Steps to unclutter Twitter

I love Twitter. It lets me stay in touch with friends and colleagues, replaces email and text chat in many situations, is a relaxing hangout and the end of the day, and is often a source of entertainment.

It can also be really annoying and a time waster.

Depending on whom you follow (or how many), the social media darling can introduce a lot of clutter into your digital life. Fortunately, you can take steps to make Twitter less annoying and more pleasant to use, and not be a total time suck.

  1. Use an app. Many people use Twitter via a web browser at Twitter.com. Since I’m often using a browser for other things, I dislike jumping back and forth to that window whenever I want to attend to Twitter. So, I use a stand-alone app, which can be hidden, recalled, quit, or ignored as I like, without forcing me to keep a browser tab open. There are so very many apps available, I can’t even begin to list them here. Safe to say, if you use a Mac, Windows, iOS, or Android, you’ll find one to your liking after doing a Google search and reading reviews.
  2. Mute and muffle. Depending on the app you use, you can choose to mute, muffle, or otherwise hide certain tweets from your timeline. You know those people who turn Twitter into a public chatroom with a hashtag like #AnnoyingChat? Mute that tag and you won’t see any of those tweets. You can also mute users (often temporarily), keywords and more. It’s a great way to de-clutter the stream.
  3. Hide the stream entirely. I’m required to do some tweeting at my day job but I don’t always want to see what everyone else is saying. Fortunately there’s Wren for Mac, which lets me publish tweets without seeing anything that anyone else is sharing. Sorry, Windows users. I searched high and low for an equivalent for you but failed.
  4. Pick a time of the day. Twitter is like potato chips: you can’t eat just one. If you tend to binge on the service, pick a time of day to use Twitter and stick to it. Set a timer and don’t let social media eat away at your productivity.
  5. Disable notifications. Many mobile apps will pop up a message when you receive a reply or a mention on Twitter. Others also alert you when one of your tweets has been marked as a favorite by another user. That’s nice to know, but unless you really need that information, consider killing those notifications.
  6. Use lists. Twitter introduced lists a while ago, and you really ought to use them. This feature lets you group users or messages by keyword, and see just the tweets that meet your criteria. This is a great idea if you need to use Twitter for work or just want to turn down the firehose of information a bit.
  7. Don’t go #nuts with #hashtags. Hashtags are those brief bits of text preceded by the pound sign #. They let users group similar tweets or follow a given topic. Some people abuse their hashtag power and go way overboard, though. Don’t be one of those people.

Related to the last, if you have a hashtag abuser among your followers and you use Tweetbot for Mac, check out these instructions from Brett Kelly on how to automatically hide any tweet with more than two hashtags.

My last bit of advice on de-cluttering Twitter is the most powerful: walk away from Twitter. Yes, it’s a lot of fun and often informative but honestly, unless you have a real dependence on that information (work, etc.), take some time off and walk away. It’ll be fine. I #promise.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you’re already on Twitter, be sure to follow us at @unclutterer.

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.

Uncluttering is a lot like running

When you’re looking for inspiration and motivation to accomplish a goal, it can be helpful to look for analogies or similar features with other topics. Doing this can also reinforce the purpose of a goal or even help you to see things a little differently. You’ve probably noticed that losing the weight of clutter is often associated with losing those extra pounds that can creep up on your body. I once likened clutter to armadillos and, recently, it seemed to me that uncluttering can be a lot like running. Both require discipline and strong commitment if you’re to accomplish the results you’re looking for. Often, the tips given to people who are just starting a running program can also be applied to becoming more organized.

Create a plan with action steps

New runners can benefit from setting particular goals they want achieve each time they go running (distance, specific pace) as well as time-based goals (daily, weekly, monthly). Unclutterers need a plan, too, for without one, your activities will be scattered and you won’t have a good way of tracking your progress. To give yourself a better chance of succeeding, break your overall goal into mini-goals or action steps and add deadlines to help keep you accountable.

Unclutter every day

To get in the routine of running, new runners will likely need a bit of practice. Hitting the pavement (or the treadmill) sporadically may not help you develop that routine, so those taking up the activity for the first time are often advised to run for a few minutes every day. The same holds true for uncluttering. Engaging in a few minutes of daily organizing activities will help you to tackle the clutter and solidify a regular set of organizing habits, especially if you’re not feeling very motivated at the outset.

