Software to help organize your thoughts

When I was young, a phone was a communication device attached to the kitchen wall. Curly wire, a rotary dial, that whole thing. If you were lucky, the wire was long enough to reach the closet for a private conversation (and create an annoying obstacle for everyone else in the house).

A modern phone is more than just a glorified walkie-talkie. It is a camera, game station, note-taker and bane of many a parent’s existence, among other things. For now, let’s look at the phone as a note-taker.

I use my phone to jot down information that would have been relegated to paper a few years ago. My phone is always with me, making it convenient, and often a decent paper substitute. From creating a simple list to managing a full-on brainstorm, there’s an app for your note-taking needs. Here’s a look at some of my favorites.

When I want to brainstorm a new idea or project, I create a mind map. (I’ve written about mind mapping here before). It’s a more formal way to get the flood of ideas down, creating a nice visual that depicts the relationships between each thought. Yet, it’s still unstructured enough to not interfere with the process.

For me, the best option is MindNode. Unfortunately, it’s only available on the Mac and iPhone. If you use those platforms, go and grab this app. It syncs across devices almost instantly and is very easy to use. It also features easy import/export options, so getting your information out is as easy as getting it in.

If you’re an Android user, I recommend MindMeister. Like MindNode it’s easy to use, and makes collaboration easy, so members of your team/group/family can contribute.

Next up is Google Keep, which I’ve talked about it before. I’m happy to report that I still love it. Keep is lightning fast and feels streamlined and unclutterered. It syncs between the mobile app and a browser almost instantly and lets me jot things down nearly as quickly as I do with paper and pen. Plus you can categorize, tag, color-code, and share. It’s a real keeper.

Meanwhile, I know a lot of people who swear by Notebook by Zoho (available for iOS and Android), Notebook – Take Notes, Sync across devices on the App Store. What’s nice here is it lets you sort notes into “Notebooks” with custom titles and covers, making it very easy indeed to find what you’re after.

Dropbox Paper is a direct competitor to Google Docs, (which is in competition with Microsoft’s Office 3650. Like the others, Dropbox Paper goes well beyond simple note-taking and offers a suite of online productivity tools, aiming to be a way to create and share text documents.

It will be overkill for many, but if you’re looking for an alternative to those larger suites, give Dropbox Paper a try.

Is digital better? Yes and no. The near ubiquitous access is nice, and sharing is a lot easier. But I think paper is faster, plus it won’t crash or succumb to a dead battery or weak Wi-Fi connection. For more on the paper/digital debate, check out Reconciling paper and digital productivity and organizing tools.

Download, store, and organize your Google data

Google is a big part of many people’s digital lives. Services like Blogger, Google Photos, the note-taking app Keep (my thoughts on Keep are here) and the Fit app — not to mention the Chrome browser — receive a lot of data every day, in the form of family photos, blog posts, notes, workout data, and more.

That data is safe in the cloud (i.e. Google’s servers), but did you know that you can download a copy of this information to your own computer? With just a few clicks you can retrieve and then store a local copy of your Google data. Here’s how (and why) to get started.

Why should you backup Google data?

So-called “cloud computing,” which is the system that allows you to save information on a network of remote servers hosted on the internet, offers convenient, near-ubiquitous access to our most important digital information. There’s peace of mind in knowing that data is stored and cared for by people who specialize in such things. But according to Jack Schofield, it’s not enough.

Jack has written what are now known as Schofield’s Three Laws of Computing. His Second Law states that data does not really exist unless you have at least two copies of it. In short, never assume that your data is 100% safe. Making two backups doubles your chances of a successful recovery if and when a catastrophe strikes. Are your photos safe at photos.google.com? Of course. Can I guarantee that they are 100% safe? No.

Now that we’ve got a good picture of why you should backup your Google data, let’s look at how.

How to back up your Google data

Before you begin, you’ll have to make two decisions. First, identify specifically what data you’d like to save, and second, where you plan to store it.

Pick your target data by visiting https://www.google.com/settings/takeout. You might have to sign in to your Google account first. From there, you’ll see a list of all the Google services currently associated with your account.

Depending on what services you use, it can be a pretty long list. On the left-hand side of the list, you’ll see each service’s name. To the right you’ll see a small disclosure triangle and a green toggle switch. Click the disclosure triangle to view details on exactly what aspect of that service can be downloaded.

