Many of us spend too much time on our phones and PCs, and it doubtless got worse over the holidays. One thing you can do is organize your devices, streamlining them so that you can at least get things done more quickly. And while you're doing that, you might as well do all the other things you've been putting off, like backing up your photos and tightening up your security. Now that the holidays are over and we're getting back to real life, it's time to focus on being productive again, and cleaning up your devices is an excellent way to start.
1. Transfer Photos and Videos Off Your Phone
Photos! They're often the culprit of data deluge on smartphones. You probably want to keep a few photos stored locally, like a good headshot so you can add it to online accounts, and maybe a couple of pictures of your pets and favourite family members (not that anyone plays favourites, of course). Beyond that, do you really need pictures from so-and-so's graduation three years ago?
Transfer photos off your smartphone and put them somewhere safe, like a computer that you regularly back up or an online storage service. Many online storage services have an app that lets you move photos with almost no action required on your part. Once you free up that space, you'll have a lot more room to take new photos and videos, as well as download music, podcasts, apps, and more.
2. Back Up Your Devices (or at Least Your Most Important Files)
Smartphones fall into the toilet, hardware crashes during updates, laptops get stolen—there are so many ways to lose your data. If you aren't backing up your computers and mobile devices, now's a good time to start.
The ins and outs of PC backup are way less intimidating than most people think. If backing it all up sounds like too much to tackle, focus instead on backing up your most important files. You can use a cloud storage and file syncing service, such as Dropbox, to do this very quickly and easily.
Backing up smartphone data takes little more than turning on a preinstalled service, like iCloud, and assessing whether you need to purchase more storage space or delete unnecessary files. If you need help, we have instructions for how to back up an iPhone and how to back up an Android device.
3. Run a Tune-up Utility
If it's been a while since you gave your computer a tune-up (or you've never done one), now's the time. All you need to do is pick a good tune-up utility and let it run. Some tune-up apps have a free tier of service or free trial, so even if you aren't sure which one to buy, you should be able to run a quick tune-up.
Read the instructions or watch a video tutorial so you understand exactly what will be cleaned up before you run it. The first time you do a tune-up on your desktop might take a little bit of time, so feel free to kick back and watch a movie. Or move on to step 4, since your phone should be free.
4. Remove Apps You Don't Use
Here's another easy clean-up task to do while vegging out in front of the TV: Swipe through your phone or tablet looking for apps you don't use or need and delete them.
On iOS, there's a special setting that automatically deletes apps you haven't used in a while if your phone runs low on space. Find the option by going to: Settings > General > iPhone Storage > Offload Unused Apps
From this same page, you can see how much storage space each app takes up and when you last used it. When you tap the app for more information, there's a Delete App button, so you can manage your apps here rather than go back to the home screens to do it.
See these additional tips for freeing up space on your iPhone if you need to do more in this area.
You can remove unused apps from a laptop or desktop computer, too, although it requires slightly more of your attention. If you need help, follow the links for instructions on how to remove apps from Mac and how to remove apps on Windows 10.
5. Clear Your Cache and Dump Your Trash
How long has it been since you cleared your browser cache and history on your computers? Have you ever done it on your smartphone and tablet? For most browsers, look for the History option and clear all of it.
Be sure to dump the supposedly deleted files from other places where it doesn't happen automatically, including Apple's Photo app, email, and Google Drive.
Other places to focus on deleting unnecessary digital debris are old text messages (the ones with videos and images can take up excessive space), Instagram search history, and WhatsApp archives. The Instagram one is a little hard to find because it keeps moving. As of this writing, it's at Profile page > Settings > Security > Clear Search History.
6. Sweep Your Inbox
If your email inbox contains more unread messages than you can emotionally handle, this tip is for you. I call it sweeping the inbox. You move all messages from the inbox to a new folder. You're not deleting them. You're not ignoring them. You're merely putting them into a safe space that's out of your immediate line of sight.
You decide the rules. You can move all messages or only messages that older than one month, for example.
Name your folder whatever you want; I suggest "2019 Unread" or "2019 and Older." Something like that will do. Here's how to do it:
Sort your messages by date and select all from this/last year or this year and older. Drag them into the new folder. Voilà. That's it. If you're handy working with "rules" in your email program, you can select and move messages that way.
7. Unsubscribe From Bulk Email
Since we're talking about email, another easy task to knock out on New Year's Day while watching a movie is to pick through your email messages and unsubscribe from all the stuff you never actually open or read. If you don't actually read The New York Times daily briefing, for instance (I subscribed for a month before acknowledging that I read at most one out of every five), just stop getting it. The same goes for other newsletters and online deal emails from retailers. So many of those "exclusive" discounts are in fact offered right on the retailer's website when you land on it. You don't need the email.
For all bulk messages that are sent responsibly, there's an unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email. It's usually in small print and it's not always in a different color or underlined (tricky bastards).
If you're looking for more inbox relief, you should read my 11 Tips for Managing Email More Effectively.
8. Update Your Email Signature
Here's another simple mail-related task that takes a minute or two: Update your signature.
"I don't even have an email signature," you might say. Are you sure?
In Gmail, check at Settings > General > Email Signature.
If you use a mobile email app, including apps that came preinstalled on your phone or tablet, and never changed any of the default settings, there's a good chance your emails say "Sent from…" and fill in the name of your device or email provider. Following the instructions for changing your email signature on iOS or Android won't take long at all.
While you're at it, check your email "from" name. Especially on mobile devices, it's easy to confuse the nickname you gave to the account (e.g., Gmail) with your "from" name, which is what recipients see in their preview when they get messages from you.
9. Freshen Up Your Playlists
No matter which music service or podcast app you use, the new year is a great time to take stock of what you have, remove the audio files you don't want, and rearrange everything how you want it.
Spotify has a way of getting crowded with playlists. If you need a little help learning all the tools to organize your songs, see this list of Spotify tips. PCMag also has tips for organizing Apple Music and iTunes.
Remember to set up playlists for yourself that support other New Year's resolutions you might have, like workout playlists or songs or podcasts you can listen to while doing a hobby. For example, I have podcast playlists called Kitchen Time for shows I enjoy while cooking.
You might decide to tidy up your Spotify playlists or unsubscribe from podcasts that no longer release new episodes. Maybe you've made a New Year's resolution to work out more, in which case you could spend a little time putting together a workout playlist. On an average day, this chore might seem like a poor use of your time, but when you have a few hours to kill over a winter holiday, it's just right.
10. Clean Up Your Passwords
In an age when so much of what we do is online, including storing important documents, having secure passwords can be more important than backing up your files. A password manager is your key to greater online safety and security.
If you already use a password manager (you hero, you), now's a good time to think about whether you should update any passwords or add two-factor or multifactor authentication to keep your accounts secure.
If you don't have a password manager, let me briefly explain what they are, as sometimes people have a misunderstanding. A password manager is an app that creates unique passwords for all your online accounts. Now here's the key part. Whenever you want to log in to an account, the app types your username and password into the login fields for you in a secure way. So if you go to, say, Facebook's login page, the password manager automatically fills in the fields for Email/Phone Number and Password. You don't have to type anything. You can open your password manager app and look at the passwords if you ever need to, but you don't have to.
Pick a password manager that meets your needs and try it for an hour or so. Get a feel for it. When you use a password manager for the first time, there's a hurdle to clear during the first week or two, as you need to teach the app your existing passwords and give it permission to save them or replace them with new, stronger passwords. That hurdle disappears as you use the app. So stick with it.
13 Jun, 2019