Ten awesome Dropbox tricks

Dropbox is a service that offers online storage of your stuff. It’s tremendously convenient and used by lots of people world wide. Dropbox is a quick-and-dirty sharing and backup tool that many workers (including yours truly) couldn’t work without.

What many people don’t realize is that Dropbox is capable of a lot more than drag-and-drop storage of your files. There are numerous cool things you can do with it, but the following are 10 useful tricks I’ve discovered to help keep me organized and reduce my digital clutter.

Save space with selective sync

My personal computer is a MacBook Air with just 128 GB of storage. I know that sounds like a lot, but with a bulging music collection and photo collection, it gets full pretty quickly. Fortunately, my work computer can hold much more. I can hand pick which files get synchronized to Dropbox and then to my MacBook Air, and which get ignored.

To do this, open the Dropbox preferences on your computer. Select the advanced tab and then click Selective Sync. From there, tell Dropbox which folders to sync to that computer. Those you choose to ignore are still available at dropbox.com, they’re just not automatically synched. You still have access to them.

Access previous versions of files

Dropbox offers one huge benefit that many people overlook. It saves versions of your files for up to 30 days. That means, for example, if you make changes to a Word document you’ve got in Dropbox and then decided you wish you hadn’t, you can restore a version that existed before you made all of those regrettable edits.

Go to dropbox.com and find the file. Right-click on it and select Previous Versions from the resulting menu. A list appears; select the one you want. Easy.

Backup your smartphone photos automatically

This is a very nice feature that was introduced within the last year or so. Dropbox for iPhone and Android can automatically move a copy of every photo you shoot to a folder on the service. Check your mobile app’s preferences for the setting to enable this. It offers real peace of mind.

Mark files as favorites for offline access

I do this one quite a bit, especially when traveling. As you know, Dropbox stores your stuff on its servers. However, if you mark a file as a favorite, a copy will be downloaded to your mobile device, allowing you to view it even when you don’t have Internet access.

To mark an item as a favorite, simply navigate to it on your tablet or smartphone and tap the star icon.

Recover deleted files

“Ack! I didn’t mean to delete that!” No worries. If you delete a file, versions from the last 30 days remain. To get something back, go to dropbox.com and navigate to the folder where it used to be. Find the Show Deleted Files icon and click it. Then select it from the list.

Back up your blog, two ways

I use Dropbox to back up every post I publish to my blog. There are at least two ways to do this. I use a service called IFTTT, or If This Then That. You can use IFTTT to build actions or recipes to accomplish tasks for you. I have one that watches for any new post I publish to my blog. When it finds one, it copies the text to a file in my Dropbox account. If worse came to worst, I’d still have all of my posts.

If you don’t want to fiddle around with IFTTT (and you own a WordPress blog), check out this great plugin for one-click backups.

Print a PDF right to Dropbox

Here’s a great tip that’s reserved for you Mac users. You probably know that you can turn nearly any file into a PDF by choosing Save to PDF when printing something. What you may not know is that you can direct that PDF to save right to Dropbox.

When you click Save to PDF, you’ll see Edit Menu as the very last option. Click it, and then click the “+” in the resulting window. A new list appears. Navigate to your Dropbox (or any folder therein) and then click OK. Now, that folder will appear in the Save to PDF menu every time. Simply click it, and a PDF will be automatically shuffled off to Dropbox.

Back up your Instagram photos

Here’s another IFTTT trick. I’ve created a recipe to monitor my Instagram account for new photos. Whenever it finds one, it moves a copy to a folder on my Dropbox account. The photograph is backed up and I didn’t even have to lift a finger.

Publish a website (pancake)

Pancake.io is a free service that lets you publish a blog or website right from your Dropbox account. It’s quite simple to set up and you can find all the details on how to do it on the Pancake site.

Five things you can do to succeed at keeping your New Year’s Resolutions

As you start creating your New Year’s resolutions and thinking of ways to productively usher in the new year, you might have in the back of your mind some of the challenges you might face. It’s been well publicized how difficult resolutions are to keep, but that doesn’t mean that you should give up on them. The new year presents an opportunity for change and there are particular things you can do to sustain the changes you’d like to make.

Keep a positive attitude

As with any project, you may meet upon a few roadblocks or things you didn’t anticipate. Don’t let these setbacks stop you from moving forward. Instead, try to adopt a realistic and positive mindset, both of which can help you cope well when things don’t go as planned. If you find yourself a bit turned around, grab your action plan and start anew. Remember, your overall goal is to be persistent, not to achieve perfection.

To help start you off on a positive note, studies have shown that up to 46 percent of people who make resolutions are successful at the six month mark. When compared to the success rate of people who didn’t make resolutions (4 percent), this statistic is remarkable. So, even if there are a few hiccups along the way, keep in mind that you have a very good chance of succeeding.

Build a strong support system

Surrounding yourself with people who can see you through some of the bumps in the road will give your positive outlook extra mileage. An accountability partner can help keep you motivated, will talk through solutions and strategies with you, and celebrate your successes (both large and small). This person will also hold you accountable for the actions you commit to doing. You’ll want to set up regular check-in meetings with your partner so that you don’t lose sight of your next steps.