For example, when I click the triangle next to “Google Photos,” I get the following options:

  1. Include all photo albums (selected by default)
  2. Select photo albums

Clicking the latter lets me pick and choose the albums I want to download. All photos and videos are downloaded in their original format.

Finally, the toggle switch is green if a service’s data has been selected for download, and grey if it has not. Once you’re made your selections, scroll to the bottom of the list and click “Next.”

This summary screen presents three options:

  1. File type. Choose between .zip, .tgz and .tbz formats.
  2. Maximum archive size. If your archive is larger than your selection (for example, 2 GB), it will be broken down into parts that are 2 GB (or less) each.
  3. A delivery method.

Number three requires special attention. It’s likely that a backup will be very large, so choose your destination carefully. Google lets you receive a download link via email, or it can send your archive to Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive.

If you choose the email link, make sure your computer has room for the download, as does your eventual local destination (connected hard drive, etc.). A great option is a large, connected drive (like this one) that’s regularly backed up by a service like BackBlaze or CrashPlan. That way your data lives in three locations: Google, your local drive, and the backup service of your choice. Take that, Mr. Schofield!

Cloud computing is convenient and yes, a great way to safely store irreplaceable files. But don’t become too reliant on it. A simple routine like this will help ensure all of that precious data will be available for years to come.

Book Review: A Simple Guide to Saving Your Family Photos

Like many of our readers, I find one of the most daunting projects is organizing and digitizing our family photos. Fortunately, when I was at the recent NAPO conference, I had the opportunity to speak with Mollie Bartelt, co-founder of Pixologie and author of A Simple Guide to Saving Your Family Photos. She gave me a copy of her book to review.

If you’ve inherited family photos or you just want to get your own photos organized and digitized, this book is for you. It is well written and easy to read. It provides advice on many different scenarios (family photos, a professional photographer’s collection, etc.). As well, the book explains how to incorporate physical photos and digital photos into one organized collection.

In the first part of the book, Bartelt explains how to get started. She describes the time, space, tools, and equipment needed manage this type of project. I was rather confused when I saw dental floss on the list of required tools. However, Bartelt goes on to explain that dental floss can used to remove photos that are stuck in old-fashioned “magnetic” photo albums. Sliding the floss carefully underneath the photos will unstick them without having them curl up at the corners. This makes it much easier to scan them.

Bartelt also recommends which photos to keep and which to let go. For example, to remember your family’s trip to the zoo, you can keep a photo of your children in front of the elephant enclosure. There is no need to keep a dozen pictures of the elephant itself.

Prior to organizing your photos, Bartelt suggests building an age chart for family members to help determine what year photos were taken. For example, if Charles was born in 2010, the photo of him beside a cake with six candles (his sixth birthday) would be from 2016, and we would know that he was in the first grade that year. Anne would have been four years old and in preschool.

When sorting photos, Bartelt provides suggestions on how to choose major categories and how to divide the major categories into sub-categories. She discusses the advantages and disadvantages of each method and provides real-life examples of projects that have used each method.

When it comes to digitizing photos, it is important to determine a file name methodology before the process begins. Bartelt has several suggestions but her preferred file name system is YYYY-MM-DD-description; where the description can be the event or people in the photograph.

Bartelt explains that for the digitizing process, all-in-one printer scanners can produce good quality digitized photos. However, using the flatbed option is very time consuming if you have a lot of photos to scan. Some scanners have an auto-feed function but this may damage photos because they are forced to bend around rollers before they are scanned. Pixologie, the company Bartelt co-founded, offers photo organizing and digitizing services. They use an E-Z Photo Scan’s Kodak PS80 Photo Scanner. This is a high-speed, straight-feed scanner that produces scans of very good quality. It is very useful for scanning many photos very quickly.

A Simple Guide to Saving Your Family Photos provides valuable information on recommended settings for scanning photos. Most family photos are scanned at 300-600 dpi as superior quality JPGs. Historians and professional photographers should scan at 600-1200 dpi as TIFF. She also describes how to store digital photos both on- and off-site and how to incorporate a digital photo collection into a recently digitized collection of physical photos.

If you’re considering a photo organizing project, whether it be your family photos or the portfolio of a professional photographer, I highly recommend reading A Simple Guide to Saving Your Family Photos before you start. You will save yourself a lot of time and effort by taking the advice offered by Bartelt.

