By Rachel Hartman, Next Avenue Contributor
A glance at digital trends shows the potential for more stuff stored electronically is not going anywhere soon. The number of internet users is increasing by an average of 1 million per day, per the Global Digital 2019 report by WeAreSocial. Online visitors are using the web to store and share pictures, download attachments and communicate via email and social media. Add to this mix a plethora of apps, desktop shortcuts and computer programs, and you have a growing mountain of digital data.
Phones and other electronics often get clogged and clunky if they run short on storage space. “Having too much stuff downloaded and saved on your computer can cause your computer to slow down,” says Cole Torres, owner of Cole’s Computer Solutions in Athens, Ga. “You also run the risk of losing all of your data if your computer’s hard drive breaks down.”
Sorting through files and creating an organized digital life can do more than clear up the computer or phone memory you need; it can also increase productivity and give you a smoother digital experience. Follow these eight strategies for a clean, streamlined digital year:
1. Check the apps. On average, Android users have 66 apps installed on their devices, according to research from the Kaspersky Security Network. Yet when asked, users responded they only have 15 apps. These findings suggest we tend to have more apps than we are using on a day-to-day basis.
It’s not uncommon to download an app that looks like it will simplify your life, only to let it linger on your mobile phone for months or years to come. These unused programs can take up loads of space and drain your device’s battery. Look through what you have and delete any apps you don’t regularly use.
2. Unsubscribe.“Whether you want to keep up to date with your favorite publications or receive that promised freebie, email subscriptions tend to pile up,” says Damien Mason, a digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy.com. It doesn’t take long to accumulate hundreds (or more) of email messages from retailers and other businesses vying for your attention. Among the e-newsletters and updates could be malicious email.
To clean up your inbox, start removing your address from lists. “Each email should have an unsubscribe button at the bottom of it,” Mason says. If you’d rather not go through every message, use a tool like unroll.me to unsubscribe from lists you don’t love.
3. Set up a photo system. That stash of pictures on your phone could be regularly moved to a file system on a hard drive. You might save pictures on your desktop in folders with labels to note the year, month or event that coincides with the images. Online services like Shutterfly and Snapfish allow you to select which ones you’d like to print in photo books or use in wall hangings, mugs or other memorabilia.
Other photo storage options like Google Photos or iCloud Photos can help you gather, store and organize pictures from all your devices. And if you need or want to turn old prints into digital versions to add to the collection, services such as ScanMyPhotos will digitize your records for you.
4. Manage passwords. If you have a long list of passwords written on paper or use a simple password for all accounts, it may be time to make a change. Password managers like LastPass and Dashlane can help you build strong, unique passwords. These programs then store the login information and even fill in the passwords when you need them.
“One of the best things about password managers is their ability to protect users against scams, refusing to fill in the forms of fake websites imitating the real thing,” Mason says. If you follow a link to a scam, for instance, the password manager is designed to protect your data and not provide information to phony sites.
5. Set phone times. Rather than reaching for your phone immediately after waking, consider catching a glimpse once you’ve organized your day. “By creating the space in your morning routine to let your mind wander and to set your daily intentions, your outlook on each day will change for the better,” says Liana Pavane, a digital wellness expert and founder of TTYL, a tech-free community.
Americans check their phone once every 12 minutes on average, according to research from Asurion. To reduce the number of digital glances, consider putting your mobile phone on airplane mode when you are immersed in an activity. “When I’m in the zone, the last thing I want to do is get distracted by a buzzing, blinking or flashing phone,” Pavane says.
6. Use the cloud. To avoid transferring and shifting files from one device to another, look to the cloud for your storage needs. “A cloud storage service like Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive will allow you to access your photos, files and other data from any computer, even if you get a new one,” Torres says.
In addition to having everything in one place, you’ll protect your files. If your phone breaks or goes missing, you won’t have to worry about losing all your data and pictures. They’ll be safe and sound in your cloud storage account.
7. Block ads. If you tend to see ads jump onto your screen while you look up a fact or search for clothing, rest assured there are ways to reduce the image-overdose and increase safety.
“Greedy websites implement pop-up advertisements that can slow your system down and scammers imbed data-stealing malware that you don’t even need to click on to get infected,” Mason says. To avoid these issues, look for adblockers, which stop ads from appearing on your device. A few to consider: AdBlock, CleanWeb by Surfshark and AdLock.
8. Use bookmarks. Next time you find yourself shopping online, catching up on the news digitally and responding to email, look to see how many tabs you have open. “Your system will inevitably slow as you open more windows,” Mason says. To increase operating speed, use your computer’s bookmarking system. You’ll be able to categorize and group windows together to keep everything organized and easy to access.