We consistently do a spring-cleaning house purge, but it has been years since I did a concerted digital cleanup. I was inspired to do this as part of the rebooting and resetting of all channels for creative output. As I’ve mentioned before, I do creative processing on paper with a pen, but sharing and publishing, as it goes these days, happens online.
One of my criteria for this project was that it not take too long. Thus it’s important to begin with a rule-set to facilitate decision making:
- Creative output is best with focus. Accounts that are lightly used need to be shut down, managed as though they are a snapshot, or cleaned-up to be minimal footprint.
- Stub accounts and websites are a drain on energy, just like too much stuff in reality is a drain on energy. Clarify goals and projects.
- Deal with personal and business accounts separately.
Part One: Passwords (1-2 hours)
After another large breach announced at yahoo, it seemed high time to redo all my passwords. Like most people, I used special passwords for high-value sites (banking) and the same password for most other sites that I considered low-risk. Obviously, I’m not a security expert. My goal was to update all my low-risk passwords to an algorithmic password that I could calculate easily, and still would be different for every site. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for years, literally, but just never did.
I know a lot of people use clever password storing tools, but not understanding how they work makes me uncomfortable. I prefer to keep things in my head, as old-fashioned as that is.
I divided my password types into 4 quadrants, and dealt with each differently:
Each quadrant got a different algorithm or plan. The algorithm aspect simply aims to use a unique password for every site, that is long, has no recognizable English words in it, and still has semantic meaning so that I can remember it. Sounds good right?
Generally, the approach here is for someone who is not a high-hacking-target. I mean, nothing I do is of interest to intelligence agencies or foreign entities. This is just normal level security to improve current passwords and security. No airgaps here.
Steps for Password Cleanup:
- Read up on passwords and phrases. And here. The basic idea is that the longer a password/phrase is, the stronger. However, many sites have a character limit on length. So passphrases are level one, infrastructural, and applied onto your infrastructure- specifically to “dumb” devices that might be vulnerable to brute force attack.
- Thus, use long passphrases (25-40 chars ) with computer logins, routers, and wifi devices.
- Level two is daily password use for all your medium level security stuff: facebook, gmail, amazon, etc. These are shorter algorithmic passwords. When possible, add that two-step security protocol where the site texts your phone a code.
- Create an algorithmic password that changes based on the site, but that you can remember and calculate easily. It needs to have the typical stuff like: caps + lowercase, special chars, numbers because most sites require those now. Design your own algorithm.
- Update all your passwords at once to be efficient. Nobody wants to have to slowly update passwords every time you log in over the next several months.
It took me about an hour and a half yesterday to change 25 passwords- which felt like a long time. Then Daniel and I spent another half hour updating shared passwords. This is not a minor project, so think carefully about tactics before starting.
Part Two: Social Media Accounts (15 minutes)
My first thought was “delete them all hahaha!” but I decided against that as it leaves open the possibility of someone taking a username you had formerly used and impersonating you. So I went with “hold em but cleanup.” My objective here was simply to decrease psychological and creative drain caused by spreading focus too thin. Once again, take different approaches for business and personal accounts.
On a personal level, I want to focus this next year on two things: writing (blogging) and making videos (youtube.) I’m particularly interested in video, even though I know basically nothing about it and am mostly thrilled and mystified by the prospect of learning a new medium. That said, it means that I need to setup and follow strict rules about how much time I engage with other social media.
I find most social media (facebook, twitter) to be a bunch of people complaining, so I don’t really feel like I’m missing anything by staying out of it on a personal level. On a brand level (Brook There) we used social media in a typical newsy-images way. It’s fine, but, as I mentioned in my wrapup from last year it is a part of the business I don’t have much excitement for and really needs to be outsourced or reconsidered. Like most businesses, the bulk of our sales are still driven by email, and so social media feels like a nice-to, not a have-to.
Steps for Social Media Cleanup:
- Review all active accounts
- Delete or make private all stub accounts
- Decide clearly the one or two that you will engage with
- And set parameters for that engagement
Part Three: Websites (15 minutes)
Perhaps like most readers, I go through a domain-buying binge every few months. Generally, if they don’t get used, I purge them (i.e. stop renewing them) within two years. I was just logging into Godaddy to do that yesterday, but Daniel insisted we hold on to the domains. So I only deleted a couple.
