3 Ways to Tidy Your Apps

Credit: Rob Hampson/Unsplash

WWe’re living in a post-Kondo world. Minimalism is no longer a novelty; it’s a way of life — or, more specifically, a way to live better. Don’t we owe it to our brains to apply the same care to our mobile screens that we give our carefully rolled-up socks?

Of course, there’s no one right way to organize a phone. Different people require different philosophies and have different needs. So, here are three different ideas: one for tired thumbs, one for the more visually inclined, and one for those who want to remove their phone from their life as much as possible.

For the ergonomically challenged

Designers will sometimes talk about the thumb zone, a term originally coined by the UX researcher Steven Hoober to describe the natural oval-shaped range of comfort for both left-handers and right-handers as they’re staring down at their iPhones. This zone starts at the base of the screen and curves upward toward the camera before tapering off at the corners.

If you want to make ergonomics your primary organizing principle, stack your apps toward the bottom of your phone. That’s where our thumbs are at their most natural and flexible. For me, as an Android user, that means dragging and dropping icons to my baseline; iOS users can compile commonly used apps into a single folder and drag that folder down into the dock.

For the efficient

If you’re looking for an effective way to index your apps that doesn’t require a lot of memory to keep straight, consider sorting them by color. It’s a technique that some visually minded people swear by: All your red-hued icons, green-hued icons, and blue-hued icons occupy their own rows or screens on the LCD real estate.

Oliver Reichenstein, founder of the design consulting firm iA, sorts his phone this way and says he finds this method more intuitive than trying to group apps by, say, function or name. “There are different memory phenotypes,” he says, noting that his memory works best in connection to color. “If a parking garage has colors and numbers for different levels, I find it easier to remember the color rather than the number,” he says. In the same way, you can quickly retrain your brain to think of your apps through the ROYGBIV lens. Say goodbye to the days of hunt-and-pecking through a sea of tiny icons to find Yelp — all you need to do is glance down and locate the reds.

For the obsessed

More and more, I hear people talk about how they’ve moved certain apps to a remote corner of their phone or uninstalled them all together. Generally, the apps they’re talking about are the time sucks, the ones that feel particularly detrimental to both productivity and mental health — Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Larry Rosen, a technology-focused psychology researcher and co-author of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, recently completed a study where high school and college students moved all their social media apps to a single folder and then moved that folder to the last home screen. From an initial analysis of the data, he explains, it seems that adding those extra steps to access made a difference: Those students spent less time on their phones for the three weeks they isolated their apps.

Rosen notes that simply making your most addictive apps a little harder to reach likely isn’t enough to trigger a digital detox. “I think it’s going to take something like a high-level program, like the warnings on the packs of cigarettes, to get us to lay off our phones,” he says. But it’s a step — one that helps you be more mindful about how you’re using both your phone and your time.

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