Whether you’re cleaning your computer because you’re leaving for a new job (congrats!), or simply because you can’t stand how cluttered your digital desktop has become, cleaning up your computer can be just as cathartic as a real-life cleaning binge.

Here are some tips to thoroughly tidy up your work computer.

Smiling man sitting behind his desk.
Smiling man sitting behind his desk.

1. clear off your desktop

For many of us, our desktop (or downloads folder) is where all the random files we work on end up. So it tends to be the first place to become a mess.

It’s a graveyard for old screenshots, drafts and tons of other old and unnecessary files you’ll probably never look at again.

Send anything you won’t need in the future to the recycle bin, and file away everything else in its proper place.

2. purge your files

Be ruthless with your file purge. Ask yourself ‘will I ever look at this again?’ If the answer is no, it’s time to say goodbye. While it’s not quite Marie Kondo’s ‘does it spark joy’ method, the idea is the same.

If the usefulness isn’t there, trash it. We’re talking about all those saved screenshots and gifs you’ve accumulated.

Months old to do lists and notes that have long since been actioned. Drafts of files you have a newer copy of. Embarrassing pics from the company Christmas party that you’d rather forget about.

If you absolutely have to keep it for filing purposes, consider keeping it on your shared drive or the cloud, but not on your actual computer drive. This will free up space and make your computer faster.

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3. have a folder for everything you keep

The key to an organized computer is an efficient filing system.

Our personal favourite method is creating a folder for every project or client. Have an archive folder you can move these folders into when the project is completed (or annually, if it’s an ongoing project/client).

Others prefer to organize chronologically with a folder for each month.

The folder structure you adopt will depend on how many files you deal with, and what will make it easiest for you to locate the files you need in the future.

Your filing system should be intuitive enough that you can find any file without remembering where you put it.

The folders should be logically named and lead you where you need to go.

4. clear your browser history and cache

Did you make a typo in a URL one time and it won’t stop appearing in the autocomplete every single time you try to type the correct URL?

Maybe you visited a website a month ago, and they’re still following you around the web incessantly, even though you have absolutely zero interest in the product advertised?

Or perhaps you’ve been liberal with adhering to your company’s web browsing policy. Whatever the case, it’s time to clear your browser history and cache!

This will give your computer a clean slate when it comes to autocomplete text and other things following you around the web.

Just keep in mind if you clear your cache, you’ll need to re-login to all your online accounts, but this shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve saved your passwords or use a password management system (which is a very good idea for privacy and security reasons!)

5. back up all your files

Always back up your files. Most mid to large sized companies will have a shared drive or cloud storage that’s ideal for this.

This protects all your work in the event that something terrible happens to your computer.

Spilled coffees or viruses strike more than you might think.

In an ideal world you’d already be backing up your files on a weekly or monthly basis, but now is better than never!

Right after you’ve done a thorough purge is the perfect time to back up your files as everything is neatly sorted and in the right place, so it will be easy to find if you ever need to use the backup.

If you’re cleaning out your computer because you’re leaving a job, putting your files on a shared drive that your coworkers can access is also a simple way to provide them with a copy of all your docs to ensure continuity for the person who takes over your work.

6. sort out your personal files

As general rule, it’s a good idea to keep your personal files separate from your work files. However in our digital world overlap happens.

If you’re leaving for a new job, make sure to delete all of your personal files, emails, contacts and messages from your computer.

Many employers make a copy of all the files on your computer and send them to your direct manager, ensuring that no work is lost.

If you’re storing personal files such as photos, tax returns, pay stubs, bills, your resume or anything else you might not want others to have access to, delete them before you leave.

If you need a copy of them, have a cloud account (such as dropbox or google drive) that you can drop them in.

A USB stick you can use to transfer them to your personal computer works, as well.

7. erase or update saved logins

Take a look at the saved logins on your browser (usually under the settings tab) and delete any that you no longer use, and update any where the password has changed.

This can be a lifesaver down the road when you’re trying to log into an account, and the password is ready to autocomplete without you having to search through emails or notebooks to find it!

While you’re in your browser settings, you can also take a look at all your default settings (i.e. search engine, colours, font size, etc.) and ensure you’re happy with them.

If you’re leaving a job permanently, erase all your logins, especially if they include logins to personal accounts.

At most workplaces your work computer’s login will be completely erased along with your browser history and saved logins, but it’s better to play it safe!

8. empty the recycle bin

Don’t forget to empty the recycle bin (or trash if you’re on a Mac) when you’re done with your file purge! Did you know that when you delete a file, it’s not really gone until you empty the bin?

Files in your trash folder also take up space on your computer and can slow it down.

If you haven’t emptied your trash bin in a while (or ever) you might be surprised how much faster your computer is after emptying it!

If you don’t know how to empty your recycle/trash, it’s easy. Right click the recycle bin/trash icon on your desktop (or dock for Mac) and select the empty option.

extra steps if you’re leaving for a new job

  1. Clean your computer before you hand in your notice. Though it’s rare for employers to send you packing after you give your two weeks’ notice, it does happen occasionally. So it’s a good idea to take precautions and clean your computer beforehand.
  2. If you want to be extra safe, do a factory reset of the computer. Keep in mind this will wipe absolutely everything, so it’s extra important to make sure that you back up any files you’ll need for your last couple weeks on a drive. Keep in mind, a full reset may not be an option if you don’t have admin access to your computer.
  3. If a full wipe seems extreme, you can also download free apps (such as Eraser or File Shredder) that’ll help you remove data for specific folders or apps, ensuring no stray files are unintentionally left behind. Again, this may require admin access.
  4. Make sure you have all the passwords you need. If your work computer is the primary way you log into some accounts you’ll need access to after you leave, ensure you have the login info you need including both the usernames and passwords.
  5. Delete data on apps where you share personal info that you don’t want getting into the wrong hands (for example Skype, iMessage or even your work email). While you’re at it, delete any apps you downloaded for personal reasons, such as Spotify or Netflix.
  6. Don’t forget about your company phone! Many of these same steps apply to cleaning out your company phone before handing it back to your employer. In fact, given how personal we tend to get with phones, it might be even more important to scrub your phone data! 

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