Choose the right tools

Part of your support system should include tools that work well with your personality and learning style. For instance, you might choose to keep a journal to record your progress or read/listen to a book that gives you specific instructions and action steps, like David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Websites geared toward goal setting (like 43Things.com and StartaResolution.com) can also be helpful. Check out 20 apps to help you keep your New Year resolutions over at TheNextWeb.com for applications on your mobile devices.

Work on one goal at time

Here at Unclutterer, we’ve often mentioned that single-tasking helps you to get more done. The same principle applies to your goals. While you might have several goals (and be very enthusiastic about achieving them), if you attempt to work on all of them at the same time, this can become very overwhelming, you may lose focus, and all of your goals can ultimately fall off your radar. Consider focusing on one goal per month and attend to it every day before moving on to the next one.

Focus on ambitious goals over the long-term

Do you have a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) on your list? This term was first coined by Jim Collins, co-author of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. You don’t have to be a corporation to have a BHAG, but you do have to approach it in the right way.

Some key features of a BHAG:

  • Stimulates bold, radical improvement
  • Generates tremendous excitement for future change
  • Has clear and specific outcomes
  • Is a long-term endeavor

BHAGs are not your average goals. They are large and meaty and achieving them can have a huge impact not only on you, but also those around you (those in your inner circle, colleagues, and your community at large). Because of their size, ambitious goals won’t necessarily be completed in 365 days. But, once attained, they can be extremely gratifying because of the effort you put in to getting to the finish line. Since you won’t see immediate results, keep your vision of progress in line with long-term planning. Chip away at your BHAG systematically and routinely and seek support from others so that you can have a better chance at successfully completing it. Go ahead, get excited about your big, hairy goals, but be sure to keep the right perspective.

As you think about the steps you need to take to bring your Resolution Action Plan to fruition, don’t rely solely on motivation and willpower. Arm yourself with a few tools and strategies that will help you succeed at a keeping your New Year’s resolutions.

Clean up your digital clutter

If you find yourself struggling under mountains of paper piles, you might also be yearning for the day when those piles are replaced by digital files that are easily searchable. That will mean less time sifting through documents and you’ll be able to find what you need quickly.

But, though it may seem that clutter is only attracted to the physical things you own, it can also creep into your computers and make a mess of your digital files. As Leo Babauta put it, “there are costs to such packrattery.” Whether you’re storing lots of photos, music, or documents on your devices, if you don’t have a system for easy retrieval (just like with your paper files), you’ll likely spend more time than necessary looking for the items you need. And, if you have an influx of files that you don’t use anymore, they will take up a lot of space and make your processor seem like it’s running on molasses.

To begin the digital clean up process, start by …

Purging duplicate files

Have you ever bought something only to discover that you already had it? Most likely, you just didn’t see the original or know where to find it, so you went ahead and got another one to replace it. Duplicate files can be like that, too. When you can’t find the file you want, it might seem easier to just download, recreate, purchase or somehow duplicate what you already have. You will then end up with multiple copies of the same thing, which can make using your laptop or PC more complicated than it needs to be. And, like unnecessary multiples of anything, they will consume space that could be put to better use.

Immediate actions:

  • If you find documents with the same name followed by numbers in parenthesis, like XYZ.doc(1) and XYZ.doc(2), they’re likely to be the same document that you’ve downloaded several times. Use Duplicate Cleaner, Easy Duplicate Finder, Double Killer, or Tidy Up (for Mac) to remove multiple copies of the same files.
  • Schedule purging sessions at regular intervals (once/month, once/quarter) to remove your duplicates.
  • Start tagging your files with names that are easy for you to remember, and consider using the same structure (e.g. YearMonthDay_filename.extension, 20121024_digital.jpg). Before downloading or saving a new file, use the search feature on your PC or mobile device to ensure you don’t already have it.

Remove programs on your mobile devices you no longer use

Grab your smart phone or tablet. How many apps are on the home screen? How many do you use on a regular basis? If there are apps that you no longer use or like, it’s time to give them the boot. Keeping them on your device eats up space, may slow down your device, and stop your phone from being backed up. In my case, I had too many pictures (along with some apps I didn’t use anymore) stored on my iPhone and iCloud declined to run the backup. After reducing them, the backups resumed.

Immediate actions:

  • Starting with your home screens, remove your unused apps.
  • After purging, take a few minutes to arrange the apps in a way that makes sense to you.
  • iPhone and Android users (with Apps Organizer) can group similar apps together in one folder (music, finance, games, productivity, etc).

Organize your contacts

Digital contacts, like business cards, can linger around long after they’re useful. This is another area that duplicates can creep in, so look through your contacts list to remove them.

Immediate actions:

  • Delete duplicates and update contacts with current information.
  • When possible, separate your personal and business contacts.
  • Keep your address book organized with programs like Google Goggles or Evernote Hello.

Cleaning up the clutter on all your devices may take a bit of time up front, but once you begin the process, maintenance will be easier. You’ll also immediately notice how much easier it is to locate specific information and you’ll have more room for the programs and files you need.