We’ve all read about clean versus messy desks – what they say about our personalities and how they affect our productivity. Most people agree that an organized work space helps our minds stay organized and boosts productivity.

Content about our physical desk space is everywhere, but what about our virtual desks? Think about it – we’re on our computers for a huge chunk of the day. We store files, pictures, and emails, and we need to be able to find them at the drop of a hat.

Cleaning out the ol’ virtual desk is a great way to keep your mind and your life as uncluttered as your actual desk. Here are some tips and tools to help you get there:

Keep Work and Home Separate

With our physical stuff, we don’t bring that framed picture of the kids to and from work every day, and we don’t bring our whole filing cabinet home every night. Keeping your virtual work and home stuff separate will help keep the amount of “stuff” on your computer to a minimum.

For example, if I don't finish this article before I leave for the day, I’ll work on it at home. Instead of emailing the Word doc and saving it to my personal laptop, wouldn’t it be easier to just connect to my work desktop remotely? That way I can edit the document without ever having to store it on my laptop.

Here are some solutions to help you remotely connect to your work computer:

Store Files in The Cloud

When it comes to most files, you don’t actually need to have them stored on your computer’s hard drive. To clear up some space, move any files you don’t need to access when you’re offline to the cloud.

The benefit here is twofold – you’ll get files off your physical computer and make them accessible from anywhere. Cloud file sharing and document management services abound, but here are the three big players for small business:

Reach for Inbox Zen

Inbox clutter is the defining characteristic of today’s over-sold, über connected world. We have emails from social media updates to colleagues wanting to network and brands selling to us – you name it.

Sorting through hundreds of emails is a full-time job in itself. The stress of missing something important builds on the stress of clutter, and it’s a real productivity killer. These three tools can help you cut through the noise, clear out your emails, and reach inbox zen.

Say Goodbye to Unused Programs and Long Old Files

We’ve all done it – download a program or app to use it once and then never touch it again. We re-organize desk drawers every now and then, but what about digital files and programs? Commit to auditing your virtual workspace at least once every month or two.

If you haven’t used a program in a few months or don’t foresee using it anytime soon, trash it. If you’re keeping documents from a project that wrapped up 3 years ago, you can probably safely delete it.

Just like with physical possessions, we have to break the hoarding habit. The first time will be the hardest, but once you’re over the hump, you’ll notice it gets quicker and easier every time.

Create Folder Hierarchy

Whether you’re hosting files in the cloud or directly on your device, it can be hard to keep them organized. Looking for one particular file is like searching for a specific piece of hay in a haystack.

Take some time to establish a strategy for organizing files into folders. For example, you might create a folder called “Financial Documents” and within that is a folder for W2 statements, another for pay check statements, and a third for tax returns. Creating a hierarchy of folders and explicitly naming them will make it a lot easier to find what you’re looking for.

Here’s a sample of what my folder hierarchy looks like:

Breathe a Sigh of Relief

Now that your virtual desk is as clean and organized as your actual desk, you can breathe a sigh of relief. You’re officially ready to enjoy the benefits of being super focused and extra productive, so get to it!

How do you tame the virtual clutter?