Use the right supplies

To avoid injury, runners must find a shoe that is not too small or too big — it must fit properly from toe to heel. Since sizes differ from brand to brand, it’s important to have your feet measured at the time of each purchase.

Just as runners need the right pair of shoes before they hit the pavement, it’s important for unclutterers to get the right tools. It may be tempting to run out (see what I did there?) and buy containers in multiple sizes and colors without giving any thought to:

  1. The volume of things that you’ll keep
  2. Where you’ll store your items

Avoid that buying temptation by first sorting and indexing the items that you’re keeping. That way, you can then find the right containers to fit the number of things you have in the designated storage location. Otherwise, purchases made without advanced planning can end up adding more clutter to your space.

Track your progress

Some runners keep a journal to look back on past successes and obstacles that they overcame. Journaling can be an inspirational tool and help you to continue reaching your goals. As you unclutter, consider writing down your successes as well as specific strategies that have worked for you. These will be helpful, particularly on days when things don’t go according to plan.

Work with a friend

Running doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. But, new runners may be a bit self-conscious if they don’t have the proper running form yet or are really slow. I suspect that people who decide to get more organized may have similar fears and be worried what their friends may think. But, when you partner with someone, the process can seem more manageable, you can get much needed help, and you may learn new strategies. Working with someone that you trust can not only distract you from the fears you may be feeling, but he/she can also help you stay focused on the uncluttering task at hand.

Remind yourself that you are an unclutterer

On those days when you’re feeling a little discouraged, be sure to keep your negative thoughts in check. If you let them hang about, this can lead to stress. Forcefully push doubts aside and remind yourself that you are an unclutterer. The seasoned runners at RunnersWorld.com recognize newbies can become discouraged in the beginning and use this quote as a reminder to turn those thoughts around: “We are all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner.”

Stay productive and organized while working from home

I’ve been working from my home office exclusively since 2009. In those four years, I’ve learned a lot about managing home and work life, staying productive while cozy at home, avoiding distractions, and more. Based on these experiences, the following are my ten tips that keep my work on track when I’m at home.

Before I delve into my list, I should define “home worker.” It certainly includes telecommuters, freelancers, and those running a business from home, but that is not where the definition ends. Anyone who runs a household definitely works from home. Also, the number of people who spend 9–5 in an office, school, or at an off-site job, but then take additional tasks home to work on, is increasing. When I was young, I knew one family who had an “office” in their home, and I thought it was the oddest thing. Today, it’s pretty much the norm.

Now that we’ve got that sorted, on with the tips.

  1. Define a workspace. You needn’t have a dedicated room to be a productive home worker. A corner of the kitchen, back porch, or garage will do, as long as it accommodates the tools and space you need. I have an IKEA desk in my bedroom that is my office. Occasionally, I want a change of scenery, so I’ll move my laptop to another part of the house. Other times I’m forced out entirely, which brings me to …
  2. Have an emergency backup office. There will be times when the power is out or your internet connection is down. Or, perhaps, a construction crew is working on The World’s Loudest Project right outside your window. When this happens, you’ll need a backup site to go to. My default remote office is the public library. It’s clean, well-lit, quiet, and has free Wi-Fi. The employees don’t care how long I stay and there are electrical outlets everywhere. Good thing I travel light.
  3. Define a lightweight office-to-go. Figure out the bare minimum of tools you can get away with and remain productive. Something you can fling into a bag and go. Will your computer do? An iPad? A camera? Figuring this out ahead of time will save you a lot of aggravation when you need to vacate your home office pronto.
  4. Make your home office efficient but also pleasing. You’re going to spend a lot of time in your office, so make it a pleasant place to be. I have LEGO projects on my desk, Star Wars toys, and a pencil holder that my daughter made for me. Since I am at home, I need not comply to corporate decorating policies, and neither do you. Find things that you love and make you feel good and add a little style to your space.
  5. Adopt a system you trust. Unless you’re in business with your spouse, partner, or housemate, you likely don’t live with a co-worker or superior. That means that you are both the worker and the supervisor. Conquer the latter role by devising a system you trust. I follow David Allen’s Getting Things Done system and, in effect, that system is my supervisor. Trust is the critical factor here, as that’s the only way your brain will stop nagging about all of your undone tasks.
  6. Don’t be too informal. This one applies mostly to those who are earning their living from home. Since you are in the house, it’s easy to adopt a casual attitude about your day. In my experience, adding a bit of formality helps draw a line between work time and leisure time. I always shower, shave and put on nice clothes. I make a cup of tea and begin the day in the same routine one might in a traditional office. When I’m done with work for the day, I turn my computer off, kick off my shoes and join the family downstairs. That routine also helps me feel like I’m truly “off the clock” when the workday ends.
  7. Get your own inbox. This simple tip has vastly improved my marriage. My wife and I shared an “inbox” (an end table by the front door) for years and it made both of us crazy. My stuff mingled with hers, she liked to store things one way and I another. Now, I have an inbox on my desk and she has one on the end table. I process my inbox items on my schedule and according to my system, and my wife does the same her own way. I cannot recommend splitting this up strongly enough if you live with other people.
  8. Take Breaks.I alternate between work time and break time all day. A great Mac app called Breaktime lets me alternate between 25-minute work times and 5-minute breaks all day. This practice helps me maintain a productive streak and is also a luxury I wouldn’t have in an office.
  9. Take advantage of working from home. You work at home and that means you’re at home! Take advantage of this opportunity that many aren’t able to experience. Sit on the porch, eat lunch in your own kitchen, and never miss an event at your kid’s school.
  10. Be flexible. This lesson was the hardest for me to learn. I’d make a plan for my day, only to see it fall apart thanks to a sick kid, malfunctioning computer, flooding basement, and more. Understand this might happen, and don’t get too stressed when it does. Try again tomorrow.