Uncluttering old iPods

Recently I found an old iPod while cleaning out some drawers. It wouldn’t power on as the battery had long since died, so I connected it to my computer and was delighted to find that it worked. The next question was clear: what should I do with it?

If you find one of these things lying around, or if you inherit one from someone else, the first thing to do is identify the model. Apple’s website helps you do just that. I’ve got a third-generation iPod nano, the so-called “fat nano.” This squat little guy can store 8 GB worth of music, photos, and video, plus a few extras like rudimentary games and notes. It acquires all of these things by syncing with iTunes on a computer. For playback it’s great, and the dash of nostalgia is fun too.

Compared to contemporary devices, though, it’s a dinosaur. It can’t connect to the internet so streaming music on Spotify or Apple Music is a no-go. I can’t install apps either. So what is it good for? My solution is audiobooks.

I love to listen to audiobooks while driving, but they take up a lot of storage space on my phone. This little iPod gives me 8 GB of dedicated audiobook storage (minus space that the OS uses). It will remember where I left off and happily sit in my car, ready to play back an audiobook as I drive. Of course there’s no Bluetooth connectivity, so I have to use a cable from the iPod to the care stereo, which is fine.

If you find an iPod that you’d rather get rid of, either through donation, trade or sale, here are some options to consider.

Apple has its own recycling program for electronics. You can participate at an Apple Store or online. Qualifying items can get you Apple Store credit, which is a nice bonus. Many big box stores have similar programs.

You can always donate working devices to local schools, recreation departments, veterans, the Music and Memory Project, and so on. Perhaps you’ve got a friend or relative who’d love to have it. I even heard of two far-flung friends who would mail an old iPod back and forth, each filling it with with their own favorite music for the other to listen to for a while before returning the favor.

And yes, you can sell an old iPod. Ebay is the obvious option, but outlets like Swap.com and Gazelle are also good choices.

Finally, what about the cables and chargers? If you don’t have ones, Apple sells several adapters to get your iPod working with contemporary devices. If you find broken ones bring them to your local big box store for recycling.

Of course, if you can find a way to use it, I say do it. Though limited compared to what we’ve got today, these older iPods are still a lot of fun.

Being organized about protecting your computer (and your smartphone)

You’ve probably heard about the ransomware attack that hit numerous computers earlier this month, with hospitals in the U.K. being some of the major victims. When computers became infected with the malware, their files were locked unless a ransom was paid to unlock them.

While this specific attack probably didn’t affect you, it’s a good reminder that you can take an organized approach to protecting yourself from future attacks by following a couple simple strategies. These won’t protect you from all malicious attacks, but they are critical parts any strategy for keeping your computer files safe.

Keep your software up to date

The computers that got infected this time were those that had not installed the relevant security update from Microsoft, which was released two months prior to the attack. And some of computers were running Windows XP, a version so out of date that patches weren’t even being released unless special support contracts were in place. (Microsoft later made the necessary patch available to everyone.)

Whether or not you enable automatic updates of your computer’s software, it’s important to install any security patches promptly. This is not a time to procrastinate! Besides the operating system (Windows, OS X, macOS, etc.) you may need to install security updates to software such as your web browser — I just did an update to Safari. Adobe Flash Player is another bit of software that gets frequent security updates.

While updates can be complicated in corporate and industrial settings — think about operating systems embedded in things like MRI machines — in most cases it’s much simpler for those of us with our personal computers.

Keep your smartphone updated, too

Smartphones and tablets can also need software updates for security purposes, so don’t overlook those. The phones that get security updates the fastest are Apple’s iPhones and the Android phones that come directly from Google rather than from a third party vendor. As Kate Conger explained on the TechCrunch website back in March:

Google has spent the past year working with third-party manufacturers and phone carriers to improve its update system for Android, which is often criticized for not being fast enough to protect users from known vulnerabilities. And while Google says it has made some progress in this area — Android issued security updates to 735 million devices from more than 200 manufacturers in 2016 — about half of Android users still aren’t receiving important security patches. ….

While Google-manufactured Pixel and Nexus phones and tablets receive automatic updates, hundreds of manufacturers that run Android on their devices don’t push security updates to their customers immediately. This practice can leave customers waiting for months to get updates, and their devices are vulnerable in the meantime.

