One week into the new year, and with that post-holiday diet we promised ourselves still hanging in there, I thought it might be interesting to suggest a few tech-related New Year’s resolutions you might like to consider.
Don’t worry, though – it’s not all work and no play. Me being me, I’ve found a way to make a solid case for the new year being the perfect time to treat yourself to a gadget or two …
A new year always holds the promise of a fresh start – a chance to look at what we want in our lives, and what we don’t. And one thing that’s always worth looking at is how we can remove unwanted clutter and junk from our lives to give us more time and space to focus on the things we do want. My first three suggestions all relate to just that.
Finally make the transition to a paperless life
I wrote a whole how-to guide about this back in 2013. There really is a huge feeling of freedom about ridding yourself of the mass of paperwork we accumulate over the years, not to mention the very practical benefit of reclaiming the space currently occupied by filing cabinets or drawers.
Done in the right way, you also make it far easier to find any of that paperwork you might need in the future – either by scanning it with optical character recognition, so Spotlight can search within documents, or simply using a very organized folder structure and intelligent filenames.
You can also ensure you have the digitized paperwork on you when you need it. My annual travel insurance certificate and policy document, for example, is on my Mac, iPad and iPhone so I have instant access to it should it be needed.
You do need to invest some time up-front, of course, but it doesn’t take anything like as long as you might imagine. If you’re staring at a filing-cabinet bursting with paper and raising a skeptical eyebrow, the chances are that well over half the paper in there is now entirely superfluous and can simply be shredded or thrown out.
My initial scanning and shredding took a total of around eight hours, done over a couple of days, but keeping up on a daily basis takes no more than a minute or two: I scan incoming paperwork as soon as it arrives.
Have a digital clear-out
Just as you’ll find you don’t need half the paperwork you have, the same is likely true of the files on your Mac(s). Sure, if you have enough storage, it doesn’t really do any harm, but if you’re finding space is getting a little tight, there’s probably a whole bunch of stuff you can zap.
Start by taking a look at your Apps folder, to see if there are ones you never use. Videos take up lots of space, so check your Movies folder as well as any iMovies projects you’ve created. Zap anything you no longer need, and consider archiving to external drives anything you want to keep but where you don’t need instant access. Anything you bought from iTunes is available for re-download later, so no longer need to have it hogging SSD space. As always when archiving anything, do so in more than one place.
With other folders, view in list mode and click on the Size column header to organize by filesize so you can see if you have any large documents you no longer need. You’ll be amazed how much space you can recover in just a 30-minute clear-out.
Commit to Inbox Zero
We all get too much email, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it. There’s a real sense of achievement in clearing down your inbox to achieve the holy grail known as ‘Inbox Zero.’
Of course, getting there can feel like an almost impossible task if your inbox count is in the four figures, but it may be easier than you think with a little ruthlessness and determination.
First, how many emails sitting in your inbox are months old? The chances are, anything that old isn’t ever going to get looked at. If you’re feeling brave, organize in date order and simply zap anything over say a month old. If that feels too radical, create a folder or filter called Old Mail and move it all into that.
Second, how many of your emails are there not because you need to reply to them, but simply to serve as a reminder to do something? With those, my approach was four-fold: I did the quick & easy ones, diarized the important ones, zapped the ones I realized I was never going to get around to–and moved the rest into a To Do folder.
Third, if you order a lot of stuff online and keep the confirmation emails so you can make sure everything arrives, create an eShopping folder and store order confirmations there. Every time something arrives, I nip into that folder and zap the email: that way I can see easily if something is overdue.
The whole process took way, way less time than I expected–largely because a huge quantity of it fell into the ‘never going to do’ category. Of course, having emptied your inbox, it takes a certain amount of discipline to keep it that way, but it definitely helps you feel more in control.
Properly protect your digital life
With the constant stream of website hacks we’ve seen over the past couple of years, if you’re still using the same password across multiple sites, now is very definitely the time to fix that. Otherwise it’s a question of when, not if, you are going to find your details compromised. Check out my how-to guide on using a password manager.
Make sure, too, that your data is properly backed-up. I’m always amazed when friends I had considered pretty techy report that they’ve lost data following a drive crash. There’s no excuse for this if you’re a Mac user: all you need is an external drive around twice as large as your Mac drive to create a decent backup history. Or make life easy for yourself with a Time Capsule, so that backups take place automatically without even needing to connect a drive.
Treat yourself to a new toy
I’ve always been a great believer in the philosophy of buying the right thing once. Buy cheap, and the chances are you’ll end up replacing it later with the thing you should have bought in the first place, thus costing you more than buying the right thing once.
It can be a little tough to justify some purchases, I know, but fear not: help is at hand. Here’s my Patented Justification Strategy for spending money on nice toys. First, work out how long you’re likely to keep it. For some passing fad, maybe not long, but invest in something classic that will last forever – a great pair of computer speakers, for example – and you have to measure the usage time at least in years.
So let’s take those MM-1 speakers as an example. $500 seems a lot of money to spend on computer speakers. But say you use them for five years. That’s $100 a year. Now let’s say that, like me, you use them five days a week. Allowing for holidays, that’s 240 days a year. So that’s 42 cents a day to enjoy great sound at your desk. Suddenly that $500 investment seems a lot more reasonable, doesn’t it? And what better time to begin the yearly calculation than in the new year?
And hey, you’ve just done at least one of the above things, right? Go on, give yourself a reward. You deserve it.