and productivity intersect. There’s a certain magic that happens once you get organized and have a clutter-free workspace that's optimized for productivity and is also pleasing to the eye.
But too often people get so focused on getting organized in their physical workspaces to increase productivity, that they completely forget about the other workspace that you use almost every minute of every day: your digital workspaces. To really increase productivity, you've got to get organized there, too! That's why I've got a declutter challenge for you today with seven simple hacks you can steal right now to get organized, increase productivity, and streamline your digital workspaces. I’m talking about your laptop, your desktop, your phone… any digital workspace you use regularly. Are you up for the declutter challenge?
The less clutter there is, the more brain power you have. If you’re listening to my voice right now and you’re one of those super organized types of people, then the moment you notice something out of place, those alarm bells go off in your mind and you feel like you can't sit down and focus until everything is in its place. I’m like that, so I get it. I see this a lot with highly-driven, Type A entrepreneurs who run a tight schedule. Even if you don't feel like you know how to get organized and increasing productivity feels like a challenge, there still reaches a point where you can recognize when clutter gets in the way. It sucks your energy in a different way: you might notice all those piles of paper that need to be sorted, or the stacks of mail that’s taking up space on your counter, and because it feels draining to think about going through them, you put it off. But every day you put it off, it sucks a little more energy from you. If this is you, you know what I’m talking about.
On days you are struggling to focus on work and you're at a loss to know how to increase productivity, it’s easy to spend your time cleaning and tidying and clearing the clutter. It gives you a temporary sense of increased productivity, which is satisfying. And, because once you get organized and that clutter is cleared, the less energy you spend worrying about clearing it.
Yet under the surface, the desire to clean and clear clutter is not only about increasing productivity and getting organized so you can focus better. It’s an attempt to fix what’s going on in your inner world that feels out of place and out of control. Your external world is a reflection of your inner reality. “As within, so without.” If you’re feeling scattered and disorganized, there’s a good chance your workspace and your home looks the same. (Which is why you need this declutter challenge!)
Today, I’m giving you seven tools I use to get organized, clear the clutter, and increase productivity in your external world, because that’s the more visible problem.Then on next week’s episode, we’re going to talk about how to clear the three things that cause you to feel cluttered inwardly, so that the clutter you see outwardly is less likely to come back. When your physical space that’s calm, clear, and clutter-free, your mind can relax; when your mind is calm, clear, and clutter-free, your physical space will stay that way, too. Are you up for the declutter challenge? Let's dive into these seven steps.
DECLUTTER CHALLENGE #1: Organize Your Desktop / Laptop
One of the easiest ways to increase productivity is by streamlining your desktop. Get organized by grouping similar items into folders, and clearly labeling those folders with what’s inside. If you have a million files and folders, then either expect that this project will take some time, or have your VA or assistant do it for you. Something else you can do to instantly declutter this digital workspace is take 15 minutes to go through your downloads folder, delete whatever you no longer need, and organize the remaining items into the relevant desktop folders you just created. Remember to empty your recycle bin of all those old deleted files and get rid of whatever you don’t need. You'll be amazed at the increase in productivity you experience when you take the time to do this, which is why it's the first step in today's declutter challenge.
Another thing I like to do on my desktop, laptop and ipad is to add a natural wallpaper background to bring nature and beauty into your space. Unsplash.com has some great free options that are already sized for your digital workspaces. Natural light and nature are proven mood-boosters and help to enhance your focus, increase productivity, and reduce stress. Why not bring that nature and beauty into your digital workspaces, too?
DECLUTTER CHALLENGE #2: Organize Your Cloud Storage Spaces
Step two in today's declutter challenge is to organize your digital cloud storage spaces, because this is such an underrated way to increase productivity. Whether you’re a Google Drive or iCloud person, make sure you follow the same process I outlined for your desktop to clearly label all of your files and documents so that they’re easy for you to find, as well as anyone on your team who has access to them. Imagine how much time this will save you in the long run, if you knew exactly where to find whatever you were looking for instead of digging through items on your desktop or having to rely on the search feature or on your memory to remember the file name and hope you find it, with all the other stuff you already have on your mind!
