For so many of us, the new year is about fresh starts. That’s why around here, so many of us use January as time to cross off what we can from all of those never-ending tech to-do lists.
These are the kinds of tech to-dos we often put off, not necessarily because they take up a lot of time, but because they get knocked down our lists as we find other things that seem to require more urgent attention. The truth is, some of these actually are kind of urgent and really can save you a lot of headache in the future.
With that, use each these 10 ideas to give you the nudge you might need to get some tech tasks crossed off, and start the year feeling just a little bit more organized, a little safer, even a little happier.
Besides, they’re each decent opportunities to feel a little more in control of our own lives these days. That’s no small thing at all.
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Related: The one to-do list app I’ve stuck with for more than a year
10 tech to-dos to start the new year organized
1. Clean your tech
See? We’re starting easy here!
I know we’ve been a lot more conscientious about the germs on our phones, remote controls, and keyboards over the last few years, so take a few moments to disinfect everything.
This post on the best ways to clean and disinfect your phone during cold and flu season offers really clear, specific advice for everything from gentle cleaning (add some of those Windex Electronic Wipes to your cart, next Amazon purchase) to the high-tech gadgets like the coveted Phone Soap UV phone sterilizer, that actually kills bacteria and microbes.
2. Clean out your inbox
Now we move onto the virtual cleaning.
Every year at this time I share my amazing Inbox Zero Hack and every year I get thank you notes for it — maybe yours will be the next! Just follow our free step-by-step guide to starting the new year with a nice, fat ZERO in your inbox. It’s so easy for Gmail users (or you can adapt for other mail programs), and I do it without fail each January.
If you have a whole lot of junk, you can also take a little extra time to unsubscribe from unwanted subscriptions and mailing lists, or use an app like Unroll.me, which I still use as well. Just make sure you keep your Cool Mom Tech email subscription. (Not that it would ever cross your mind to unsubscribe, right?)
3. Label cords and chargers
When everyone in the house has their own game controllers, phones, tablets laptops, portable batteries, and more — let alone all the accompanying cords and cables — that can lead to a whole lot of fights at home. Take a quick moment and label each person’s stuff.
Of course there are tons of solutions for labeling cord
– Lots of affordable label tags on Amazon or even your drugstore
– Just take a Sharpie to a strip of colorful Washi Tape (above) and pop it on.
– If you’re really motivated, you can use a different color for each household member’s stuff.
– For under $35, we invested in a Brother P Touch Label Maker a few years back and it never has time to gather dust. In fact, I’m glad to have it for labeling other stuff around the house too, like clear pantry storage containers and our mask hooks.
But that’s another post!
4. Make strong passwords! Yes, all of them.
Once more for posterity — make strong passwords. Don’t use doubles. Don’t use kids’ birthdays or P4SSW0RD either. And certainly change them as soon as you learn of a hack or a security breach.
Need help? I can’t recommend 1Password enough! It generates all those intentionally hard-to-remember passwords for you, which you never have to remember. You only have to remember one password — the one to get into 1Password. (Get it?)
4. Backup your data
When’s the last time you backed up all your important documents, files and photos to a safe place? If you can’t remember, it’s time.
First, make sure your mobile (and desktop) settings back up your files automatically to a cloud-based storage like iCloud, Google Drive, or Dropbox. Don’t skimp on space — it’s incredibly affordable, and so worth it to save everything important to you.
An external hard drive is also a very smart idea as a second back-up location. We like to double-check with the gadget-testing experts when it comes to the best hardware, so take a peek at the external hard drive picks from Tech Radar, Toms Guide, PC Mag, and our friends at CNET, depending on what you’re backing up.
Seagate external hard drives get high marks all around, and I’d check out the 8TB Seagate Desktop Hard Drive (above) — plenty of storage for photos, music, videos, documents, and even movies. (I’m a fan of getting more storage than I need rather than running out of space but you may be able to get less than 8TB and save a bit.)
Related: How to organize your desk in just 15 minutes every day for a week.
5. Manage your phone notifications, or just turn them off.
If you’re thinking about heading into the new year with fewer tech distractions, one smart way to be successful right off the bat is to manage your notifications, including turning them off. I can tell you from experience, even as a fairly heavy social media user, I miss absolutely nothing by skipping notifications from Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Messenger. Nothing! Anything urgent, people can text.
