Digital junk drawers


There’s a joke that having a writing deadline is the best way to get your house clean. Personally, I channeled this form of productive procrastination into digital spaces while getting to a finished first draft of the book. This was also partly out of thoroughness and desperation — “I know I’ve thought thoughts about this before, did I write it down? WHY DIDN’T I WRITE IT DOWN?”

During this procrastinatory polishing, I cleaned out and killed:

  • An old Scrivener project for the book that I started before the contract was official
  • An old GitHub repository for the book I never really made use of
  • Various text drafts in orphaned folders from when I imagined tackling a similar topic as a self-released iBook in 2014
  • My entire personal Evernote archive
  • nvAlt and thousands of associated text files
  • A work-specific journal in Day One with a few hundred entries
  • Several misc. folders of app screenshots
  • Dozens of mindmaps that had built up in iCloud that I thought for sure I’d need again but were all junk
  • Thousands of junk bookmarks in Pinboard from some social media automation I set up back in the day
  • Two underused IFTTT accounts
  • Six or so novelty Twitter accounts I’d never updated after the first month
  • And lots of other things I’ve already forgotten about

I also processed through a dozen or so analog notepads and small paper notebooks.

Most of this stuff was garbage. Just noise. With ever-bigger hard drives and near infinite cloud storage, our digital closets can be as big as we want them to be. But I’ve found that that’s not without a psychic cost. I felt like I was trying to do my work inside of a giant junk drawer. The elegant chamfered aluminum edges of a closed MacBook Pro can bely just how untidy things really are within.

Cleaning out my digital workshop out in this way helped me feel more productive with the tools that I did still have, and allowed me to approach my use of them with a clearer purpose. I actually use Pinboard now, for instance, and it’s become part of my blogging workflow and book marketing workflow. Bear — which I used to replace nvAlt, Evernote, Apple Notes, and an analog notebook of lists — has fewer notes than any one of those collections had previously, and is actually useful to look at now.

Feeling like I had permission to do this was one of the biggest side benefits of writing a book. Having a very specific project, with a signed contract and a due date, eliminated other possibilities (in a good way), which eliminated excuses to hoard digital things, and gave me more actionable clarity on what was still valuable. “Is this going to help me write this book? How about the next one? No? Then it’s gone.”

(Don’t worry — my PUGS PUGS PUGS folder is still growing exponentially.)