Tidy, secure and organize your digital life for the new year

It's 2013 and I'm willing to bet that you'll make a list of resolutions at some point. While you're eyeing the noble goals of weight loss, cutting debt or quitting smoking, you should consider making some changes to your digital lifestyle. Here's my list of ideas you should consider.


Why wait to resolve to backup your important data - be it financial records, precious photos or school work - until its too late? There are ton of good solutions out there to back up your data but the most important thing to remember is that whatever your solution is, it should be automatic. You will forget to copy those files to an external hard drive at some point - and that's usually when you need them the most. Whether you use a PC or Mac, there are solutions out there for everyone. Find what works for you within your budget and stick with it.

If you already back up to an external hard drive, consider using a backup service so that your data is stored off site in a secure location. Just be aware that at some point, you might need to retrieve that data, and you'll want to make sure you have the necessary bandwidth speeds to pull that data back down from the backup service to your computer.

Learn and practice Inbox Zero

Chances are you have either heard about Inbox Zero or you know of someone who practices it. Those who already use it can tell you it's turned their email dread into joy and the best part is that it's not as hard to implement as you think it is. Sure there's advanced parts of it, but for those just forging their path into inbox bliss, start slowly.

The best resource for learning about and implementing Inbox Zero is Merlin Mann's 43 Folders. Merlin has put together a good table-of-contents page with various posts regarding the concept. My suggestion is that you read them in order so you can ease into it. Otherwise you might find yourself overwhelmed and you're more likely to dump it.

Trade in/donate old tech items

If you're like me, you have drawers of old technology. Old cell phones, USB cables, thumbnail drives, external hard drives, promotional items from conferences, various power cables for devices you don't have anymore… Stop the insanity! Consider donating items that are still usable to good causes. For example, unused cell phones could be donated to a women's shelter. Old charging cables and connectors might make for a diamond-in-the-rough find for someone at your local Goodwill. If you are cash strapped and have a few reusable devices lying around - iPods, tablets, cellphones - consider trading them in to Gazelle. If you're a gamer, you can even get credit on your Gamestop account, by trading in old consoles and certain portable electronics.

Learn a new tech skill, programming language, or enhance a current skill

Ever wonder how a network functions? Want to build your own iOS app? Do you use Wordpress but you want to know more about PHP? What's stopping you? It's a new year - pick one thing that you've always wanted to learn about and visit your local bookstore (yes, those still exist). Thumb through several books on the topic and pick one that matches your learning style. If you're a visual learner, you might consider spending a little more for a book with screen images in color. If you like Idiots or Dummies guides, go for it. Those are my favorite books to learn new tech subjects from - especially for learning concepts I just can't wrap my head around. Many years ago, I learned HTML 1.1 from a Dummies guide and I got my foundation in networking technology from an Idiots' guide. I've moved on to have a basic understanding of PHP syntax for modifications to the source code in this blog and I hold a Network Pro certification from TestOut. I wasn't born with this knowledge, but instead I indulged my curiosity.

Pick a place to start and you might just surprise yourself someday about where you ended up.

Clean off your computer's (and physical) desktop

You've heard of the phrase 'a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind'. Maybe it's because of my OCD, but I can't function in a workspace covered in papers, Post-It notes, and coffee cups. There's something about an organized workspace that keeps me on task and able to complete any job I lock myself into the Nerd Cave to complete.

I even translate this to my computer's desktop if for nothing else than for a performance boost. It's been my experience that computers which have cleaner desktops load the OS faster and have better performance than those which have a ton of files stored on the desktop. Check out this post from Lifehacker that has some good tips on how to clean - and keep clean - your computer's desktop.

Rotate/change your passwords

It's always a good idea to rotate passwords. If you've been using the same password for years on your accounts, consider mixing it up a bit. This way, it's harder for someone to guess your password. The best method is to pick something that's 8 or more characters in length, has at least 1 capital letter and contains at least 2 or more digits. For example 's3cuReP@ssw0rd' is going to be a better option than 'auntemma'.

The thing to remember with passwords is that they are a form of account security. They are meant to be a pain in the ass. Sure it's convenient to save those passwords in your browser on your laptop, browser or phone, but what if someone were to get access to any of those devices? It's the same as using a weak password (password123) or writing it down on a post it note attached to your computer monitor. Also, there are a variety of online services that support two-factor authentication. Google, Facebook and others offer you the ability to double-authenticate your sign-in to make it that much more difficult for someone who isn't you to access your online identity.

A word on Facebook authentication: there are multiple ways to do this. My suggestion is that you enable secure browsing, login notifications and login approvals. This way you'll know immediately when unauthorized entry is made to your account and you can attempt to do something about it.

Clean up unused email and social media accounts

It's always a good idea to avoid spreading your online identity too thin. Unless you're a master at self-promotion or an IT journalist, most people don't need 20+ social networking accounts active at any given time. In the new year, consider closing down the accounts you rarely use and tidying up ones you use more frequently. For example, Facebook can link to a lot of different applications and games. It's always a good idea to remove those apps you don't use anymore as a security precaution.

There's a three-fold benefit of streamlining the amount of networks you participate in. First, it allows you to minimize the amount of data flowing on the public Internet about you and helps to control certain circumstances of social engineering to steal your identity for nefarious purposes. Second, it helps you stay in tune with your audience. You publish and share content where your audience is at, not where you want them to be. Think I'm wrong? Check out this post I did on that very subject. Last, having select public information about you helps you to tailor your image to others wanting to know more about you and your work. This way, you and only you are in control of your public-facing persona and this helps when you're trying to blaze a path in an already well-established industry (like tech journalism).