Generally, stub websites are sad. Sites that someone once put some effort into, but haven’t been maintained, and are just like a snapshot of 2010 or 2008 or whenever- a wee bit depressing. Sites need to be updated every few months, or go away for ever.
Steps for website cleanup:
- Identify and set on do-no-renew all domains you have that haven’t been turned into a project in the past year
- Close down little used or stub websites
- If you really care, just redirect the domain to your primary site
Part Four: The Computer (15 Minutes)
Assuming that you are a normal and your files are not super top secret or something that would be really embarrassing if leaked, it’s just way, way easier to keep everything in a syncing file backup system. Daniel and I are both logged into one account of dropbox, which allows us to quickly share files. Granted, this might not work for you if your business partner is other than your spouse, but there are plenty of solutions out there.
When I set about to clean up my laptop I realized that almost all my files were already semantically organized in dropbox. There is one folder that isn’t set to automatically sync (my “Sites” folder) and so that needed to be copied, compressed, and stuck into a dropbox folder called “website backups.” Then it was delete the desktop and trash and be done.
An aside: Daniel and I have remarkably different ways of dealing with files: for years, his approach was to put everything on the desktop, and then when it got to crowded, he’d shove it all into a folder, label it something like “Desktop 12-16-16” and put that on a backup drive.
Granted, search on computers has gotten much faster and better than it was, and so Daniel just searches whenever he wants something. It kind of drives me crazy, but to each his own.
- Have a backup system that happens automatically
- Keep all your files in it
As far as productivity tools, the only tool I use is Evernote, and again, Daniel and I share an account. It’s an easy way to quickly pass back and forth notes and see each other’s thought processes as ideas develop.
Part Five: The Phone (15 minutes)
Phone rules are important. Earlier this year I instituted a few rules that dramatically improved my state of mind:
- Put email on the last page of the phone so you can’t just click it easily and all the time
- Read email no more than once per day
- No facebook on the phone (twitter needs to go too.)
I fell off the wagon this past week and started checking email compulsively for a couple of days and my anxiety level sky rocketed almost immediately.
I also recently added a scheduled Do Not Disturb 🌙 because I have been receiving more calls from marketers at totally inappropriate times of the day (like 10pm!) I just added all the real people in my recent call list to the favorites, and allowed calls from favorites anytime.
One of my favorite “apps” is simply a phone-desktop link to a weather camera in Plymouth NH, near a favorite climbing spot called Rumney. At least once per day, I’ll click that link, select “6 hour animated gif” and watch the sun rise while wishing we were climbing.
I use two productivity apps right now:
Way of Life (free version)
Atracker is easy to use and gives me perspective on how I’m really spending my days. Plus, it’s cool to whip out at dinner with friends and say, “want to see how much I worked last month?”
I use Way of Life to track daily yes/no health and productivity goals. Right now they are: pomodoro pullups, climb 3x week, and take video clips daily.
Steps for Phone Cleanup:
- Assess storage. If low, backup and delete.
- Remove apps you don’t use. You can always add them back.
- Create phone-use rules. And follow them.
Part Six: Email (15 minutes)
I have way too many email accounts. There are 9 accounts on my phone, and I actively use 4 of them daily: 2 for different businesses, 1 yahoo primary personal, 1 gmail for calendar and google accounts stuff. Could I combine them all? Not really.
I don’t use email clients, however, so it’s all just browser based on my laptop. Now that search works well and storage limits are a thing of the past, there’s not really much to talk about here. I think usage rules are the most important thing about dealing well with email.
Steps for Email:
- Decide how you are going to use email. (1x day, 2x per day, constantly because you prefer it to everything else and it doesn’t stress you out?)
- Follow that plan.
Ok, that’s what I’ve got. I thought about adding a Part Seven: Banking and Credit Cards– but it’s really a topic unto itself and frankly, one that I did not have time to deal with. Any other suggestions or additions out there?