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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

How to Spring Clean Your Work Computer (and Make It Feel New Again) in 5, 10, or 15 Minutes

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There are a lot of things that give me great satisfaction (crawling into bed, the smell of my dog after a bath, any form of cheese)—but nothing more so than cleaning.

Which is why when “spring cleaning” becomes the buzzword of the season, I’m all ears.

But this time of year isn’t just about raiding your closets and drawers at home Marie Kondo-style (although you should do that, too). It’s the perfect time to declutter your work life a bit, too.

And you can start with the most important item of all: your work computer. You know, that thing that you use roughly 10 hours a day, five days a week—it may be in need of a serious refresher.

It doesn’t have to take forever, either. With five minutes here and 10 minutes there, you can basically turn that exhausted piece of technology into a sparkling, highly-functioning work of art.

Here’s how to clean out your computer like a pro:

If You Have 5 Minutes: Clean Up Your Home Screen

  • Delete (or file) these five items from your desktop: screenshots, outdated documents or files, downloads, apps you never use, and old, unused notes. Then, empty your trash or recycling bin to free up some space. Your home screen never looked so clean! (Fun fact: You can make sure any future screenshots end up in their own folder by following these instructions.)
  • Remove or unpin any apps you don’t use regularly from your app bar or home screen so there’s less noise. On a Mac you can right-click the app and choose “Options” > “Remove from Dock.” On a PC use a similar tactic to “Unpin from taskbar.”
  • Change up your desktop background. You can try an inspirational quote, a picture of family or friends (or if you’re me, your pet), or something peaceful to take you away from the dreariness of your office.

Still have time?

  • Drag and organize any items left on your home screen so they’re not overlapping or scattered across your background image. I like to keep all of mine in the right-hand corner of my desktop, but do whatever feels right for you.
  • Check to make sure your time zone is correct—especially if you travel a lot, this can mess up your computer clock (and your day).

If You Have 10 Minutes: Declutter Your Browser

  • Close out of any tabs you haven’t looked at in the last three days—or, file those links away for later by using an app like Pocket or, if you’re me, pasting them into your digital notepad next to a to-do bullet that says “Read this later” or “Edit this document.” (Read this for more advice on avoiding multitasking on your computer if you’re a tab hoarder.)
  • Have a ton of browser extensions you don’t use? Clear ’em out if they’ve served no purpose in the last couple months (you can always download them again later!). On Chrome you can right-click an extension icon and choose “Manage Extensions” to remove them. On Safari follow these directions.
  • Organize your bookmarks into folders (directions here for Chrome and Safari), and remove any you don’t need or haven’t used in the last couple months.

Still have time?

  • Update your browser. In Chrome select “Chrome” in the left-hand corner and “About Google Chrome” to check for updates. In Safari your browser is automatically updated with the newest software update.
  • Download an inspirational browser extension so every time you open a new tab you feel extra motivated to get stuff done.

If You Have 15 Minutes: Organize the Rest

  • Have documents scattered in random folders or parts of your computer? Get those condensed into a filing system that makes stuff easy to find. You can sort by year and add subfolders within (like “2019” > “2019 Expense Reports”), by name of person, company, or project (“Alyse Expense Reports” or “The Muse Expense Reports”), by program (“Expense Reports Excel” versus “Expense Reports Word”), or by importance or status (“Pending Expense Reports” versus “Completed Expense Reports”). If you use Google Drive a lot, you can apply the same tactic—in fact, it may be worth shifting some files to Drive to free up some of your computer space, like photos or older documents.
  • Uninstall any applications you no longer use to clear up some space (again, you can always redownload them later). For example, I discovered I have Adobe Photoshop downloaded and yet I don’t pay for a subscription to use it. And remember to frequently close out of any apps you have running that you’re not actually using in the moment—your battery will thank you.

Still have time?

  • Update your software and apps if they’re not up-to-date. If everything’s the newest version, give your computer a restart anyway—just doing this several times a month can do wonders for your computer’s health. Pro tip: Do it right before you leave for the day so you don’t have to postpone any work while you sit around and wait for it to reboot.

Oh, and while you’re at it, give your computer a physical clean. Clorox-wipe the whole thing down (including the actual computer as well as any cables and devices like headphones), hit your keyword with an air duster, and scrub your monitor with a microfiber cloth. These little actions can prevent you from getting sick—something we all want to avoid—and can make it that much easier to work effectively.

Riding the spring cleaning high? Give your phone a whirl next.