Also be aware that some older phones may no longer have guaranteed security updates, so you may need to replace your phone to keep it secure. As Google notes for Nexus phones (with a similar statement for Pixel phones):

Nexus devices get security updates for at least 3 years from when the device first became available on the Google Store, or at least 18 months from when the Google Store last sold the device, whichever is longer. After that, we can’t guarantee additional updates.

Do your backups

We’ve written about the importance of backups here on Unclutterer in the past, and ransomware attacks are just one more reason these matter so much. Backups won’t protect your computer from being infected with malware — but if you have good backups in place, you could use them to recover from any such attack.

Is money becoming obsolete?

Recently I went an entire week without taking any money out of the bank. Every single one of my purchases was done online, via digital transfers using my bank’s app, or with my bank card in stores.

There are definite advantages to living this way, the most important being my ability to track my spending. For example, my bank’s app has a ‘summary’ function that looks at my purchases and sorts them by type of company, dividing them up into categories and months. It then tells me what it thinks I will spend this month and how much left I have in my budget.

Back in the late 90s when I was saving for a house, my budgeting was based on putting specific amounts of money into envelopes labeled with categories. When the envelope was empty, I couldn’t spend any more in that category.

Things have changed a little bit since, then, haven’t they?

Here in Spain, paying by cell phone is becoming more and more popular — you just position your phone near the store’s terminal and a wallet app opens, allowing you to confirm the payment. Again, each transaction is then automatically recorded, so you can later review what you spend and where.

Is there a downside to all of this?

That depends on what you think about personal privacy and data mining. For example, each time I purchase an ebook on Amazon or a flight via an online operator, my Facebook feed fills up with ads for similar books and vacations. It’s a bit disconcerting to think that companies track my spending and use it to advertise to me, but for me, it’s a small price to pay for the convenience.

If I were still running my own business, I’d be thrilled with the detailed tracking of my expenses. Instead of hours of input into whatever financial program I was using, I could simply open up an app and see exactly what I’ve spent and where. If I had separate bank accounts for personal and business spending, I wouldn’t even need a financial program anymore, as it would be all there for me to see and consult whenever I (or my accountant) needed to.

What do you think? How much actual cash do you spend these days? Is the digitization of money a good thing? Will paper money disappear at some point?

An organized approach to passwords for World Password Day

I’m not usually a big fan of business-sponsored special days, but World Password Day is an exception. The four recommendations provided on the website are all good ones, and they are presented clearly and succinctly.

Step 1. Create strong passwords.

Rich Shay of MIT, who was involved in Carnegie Mellon’s research into passwords, told The Washington Post, “There is no perfect password.” And while there are some guidelines that many experts recommend, some of Shay’s research (PDF) indicated that “participants generally wished to create strong passwords, at least for some accounts; they just did not always know how to do so.” In some cases, “weak passwords resulted from misconceptions, such as the belief that adding ‘!’ to the end of a password instantly makes it secure.”

The World Password Day guidance places an emphasis on password length, although other strategies are also noted. Many experts are now recommending long passwords, which can be based on a phrase (as long as it’s not something like a published poem or song lyric). The Washington Post gives the following example:

  • Bad password: [email protected]
  • Better password: boughtthejackalopeatwalldrugstoreinsouthdakota

Step 2. Use a different password for each account.

As I’ve noted before on Unclutterer, different passwords might not be necessary for accounts where you aren’t concerned about the security — if you happen to have any like that. But any website that has your medical or financial information or provides access to critical services such as your email should certainly have a unique password. That way if the passwords at one site get compromised your other accounts will still be secure.

Step 3: Get a password manager.

It’s a lot easier to comply with steps 1 and 2 if you’re using a password manager. Tools such as 1Password, LastPass, and KeePass are what people usually think of when it comes to a password manager, and they are the type of password manager that World Password Day has in mind. Besides storing your passwords, many of these tools can also generate random passwords for you — and some can do auto logins for you, too.

However, a piece of paper can also serve as a password manager, as explained on the Crash Override Network website:

You’ve likely read advice telling you to “never write down your passwords.” This is because we, as human beings, have a bad habit of leaving the password to a secure computer sitting on the desk next to the computer that is being secured. Physical copies of passwords can be kept secure just like any small, valuable item you own. Treat passwords in paper form the same as money, passports, legal documents, your great grandmother’s antique pearl earrings, the deed to old man Withers’ silver mine, and of course, the keys to your house. Don’t leave passwords on the desk at work or taped to your monitor.

