It’s that time of year when the snow finally melts (well, at least for those of us south of the Mason-Dixon line), the school year is wrapping up, and we’re all planning for summer. This is also traditionally the time when households go through “spring cleaning” as we clean out our closets or kids’ closets, re-arrange the jars of random screws in the garage, and finally knock out some items on our to-do list.
More and more, I feel like we need to do the same practices when it comes to our digital lives. We now spend hours of our day online, slowly building a digital version of ourselves. Our digital selves need a place to live, work, eat, share, and surf as well. Unfortunately, in this day and age of “check out this new app” or “sign-up here for more…” we are continually cluttering our phones and our amount of accounts to keep track of. Data privacy has been in the news heavily lately, and having many different accounts out there opens you up for more risk.
It’s time we start a “digital spring cleaning” along-side the physical one, and you don’t have to wait until spring to do this. I like to use New Year’s Day as a benchmark to clean up my digital life, but found that doing it twice a year makes it much more manageable. What follows are some tips that I’ve used over the years to keep my digital self from becoming a virtual hoarder.
Email Accounts for Different Purposes
Somedays, email can feel like a never ending stream of junk mail. Ads about a funny t-shirt that went on sale to a product that will greatly enhance my…well you get the idea. One thing I started several years ago was the use of 3 email accounts. One is for personal information (I use this with friends and family) but not for signing up for things. The second is for signing up for things to try out or to set up accounts to some sort of online service. The third is solely for work-related items.
While this separation can help up the amount of junk you get in your work and personal email accounts, there are times when your email will still be used for spam, so you’ll need to remain diligent in which account you use to sign up for things. If this still doesn’t work, below is a plan B.
Unsubscribe and Purge Quickly
One service that has made my life much easier and my inbox much less cluttered is Unroll.me. This free service instantly lets you go through and identify messages that are spam and others that you may still want to receive but not in your inbox. It creates a list of all your subscription emails easily in a daily digest form. Quick bit of advice, you’ll want to update this yearly as it’s amazing how many other emails have found their way in my inbox since setting this up. (I just took a detour while writing this post and found I had over 300 emails coming into my inbox without my permission since the beginning of the year!)
Delete Some Apps
Some apps you only use occasionally. Others you added and tried out, but never use any more. Besides taking up valuable space on your phone, these apps can clutter your screen or folders. On the iPhone you can check battery usage settings to see what you’ve used the past 7 days. Besides discovering that you spend way too much of your screen time on Facebook, this can also help you determine which apps are used heavily and which ones never appear in the list.
Review your security settings
When looking through the location services section of my phone, I was surprised by the amount of apps that were tracking me even when I wasn’t using them. When it comes to social media like Facebook and Twitter, you might be surprised at the sheer number of 3rd party applications that are using some portion of your data. Go to your account settings on all your heavily used social media platforms and purge any 3rd party app connections you won’t need or maybe didn’t even intend to approve.
A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about the amount of notification distractions or “notifistractions” we get on our devices. Many of these are not necessary and can cause you anxiety, stress, or worse-yet, distract you when operating a motor vehicle. I always recommend turning off all alerts with the exception of reminders or calendar events. That email or text message can wait, but also know that on most phones you can give some folks in your contact list “VIP” access. This means you will get an alert from them if they send you a text or message.
Google Search Yourself
You never know what’s been posted out there about you. Maybe a friend posted a photo of you without your permission or maybe you are giving people access to your personal documents without knowing it. At any rate, it’s always a good idea to “Google Yourself” fairly regularly to see what information is out there on you. A couple of quick notes to be most effective: 1 – Make sure you are not logged into your Google account or in “incognito” mode. This is what the outside world sees when they search you, if you are logged into Google, you’ll get different results. Also make sure search your full name is in “quotes” to get the most accurate results.
Back-up any important videos or photos
Every year, I do an “end of the year” family video that encapsulates much of what we did as a family throughout the previous year. While doing this to reflect on the year gone by is fun and heart-warming, it also reminds me to back up all my photos into either a physical hard drive or some sort of long term cloud storage like Dropbox. After all – you never know when your phone might break, and it would be good to have all your photo roll data backed up regularly.
Clear Those Cookies and Empty Your Trashcan
If you are like me, you use your trash can on your computer as sort of a temporary folder for items. At some point, you have to “empty” your trashcan, else you run the risk of your garbage chewing up most of your storage. The same can be said for the cookies contained within your browsers. These can be used for tracking your data and search queries and should be purged fairly regularly. Take a moment to look at and empty these on your laptop and desktop and you might find that the performance may improve on your computer when you do this.
I hope some of these tips help….Now get to cleaning!