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There are plenty of people trying to minimize the number of things they use, to remove all the meaningless, valueless things they own. I have been trying the same for quite some time now, locating all my thoughts, notes, etc to the cloud. (to evernote for instance)

I found recently that there are an ever growing set of notes, bookmarks, read-later articles on my computer. I am looking for references or any advice how to reduce these numbers, how to achieve some kind of digital minimalism?

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Tried to add tags "minimalism", "clutter", "declutter", but I have no necessary privileges –  gen Jul 5 at 15:46
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'Read later' should have an absolute expiration date. Any 'read later' issue that's still there after x days should be deleted without looking at it (preferably automatically). What cut-off period to use? The one that regularly has to delete 0 entries. You probably have other categories where the same applies. –  Jan Doggen Jul 6 at 10:05
    
And your real issue is not 'removing' the items. You real issue is not adding them in the first place. You are asking the wrong question, because it leads to more work (unless you can have all the decluttering done automatically, which is unlikely). –  Jan Doggen Jul 6 at 10:06
    
Thanks for the great remarks –  gen Jul 6 at 13:37

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Disclaimer: I'm currently in the same state as you are, cluttered with enormous amounts of piling up data. I'm not yet using following techniques, but they are the ones I want to employ when I finally decide to start.

  1. For previously-accumulated data, schedule a daily routine (30-60 minutes) to process it - consolidate and combine it, try to transform and synthesize it into new, possibly shorter information of higher value. This processing stage will be likely the hardest and most time-expensive.

  2. During previous exercise, try to identify data that is old, irrelevant or unimportant to your field of work/ interests. Throw it out.

  3. Regularly go back to your already processed data, and repeat steps (1) and (2)

  4. At the end of each day, take some time to process the data you've gathered during the day.

  5. Stop using browser extensions that allow you to bulk-save your open tabs. It's a bad habit. You won't ever go through them.

  6. Set a maximum allowed tabs at given time (chrome extension).

  7. If you can somehow quantify the amount of data you store each day (perhaps number of bookmarks, wordcount of written notes...), you could set a limit to how much you're allowed to save per day. This will force you to prioritize.

  8. When you write down/ save some information, ask yourself some of these question: Do I really, really need this? If my HDD had just 100MB, would I store this (disregard cloud storage)? Is this information going to be useful in a few months?

  9. Realize that most of the data we gather is probably non-essential, and that we might in fact just be digital hoarders.

  10. Realize that our lifespans won't ever allow us to read it all. Learn it all. Know it all. So let's limit it only to the important stuff.

  11. Oh, I almost forgot. Don't forget to actually start doing it!

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Step 1 is to make sure you aren't letting anything into your system that doesn't belong there. I find that making sure I send any and all bookmarks, articles, links, notes, and whatever through my inbox first helps a lot. That gives me another chance to look at it while Processing my inbox, before it really gets into my system. A lot of things don't make the cut at that point - it looked interesting at the point of contact, but taking a few seconds to ask what purpose it has or goal it supports gets rid of a lot.

Step 2 is to set up regular maintenance processes that weed your system. I have annual repeating projects to review my paper files, my electronic files (My Documents/My File Cabinet[*]) and my cloud files (Evernote, Google Docs). Taking a few hours every year to scan through all of those and throw things out removes a lot of the clutter. It also reminds me of things I had intended to do that fell by the wayside, and gives me the opportunity to recommit to doing them, or make a decision about giving it up.

When doing those annual purge projects, among the things I ask myself when deciding whether to keep something or not:

  • is this for an active project?
  • if this is for a completed project, do i really need to keep it?
  • how hard would it be to replicate this or get the data from somewhere else?
  • how does this support one of my current goals?
  • is there any action needed for this thing?
  • if I don't need it now, should I archive or delete?

Doing this kind of project annually is plenty for me. Sometimes it slides to 18 months or so. You may feel a need to do it more often, which should make the projects quicker to complete.

* My Documents/My File Cabinet

Years ago when I first set up my GTD system, I created a folder called "My File Cabinet" under "My Documents". All of my project support material that is on my hard drive goes into that folder, where there is a subfolder for each project. They are named something reasonably clear to identify the project or goal the folder supports, much like paper files. A simple alpha sort is all I need to find most things very quickly. When a project is completed and I want to archive the data, I move the folder to "My File Cabinet Archive".

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I find myself consistently up-voting your GTD answers, great work! –  Raystafarian Jul 8 at 12:46
    
Thanks. I've done a lot of less-than-optimal things since I started using GTD, and I'm happy to share what I've learned. –  Dennis S. Jul 8 at 13:31

Remembering Clay Shirky's famous quote that the problem is not information overload, its the lack of quality information filters. So instead of being lenient in tagging stuff as 'Read Later' or any other tag that ingests content into your system, be more strict in asking, does this content really serve any of my end goals/objectives/projects etc.

Once its in there, instead of wiping out your 'Read later', try to learn to live with it without the urge for a 'zero inbox' mindset. That's why the its called 'later'.

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All it takes is four simple steps:

  1. Invest in good software, preferably with a very high intertwingle number
  2. Use batch processing
  3. Automate everything, clearing out you downloads in particular
  4. Keep using it
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