If you've been stressing out over the perpetual need to reorganize all your digital photos, or because you have been using the same password for all your online accounts and know it's a bad idea (it is), why not set aside some time New Year's Day to get your ducks in a row?
New Year's Resolutions have traditionally been about breaking bad habits or starting new, positive habits, but I believe New Year's Day is an ideal time to tackle organizational projects. In some cultures, New Year's Day is the time to do a full "spring cleaning," purge the junk, yank the couch away from the wall to vacuum, wipe down the baseboards. You might not break as much of a sweat cleaning up your digital life, but it can be equally rewarding.
Here are ten popular digital clean-up projects you might want to tackle on New Year's Day and some tips for getting them done.
1. Reach Inbox Zero
If you've dreamed of doing an all-day email clean-up sprint, January 1 could be your lucky day.
Depending on how many hundreds or thousands of emails you need to process, I recommend a few different tactics.
One is to do a "sweep." It's the easiest and most efficient way to process the clutter in bulk and find a happy starting place for actually dealing with your mail. Follow my directions for how to sweep your inbox here. (And if "zero inbox" sounds like an unattainable number, shoot for just a single page of messages. It's a more sane goal.)
Another option that I recommend for anyone who receives a lot of unsolicited mail they simply don't need to see is to use SaneBox, which costs about $6 per month. When you run the 14-day free trial of SaneBox (no credit card requiredwoo hoo!), you'll see how quickly it parses the non-essential email out of your inbox to help you focus on what's important. SaneBox is not a good solution for people who expect to receive a lot of unsolicited mail from, say, potential new clients or job applicants.
2. Unsubscribe From Email Lists
If you've tamed your email inbox, you'll want to keep it that way.
Hit that "unsubscribe" button, set up filters for newsletter and marketing emails, and learn how to back out of email threads from co-workers (it's the "ignore" button in Outlook, and be sure to read up on what it does and learn to use it wisely).
However you cut down on unwanted email, remember that the work you do now will last well into the future.
If you set up your own rules for filtering messages, you'll maintain complete control, but it could also take a long time to do, unless you use an email service with very helpful built-in tools for filtering Outlook.com and Hotmail have remarkably helpful features.
If you'd rather get some help, RemoveMe for webmail works by putting an "unsubscribe" button right into the preview view of your messages, so you don't have to open them to get off the mailing list.
A more automated option for cutting back on subscription mail is to use Unroll.me, a service that helps you either unsubscribe from or consolidate marketing mail into one digest.
3. Consolidate Digital Photos
Perhaps you're dreaming of doing a total photo organization makeover. You'll want to consolidate your photos to one service (e.g., download all your Facebook photos or Instagram images and add them to, say, Flickr or Dropbox or an external hard drive) as well as add appropriate tags and captions to make your pictures easier to find and share later.
More importantly, be sure to put in a place a new workflow for the future. Set rules for how you'll add photos to the central location in a timely fashion every time you shoot new pictures, and do some editing (cropping, deleting bad shots, adding tags and captions) during the same uploading process.
4. Keep Track of Your Work at Work
Most people want to be more productive and better at their jobs than they currently are. I stay productive and in control of my work by logging what I have done and what I will do. I use very simple spreadsheets to keep track, although there are many great tools for both solo and collaborative work, Asana being just one.
When you log your tasks, both pending and completed, it gives you a clear picture of what you have to do as well as what you have done, which comes in handy when you need to justify something at work, such as a request for additional resources or a promotion.
5. Update Your Passwords
In my time writing for PCMag.com, the number one piece of advice about technology I have for everyone is "Get a password manager!" They will make your life easier and help keep your identity safe. Plus, many of the best password managers are free.
Once you have a password manager, you can update all your passwords and make them unique and hard for anyone to crack. I recently cleaned up almost 200 passwords in five 30-minute sessions. Let me tell you, the peace of mind I got out from it made it well worth the effort.
6. Clean Up Your Computer's System
If you don't know how to clean up your computer, don't worry. You don't have to. All you have to do is install a small piece of software (and some perfectly good ones are free) and let it do the job of tidying up your system for you. The best tuneup utilities will automatically, and sometimes within a matter of minutes, make your machine and its programs run faster again.
Take 10 minutes New Year's Day to pick a tuneup utility, and you'll thank yourself all year long.
7. Update Your Profile Picture
I have a theory that using one profile picture consistently across social media sites and other online accounts can help to strengthen your personal brand. Sure, not everyone cares about this kind of stuff, but small business owners, media and entertainment professionals, and anyone interested in pushing their professional life along could benefit from it.
I like to update my online profile photo about once a year (I just did it, too). The beginning or end of the year makes for clear and memorable timing for doing this task.
8. Rearrange Smartphone Apps or Windows 8 Tiles
This digital cleanup job is so simple you can do it in bed while you're hung over New Year's Day: reorganize your smartphone or Windows 8 apps.
Most people know what they want out of their app organization, but don't get so caught up in grouping apps appropriately that you forget easy tricks, like prioritizing "hotspots" (those areas where your fingers hover most easily) over consecutive order.
9. Digitize Old Taxes and Paperwork
Going paperless and scanning all your paperwork could be a multi-day task, but you can make it more achievable by focusing on just one type of paperwork, such as old tax returns or invoices.
If you still have paper tax returns, take 45 minutes to an hour to sort and scan to PDFs the last few years' worth, in reverse-chronological order. Should you ever need to refer to them, you'll likely need the most recent ones, rather than the older ones.
10. Commit to a Calendar or To-Do App
A great blank-slate project for New Year's Day is to adopt one calendar or task-management app that you'll commit to using. If you have trouble keeping tabs on the promises you've made, you are an ideal candidate. Pick one calendar or to-do app, and stick with it. The New Year marks a perfect time to start off fresh with a new app, so don't worry about migrating all your old appointments and tasks to the new service. Just commit to the new one fully.
I like Google Calendar because it syncs easily with just about every other calendar client. And for task-management, I personally use Awesome Note, but there are many wonderful to-do apps with different strengths and weaknesses.