Spring cleaning of computer, emails can boost efficiency

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PITTSBURGH — You may not think you’re a hoarder, but your hard drive knows better.

Those emails, photos and attachments that sit there in your computer or smartphone for weeks, even months, eat away at drive space and slow every log-on and complicate every keyword search.

You already know that, sure, but when was the last time you did something about it?

“Even the most organized person can have issues with their email,” says Jen Cohen Crompton, a Philadelphia-based small business productivity consultant.

Digital hoarding may not be as visually obvious as stacks of paper spilling off a desk, she said, but those undeleted emails, icon-covered home pages and layers of tabs can clutter your mind as well as your hard drive.

That makes for a less productive workday that can snowball into less productive works.

Emails fill the inbox whether we ask for them or not, so digital hoarding can simply be the result of benign neglect or excessive multi-tasking.

But too often, the digital hoarder shares one key characteristic with the physical hoarder: An abiding fear they may one day need that file they’re about to delete. Crompton’s response: “If you haven’t touched that document in the last 12 months, you’re not going to need it.”

If it’s sensitive, or has long-term importance, put it on a flash drive, she says.

And for the already-buried, she recommends cleaning and organizing small chunks at a time, starting with those stored photos and gigabyte gobbling attachments.

There is a counterargument. A 2013 study by three University of Minnesota researchers found that cluttered space is more conducive to creative thinking, where an orderly desk puts you in a more conventional frame of mind.

So those reluctant, or simply stubborn, about cleaning out can always claim their creative talents require a degree of messiness.

But their computer will still run slower.