Keeping your tech gadgets clean

On Sunday, I watched the post-game show after the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl. As the victors lifted the shiny Lombardi Trophy high above their heads, I thought, “Wow, that thing is covered in fingerprints.”

Unfortunately, the same can be said for some of my favorite tech gadgets. Like many other tablets and smartphones, Apple’s iPad and iPhone literally require you to touch, tap, and swipe your fingers all over their screens. Even computer screens are occasionally touched or tapped as you try to point out something on the screen. Keeping up with all the fingerprints can feel like a losing battle, but that doesn’t mean you should just give up on cleaning. The following are a few ways you can keep your tech gadgets relatively clean.

Smartphones

Nobody wants a stylus” quipped Steve Jobs when he introduced the iPhone to the world in 2007. Sometimes, when I’m wiping my iPhone’s screen against my jeans, I wonder if he was wrong about this. Ugh!

To give your smartphone (iPhone or otherwise), a good cleaning, follow these steps:

  1. Make sure it’s turned off.
  2. Wipe with a soft, slightly damp, lint-free cloth. Avoid getting any moisture on any of the openings.
  3. Clean the Home Button with a dry, lint-free cloth only.

There are a couple things NOT to do, too:

  1. Do not use household cleaners, sprays, solvents, or any abrasives. All of these could harm your phone. For example, the iPhone’s screen features an oleophobic coating that’s meant to repel oils like those found in fingerprints. Household cleaners can reduce that coating’s effectiveness.
  2. Never spray your phone directly with a cleaner. As I’ve said, apply a slightly damp cloth to the screen.

Follow these steps every other day (less often if your phone is in a case) and your phone should remain relatively clean.

Tablets

A lot of the same rules apply to tablets as cell phones. Use a slightly damp, lint-free cloth, except on the Home Button, power button, or openings like the headphone port. Do not spray any liquids directly onto the tablet, and don’t use the types of cleaners I described earlier. Since a tablet’s screen is made of glass, it’s tempting to use window cleaner. Don’t.

Give your tablet a good wipe-down once per week.

Computers

Desktop and laptop computers are handled much less often than their mobile counterparts. Still, they do need a good cleaning occasionally. As you did with your tablet and phone, make sure your computer is off before giving it a good cleaning. That slightly damp, lint-free cloth is back on duty here, and can be safely used on the screen and chassis of your computer.

Again, keep moisture away from all ports and openings, and never spray directly onto the screen. Clean your computer once per month.

Keyboards

When it comes to keyboards, things can get nasty. Many keyboards are overdue for a good cleaning. In fact, it’s a good idea to regularly disinfect your keyboard.

  1. Disconnect your keyboard from your computer or, if it’s a wireless model, remove the batteries.
  2. Use a not-too-wet disinfectant wipe to clean an area, then use a dry, lint-free cloth to dry that area.

Again, there are a few things NOT to do.

  1. Don’t use wipes that contain bleach or any sprays.
  2. Avoid excessively damp wipes.
  3. Don’t let liquid pool.
  4. Avoid rough towels like paper towels.
  5. Clean your keyboards every other week.

Cleaning your gadgets only takes a few minutes and is well worth it.

Create your digital, personal insights journal

Earlier this week, writer Shawn Blanc published what I thought was a rather clever post on his blog, “The Core Curriculum.” In a nutshell, the post is about gathering the insightful lessons, experiences, thoughts, and other notable moments that occur in the course of a year into a single, tidy, and easily-referenced format. I like this idea, especially since we’re only a couple weeks into 2015.

The inspiration, if I’m correct, is the human tendency to forget details over time or otherwise have one’s recollections affected by environment, future experiences, and so on. This practice of capturing the details shortly after they happen not only helps ensure accuracy, it allows you to recall the initial insight after months or even years pass.

I’m going to change this practice in two ways. The first is a semantic change. “Core Curriculum” has become a politically charged term, and, for that reason, I think its use here is not the best choice. Instead, I’ll use “Insights Journal.” Second, since this is a tech-related column, I’ll suggest software as the main repository, where Shawn suggests a notebook.

