removing the digital clutter

[dan] I’m not generally a fan of top 10 lists – I find that they overwhelm with too much to digest in a single sitting, but don’t encourage re-reading later. I’ll make an exception here – lifehacker’s Top 10 Ways to Declutter Your Digital Life, 2010 Edition is a gem, packed with useful ideas.

You may not even realise that you’re surrounding yourself with digital clutter, but have a read through the list, and you’ll realise that you are.

half a century of the photocopier

[ swiss miss ] A big part of learning how to work with a Greek New Testament is talking about scribal errors that are made when taking one document, and painstakingly making a duplicate copy of it. In the early days, it would be manually copying one document at a time, and later (it seems), someone would sit in a room reading the document aloud while a group of people each made a copy!

Copying technology dates back millenia, but did you realise just how old the technology behind the laser printer is? The office copier turns 50. (Note: a laser printer is just a smarter version of a photocopier – learning this was one of the first assignments I had at uni).

5 Types of Emails You Should be Automatically Filtering

Perhaps you’ve been signing up for a lot of different mailing lists. Maybe your friends are forwarding you things you don’t want to read straight away (if at all).

Why not set up your email program so that these messages are automatically sent to an email folder that you check less frequently? There’s no reason to interrupt your day to read messages that have little or no immediate benefit – why not spend a larger block of time less frequently, when you’re looking for a distraction or some mental down-time?

Here’s a useful list of 5 Types of Emails You Should be Automatically Filtering.

naming multiple versions of files

If you’ve ever worked on a large document, or worked on a document for a long time, you will have encountered the challenge of keeping a number of copies of the same file on a computer (or multiple computers).

There are a number of ways to do this, but haphazardly saving files to a number of different places (the desktop, the USB thumb drive, the default folder that’s opened up in your application) is a recipe for frustration.

There are programs that are actually devoted to version control of documents, like Subversion, but if you’ve never heard of them, you’re not likely to be able to adapt to them overnight. If you want a program that will keep track of every change you make to a document, or a whole folder structure, “version control” software is the way to go.

For novice users, though, simply having a good file naming convention will save you some of the hassles involved in managing multiple documents.

First, never call a document “final” unless you’re never going to edit it again (a signed contract, a talk that you’ve already given): you’re just asking for trouble, and end up working with “final.doc”, “final2.doc” and the like. Once this happens, the term “final” becomes more of a distraction than a help.

Next, choose one method of naming, and stick to it. This could be a version number at the end of the file (“1.doc”,”2.doc”, “7.doc”) – if you’re going to do this, make sure you use at least two digits for this suffix. Otherwise, when you go to sort them alphabetically, versions 1, 10, and 11 will be before versions 2, 3, 4 etc.

So: “01.doc”, “02.doc”, “03.doc” as suffixes is one option.

Another option is to use the date, in the form YYYY-MM-DD – “2010-01-18” (again, this will sort correctly when you view the files in alphabetical order). If you make multiple versions of a file, just add a letter of the alphabet after the day of the month.

It might be tempting to create a folder structure that has all the document information in it “Cafe Review Project” and then have a standard filename that you use for all your files – “draft01.doc”, “draft02.doc” and this can save you some time and effort. The downside is when you go to search your computer for a file, or when you are sending a file to someone else.

If you have given your file a descriptive name, you can tell what’s in the file without having to open it first.

So there are a few short ideas on how to name your files – was that useful?

thinking about backups

When a friend on twitter this week lost 3 hours’ work to a USB thumb-drive failure, I was encouraged to write a quick post about backups. If we’re honest, we don’t tend to think about backups until it’s too late.

To further labour the earlier analogy about touch-typing as driving a car, if using technology is like driving, then having backups is wearing a seatbelt. It can restrict your movements, and you need to keep remembering it each time, but when a crash comes, it can save you.

There are a few different things to remember when thinking about backups, and if you’re curious, I’m happy to go into some more detail in a future post, but here are the main things.

  • If the computer I’m working on crashes *right now*, how much work will I lose?
  • If the computer I have my work saved on crashes (or is stolen), how much work will I lose?
  • If I lose my USB key (or it’s stolen, or it stops working), do I have another copy of my work somewhere else?
  • If my laptop bag is stolen, is my other backup copy of the file also stored in my laptop bag?
  • If I accidentally delete a file, is there a copy of my work somewhere else?
  • If I accidentally save a document and replace a more important one, can I get a copy of the more important one back?
  • If I’m hoping to get my document back from [some kind of backup system], will I be able to?

With large web-based email accounts being available for free, it makes sense to be emailing yourself copies of important documents so that you have a backup copy in “the cloud” – but again, don’t make that your only copy. What happens if your account is hacked, or you forget your password?

The key to backups is to have a lot of copies of documents in different places. It’s time consuming, but it is much better than re-doing a lot of work!

Do you have any backup advice or horror stories you’d like to share?

Better email signatures

I don’t think I’m the only one who has printed out an email and ended up printing an extra page with one or two lines on it: perhaps to add to the irony, it’s a line about saving the environment.

These kind of automatically-added footers – the ones with a hard-to-read disclaimer – are usually controlled by your email host or IT department. You won’t usually have control over these footers, but you can control the wording of another segment of text that is automatically included in every email you send.

This text is called your email *signature* and can be configured in different ways depending on the program (or website) you use to check your email.

What should go in the signature? You might think it’s just the “best regards” and your name. Some people used to add a funny or inspiring quote too, and if you want to add a part of your personality to your email, this might be a good idea.

An even better idea is to include all of the contact details you’re prepared to share with people that you’re emailing. Have you ever been reading an email from someone, and needed to pick up the phone, or talk to them in some other way? If they have an email signature that contains their phone number, this saves you a trip to the address book.

Likewise if you have to mail someone something – are you forcing people who read your email to go through extra steps to contact you?

Perhaps you’ve sent someone an invoice: if they need to contact you about it, why not make it as easy as possible?

Coming back to our original example, you shouldn’t have an email signature that is 20 lines long, but at least, you should include:

– your full name
– any relevant phone numbers, with international dialing codes
– some kind of physical address
– your email address
– any relevant web address

Why include your email address? When someone forwards an email, it’s common for an email address to be replaced with a name. This means that someone who has an email of yours is unable to email you back!

Do you have any ideas for things that you found helpful in an email signature? Share them in the comments!