Resources to help you during a move

Moving TruckMoving is stressful, especially if you are closing on two properties on the same day. The amount of things that can go wrong or over looked are innumerable, so it helps to be very organized. Luckily, I’ve got my ultra-organized wife to help me in this endeavor. She has a checklist for every detail: the movers, the insurance, utilities, finances, closing, and packing. I’m a bit less organized. I have a scrap of paper on my desk with a series of names and numbers that I have to contact. I’m not perfect.

Here are some resources that can help:

Obviously, some of the items on these checklists should be handled by your real estate agent. That is what they get their commission, but it is also good to be on top of everything when the closing and moving dates arrive.

Tips for quick grocery shopping

GroceriesGrocery shopping is a necessary evil. Does anyone look forward to their weekly visit to the grocery store? If you’re like me, you defer these duties to your spouse. My wife has the grocery shopping down to a science. She tries to get in and out of the store as fast as she can. Don’t we all?

Here are some tips that she has to make your grocery shopping visit easier to deal with:

  1. Make a meal plan: Decide what you’re going to eat this week and what you’ll need to make that happen. (Erin will write more on this specific topic next week.)
  2. Make a list from your plan: Not only will this help you remember what you need, it also discourages you from picking up things that you don’t need.
  3. Separate the items on the list into their own sections (dairy, condiments, cereal, produce, etc.). This will reduce the chances of having to double back for something that you forgot in another section.
  4. Go shopping at off-peak hours. The less of a crowd the faster the shopping goes. Avoid weekends. (My wife goes before work early in the morning.)
  5. Sale items above all: Look over your weekly sale items before heading to the store. Saving money on groceries is a good thing.
  6. Get physical. Don’t be afraid to elbow fellow shoppers to get to the checkout ahead of them.

Ok, so that last one is a joke, but I hope these tips help you use your time more wisely. The less time you spend in the grocery store, the more time you spend doing something you actually enjoy.

Conquer kid clutter

Having a 20-month old is a bit like taking care of a drunk friend. They don’t really know what they are doing, but they are having fun while they do it. My daughter is getting into the “terrible twos” a bit early, so hopefully they’ll end early.

One thing that seems to get worse as she gets older is the toy accumulation. I’ve mentioned this problem in some prior posts and I must say that my wife and I continue to struggle with it. I’m always on the lookout for new ways of curbing clutter that is kid specific. So, I was pleased to read this article in the Detroit News that had a long list of kid specific clutter tips. Tips such as:

  • Divide and conquer:
    Big toy boxes make it too easy for toys to get jumbled together. Better: a bin for Legos, another for action figures, another for dollhouse furniture, etc.
  • Toss the flimsy crayon boxes:
    Same goes for the marker and colored-pencil boxes. Instead, put drawing tools into lidded boxes or bins. And don’t bother saving every free crayon you’ve collected from restaurant visits. Teachers say most kids just grab the top two or three anyway.
  • Craft supplies:
    Keep a vinyl tablecloth with the art supplies. It’ll be on hand to protect the table or rug (skip disposable ones: not sturdy enough).

