Spring into action and tidy up your digital life like a pro
Spring is in the air and as the leaves start growing again, why not breathe some new life into the devices you depend on so badly?
It’s spring time in the northern hemisphere, and chances are good that you have a whole new spring in your step (excuse the pun!) thanks to the weather becoming warmer and the days getting longer and lighter. But this time of year invites us not just to venture outdoors; it’s also the right time to tidy up our homes – and our digital lives!
Indeed, with digitalization firmly entrenched in almost all aspects of our lives, the annual rite of spring cleaning shouldn’t be confined to our physical homes. Rather, it’s the perfect opportunity to declutter and breathe new life into all the gadgets we depend on.
Are you running out of hard disk space? Does the entire machine take longer and longer to boot up? Is your email inbox overflowing? Bigger hard disks and more memory, new motherboards and CPUs can definitely help, but they don’t come for free; in addition, there are easy ways to eke a little more performance out of your device.
So, where do you start? What exactly is there to tidy up? Depending on how (dis)organized your digital life is, there might be quite a lot to do. Fear not, however: any task can be made more manageable if broken down into smaller steps – which is exactly where our three-part series about digital spring cleaning comes in.
Let’s hit the ground running and begin by cleansing your PC, laptop, smartphone and tablet. Once you’re done, make sure to also audit your home network and backups, as well as follow these tips for decluttering your social media and other online accounts and improving your account security in the process.
Check installed software
Go through all installed software and ask yourself when you last used this or that app and whether you still need it. Unused software, such as some pre-installed Windows Store apps, take up useless storage space and should be deleted. To do that, just go to Start, then Settings and Apps (or simply search for Apps in the taskbar) and then remove all software you don’t really need.
Much the same advice applies to “cleaning up your mobile act”. When it comes to your phone, things may take on even greater urgency – we’re glued to our phones these days, aren’t we?
So, uninstall all apps you don’t need and consider disabling the apps you use only occasionally. Also, stop apps from running in the background by putting them to “deep sleep”. For more thorough guidance and detailed pointers for Android and iOS devices, head over to our recent article that explains why your phone may be slow and how to speed it up.
Review startup programs
There is likely a lot of software that launches automatically whenever you turn on your laptop. But do programs like Spotify, Skype or iTunes need to run every time your system has booted up? Chances are, they don’t, so make sure to prevent them from running in the background and impacting the startup process and your system’s general performance.
Modern operating systems let you easily view and edit the applications that are automatically loaded with the system startup. To view a list of these programs on Windows, for example, right-click on an empty part of the taskbar and click on Task Manager and then on Startup. Or simply press the Windows button and search for Startup Apps.
Clean out emails
If you use an email program such as Microsoft Outlook or Thunderbird, either entire mails or their attachments are also stored locally on the device. Some providers of free email services also offer only limited quotas of storage space online.
To perform a spring clean in your inbox, consider having your emails listed in reverse order by time, i.e. the oldest ones first, and decide whether you still need to keep a payment receipt from 2010 or an invitation to a garden party from 2011. With Outlook’s Mailbox Cleanup tool, for example, the task of keeping your inbox tidy will be a breeze. Maybe run a search for emails with attributes such as bulky attachments?
Outlook cleanup options
Purge the Download folder
Do you have one or more folders where you store all download files from the web? Then open these folders and see if you still need software installation files or tickets for events that happened a while ago. If not, delete the files and make sure to also empty your computer’s recycle bin. This will likely free up gigabytes of hard drive space with next-to-zero effort.
Get rid of pictures & videos?
It’s safe to say that you likely have tons of pictures and videos stored in your laptop, phone or tablet. In some cases, this also includes old photos from mobile devices. Maybe not every photo or video needs to be stored forever, though? Consider deleting the photos you never even intended to take and low-quality snapshots or alternatively move them to an external hard drive, a network storage device (NAS) or cloud storage service, or even a USB stick in some cases.
After you’ve brought the number of installed apps to a reasonable number and they don’t all run on startup, take a look if you’re using the latest versions of all that software. Software updates exist for a reason, and especially the importance of those that have to do with your operating system’s security cannot be overstated.
Outdated software may contain security holes that are abused by cybercriminals, which is where security updates come in – they’re intended to patch these holes and prevent crooks from exploiting them.
As a result, make sure to keep your operating system and all applications fresh by not holding off too much on installing available updates. In fact, to make matters easier, most devices today have automatic updates turned on by default.
There you have it. This should be enough to get you started. Tomorrow, we’ll look at how to declutter your network and network-attached devices and ensure you have a solid data backup routine in place.