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New Year, Better Technology Habits

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

Now that we are officially into 2021, it is time to start thinking about all the ways that we can approach everything with a “new year, new me” attitude.

2020 was tough for all of us, but there are good habits you can implement to make 2021 and your life a little easier, more productive, and organized. In particular, I am talking about getting your technology in order, which is the best kind of exercise you can participate in that does not involve the yoga mat you have hidden away in your closet.

1. Organize Your Files

Raise your hand if your computer is filled with everything you have downloaded in the past year. You cannot see me, but I am emphatically raising both of my hands. I had so many files sitting in my Downloads folder that my Recycling Bin warned me (see also: yelled at me) about the number of files I had deleted in one fell swoop. In recent years, a lot of emphasis has been put on the concept of “Inbox Zero,” but I would like to introduce a similar concept for your Downloads folder. Treat your Downloads folder like a to-do list and files that live there should either be filed away in another folder, deleted, or left in the Downloads folder as a reminder until the appropriate action can be taken on it.

In regard to your other folders, this might sound like a no-brainer, but make sure the right things are in the right folders. I will be the first to admit that I am guilty of having Documents in my Pictures folder and vice versa, and I recently just took the time to set up subfolders in each of these respective file destinations. It is also important to make sure you are giving your files intuitive names. Naming a picture “Photo_1” might have made sense in the moment, but that may not help you at a quick glance 6 months from now.

I have also adopted a similar approach with my phone because it is important that your tools work for you--you do not work for your tools. The apps I use more regularly are easily accessible; otherwise, they are filed away in appropriately named folders (for example, Games, Finance, Social, Work, and Food for things like GrubHub and DoorDash). I also make sure to regularly clear out any photos, voicemails, or texts I do not need (since most of them are just letting me know that yet another DoorDash driver is approaching with my order).

2. Clean Your Devices

Now more than ever, I think people are significantly aware of their personal hygiene, especially now that hand sanitizer has become part of our daily routines. But are we overlooking the hygiene of our devices?

I spend most of my day at my computer and when I am not at my computer, I am on my phone. One, if not both, of these devices goes almost everywhere with me, and that means they are interacting with the same germs I am. Yet I rarely give them the same consideration that I gave my own hands or face.

This does not mean you should slather your phone in hand sanitizer, but there are things you can do. For those of you who are particularly germophobic, you can find a number of UV Sanitizers available for your phone, like the PhoneSoap. If you are for something a little more convenient, I recommend electronics wipes. Do not forget to take your phone case off your phone when cleaning it as dust and debris often get trapped in there, even if your phone screen looks spotless.

3. Keep Up to Date

Good housekeeping, not to be confused with the popular women’s magazine, is an important part of keeping your devices functional. As a Windows user, I understand that my computer often asks to restart at the worst times of day, but that means making a conscious effort to remind myself to update my computer when it is convenient instead of ignoring it. Your computer is not going to forget that it needs to be updated, so make time for it that works for you, whether that be your lunch break, after work, or overnight.

4. Safety First

In late 2019, I wrote a blog post about using password security and two-factor authentication to combat fraud, and I still think it is good to get into the habit of updating your passwords each year, if not multiple times a year. I could talk at length about all the ways that people’s passwords can be better, but these are my big two:

  • Minimize reusing passwords: For those of you who just heard a screeching brake noise in your head, I do not blame you. Realistically, I cannot ask people not to reuse passwords, but I can urge you to be mindful about them. For example, none of my email accounts have the same password. Similarly, none of my financial institutions use the same password as one another. None of my important accounts that might be linked back to one another share a password – it gives me the peace of mind that if Gmail gets compromised tomorrow, someone cannot turn around and drain my bank account. At most, they might be able to get into my Facebook and the joke is on them, because I have enough friends to make me look like a Catfish, and I make far too many Tiny Dancer jokes.

  • Bonus points for creativity: I would like to think it is common sense to suggest that using “password” as a password is in a Bad Idea. If this were a round table and not me shouting into the void, I would ask for some other suggestions, but you get the idea. Your name is not a good password, your birthday is not a good password (admittedly, I am a little bitter about this as someone whose birthday is 6789), and the list goes on. For years, I used Positivity29! as a password, and nothing bad ever happened. My suggestion is to pick an 8-12 letter word you will remember, that is not too difficult to spell in a pinch. Pterodactyl might seem like a great idea unless you (like myself) need spell check to save the day. After that, apply numbers and symbols, as necessary. I traditionally prefer an exclamation point or an octothorpe, but I encourage you to find something that works best for you (full disclosure: I might have wanted to flaunt a little nerd cred with octothorpe, but can you blame me? It is an awesome word and probably the perfect password).

On the topic of keeping your computer up to date, make sure that your virus protections and other security programs are also current. At bare minimum, I think any user who is regularly accessing the Internet needs to have an antivirus software. There are plenty of free versions available that work just as well as the paid versions. I have been an Avast user for over 10 years and have not experienced a single virus-related computer incident in the last decade.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things you can do, and I would love if people shared any tips I might have missed in the comments section. I also recognize that people may not have time, interest, or need to regularly do some of these things and that is totally acceptable, and I understand as someone who is still guilty of letting some of these things slide longer than strictly necessary. As with all resolutions, the key is steps toward long-term improvement. If you can commit to doing one of these habits regularly, or doing a combination of them every few months, I can guarantee you will be happier as a result.

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