Clear the Clutter: 5 Apps to Organize Your Digital Life to Create Clarity

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I had to take a stand. My digital life was becoming unwieldy.

I’d groan when another email came in. It took multiple clicks to find events on different calendars. Multiple email accounts.

Information spread out in too many places. Not enough good stuff, and too much trouble to find anything enjoyable.

I was beginning to stagnate in the sheer stuffness of it all. Actually, I was stagnating. I got there.

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Ahhh, yes… Clean simplicity leads to increased productivity, fewer errors, and a clearer mind

I pared my digital life down to a few basic apps. It’s been a few days now and I’m already used to my new workflows.

Better yet, the space in my mind allows me to think more clearly, make fewer mistakes, and get my work done faster.

I’m not a productivity blogger, but I do like to be productive. Maybe this’ll help you, or at least turn you on to a few new ways of doing things.

The clutter has GOT to go

Lots of studies have been done about how clutter affects your mental health, and even the very operation of your brain.

The idea is you get so caught up in all the things you’ve surrounded yourself with, that you’re unable to focus on anything else.

I’m in the home stretch of closing on my new place in Dallas in under 2 weeks.

I had papers for days, files clogging up my desktop, dates on like 6 different calendars to keep track of, and not to mention the hubbub of oh, work and life in the background. You know, the usual.

I wish I had an image of what my desktop looked like before. It was a disaster.

And my browser! I had 20 different tabs open (like I’m sure most people have) for different email accounts, web-based calendars, article ideas, things to read later, etc.

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My physical clutter still has a ways to go!

Baby steps. My desk is still a mess. I’ve got estimates, appraisals, inspection results, insurance docs, random mail, and other bits and baubles strewn about.

I’ll get to that next. But here are the 5 apps I used to get my digital life under control.

5 Apps to GTD (Get Things Done!)

1. Airmail

Email email email. This is the only app I paid for. It’s $10, and the others on the list are free.

But it’s worth it because I have different email accounts for:

At one point this week, I was switching between house closing docs coming to 1 email, work emails to another, and replying to an Airbnb guest on yet another tab.

With Airmail, no more. It’s all consolidated in an easy-to-read format.

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All my accounts in 1 place, color-coded and with icons selected by me

It plays very nicely with Gmail, keeping labels and the ability to “star” posts intact. It’s also task oriented in that you can tag your emails with “To do” or “Read later” or other tags. I don’t think I’ll use it to manage tasks as labels are plenty for me, but it’s nice to know you can customize nearly every option.

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You can customize nearly everything about the way you experience your inbox

What I like most is I can view each email account separately, or in 1 big ol’ pile. My preferred method? The big ol’ pile!

It’s easy to search, and plugs in directly to Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive, and lots of other apps – including apps that Gmail itself doesn’t integrate with. So that’s nice.

I’ve also swapped the open tabs for 1 app with 1 notification badge, which frees up my browser and keeps email away from my field of vision – perfect for getting more stuff done with fewer distractions.

When it comes time to going through emails, you can click through them quickly.

The email list is on the left, and the full text is on the right. So easy to go down the line, read them all, and reply where needed. No more clicking back to the inbox and then on each individual email.

The residual amount of minutes I’ve saved in the past few days make me wonder why the hell I didn’t get this app sooner. But now that I have, I’ll never go back to the web-based version.

Alternates: 

2. Sunrise

Sunrise is deceptive and brilliant in its total simplicity. There aren’t many options, but that doesn’t matter. All your calendars are finally in 1 place.

Work, personal, holidays, Facebook, birthdays, Meetup. It even imports your travel plans from TripIt. (And come to the next New York points and miles Meetup! Join the group, then add it to your new calendar.)

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The app is available on any browser, your iOS/Android phone, or Mac app – and it syncs across every platform

I like that it syncs up across platforms, so I can add something on my phone and see it later on my laptop. Or on any browser.

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It supports pretty much any calendar you have

My biggest gripe about calendars is how fussy they all are. Google Calendar is a whole different breed from Outlook or Apple iCal, for example.

If your work calendar is on Outlook and your personal on iCloud or whatever, it used to be impossible to get them into one place.

But Sunrise lets you plug in nearly any calendar, as many as you want, and syncs the data together.

You can set alerts and reminders, and as mentioned, add lots of different apps and sites to it.

I have about 6 different calendars that I manage day in and day out, so for me, this is a total game-changer. I’m so glad I found it.

Alternate: 

3. Evernote

Also see: 

I’ve written a lot about Evernote. I simply love it. It’s an indispensable part of my organizational system.

I use it for everything including travel plans, sharing docs, keeping a daily journal, to-do lists, blog ideas, checklists, credit cards, goals, finances, photo storage, scanning receipts, and so much more.

To say I use it every day is an understatement. I use it all day, every day.

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Anybody can find Evernote useful for something

In fact, Evernote is probably my #1 app. It’s a digital version of my brain, my file cabinet.

