13 tips to get your digital life in order for the new year

Andrew Moon
Jan 3, 2015 · 11 min read

So it doesn’t sound like the most exciting New Year’s resolution, but habits we want to form, and routines we want to finally get kick started are easier when the environment around us is more conducive to growth and change — our desks are cleaner, our fridge is stocked with good food, and there’s a new pair of runners at the end of the bed.

And if your resolutions for this year involve getting more organised, writing more, or working on a project that involves an online component, then there’s a fair chance you’ll be spending a large amount of time hunched over your laptop.

Just like clearing your physical desk for the new year, getting your technology and digital habits established in the first few days of January (when you’ve hopefully got some time off and clear headspace to do so) can not only save you time each day as you chip away at goals, but actually make you more likely to want to continue, as you automate more of the mundane, allowing more time for the bigger tasks. The below are all things I’m doing at the start of this year to ensure that when I get back to work and out of ‘endless staring at the beach’ mode, half of the work of getting started is already done.

There’s no better time than those spare days off at the start of the year to do some cleaning up, get some space back, and get your desktop looking a little more like a clean slate, and a little less like a dumping ground.

- Spend a few minutes clearing your desktop, emptying your downloads folder, sorting your documents, and emptying your trash can. If you’re still short on space, use an app like DaisyDisk to identify bulky folders.

- Clear browsing data, caches and history in your web browsers.

- Buy a new portable hard drive, and back up important digital files — photos, music, documents etc. Set a reminder to refresh these backups regularly.

- On your phone, go through and delete any apps you used once and never returned to. Remeber to delete accounts in these apps if you’re not going to use them again. Challenge yourself to reduce your desktop to only a few screens by organising apps into folders.

I’m a convert to Google’s new take on email (still invite only at this stage — go knocking on the door of your tech-head neighbours). The ease of swiping to delete means I challenge myself to clear bundles (more on this below) at the end of each day, thus keeping my inbox clear of rubbish, and keeping important correspondence where I need to see it.

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Bundling in Inbox means emails from social networks can be dealt with with one click.

Labelling email is one of the best parts of Gmail, and it gets a powerful upgrade in Inbox in the form of Bundling. I love that all my flight-related emails, and all social media notifications, are automatically sorted. But if you feel like you’re getting messages that don’t quite fit, spend a few moments creating your own relevant bundles.

1. Hover over an email, and click the three vertical dots.
2. Hit Create New, give the label a meaningful name, and select Save.
3. Now the label is made, click the three horizonal lines in the top left corner to open the navigation pane, and scroll to the bottom to Settings.
4. Find your newly created label, hover over it and click the gear icon.
5. In the screen that pops up, add any email addresses that messages should be automatically added from, turn Bundle messages in the inbox to on, and ensure As they arrive is selected.

A follow on from 2. Add a Tax label to any receipts you can claim over email the second you get them, and you’ll have a neatly organised set to email to your accountant at tax time.

Still getting paper receipts you want to claim? Store them safely, but keep a digital copy by ‘scanning’ it using an app like Scanner Pro and your phone’s camera, email it to your Gmail , and smack the Tax label on it straight away.

Make it a tech resolution in 2015 to reduce the number of times you have to hit ‘Forgot my Password’, but more importantly, reduce the number of duplicate passwords you use. Popular solutions include 1Password, Dashlane and LastPass, but I’ve found LastPass to be a reliable and safe but accessible solution for keeping tabs on all my cryptic combinations.

But to really make LastPass useful, it’s worth spending $12 annually to upgrade to Premium. One great feature of the paid plan is the Shared folder, which enables you to easily share common account passwords amongst family members, and is safer than having to constantly send passwords over email. The free version limits the number of people you can share a Shared Folder with to five, with the Enterprise plan going further.

Premium also gives access to unlimited use of the mobile app, and when combined with Touch ID on iOS, it provides a simple and secure way to store PIN numbers and other secure information on the go. Having access to my passwords on mobile also makes managing work social media accounts infinitely easier — I can copy passwords from LastPass, paste into Safari or Chrome, and administer any of our accounts away from my desk.

Adding extensions to Chrome or add-ons to Mozilla Firefox is one of the easiest ways to speed up your digital workflows, from managing tabs to easily getting screenshots, and making sure you never miss an article again.

I use Chrome predominantly, and use these extensions daily. (please share others that you use too).

LastPass — discussed above, the Chrome extension adds a handy button to open your password vault, right on your toolbar.

Awesome Screenshot — this tool lets you capture and crop the whole page or a section of a page you’re browsing, and copy to the clipboard, or export as a image file. The recently added Timed Capture is great for getting screenshots for training documents too.

Bit.ly — One click of the blowfish icon and the link of the page you’ve got opened is automatically shortened. Be sure to select ‘Auto-copy Bitlink’ when you’re setting it up to save a click each time.

OneTab — When you’ve got way too many tabs open, Chrome can get a little processor hungry, so one click of OneTab’s funnel icon condenses all of your open tabs into one list. Also handy if you need to quickly restart your machine, but don’t want to lose what you’ve got open.

Currently — each time you open a new tab, Currently replaces the default white screen with a beautiful clean display showing the current time, and weather forecast. Simple but effective.

There are a variety of apps out there that make managing your diary a more streamlined and stylish process than standard offerings like Google Calendar and Apple’s Calendar app. On your immediate radar for road testing should be Sunrise, Calendars 5 and Fantastical.

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Sunrise’s Add Event view on iOS.

My personal favourite (The Verge agrees) is Sunrise, which uses Facebook and Google sign-in to sync calendars on mobile and desktop. It integrates Facebook events and birthdays seamlessly with Google and Exchange calendars, and the interface is smooth and fast.