The piece-of-paper approach doesn’t have the added features a digital password manager might have, and it’s something that could be lost in a disaster like a fire. Still, it might be the best solution for those who are uncomfortable with other tools.

Step 4: Turn on multi-factor authentication.

The World Password Day site states: “In 2017, our call to action … is to #LayerUp Your Login by enabling multifactor authentication. A password alone is no longer enough to protect online accounts.” You’ve probably seen news stories about people whose passwords were discovered, sometimes because they were tricked by a fake email message. With multi-factor authentication, your account stays secure even if your password becomes known.

What exactly is multi-factor authentication? Parker Higgins, writing on the Electronic Frontier Foundation website, explained that there are three factors that can be used to authenticate your access to an account:

  • A knowledge factor, like a password or PIN. Something you know.
  • A possession factor, like a key or a hardware dongle. Something you have.
  • An inherence factor, like a fingerprint or an iris. Something you are.

The way this often works on a computer is that you enter your login and password (something you know) and then a code gets sent to your smartphone (something you own) in a text message. You enter that code into the computer, and you’re set.

Alternatively, for even safer verification, you could use authentication apps such as Google Authenticator or physical tokens such as Yubikeys if either of those options are available.

Not all sites allow for multi-factor (or two-factor) authentication — but many do, although it might go by a different name. As Gennie Gebhart wrote on the EFF website: “Different platforms sometimes call 2FA different things, making it hard to find: Facebook calls it ‘login approvals,’ Twitter ‘login verification,’ Bank of America ‘SafePass,’ and Google and others ‘2-step verification.'”

So if you want to be fully security-conscious, search for this option on the websites that provide it.

Managing kids’ screen time

When I was a kid in the 1980s, “screen time” wasn’t really a thing. Personal computers were rare, expensive things that few people had and were mainly for business. Telephones were “dumb” and tethered to the wall, and television offered 13 channels, many of which were snow.

What a difference 40 years makes!

Today, my kids have a staggering amount of media and entertainment available to them at all times. As a parent, I struggle with raising the first generation of kids to never know a day without the internet, pocket-sized computers, and on-demand entertainment. It’s not easy to manage but oh, so important to do so.

Research has demonstrated the dangers of unbridled screen time. A study recently conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that “…children [between the ages of] 8 to 18 spend, on average, close to 45 hours per week watching TV, playing video games, instant messaging, and listening to music online.” That’s more time — far more — than they spend in a classroom.

What’s the result of all this time spent staring at a glowing rectangle? As of this writing, it’s hard to say. Since this issue is so new, there haven’t been a lot of longitudinal studies conducted. But research is being done. A study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior suggests that sixth graders who abstained from screen time for a period of time were better able to read human emotions than those who did not.

So how can we stay on top of it? Organize a healthy “media diet” with the kids. Here are a few ideas.

First, be aware of what’s age-appropriate. Know what they’re watching, playing, and listening to. I know it sounds obvious, but new entertainment comes out so often, we as parents must actively stay up to date.

This doesn’t just go for content. While digital entertainment is being made for two-year-olds, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV or computer screens (including phones and tablets) for that age group at all.

Next, set family rules and stick to them. Our rule is this: two hours of screen time after dinner and that’s it. Of course, this is considering that all homework is done, lunches and snacks are prepared, and bags are packed up for the next morning. Both parents must be consistent with rule enforcement here. This leads me to the next tip.

No media in bedrooms. You can’t monitor your children when they’re in bed. If a phone or tablet is at hand, the temptation may be too great to pass up.

So far I’ve put all of the focus on the kids. That’s important, but phone-addicted parents need a reminder to put their devices down, too. A recent study noted that kids can feel unimportant when their parents spend so-called “quality time” looking at a phone . Face-to-face interaction is the way children learn.

I guess we could all do with a little less screen time. Manage the amount of time your kids — and you yourself — spend looking at a phone, tablet or computer screen.

Do we outsource our memory too much?

Recently I started a new course that’s rather stressful and time-consuming. To prepare for it, at work, I wrote down everything I have to do between now and my August holidays. For Unclutterer, I didn’t do anything because Jacki has a lovely Google Calendar with all our publishing dates. And I informed my husband of when I would need to work on my course so that he wouldn’t feel ignored.

All good things, right? Communication, written task lists, and using sharing technology to its fullest. The height of personal organization.