DECLUTTER CHALLENGE #3: Clean Up Your Email Inbox
You either fall into one of two categories here. You're either the type who has zero unread messages where everything is neatly filed away, or the type who has 14,578 unread messages and you hate opening your inbox because there’s just so much there you know you’ll never get to! If this is you, then this step in today's declutter challenge is perfect for you.
I have a rule that I use for myself that’s been a huge help in getting organized and increasing productivity both in my physical workspace and my digital workspaces. It’s simple: If you touch it, take care of it.
Instead of wasting time moving piles of paper and scribbled notes back and forth across your desk all day, consider adopting this simple new rule: “If I touch it, I’m going to take care of it.” Taking the extra step to put it away the moment you go to move it will help you get organized and increase productivity because it saves you time in the long run that you can put toward productive work.
The same rule applies to your email inbox: “If I open it, I’m replying to it.” Set a timer for 10 minutes periodically throughout the day to respond to incoming messages, then move the threads into relevant folders where they can be accessed for future reference. To get even better results from this decluttering challenge, Use an app like Unroll.me to instantly see a list of all your subscription emails, and easily unsubscribe from whatever you don’t want as an added hack to increase productivity and save time from sifting through a bunch of unwanted emails, too.
You can even add an extension like Boomerang that lets you pause your incoming messages and have them delivered at a set time each day so you can stay out of your inbox altogether and stay focused on your most important work. Most of these tools are totally free or have a free version, so there’s no reason why you wouldn’t use them, right? Getting organized and increasing productivity is about spending some time now to save you time in the long run. Ok, let's move on to step four of the declutter challenge.
DECLUTTER CHALLENGE #4: Clean Up Your Phone Apps
Take some time here to get organized by moving apps into folders by type (i.e., “Health,” “Work,” “Photos,” “Social,” etc.) Then, move everything to a secondary screen (yes, everything). Taking the extra step to move all of your folders and apps to a secondary screen allows you to control when to scroll to that screen and use those apps… or not. For a fascinating news segment I did on how cell phones add to the stress you feel on any given day, make sure you check out the show notes where I’ll link that up so you can get a deeper understanding of why the steps inside this declutter challenge are so important when it comes to getting organized and increasing productivity.
DECLUTTER CHALLENGE #5: Get a Grip on Those Notifications
Now, if you really want to amp this declutter challenge up a notch, go to your phone Settings and turn off as many notifications as possible. Opt only for the notification icon (rather than banner and lock screen) for things you deem most important, like email for example. Remember YOU are in control here. I’m not telling you what to do, you get to choose which of the recommendations I'm making in this declutter challenge are going to best serve you. You can implement all of them or none of them, it all depends on how important it is to you to get organized, increase productivity, and feel calm, focused, and have more energy. Eliminating as many of those notifications as possible will further eliminate distractions and allow you to get back to whatever else you deem more important than the latest blood-boiling political headlines or social media alerts about what your friend just ate for breakfast. The people who make cell phones know that the notifications on your phone operate the same way as the lights and sounds on a gambling machine, and they are scientifically proven to be just as addictive.
Your cell phone manufacturer, whether that’s Apple or Android, is automatically going to pre-program your phone so that the default settings are to send you as many notifications as they possibly can to rob you of your energy and attention and distract your focus. I have all of my notifications turned off except for text messages. I don’t have Facebook or messenger on my phone. I limit my time on Instagram and email, and I have to physically open those apps to see if anything is there.
I refuse to let my phone steal my attention and rob me of my joy and my energy and focus, bottom line. This has given me a tremendous increase in productivity and I included it in this declutter challenge because of what a difference it makes in terms of getting organized. You can choose to do the same, or not. Just know that the people who invented cell phones are betting on the fact that you won’t take the 5 minutes to go in and change those default settings, and they’re going to hit you with every notification they can think of. Enough is enough. Take your power back, and turn off as many of those notifications as you can. When you download new apps, opt out of notifications. I like to control who I let in and when I want to hang out on social media or reply to texts. My time is my own, and it’s worth over $250 an hour so I’m going to invest it very wisely. You can do the same. If you're with me, move onto step six of the declutter challenge!
