A few weeks ago, I started drastically paring back all the tools, feeds, news sites, and networks that I use. And the ones that I do use everyday – I started figuring out how to simplify, automate, and gain more control.
It started with reducing the number of task “gathering places” (Getting Things Done parlance) and snowballed into affecting pretty much my entire digital life, and has now become a full-fledged start-2013-off-right kind of deal (and apparently I’m not the only one).
Here’s a few lessons I’ve learned that you can apply to make your digital life a bit better…
The Default Settings Can Be Changed
No, seriously. Software gives the impression that everything is a certain way for a reason. It’s not. It’s probably just how the developer left it. Trust me – on my websites, there are plenty of things set a certain way only because the developer just picked a setting.
And guess what? That setting is not right for you. Go and change it.
For 6 years, I had left my Gmail at default mode. That doesn’t seem like a big deal – except that now I realize that I’ve gone 6 years with annoying chat green lights going off from people I don’t want to chat with.
Sure – it’s kinda cool to randomly chat with my family every once in while, but that only happens once every 2 months. I usually set up a time to hangout with them, while I let those chat buttons distract me for 2 hours per day.
I just went to Settings (the gear in top right) –> Clicked Chat tab –> Chat off –> Save Changes. Same with the random labels. Same with everything else in the sidebar.
Oh, did I mention that I also started using the Archive feature? Yep. I had the bad habit of leaving all 12,594 of my emails in my Inbox.
Never noticed until they were archived into All Mail. Wonderful feeling.
So – do you have an annoying beeping on your iPhone? Do you get Facebook alerts? Do you have ANY annoying nuisances going on?
Ok, stop reading. Open that program. Go to Settings. Change it.
Eliminate, Consolidate, Optimize
I managed way too many of my own websites in 2012. I had way too many social network accounts. I had way too many feeds in my Google Reader. I had way too much email. I had way too much junk on my servers. The result was that everything was unfocused, slow, overloaded, or mediocre.
So I started with my websites. If they did not have a specific purpose, weren’t making money, or didn’t feel fun – I migrated content to the 2 websites that I will actively maintain (this one and my business website – which is getting a ton of awesome content for readers and SEO as a benefit). And then shut it down, put a 301 on the domain, and got it off my attention, so that I can focus on making my 2 main sites really, really amazing.
Then, I moved to social networks. Twitter? I don’t tweet a lot. I haven’t integrated it into my routine. So why do I need 3 accounts? I don’t. Shut it down. Facebook? Useful – but doesn’t deserve a spot on the Chrom Bookmarks Bar. LinkedIn? Same. Instagram? Ditto (and being shut down after the TOS debacle).
So I consolidated all that into a cool tool – Hootsuite.
I installed JetPack onto my WordPress blogs to keep up with them from one place.
In Google Reader – if I had not read the feed in the past 2 weeks, I was gone.
If I was not excited to open an email…I scrolled down to the bottom and clicked ‘unsubscribe.’
I moved all my offline to do lists onto Google Calendar – 1 big to do list.
It’s easier to optimize something when you only have 1 big moving part rather than a several.
Get Ownership and Control of Your Stuff
I had been a huge fan of FeedBurner (it helps distribute blog posts and such) – and had supported efforts to keep FeedBurner alive, until I realized what FeedBurner had been doing with my links.
Guillermo Garron pointed out that FeedBurner changes your link structure if click-tracking is on.
Wow – that was technical and really boring. A better example would be when Instagram announced that they could sell your photographs without permission to ad companies. They later retracted – but both experiences point to the fact that you need to be aware of what Internet service you are dependent on – and if they are the best choice.
For me, it meant not posting photos to Facebook anymore (I use Google+, Flickr, and this blog), pre-emptively killing off FeedBurner, making use of Google’s Data Liberation Front to back up my Google data, and Mozilla Thunderbird to download all my Gmail to my PC for backup purposes.
I’ve looked into using Pinboard for bookmarking instead of Chrome Bookmarks, but haven’t made the switch yet.
Look around at the services you use, and at least make a backup of your data – or switch to a better, more open service.
Some Things Are Worth Paying For
So much of the Internet is free that I really devalue (and miss out on) a lot of really useful software.
Because keep in mind that nothing is ever free. If it’s free, then it probably uses a lot of your time (I’m looking at you Ubuntu Linux), or you are the product being sold to advertisers.
Sometimes there is something out there that is free and amazing (I’m looking at you, WordPress), and sometimes the ads aren’t intrusive and the product totally worth it (Google knows my soul, and it’s fine). But more often than you’d think – it’s probably worth it to break down and pay for a product that you use.
For me – I pay Google $2.49/mo for extra Google Drive space. I pay for a bunch of services for my SEO+PPC consulting and web design business. I pay for premium LastPass because I’d lose my brain without it. I pay for curated business education, and hope to pay for a bunch more stuff (Buffer – I’m coming as soon as the Google+ API launches).
If you use it a lot – it’s probably worth paying for.
Fix Stuff That Your Use The Most
I can make a pretty good prediction that 80% of waste comes from just 20% of activity. So that’s where I started in on.
But less obvious at first was fixing my keyboard and cleaning my monitor. And on and on.