It's the end of the year, which means you might be starting to make New Year's resolutions—you know, that collection of promises you promptly disregard around January 16th.
The reason that dream to-do list may be hard to tackle is because it typically features really hard goals like losing weight, re-siding the house, and setting up a retirement fund. Maybe aiming for some simple tech tweaks is a bit more doable.
After all, CNN recently reported that the average American spends half the day in front of screens. So since you're already there, some of this list should be slightly easier to achieve, right? At the very least, these items should definitely make that screentime more productive and enjoyable. Take a peek at our 10 resolutions that can deliver a happy and healthy high-tech 2017.
1. Clean Out the Clutter
As much as technology makes our lives easier, it also comes with a lot of stuff. Start the year with a clean slate. Toss old manuals, warranty cards, and mysterious and unused cords and connectors. (If you've had that cable this long and you haven't figured out what it does, trust me: You can safely throw it away.)
Also, clean out the folders on your computer and email accounts. If you can get that far, maybe create a system to keep new clutter to a minimum.
For instance, whenever new gadgets come into the house, make sure to label connectors and cables. If you're like me, you're always hanging onto mystery cables because you're not exactly sure where they go and you're too afraid to toss them. This will cut out any confusion.
Next, decide whether or not you need to keep boxes and manuals. If you're not sure if that new printer will stick around, hang onto the packaging for bit, but put a time limit on it. After that, there's no reason to hang onto the original box. And most manuals are online these days anyway.
Finally, set aside some time once a month to clean out email—or once a week, if it starts piling up. Also, consider setting aside a specific time to unsubscribe to newsletters and lists. Whether it's spam, messages from loved ones, or bake sale sign-ups, there's absolutely no reason you should have 3,000 unread emails by spring.
2. Clean Your Gadgets
We know you were rolling your eyes over the clutter thing, so get ready for a big sigh. We want you to clean your gadgets—all of them. Dirt, dust, fingerprints, and (eww) even feces get on everything, from phones and game controllers to DVD players and remotes. It's not only incredibly gross, but some of that debris can affect the performance of your electronics.
Dust keyboards, de-funk phone screens, wipe down your headphones, and even vacuum behind your AV cabinet. Just make sure you clean those gadgets properly. Putting Windex or other chemicals on screens and electronic components can permanently damage them. Check with the manufacturer's product page for information on the best ways to clean each item.
3. Smarten Up Your Home
Technology isn't just cool, but it can make your life a lot easier. We're not just talking about being able to DVR shows and binge-watch whenever you want—although that is quite awesome.
Consider making your home a smart home. There are tons of gadgets out now that can add convenience into everyday tasks. Many are also affordable, easy to use, and may even save you the money you were hoping to hoard for the New Year.
For example, replacing light bulbs with smart bulbs will add a touch of technology to your lighting setup, all without breaking the bank. It will ensure that you never enter a dark house or leave lights on when you don't want them on. Or ghet an Amazon Dot or Google Home to let you control devices with your voice. There are several options to smarten up your audio, video, climate control, security, and more. (Check out Home Automation on a Budget: A Smart Home for Under $100 for additional, affordable suggestions.)
4. Get a Password Manager
Email, social media, online shopping, and more; everything these days needs a password. And you should be changing them often. However, you don't just need to come up with new passwords, but they typically need to be long, with upper and lower case letters, numbers, and sometimes weird symbols. Oh, and don't even think of using the same one for every website.
Instead of constantly clicking "forgot password," consider getting a password manager. These services can store all of those obscure passwords and even create them when you're fresh out of ideas. LastPass and 1Password have family subscriptions and other privacy perks, with LastPass offering a freebie option for single users.
5. Back Up Everything
Photos, music, and other important documents can clog up your computer and smartphone. If it's worth keeping, it's worth backing up.
Stuffing that desktop computer isn't a good backup system, either. One virus or glitch and all of those baby videos, vacation photos, and music files will be gone in a flash. Consider purchasing a separate external hard drive. It's easy to drag and drop everything. Or back up everything to an external hard drive, and also automatically back up in the background to an online backup like Carbonite or Mozy for extra protection. Just make sure you actually do it!
Of course, if you're worried about hardware or want to have access to files anywhere you go, there are several cloud services that can store those precious files. Dropbox and Google Drive offer a set amount of storage for free. If you need more, check out CrashPlan, which has free options and a paid subscription with additional perks starting at $59.99 per year.
6. Stop Stockpiling Text Messages
This goes back to the clutter thing, but deserves its own mention. After all, it's so easy to text these days. Know what isn't so easy? Deleting those messages. Well, it's not that it isn't easy, but it's not something you typically think about until your smartphone storage is full.
Consider deleting text messages as you get them. Of course, if something is important, you can keep it or save it to your phone or an external device. At the very least, try deleting photos as you get them. Those take up the most storage and are often just goofy moments that you don't need to keep forever.
7. Stop Looking at Your Phone While Driving
We know you do it. Everyone does it. Now, stop it.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2014. With the popularity of smartphones growing, those statistics are going up. Talk to the drivers in your family about the stats and safety on the road. Those messages can wait!
The good news is that there are apps that put your phone into "car mode," making it easy to do important things while you drive while keeping you from doing dangerous stuff. Check out 3 Ways to Keep Your Phone From Murdering You While Driving for ways to drive more safely with your phone.
8. Stop Spreading Bad Information
Everyone loves a good kitten video, but there are so many fake news articles and incorrect quotes floating around the web. Instead of just passing on stories, memes, and other tidbits through email, social media, and even actual human interaction, make sure you can cite your sources and backup your info.
We're not saying you have to make phone calls and dust of the microfiche, but a quick search on Snopes or even Google could save you some embarrassment and also keep a lot of bad information from making it even further around the web.
9. Turn Off Gadgets During Dinnertime
We're all busy, but Facebook, email, and Words With Friends can wait. Instead of choking down food while staring at screens, turn dinnertime into downtime—and a time where the family can share the day's events. Of course, there will be days when you have to work late or someone has practice. That makes those times where you all sit down as a family even more precious.
Shut off the TV, step away from the computer, and put a "no phones at the table" policy into effect. Even better, have everyone shut off those gadgets so they won't be distracted by calls and notifications.
10. Stop Experiencing Everything Through Your Phone
With a digital camera always at your fingertips, it's easy to take photos and video of that concert, school play, or even a great beach day. That said, you spend so much time trying to capture that moment, you typically end up missing it.
Put down the phone and actually experience the school recital, the game, the concert, or that surf. After all, the memory can be even more beautiful than a million photos stored on a hard drive somewhere.
It's also worth noting that musicians and other performers often find those phones distracting and don't really want you sharing their work with the web. Kids can get easily distracted as well. Help them to relax by relaxing yourself. Plus, if you really want to experience everything through a tiny screen, you can do that at home!