Speaking of which, Do Not Disturb settings on your phone are outstanding and we’re all really loving the new iOS 15 Focus Mode. So many of you haven’t taken the time to set yours up yet, so if nothing else, take 5 minutes and learn how.
6. Clean up that phone camera roll
Whenever we ask our Out Tech Your Kids community members how many photos are on their phones — wow, we’re talking tens of thousands here! Make room for all the new photos and videos that are sure to come in the new year by deleting old photos, screenshots, Instagram Story dupes, and all that stuff you’ve been meaning to toss.
Pop on your favorite podcast or a good playlist and just get it done!
You can also create a few new digital albums so that you can save photos of important documents (say, your vaccine card?) in one place.
Tip: If you are deleting an iPhone photo, it will simultaneously delete from your iCloud library. (Annoying, I know.) To get around that, you have to turn off iCloud sharing (which I don’t recommend) or, use a second cloud service like Google Drive or Dropbox. This way you can do a good photo purge on your phone and get it down to the minimum photos you really want to find your phone; then do a more careful purge of stuff you truly don’t need at all on your desktop.
Related: These 3 tips can help you simplify your tech life. Try them!
7. Get a few favorite photos printed
We recently revised our big article comparing the 9 best custom photo book services and it’s really worth your time. Get a few of those photos off your camera and into the hands of the grandparents or siblings who have been begging for them.
You can also download the Chatbooks app and sign up for the Chatbooks Monthbooks service; for just $10-15 a month, they’ll take your favorite photos of the month and send you a new 5×7″ 30-page photo book (above) full of them.
8. Recycle or donate old tech
With all the gadgets we’ve accumulated over the years, you probably have a cord nest junk drawer or shoe box or basket hiding somewhere. Go through it, and figure out what everything is for and whether you realllllly need that battery charger from that busted 2008 point-and-shoot.
This post is outstanding, and offers multiple ways to donate, recycle, and sell your tech in 2022.
A few highlights:
– The EPA’s electronics donation and recycling site is through and helpful.
– Sarch and see if your city or county has an electronics recycling program like the one in New York.
– If you have items that are in decent shape, there are lots of organizations that could use them, like Goodwill or the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which will let you ship 3+ items for free. My family donates a lot to the Vietnam Veterans of America, which will pick items up in many areas (though double check with Covid changes) and can take lots of household goods along with electronics.
– Also check out Tech for Troops, which accepts non-working laptops, older model cell phones, mice, flat panels and more. For a small fee, they’ll also accept scanners, copiers, printers, and cracked monitors.
– If you want to sell your tech, there are also orgs that will then recycle or refurbish old gadgets and pay you for them.
Related: Smart ways to tackle all the cord nests and tangles in your home and office
10. Do a big ol’ social media purge
Wait, you mean the divided state of political discourse in this country didn’t force you to do this already?
Seriously, if you’re going to spend time on social media, make sure you’re following those people and pages you still really want to follow. We’ve found Instagram and Twitter are pretty easy when it comes to unfollowing without people taking much note if that matters to you.
(Note that the Twitter “remove” option above may not be available to all accounts just yet; sometimes platforms roll out features slowly.)
If you don’t like the people who follow you, both services have added a new option to “remove this follower” (above) as an alternative to soft blocking. (Soft blocking means blocking then immediately unblocking.) Just click the three dots next to the person’s name to reveal the dropdown menu with that option.
For Facebook, if you need to stop seeing someone’s updates without completely severing ties, try using the “unfollow posts” option on that person’s profile versus the “unfriend” feature, which keeps your relationship intact while sparing you the indignity of one more request for Candy Crush lives.
Or you know, just “unfriend.” It’s a decidedly terrible word for “disconnect” — maybe thinking about it that way will make it easier to disconnect from people who don’t spark joy.
Bonus tip #11: I suggest getting rid of any 3rd party apps or services that let you track who unfollows you or isn’t following you back. Unless you use your social accounts for business, it does seem like a lot of energy goes into accessing this kind of info. You could better spend that time this year doing, well…nearly anything, besides checking your follower counts each day. The people who matter in your life will stay in touch with you one way or another, right?
Just to let you know the cool charging stations link is wrong and takes you to a cord management page, now to find charging stations 🙂
Thanks Mark, fixing! -Eds
Charging stations are a “must-have” in our multi-phone & tablet household, but I found that a simple letter organizer with all cords going to a multi-usb outlet works great! You can even find ones to hang on the wall if counter surface space is an issue.