There’s been so much digital ink spilled about this app, but suffice it to say it’s capable of a lot.

And it’s the measuring stick I use to select new apps. “Does it plug in to Evernote?” If the answer is no, I move on.

I add all of my receipts, photos from trips, snippets of ideas, interesting articles… pretty much everything I find. It’s like my personal Google.

It syncs across all platforms, is accessible on pretty much everything, and is enriched by tags, location services, and notebooks.

The next closest app is OneNote. Some people like that better. But I like Evernote, so I’m sticking to it.

If you read and save a lot of articles, check out Pocket. It’s a handy tool to have for cataloging inspiring articles, maybe this one?

4. Swipes

Update 12/13/15: I ended up using Todoist instead of Swipes. Read my review here.

Swipes hooks up right to Evernote, so you can make a note with a to-do list, then import it to check things off as you get them done.

Or you can make a to-do list in Swipes, and have the tasks repeat on any type of schedule you want (daily, weekly, monthly, etc).

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Line ’em up, knock ’em out

There is something so satisfying about making a to-do list, then swiping them off throughout the day.

You can add reminders and alerts, snooze your tasks, or move them to another day.

This app is for those days where you have a zillion things to do and you just need to write it all down and go down the line. Maybe that’s every day for some peeps, but I find I have those types of days pretty randomly.

Within each task, you can add “steps” to get there.

For example, if your task is to pack, you can have each item, or sets of items, as a step (credit cards, passport, toiletries, socks, etc – then check them off as you pack them).

I’m not fully “sold” on Swipes yet, but they’re adding more integrations including Google Calendar, and it already syncs flawlessly with Evernote. I might try to use it more, but for now, I only turn to it when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

That said, having a tool to help when I’m feeling flustered is worth its weight in gold, so I’ll definitely keep it around.

Alternates: 

5. IFTTT

IFTTT stands for “if this, then that,” and it’s basically the icing on the cake of all the other apps, because it connects them based on their mutually beneficial functions.

For example, if I take a new photo with my iPhone, I can back that photo up directly to Evernote. The trigger is a new photo, and the action is backing it up – and IFTTT facilitates that.

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IFTTT is worth exploring because of all the cool things you can connect to it

I use IFTTT to manage my social media, back up my blog posts (including this one!), text me the weather each morning, and keep a record of all my faved tweets on Twitter – that’s just the start.

There’s a ton you can do with IFTTT. The best way to start is to poke around their recipes section. Before you know it, you’ll have the internet working for you!

IFTTT is definitely level-2 type stuff, but it’s worth getting to know. Frequent Miler did a cool post about how to use it to register for AMEX Offers. Believe me, that’s just the beginning!

Bonus

Speaking of getting control over your email, use Unroll.me to “roll up” your email subscriptions into one easy-to-ready daily digest. It automatically pulls out the emails that you choose – and adds them to your digest for you to read once a day.

I can’t say enough about how much time their service has saved me. And I get to scan all my emails to see which ones are worth reading, and which ones aren’t worth the time. This is perfect for hotel and airline email newsletters (because sometimes there are good ones), or any type of interesting-but-not-urgent alert you receive in your inbox.

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FileThis pulls in any kind of monthly statement, and organizes the documents for you!

And FileThis is freaking amazing. It pulls in all your statements from credit cards, Amazon, your utility company, or from anywhere else where you get monthly bills, and puts them into a place of your choosing like Evernote, Google, Drive, email, or in their own cloud storage.

I have Chase, Barclays, AMEX, etc., plugged up to this and I can easily scan all of my credit card statements for errors, to make sure I got my points and payments cleared, and see if there are any changes, credits, and all that. I love it.

I also get my utility and internet bills delivered.

FileThis is a step beyond paperless. It’s the digital filekeeper you don’t know you need. Once you sign up, you’ll be hooked. Guarantee it!

Oh, and remember to sign up for Paribus and Giving Assistant if you already haven’t – save money when you shop online!

Bottom line

If you work online a lot, or just want a way to keep your stuff more organized, these apps are an asset.

I almost instantly felt the clutter leave my mind once I figured out what worked for me.

These apps in particular helped me a ton:

Hopefully they will help you organize your travels, miles, points, calendars, emails, time… and mind. 🙂

I’m open to new and better ways of doing things. If you know something that works better, or that should be on the list, please let me know in the comments!

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About Harlan

Just a dude living in Dallas.

More articles by Harlan »

Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post. The opinions of the commenters are not necessarily the opinions of this site.

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Comments

  1. Ok so I have used different solutions which are awesome but not mentioned in your article. Timepage for calendars and Outlook on ios for email (also does calendars)

  2. Sunrise was purchased by Microsoft and announced in October they won’t be updating it and assume killing it slowly. They are suppose to be moving all the good stuff to outlook, we’ll see.

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