DECLUTTER CHALLENGE #6: Streamline Your Calendar
If you’re a traditionalist, an old-fashioned desk calendar is all you need to get organized and stay that way. Just remember to write everything in pencil, so that as plans change you can adjust accordingly. If you’re the digital type, try an online scheduling app like Bookafy to manage all of your appointments. We love this tool because it integrates seamlessly with a number of digital calendar systems (like Google Calendar), and automatically sends meeting reminders on your behalf. You can also add multiple users from your team so everyone’s calendar is synced in one spot which means no more double-booking! Talk about getting organized and increasing productivity. We use Google Calendar to increase productivity too, particularly for our programs. We especially love it’s ability to create separate calendars that you can quickly and easily share with your students. Let's move onto step seven of this declutter challenge.
DECLUTTER CHALLENGE #7: Use Airplane Mode More Often
Step seven of today's declutter challenge is to utilize a feature that every phone has, but that few people utilize like they could. Airplane mode isn't only for plane trips. Besides with COVID, who is going on those anymore? You might as well make use of this feature, which is why I included it in this declutter challenge! You already know your phone can be a distraction, even if it’s sitting on the desk next to you. This can prevent you from getting organized and prevent you from increasing productivity. So, if you’re not to the point where you either turn your phone off or keep your phone out of the room altogether while focusing on your most creative work (or if you’re legitimately afraid you’ll miss a call), you can use Airplane Mode so that you’re not distracted by all those pings and dings. Calls will still come through when your phone is connected to Wi-Fi, so you won’t miss anything truly important. This is one of my secret weapons to increase productivity, and get organized, so of course I had to include it in this declutter challenge for you to take advantage of, too.
DECLUTTER CHALLENGE BONUS HACK:
PRO TIP: When it comes to getting organized and increasing productivity, I use both the "Do Not Disturb (DND)" feature as well as Airplane Mode. The cool thing about DND is that you can set a custom text message reply to send automatically when someone texts you, letting them know you’re in a meeting or driving and that you’ll get back to them when you’re at a stopping point. I personally don’t feel the need to let people know what I’m doing and when or how I’m spending my time. But for some industries such as real estate, where you get a lot of incoming inquiries and you want to get back to people right away, this is a great option. Google how to set this up. This simple hack helps you protect your time, which helps you increase productivity.
You can do this with your email inbox too by setting an away message. We do this, and I highly recommend it if you’re feeling pulled into your inbox and spending more time there than you know you should.
In fact, if you email us right now firstname.lastname@example.org, you’ll get the auto reply that we have there to see a real life example of this in action. I dare you to do it! Email me, let me know that you’re curious to see what our auto reply says. When you do, We’ll make sure to add you to our special EffortLESS Life® insiders only access list where you’ll get access to exclusive bonus content, free gifts and special giveaways that we host here for our most loyal listeners.
We get more positive feedback from people on this one simple hack than anything else. People are delighted to get that auto-reply — and it challenges them to stop and think about how they are handling their own inboxes. Remember you are in control of your inbox, it does not control you. Sadly a lot of people forget this, because they’re so worried about missing out on business opportunities and feel the need to respond right away. It can be a colossal waste of time if you're not careful.
We’ve covered a LOT here today inside of this declutter challenge, and we’ve got more to dive into next week when I show you the top three internal sources of clutter in your life and how to clear those too, so you can increase productivity and get organized inside and out.
Remember when it comes to getting organized and increasing productivity: less is more. That’s my personal philosophy, and it's also one of our top core values here at The EffortLESS Life®. You don’t have to implement all the ideas from this declutter challenge at once. Pick your favorite and get started. There’s no right or wrong way to do it.
Next week on the show we’re talking about how to heal whatever is going on in your inner world that feels out of control. Because until you do that, the mail will keep piling up, your email inbox will overflow, and you’ll constantly burn your energy trying to get organized and only go around in circles. That’s coming up next week right here on the Systems Made Simple™ podcast. I’ll see you back here then. In the meantime, go live YOUR EffortLESS Life®