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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

The Key to Better Work Is Simplifying Your Digital Life—Here's How to Get Started

organized, clutter-free desk

I approached Fay Wolf’s New Order: A Decluttering Handbook for Creative Folks (And Everyone Else) with a certain amount of skepticism. Professional organizer is the latest title for the woman of many hats, including actress and songwriter.

Frankly, I wasn’t sure how much she could teach me that I didn’t already know. I have strong feelings about clutter and feel confident that it’s under control: I regularly rid myself of clothing I don’t wear, magazines I’ve finished reading, and papers that I’ve dealt with. (Though I do have a box full of cards and letters that I’m not planning on purging. Wolf’s verdict: Totally fine.)

Nonetheless, given the hype of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I was curious about the book and what advice it offered for leading a more joyous and productive existence. Much to my delight, I did learn something—and it had nothing to do with better ways to organize my closet, but rather how to optimize my time digitally. So, I was excited to recently have the opportunity to connect with Wolf over the phone to discuss a few of the topics mentioned in more depth.

The book’s early chapters on basic sorting and decluttering definitely held my interest, especially because I appreciated Wolf’s small-steps-to-victory attitude—but it wasn’t until I got to chapter four, “Less Digital: Emails + Notifications + Social Media,” that I really started nodding along.

In the beginning of this section, Wolf writes that we wake up each morning and are “promptly swallowed up by the The Daily Avalanche of Everything.”

I won’t argue with that. She elaborates, “There is a shocking amount of content out there—emails to read, riveting blog posts, photos of what your camp friend ate for breakfast—and somehow we imagine ourselves capable of consuming every last bit.”

But what’s the point of this excessive consumption? According to Wolf, not a whole lot. Of course, avoiding the digital landscape that is, in many ways, an integral part of our daily lives, would be impossible. Instead, the path to more creative bliss, explains Wolf, is to consume less.

If you decrease the time devoted to digital distractions, just think about what you’ll end up doing instead.

Wolf’s advice is accessible: “Keep your emails short. Send less [email]. Experiment with adding ‘No need to reply’ to the end of your emails.” Oh, and she proposes ditching it altogether at times in favor of picking up the phone. This tip, I had to ask her about. A lot of us Millennials would really rather not when it comes to making and taking calls, and Wolf definitely gets that it can be a scary step. She urges practicing the time-saving move and suggests leaving voice memos if you’re really anxious about getting on the phone with someone.

There’s an iPhone app, but there’s also a way for Android users to send audio messages when your words require more than a text and less than a call. She claims it’s better than sending a long-winded email, but as someone who has an unreasonable disinterest in listening to voicemails from even my mom and bff, I’d urge you to proceed with caution before you go this route. If your message doesn’t require a call-back or a semi-immediate response, it could work in your favor. But, know your audience and be sure that it’s the best way to get your message across before you dive into the murky world of audio-messaging.

To that point: What advice does Wolf have for writing shorter emails that don’t come across as brusque? It’s not a “perfect science,” Wolf says, encouraging the use of (depending on the recipient) emoticons and exclamation points to make an email sound warmer, regardless of length.

In addition to email, Wolf also recommends going digital with your to-do list. I’ve long needed to upgrade my task-list process, and, getting on board with the book’s message of starting now, I set aside my legal pad and pen and downloaded Wunderlist, one of three apps Wolf recommends.

No matter what kind of clutter you have in your life—shoes, books, memorabilia, an inbox of over a thousand messages—Wolf has a solution. She even includes innovative tips for effective networking. Her “pro tip” is to “make it so easy that the other person doesn’t have to lift a finger.” In essence, even decluttering this important part of your life and career can have a great impact.

New Order is all about maximizing your time so that you can do your best work. And it’s about maximizing your time now. When you declutter the “you-know-what out of your physical and digital lives,” you’re inching closer to “a better place of clarity and a new start for all great things to come.” And who here doesn’t want to make it easier for great things to come?