Starting the Year Fresh

A few tips and tricks I use to prep for a new year

December 22, 2016

While I’ve dabbled in New Years resolutions occasionally (spoiler alert, they rarely stick), one thing I have made a successful habit of is an annual year-end digital clean up. Over the course of the holidays, I use the many small pockets of time to evaluate my digital tools and “clean house”. It’s a good way of gaining some focus and energy back going into a new calendar year, while simplifying many of the things that I rely on day to day.

So what does this entail? Here are the things I do:

Clean out and update social media

Over the course of the year, I tend to accumulate new people and shudder brands on my social networks. At the end of the year, I go through my following lists on various networks and remove anyone that doesn’t meet the following:

  • Does seeing posts from this account make me happy?
  • Do I learn something from this account’s posts?
  • Do I look forward to seeing posts from this account?
  • Does this account spread the love or over-share their own work?
  • And another criteria I’m adding this year: does following this account broaden my world view or limit it?

Unfollow those annoying Facebook friends

If they don’t meet at least one (and preferably more) of the criteria above, then unfollowing is usually a simple click. (I use similar criteria for bulk emails and unsubscribe from those more regularly throughout the year.)

While I’m doing this scrubbing, I also take a few minutes to look over bios, avatars, and other profile info to make sure it’s up to date and mostly consistent. I also check my notification settings and try to turn off any notifications that aren’t absolutely essential.

Pare down and reorganize apps

I don’t know about you, but I install apps promiscuously. Sometimes I just want to see the designers’ approach, and other times I’m genuinely interested in the app (or the problem it solves). Occasionally I pick up apps I think my son will like (particularly for the iPad) just because they’re in the news or on sale. This quickly leads to clutter on my devices and makes it harder to find the right tools when I need to.

Here are a few of my criteria for deleting apps:

  • Have I used it since I installed it? Nope? Delete.
  • Does it have a unique purpose that no other apps I have solve for? If not, pick the best and delete the rest.
  • If I delete it, will I lose access to important data? If I don’t use it often and I won’t lose data if I delete it, I can always re-download it later.

And when it comes to organizing apps, I try to prioritize the ones I need access to most quickly by placing them in easy to reach places and hide others that I don’t need quick or direct access to. In some cases, I’ll access those through search only.

  • Is this an app I use regularly? It goes on the home screen.
  • Is this an app I want to make a regular habit of using? Place it on the home screen with a probation reminder. (Two weeks from now, remove this app if I haven’t used it.)
  • Is this an app I only use occasionally? Put it on a second (or third) screen.
  • Is it similar to other apps I only use occasionally? Put it in a folder.
  • Do I use it primarily as an extension within other apps? Put it in a folder or on the last screen.
  • Is it an app or game for my son? He has a dedicated screen.
  • Is it an app or website I’ve helped design or build? It goes on a dedicated screen for testing (until I’m no longer working on it).

Check that backups are in place and accurate

Having redundant, automatic backups is one of my favorite ways to reduce technological stress. We have an external hard drive dedicated to Time Machine and we also (normally) have Backblaze set to back up our computer to the cloud. In addition, we both pay a small fee for extra iCloud backup space for photos and music as well as for iTunes Match. When our family iMac died around Mother’s Day this year and I had to take it to the Apple Store, it was a huge weight off my shoulders knowing that nearly all of our files were stored safely in multiple places if we needed them.

Why do I want redundant systems? Because I like extra safety nets. If one of my backups has failed silently, the other *should* still be okay. If a power surge fries my local equipment, my data is safe in the cloud. If my cloud backup provider (god forbid) goes belly up, I still have a local copy.

It really doesn’t take much time to set up a backup plan. You can get large external hard drives for under $100 these days. And for just $5 a month, Backblaze (or a similar system) is a serious stress reducer. Once you have backup systems in place, it really does take a huge invisible weight off your shoulders.

Once you have backup systems in place, you just need to take a few minutes from time to time to make sure they are actually working. Check to make sure they’ve backed up recent files. Try opening a few files from your backup to make sure they aren’t corrupt. Check “last updated” dates and make sure your payment account information is up to date.

Archive old work

If you’re a creative type, chances are good you’ve made a lot of stuff in the last year. For everything you’ve created, take some time to consider the following:

  • Should you add this to your portfolio? If so, do it! The holiday downtime is often some of the best introspective time to revisit old work.
  • Do you still need it or is this project finished? If it’s finished, archive it somewhere out of view. I like to create a folder with the structure `Archives > YYYY` and place old work I don’t need anymore in there. These can then either go on an external hard drive or a CD or DVD disc.
  • For resources (fonts, graphics, etc.), can you redownload them later? If so, delete them until you need them again. (Consider clearing out old, unused fonts from your system, too.) If not, archive them (either with the specific project or in a general Resources folder under the year).
  • For unfinished work you’re still proud of, consider sharing screenshots or snippets (if you can) to social media like Dribbble or elsewhere.

Clean up to-do lists, reminders, and calendars

I tend to accumulate to-dos as things I may someday work on for active projects. In fact, I have whole projects I’d like to do in my task app that I secretly know I’ll never get around to. I also set recurring reminders to help me “automate” some things that need to happen regularly. This time of year, I take some time to groom all of these systems and get rid of anything that’s not going to happen.

For instance, this year I’ve let a couple domains (and thus projects) expire. While I’m a little sad they were never fully realized, I’m also equally excited to remove the “weight” of their undone items from my to-do lists. It’s okay to let *some* ideas pass you by to focus on the ones that truly excite you.

I also like to quickly look through my calendar and reminders to make sure there aren’t any ghosts lurking about that are no longer necessary.

Automate all the things

Another favorite technique for removing stress is automating the heck out of stuff I don’t want to think about. Bills? As much as possible, all of mine are paid automatically.

How can I think about these things at this time of year? I like to revisit automated payments and make sure my payment methods are up to date. I also like to simply think about any new tools or systems that have come out in the last year that can help me automate more stuff. For instance, can I find ways to automate my new smart lights? Maybe. It’s certainly something I’ll think about.

Add reminders for everything else

Unfortunately I can’t automate every mundane thing in my life. (My trash can doesn’t automatically roll itself to the curb every week. Yet.) For things I need to remember regularly, I set up recurring reminders.

I comb through my reminders and make sure they are all still correct and relevant. Are there any new reminders that would help me? It’s also nice to set future reminders for events over the next year a day or two ahead of special events (like movies or other events).