But then, at work in doing one of my monthly tasks, I left half of it undone. Plus I didn’t go look at Jacki’s calendar and almost missed a publishing date (thanks for reminding me, Jacki). The only thing that didn’t go wrong was my relationship.

I asked myself why that happened.

I began by looking at my task list at work. When I’d written down the monthly task, I wrote down only the information for the first part of the task and nothing about the second. When I relied solely on my memory, I always went through a mental checklist to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Having written it down, I didn’t feel the need to go through that list and didn’t even remember the second part existed and it’s something I’ve been doing monthly for over 3 years!

Then I thought about the calendar and why I didn’t consult it. Lack of habit and assuming that I already knew it. I have to admit that last one is a biggie for me. I get convinced of something so much that I don’t bother checking to make sure that it is true.

This led me to wonder about using lists, relying on memory, or employing technology. Which works best and why?

With smartphones and prior to that day-planners, we have external memory devices around us all the time. No need to actually remember anything, right? But is that lazy of us? Over on Life Hacker, Thorin Klosowski did a personal experiment back in 2012 where he stopped relying on anything other than his brain to remember what he had to do and where he had to go.

To make sure he did everything he needed to, he would walk himself through the day each morning, similar to what I did for my monthly work tasks before making the mistake of half-writing them down. He found the experiment extremely helpful and although he didn’t stick to a brain-only memory prompt, he did decide to rely less on paper and technology.

Fascinated by Klosowski’s experiment, I thought I’d go see what else was out there and found an article in Wired from 2014 that looked at an experiment that tested people’s ability to remember things with or without the ability to write it down first. The results did not support note-taking as a memory tool. Those who relied solely on memory performed better.

“Okay, okay, maybe these are two isolated incidents,” I said to myself. “Let’s see what else is out there.”

Moving up to 2016, Motherboard published an article about how using technology to remember tasks makes it easier to forget them.

The author, Rachel Pick, was in a situation really close to mine — lots of commitments with different dates and requirements and no simple way to merge them all into a single list. She tried a physical planner, but just like me, she forgot to take it with her. She then tried apps, which were either too complex or too restrictive.

She finally tried Google Keep (which I use to remember restaurants in other cities, birthday gift ideas for my husband, and things that we have to take to the cottage). And she liked it, so much so that if something wasn’t written down in the app, it was like it never existed.

Being a curious person, Pick spoke with a neuroscientist to find out why this was happening. What he told her was basically what Klosowski discovered on his own — Pick was outsourcing her memory to Google Keep and was changing the way neurons were firing in her brain.

What was the neuroscientists advice? Rely more on memory and less on tools.

With so many things going on in my life, I can’t rely on just my memory, but what I have to do is start asking myself, “Are you sure that’s all? Are you missing anything?” and go through my mental checklists with paper and technology acting as prompts and light support only.

How to organize your Facebook backups

For better or worse, many of us share a lot of information via Facebook. Everything from weekend plans to photos of lunch get posted, shared, tagged, and shared again. After a year of use, that’s a whole lot of memories and data uploaded to Mark Zuckerberg’s little creation. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a local backup, safe and sound? You can even organize regular Facebook backups and keep them stored nice and tidy on a drive of your own. It’s easy to do. Just follow these steps:

  1. Log into Facebook and go to the Settings page. You can find it by clicking the disclosure triangle on the far right of the page. A menu appears. You may have to scroll a bit to find Settings.
  2. On the left-hand side of the Settings page, make sure General Settings is selected. There’s a list on the right. At the very bottom, you’ll see “Download a copy of Facebook data.” Click that link.
  3. You’ll be taken to the download overview screen. Simply click “Start My Archive.”

What exactly is backed up? As Facebook explains it:

“Timeline info, posts you have shared, messages, photos and more. Additionally, it includes information that is not available simply by logging into your account, like the ads you have clicked on, data like the IP addresses that are logged when you log into or out of Facebook, and more.”

Like me, you might not want or need all of that information. Unfortunately, there is no way to pick and choose what is backed up, at least as of this writing. Also, there is potentially a lot of sensitive information in the resulting archive. Keep it in a safe location.

Once you click Start My Archive, Facebook will get busy creating your backup. Soon you’ll get an email with a link. Click it, and you’re taken back to Facebook one more time. At last you’ll have the opportunity to share the zipped (compressed) file to your computer. Navigate to that folder and explore the archive.

