We live out so much of our modern lives on personal computers and web servers — yet so much of it is messy and overstuffed. Clean up your email, fix your files, and tidy up your digital life with these 10 tips.
Photo by meddygarnet.
We last delved into the "digital life" in July 2007 (when Lifehacker's Australian edition hadn't even launched), when Gina tackled this very topic. We've seen, and even created, new tools since then. So, in keeping with the conclusion of our Ultimate Clutter Cleanout, we decided to craft a new list of tools we think helps makes a life of 1s and 0s, computers and creation, feel much less frantic and disorderly.
10. Declutter And Streamline Google Reader Feeds
RSS feeds can start out as a convenient way of streamlining your news and site reading. After some time, and a few too many feed additions, it can feel like opening up a fire hydrant in front of your face. Read up on how the How-To Geek streamlines and declutters his Reader inbox, starting with some statistical work, stepping deep into folder organisation, and then filtering the remaining feeds with a little Yahoo Pipes tweaking.
9. Clean Up Your Contacts
These people that show up when you start typing in a Gmail address — where did they come from? Google Contacts, where Gmail and other Google apps keep your peeps, can get real messy, real quick. We've offered a complete (for now) guide to fixing Google Contacts, along with some tools that help in Outlook, like the Outlook Duplicate Items Remover and a date-sorting trick that works best for those who haven't made huge imports. (Original post: Outlook Duplicate Items Remover)
8. Compact And Manage Social Network Alerts
Facebook has a way of making you sorry you use it, at least if you regard your inbox as something more than just a junk pile. To trim down on the messages that Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace and other services send you, we've suggested a two-part filtering and management scheme for social networks. The short version: use Nutshell Mail and a good RSS reader. Facebook has made email management a bit more convenient itself, offering in-email replies to comment mail, which we took as an opportunity to show off our Facebook-taming Gmail filter.
7. Build Yourself Serious Gmail Filters
We know, we know — nothing we haven't said before, right? There is, however, some new stuff under the sun. If you're not already keeping annoying stuff out of your inbox and making it easy to get at the real communication, do so by building advanced filters and persistent searches. Need some inspiration? Download 10 of our own filters and install them in your own inbox. Maybe you've found a filter need that's not quite covered by Gmail's built-in tools? At least one editor (ahem) digs how Syphir adds a few key criteria, like timing and number of recipients, to the mix. (Original post: Syphir)
6. Pack A More Efficient Laptop/Go Bag
If you know what you need to get work done on the go, you spend less time wondering if you packed the necessities and more time remembering, for instance, to include a bathing suit. We can't offer the ultimate laptop bag, or non-computer "go" bag, for everyone. All we can do is point to our bags, the bag that NYT tech columnist David Pogue carries, and hope you get a sense of how the right kind of geeky gear can actually feel liberating, rather than just more stuff taking up bag space.
5. Clean Out Your Hard Drive
Dig your way through your hard drive, and you'll find all sorts of stuff. Most of it can be deleted to make room for more important stuff, like your complete collection of Herb Alpert import album tracks. Digging through his own drive, Adam found lots of room for cleaning, so he showed us how its done. He used the simple, pretty Disk Space Fan, the classic and open-source champion, WinDirStat, recommended Disk Inventory X and Grand Perspective for Macs, and some automated tasks, like setting up CCleaner to run on a schedule.
4. Free Up Space In Gmail
You never thought you'd use up all those free gigabytes in Gmail — seven, as of this writing — until you went and did. Need to clear up space to stop losing archives, or step a bit further back from the brink? Gina's previously provided a seven-step clean-out system, while the New York Times recommends a back-up-and-wipe-out solution. You get the added benefit of likely having access to Gmail when it's down, and an offline copy of all your data, which is never a bad thing.
3. Automate Your Folder And File Organisation
Downloads go in the Download folder. Unless they're finished video downloads — then they should go in Videos. And anything older than 30 days? That should get stuffed in a folder marked for deletion. You could do this yourself and give your mouse hand a workout, or you could automatically clean up and organise your folders, using Belvedere for Windows, Hazel on Macs ($US22, but with a 14-day trial), and some clever settings that Adam, the creator of Belvedere, details in his step-by-step explainer.
2. Use Dropbox — For Almost Everything
The file syncing service Dropbox does one thing very well, and that is give you access to a certain amount of file space (2GB in free accounts) on any computer you use, as well as on smartphones. By doing so, geeky types have figured out many ways to use that hard drive in the sky. Make it your ultimate password syncer, as storage for any file on your system, and, as the How-To Geek explained, just about anything. Keep a copy of Firefox portable in your Dropbox, and your concerns about having a decent browser on any given computer are gone, and you don't have to think about whether you formatted that USB keychain drive or not. That's just one of many de-cluttering steps you can take when liberated by having 2GB floating all around you.
1. Ban Cables And Clutter From Your Desktop
Your desk is where you use your computer most, and it's likely encroached on by many things, begging for your attention and personal space. Cables tend to multiply and tangle, unless you fight them back with a cordless setup, or something simple like a $6 coat hanger, or something so simple as binder clips attached to a desk. There are lots of other transient things trying to take up residence on your space, but anything can be controlled with some serious effort and clever planning. (Original posts: transient stuff)
Look back at the last year or two. What's the best move, or simple system, you've implemented to clean out your own digital clutter? Share your success in the comments.