These tips aren’t earth shattering, but they are helpful. The accumulation of toys is the hardest thing to get under control, in my opinion. Forces beyond our control are at work. These forces, mostly Grandma and Grandpa, are unrelenting. Be vigilant in your removal of old and unused toys, and your toy clutter will stay manageable.

Keep your tax documents organized

1040 FormWhen it comes to clutter, the federal government has all of us beat. The tax code alone is over 60,000 pages and continues to grow by leaps and bounds. I’m not going to even begin to tell you how to do your taxes. There are professionals who, fortunately for us and unfortunately for them, dedicate their lives to filing taxes.

If you are single and have little to report on your taxes other than a W-2, you can easily use e-File. Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury. If you’re not in that category, you can purchase a program like Turbo Tax, in hard copy or by download, and take the time to do them yourself. Personally, I prefer to use an accountant.

Your tax documents currently should be trickling in from your employers and investments. My wife and I put our tax documents into a marked file folder with a checklist of everything we expect to receive. (Each of our W-2s, our home mortgage interest document, savings interest, etc.) Once we receive all of our documents, we makes photocopies of all of them. The photocopies can be a life saver, the way they were for us a couple years ago when our car was stolen with our tax documents inside of it.

These are just a few tips that may make your tax preparation a little less hectic. Try and get everything in order in a timely manner, and you may just get through another tax season with a little less anxiety.

Gift card clutter

Gift CardWith the holidays behind us and the popularity of gift cards increasing every year, make sure you don’t let them go unspent. According to the E-Commerce Times, about $8 billion worth of gift cards’ value will go unspent. Here are some tips so you don’t let your gift cards go to waste.

Keep them all together. If you have gift cards all over the place you’ll end up losing track of them. Keep them in one spot and look through them before you head out shopping.

eBay them. If you received a gift card to a retailer that you don’t particularly like, eBay is a good way to get rid of the card. Rather than being stuck with a card that you will never use, get some value out of it. (The value is usually around 80%)

Don’t buy just because you can. If you have a gift card, don’t make that an excuse to purchase something. If you don’t like Pottery Barn, don’t feel compelled to purchase $100 worth of their merchandise. Again, use eBay to get rid of it. Don’t clutter your home with gift-card guilt purchases.

Trim your wallet

When I decided to buy a smaller wallet (I went with the Slim Slimmy, by the way), my next step was cleaning out my old, oversized wallet.

When I first received the Slim Slimmy, I was skeptical that I would be able to keep everything I needed in such a scaled down space. With some very easy decisions, I was able to trim down what I carried and my pockets were immediately less cluttered. Here are the things I removed from my wallet:

Insurance cards: I was carrying around three insurance cards. Did I really need to have my vision and dental cards on me at all times? Not likely. I now only carry my main insurance card.

Blockbuster card: I never rent movies from there anymore (thank you, Netflix), so that was an easy choice.

Shopping cards: I had two grocery cards in my wallet. I removed both and added a smaller barcode to my key chain. I only shop at one of the grocery stores anyhow.

Buy 12 get the 13th free cards: Ok, I get my haircut at a discount joint up the street. Is it that much of a deal that I carry that card everywhere I go? It really isn’t even a good deal. I basically saved about 8% on my haircuts over a year and a half. Why was I carrying that thing in my wallet? I’m sure you carry around one of these cards for sandwiches, bagels, or coffee. Figure out the savings and it probably isn’t worth carrying around everywhere you go.

Pictures: I had a wedding picture and a picture of my daughter in my wallet. They both never saw the light of day, so it wasn’t worth transferring into my new wallet.

Memories: I had a ticket stub from a museum in Amsterdam and a visit to the Empire State Building from a high school trip. I’m not sure why I still had them, but they obviously didn’t make the transfer.

Just a quick scan of what I had in my wallet and the transition to a much smaller and sleeker wallet was made so much easier.