You’ll find a file labeled “index”. Open that file for a HTML page linking to all of the files you downloaded. Photos, for example, are in a folder called Photos, and sorted by album.

If you’d like to have an app take care of this for you – and grab data from several other social media services at the same time – consider digi.me. It offers free software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS that will back up posts from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and several other social media networks to your local drive.

The thought of a compromised or hacked social account sends shivers down my spine. If you feel the same way, take the time to back up these services. You’ll be glad you did.

Apps to easily organize storage bins

Three years ago, I mentioned a fun trick in a post about digitizing user manuals. Basically, it works like this:

  1. Save the manual in an Evernote note.
  2. Use that note’s unique URL to create a QR Code.
  3. Print that code on adhesive-backed printer paper.
  4. Affix the code sticker to the washer, drill, etc., for instant access to its manual.

Bella Storage does a similar thing for storage totes but it reduces the number of steps and apps, and greatly enhances the result. The app, available for iPhones and Android, is the heart of the solution. When you’re putting items into a Bella storage bin, use it to note the contents, give the bin a name (“Halloween decorations,” “Summer clothes”, etc.) and give it a category, like “holiday” or “sports.” Lastly, add a location.

Later, when you’re looking for that one swimsuit, the jack-o-lantern carving tools, or the bike helmets, Bella tells you what bin it’s in and where it is located. It works in the other direction, too. Simply walk up to a bin, scan the code on the side and “see” exactly what’s inside. You don’t need to pull it down and lift the lid.

Of course, there are other solutions that offer something similar. Box Me Up works much the same, and has both a mobile-friendly, browser-based interface as well as an Android app. Another option is I.M Organized, which lets you inventory all of your stuff by simply scanning a bar code, and also generates QR Codes for you to affix to boxes or bins.

Finally, there’s the DIY method I mentioned earlier.

Good luck! Try out any of these apps for quick retrieval of your stuff. Happy storing!

Expand Evernote’s usefulness with the Web Clipper

Here at Unclutterer, we love Evernote. I’ve often called it “my external brain,” and consider it just that. I’ve used it to create a digital journal, manage recipes, and Erin has used it to organize her busy family life. Today I’ll talk about an oft-overlooked feature: the web clipper.

Evernote’s web clipper can be added on to your web browser to act as a useful go-between from the internet and Evernote. That is to say, it lets you quickly move information — links, articles, quotes, etc. — from a web browser to Evernote without requiring you to open the software. It’s fast and saves a lot of time. Today, I’ll show you the basics of using the Evernote web clipper.

Installation

Go to evernote.com/webclipper to download the version your browser needs. You’ll be guided through the simple process. From there you’re ready to go. To do what, exactly? Let me explain.

Use

I’m using Safari for Mac in this article. While there will be slight variations across browsers and operating systems, everything will be largely the same.

I often use Evernote to save online articles I’d like to read later. I can save the URL, open Evernote, find the appropriate notebook, create a new note and paste in the URL, but that’s too many steps. The web clipper makes it much easier.

Once installed, just click the little elephant icon that launches the web clipper (the installation process will put the icon front-and-center on your browser for you). When you do that, a new window appears (right) with five options:

  1. Article – Save the entire article as you see it.
  2. Simplified Article – Save just the text, stripping out ads and other non-essential images.
  3. Full Page – Grabs everything you see on that web page.
  4. Bookmark – Only grabs the URL.
  5. Screenshot – Takes a screenshot of the web page (or a portion thereof).

Below that you’ll find the “Organize” section. From the drop-down menu, select the notebook you’d like to use as a destination. You can add tags and even “remarks” (brief notes to yourself) for future reference and context. It all takes a fraction of the time you’d spend by launching the software itself.

Grab only the text you want

This is a super cool feature. As soon as you click the little elephant, you may notice a little yellow square next to your cursor. This is the highlighter, and it lets you grab just a portion of the the text on a page. Simply click and drag to highlight it in yellow, then click Save on the Web Clipper.

Share your clips

Once you’ve grabbed a clip, you might want to share it. After clicking Save as described above, you’ll be presented with a new window that offers to share what you’ve just saved. Click the drop-down menu for several options, including email, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and more. This is useful if you’re coordinating information for a family trip, group work project, and so on.

This was just a brief overview and I hope it prompts you to check out this often-forgotten feature. It saves me a lot of time and lets me save a lot of great info I might otherwise forget.