The morning ‘day at a glance’ emails it provides are also a welcome bonus for those prone to forgetting to even open a calendar in the first place.

But having a good app is only half of effectively managing your appointments and commitments. Get into some good habits when entering events to make your calendar more useful to you, thus making you more likely to use it regularly:

- Don’t just enter meetings using the default ‘All day’ option. Specify exact times and durations.
- Use recurring events, and set an alert a few days in advance if you need to prepare something (get money from the ATM for a babysitter, for example).
- Subscribe to shared calendars for teams you’re a part of, or public holidays in your state, county or country.
- If your event involves others, invite them by email. Even on your personal calendar. It keeps everyone in the loop on changes, and saves having to send out addresses and other details again later.

Pairing Google Alerts with Feedly, an RSS reader, allows you to monitor all the sites and interests you could think of, and is a powerful way to read in at the start and end of the day. Less than an hour or two at the start of the year getting this set up can save you time each and every day for the rest of 2015.

Here’s the workflow. We’re using Google Alerts to find articles, and Feedly to sort what we’ve found.

In Google Alerts:
1. Create a Google Alert for the subject you want to monitor.
2. Hit Show Options.
3. I changed the ‘How Often’ to As It Happens, the ‘Source’ to News, and ‘How Many’ to show All Results.
4. The last option is key — For ‘Deliver to’, select RSS Feed.
5. Hit Create Alert.
6. On the next screen, right click on the RSS symbol next to your new alert title, and click Copy Link Address or similar.

In Feedly:
1. If you haven’t set up a Feedly account, go set one up.
2. Paste your RSS link in the text box in the top right of the page. Wait a couple of seconds, and then click the drop-down that says Google Alert — Your Topic | 1 reader
3. When it expands to show a list of articles, click the green +Feedly icon, and then give it a easy to read title, and add it to a relevant category.

Then repeat for any topics you want to monitor. Remember, the time you spend here will set you up for endless time savings each day down the track.

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Use Feedly to easily keep track of what you want to keep on top of, using RSS.

While we often discover articles from our favourite blogs and other sites in our Facebook or Twitter feeds, adding them to Feedly using RSS means you’re seeing everything, not just what’s being shared widely (and what everyone knows already).

How do I manage my Feedly feeds? I break down the areas I want to keep abreast of broadly — work-related (many social media alerts), interest areas (tech news, for example) and general reads for enjoyment (long reads, op-eds etc).

The easiest way to add a site to your Feedly is just to search for it using the search bar in the top right. If it’s not there, drop an RSS link in and Feedly will do the rest.

There’s nothing new to using lists on Twitter and Facebook, but they often take time to establish, so many never get around to using them. But lists, like using apps like Feedly for RSS, are a powerful way to tame the firehose of social media updates (particularly true of Twitter) and fence off feeds only to the content you’re interested in.

To get started on Facebook, go to your Interests page (https://www.facebook.com/bookmarks/interests) and hit Add Interests. Here you can search to see if someone has already made an interest list for what you want to follow. If not, hit Create List, search for the pages you want to add, and hit Next. Then give your list a name, and select the privacy level.

Pro tip: You can also use the Interest Lists function to build lists of friends or public people pages.

Twitter has put together a handy guide to creating lists, which walks you through the process. Lists come into their own on Twitter when paired up with Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, allowing you to quickly keep abreast of multiple feeds of information. (read more about how I use Tweetdeck for work here.)

What do you do with all the articles and content you’re now finding through your social media interests lists and RSS feeds? One of the most powerful ways to grow your social following is to become a thought leader on a topic or area you’re interested in, sharing knowledge and participating in discussions. One of the easiest ways to get started on this is to judiciously share quality links you’re finding, becoming a source of knowledge for others to follow.

One tool that makes this much easier to manage is Buffer, a social scheduling tool which can pump out posts at preset times. Spend 30 minutes reading in at the start of the day, and use a tool like Buffer to keep your social followers abreast of what’s going on hours after. But remember, not every social network is for everything…

Anyone that works in the social media space will know the value of a clear plan that indicates what you share, how you share it, how often, and where, but if one of your goals is to grow your social following in 2015, it’s worth considering some simple social media plans for your personal accounts, based around the strengths of each platform, what you’re interested in, and how much time and effort you’re willing to commit. The team from Buffer have put together a guide on building a social media marketing plan, and while more targeted at business users, it has some solid pointers that can inform what you should be doing with your personal brand.

Whether it be a scrappy notepad you carry with you to meetings, or folders full of half-finished musings in Word docs, we all have our little systems to jot down our thoughts. The new year is a good a time as any to make use of cloud based solutions and newer writing apps to capture your thoughts digitally, and more importantly make them searchable, when you need to recall notes and topics fast.

If you find yourself moving between any number of notebooks and post it notes at work, scribbling meeting minutes and to-dos, consider a tool like Evernote to organise all your note taking. Paired with an iPad and bluetooth keyboard, you’ll find yourself with a powerful paper replacement. Use different notepads for different projects, or to separate 9–5 scribbles from your weekend side projects. A previous colleague of mine, a TV news presenter, used Evernote to store interview questions, so whenever she had a guest on a particular topic, she could instantly search back to everything she’d asked before, and have a solid foundation for new directions in questioning.

If long-form is more your thing, it’s worth taking a look at apps that allow you to write with zero distractions. iA Writer is my personal favourite, and I use it to write all my copy before throwing it into WordPress or the like to post online.

Many New Year’s resolutions are about forming good habits, and keeping your digital house in order is no different. It may only be once a month, but schedule in a couple of hours regularly to repeat the above, and scour blogs and app stores for new apps on the market, that may suit your workflow better.

Now it’s over to you. What tips do you have to keep your digital life in order? Any other favourite apps?

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