When the warm fresh breezes begin to blow, and the first hints of green poke through the long-suffering earth to greet the sunshine of rebirth and renewal, one thought reigns supreme: “Ugh, now I have to clean up this stinkhole.”
Yes, it’s spring cleaning time in the real world, and what better time to extend the merriment of the season to your virtual world? Chances are you’ve been dumping unnecessary clutter into your hard drive and online accounts for much longer than you’ve been throwing old boxes into the garage. And think about it this way: organizing folders, deleting files, and changing settings is much less arduous than hauling armfuls of trash to the dump.
I’ve arbitrarily assigned point values to each of the six e-cleaning tasks below. If you’re the lazy type, you can still get a perfect score. If you’re obsessive and/or geeky, you can rack up the bonus points for a super effective e-cleaning combo!
1. First, get rid of electronic house clutter. Okay, so I lied: some actual hauling to the dump may be required here, because you have old electronic garbage lying around. Don’t deny it. Everything from your outdated flip phones to your 64MB zip drive from 2002 to that SCSI or parallel cable that you’ve been hanging on to, just in case you need it (you won’t).
- For bonus thrift points, try to unload any working or otherwise valuable items on unsuspecting strangers (via eBay, Craigslist, or a yard sale). You lose capitalism points but gain karma if you just give the stuff away (via your local Freecycle, or other altruistic channels).
- For bonus green points, check your local recycling service for collection options. Some things, like old batteries and toner cartridges, can’t be left curbside. Schedule a trip to your local reclamation station.
2. Clean Up Your Disk Drives. Ugh, I know. Luckily, the lazy way is surprisingly effective: just run your automatic disk cleanup software (the one that came with your OS or one of the many free downloads out there). To get full credit for his assignment, you must run the disk defragmenter afterwards.
- For extra obsessive points, a brisk disciplined trawl through your folders will probably uncover gigabytes worth of stuff that you simply don’t need any more. Look for temp and setup files, software that has been (or should be) uninstalled, and all those bits of downloaded media that hide in their respective app folders.
- You get extra geek points if you take this time to update your software, drivers, etc. This particularly applies to those of us who have arrogantly turned off automatic updates in the vain pursuit of maximizing control and system resources. For example, the last time that I used Windows Update was two versions of Internet Explorer ago; do as I say, not as I do.
- For super bonus geek points pull up your hardware list and see if there are any conflicts, problems, or updates that the OS didn’t catch.
3. Email organization. In case you missed official Clean out Your Inbox Week, here’s a quick summary of what you should have done two months ago: delete everything. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, at least delete as much as you feel is safe. If you’re nervous, consider archiving everything first (see below).
- For extra obsessive points, try to organize your emails into a folder system that will help keep you from getting to this level of clutter again a month or so from now.
- For executive secretarial geek points, arrange your various email accounts so that you can view and manage them from a single app (just be careful not to mix webmail and enterprise accounts too much, or you may put yourself and others at risk of contact list harvesting and spearphishing attacks).
4. Social media and online accounts. Go to your account pages on Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., and clean out any posts, media, or (gasp) dead-weight contacts that you might have. And don’t forget those little accounts that you’ve, uh, forgotten. Are you really still benefitting from that MySpace/Yahoo/Digg account? The less you have out there, the better off you are.
- For super bonus cloud points, include your online and social data in the Great Backup (see below).
- For extra tin-foil hat points, take the time to go over all of those privacy and security settings that you keep vaguely worrying about. Now’s the time to take back your virtual life by opting-out and opting-in where appropriate (and take 5-10 minutes to read about what these settings actually do, and why they might be a risk).
5. Backup and archive. Yup, the old ‘save early, save often motto’ is great in theory, but the majority of people probably follow the more risky ‘save rarely if ever’ method. Buy yourself a big cheap hard drive (if your system can handle it, a USB 3.0 4GB external is perfect for this task) and do a thorough backup.
- You get extra Redmond Rational points if you schedule regular backups and restore point snapshots on your system.
- You get bonus secretarial points if you also archive your emails to your backup disk (before you clean up email, if you’re the nervous type or after madly deleting everything if you’re more confident).
- You get super bonus cloud points for recognizing that a lot of your important data is at the mercy of servers spread out all over the world. If you’re perfectly comfortable with that, fine; but it might be worth taking a ‘snapshot’ of the stuff you have saved on Google Docs, Windows Live, Apple Cloud, social media albums, etc., and saving it to your archive.
6. Dirty PCs need IRL cleaning, too. Not just to keep them looking pretty, but to keep them healthy; a buildup of dust raises the operating temperature and lowers the lifespan of your components. A can of compressed air works wonders on the dusty gunk that tends to build up on your PC’s fans and vents. Make sure to do it before you vacuum. And maybe put on one of those little paper masks if you haven’t done this in a few years.
- Extra DIY geek points if you unplug your PC, open up your case, and really get into all the nooks and crannies (fan blades, grills, heatsinks, filters). An old toothbrush works nicely.
- Double super bonus extra geek points if you’re confident enough to pop out your PCI cards and memory sticks to get in those hard-to-reach places, and maybe even clean and re-apply thermal conductor between your CPU and cooler… but only if you’re really confident in your geeky handiness. If you’re not, it’s probably safer just to leave everything and let it die a natural death; perhaps in time for Spring e-Cleaning 2013?
Taggart writes for CableTV.com, check them out for XFINITY Internet. In his free time he writes about his three main passions: business, technology, and entertainment. You can follow him on Twitter: @CallMeTagg.