The palm-sized portal to an always-on internet makes life infinitely easier—and also incredibly distracting. Just because we live with our phones doesn’t mean we have to be ruled by them, however.
Tech-induced stress often stems from disorganization, says Kathy Vines, a Boston, Mass.-based certified professional organizer and author of “The Clever Girl’s Guide to Living With Less.” The problem: Too many apps, uncurated email inboxes, social media accounts flooded with annoying updates from people you wouldn’t stop to talk to on the street.
“Clutter is anything that gets in the way of you finding and using what you need,” she says, even if it’s digital—whether it’s the email for that business coach you met, a promo code for your favorite shop, or your banking login. “Stress comes from a feeling of failure or of letting yourself down: Current you is angry with past you for being disorganized. Consider organizing a gift to future you.”
Here are three simple ways to tame your tech now.
1. Clear Your Digital Desk
Does your screen look like a casino, flashing, pinging, buzzing all day? Just because you can be notified of a thing doesn’t mean you should be. “Everything on your screen should provide value. If it feels like clutter, it’s not providing value,” Vines says.
A text from your child who needs to be picked up at soccer? Fair. A buzz every time TMZ has a new Kardashian sighting? Distracting.
Modify your settings to mute non-urgent news, email, and social media alerts—so you’re in charge of checking when it suits you, instead of beholden to every new ping. Delete apps you no longer use or want (and if you haven’t used it in a year, chances are you never will.)
Next, reduce your screen to two pages, max. The first screen should contain apps you use all the time, such as the Internet or email. The second screen should house category groupings that suit your habits, such as Banking or Entertainment.
2. Practice Password Management
Make life easier with a password manager. No more pecking for arcane passwords (your old hamster’s name? Your high school girlfriend’s first car?) A password manager stores and organizes all your login information in one place, and makes them accessible via one master password—a time (and sanity) saving measure.
These managers typically generate and store complex passwords for you, making it tougher for hackers to access your information.
3. Curate Your Online Community
Your connections on social media should fit three criteria: “Important, valuable, and meaningful,” Vines says. “Ask yourself: Is this person in my feed for a reason?”
She suggests “curating” your lists just as you would your workspace with things that buoy you. That means unfollowing people, brands, or companies who distract, upset, annoy, or induce pangs of envy or guilt. The bragging ex-roommate, the incendiary uncle, the furniture store that makes you feel bad about your couch. Prune them from your virtual world.
Consider grouping the remaining connections into lists based on your life: college friends, colleagues, favorite writers. Apps such as Facebook and Twitter allow these modes of curation. On Instagram, consider compartmentalizing a personal account where you keep up with friends, as well as a professional one, where you boost your brand or follow accounts that pertain to your career.
Finally, if you’re stressed about cutting ties completely, mute, snooze, or unfollow. This way, you’re still connected and can avoid unnecessarily awkward conversations without being derailed by eye-rolling updates.
“Remember, connections can still be clutter and can still cause chaos,” Vines says. And the more you streamline and focus your phone, the more effectively it can do its job—and you can do yours.