In his article, Shawn notes:

“…Why not put together a small notebook that contains highlights and summaries from the books, speeches, articles, sermons, teachings, and other things which have most shaped us?…Then, once a year or so, go through the notebook. Read your summaries and highlights to stay familiar with the things that have shaped you.”

The following is software that can help you do just that.

  • Evernote. You might have seen this coming, as I’ve written about Evernote several times on Unclutterer. It’s my external brain, perfect for long-term storage and search. It’s compatible with almost every platform and it is actively being developed. It’s definitely a good way to capture your ideas.
  • Day One. This program is just for Mac and iOS users, but it has a slew of fans. Day One lets you enter text, as well as photos, weather information, location tracking (if you opt for it), and more. It syncs across devices like your Mac, iPad, and iPhone via iCloud or Dropbox. You can even publish certain entries, if you prefer.
  • Red Notebook. If you’re a Windows or Linux user and are looking for something similar to Day One, consider Red Notebook. This “modern notebook” lets you get in and start writing very quickly. You can create several virtual “notebooks,” so making a new Insight Journal at the end of the year will be easy, as will reviewing all you’ve captured.

Of course, there’s always Google Documents, Microsoft Word, Apple’s Text Edit, or even a physical notebook that you could use for this purpose. Just note that, while excellent at accepting text, those options won’t offer as strong of search options for your review as Evernote, Day One, or Red Notebook.

I hope Shawn’s idea inspires you, as it does me. He’s right — we do experience insightful and beneficial moments in our lives that we are quick to forget. An Insights Journal is a great idea to formally capture life’s lessons for future reference.

Eliminate unwanted email subscriptions

One of the things I love to do in January is to unsubscribe from unwanted email lists, newsletters, digital sales fliers, and so on. After spending 11 months ignoring them whenever they show up, it’s time to get rid of them entirely. In this post I’ll explain a few ways to purge electronic mail lists from your email inbox, from one-at-a-time to bulk action.

It’s my fault for subscribing in the first place, of course. Often when I do, my intentions are good. I’ll find a new site or service that I’m interested in and think, “Yes, I do want to keep up to date with this company’s stuff.” Once I’ve done that a dozen times, I’m in trouble. Digital clutter is just as insidious as its real-world counterpart, so it’s time to make a change.

Identify likely candidates

I’m not opposed to email subscriptions. There are many that are quite useful (like the Unclutterer email subscriptions, obviously). Therefore, the first step in this process is to identify the ones you’ll get rid of in your purge versus the ones you wish to keep. I do this via a week of mindful email reading. Each day, I’ll make a mental note of the subscriptions I simply delete without reading. If you like, create a folder for these, mark them with a flag or otherwise tag them for future reference. When I did it, I just wrote a list on a piece of paper.

Let the culling begin!

There are a few ways to unsubscribe from unwanted email. If you’ve only got a few to jettison, you could go the manual route. If you look closely in the footer of the email you receive, you’ll see something along the lines of “click to unsubscribe” or simply “unsubscribe.” You might have to look closely, as it’s sometimes hard to find. The message’s sender wants to keep your attention, after all. Clicking this link will bring you to a webpage that likely has further instructions. Many will unsubscribe you then and there, while others will have you jump through additional hoops. It’s kind of a hassle, but worth it when the result is less junk mail. Of course, this method is too time-consuming if you’ve got a long list of unwanted subscriptions. In that case, consider one of the following:

Unroll.me. Not only does Unroll.me help you kill unwanted subscriptions, it makes the keepers more manageable by presenting them in a single, daily digest email. You can even roll things like messages from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube into that single message. Tidy!

Mailstrom. This is another service that lets you cull hundreds or thousands of messages at once and send them all to the big, virtual trash bin in the sky, while keeping the messages you want to see intact. Plus, it works with the email solution you’re probably already using, as it’s compatible with Gmail, Google Apps Email, Outlook, Apple, Aol, and Exchange IMAP.

A tip for Gmail users. If you’re using Gmail, take a close look at the top of a message. You’ll likely see an “Unsubscribe” link. Google has made this a uniform location for this link, which is great, as it saves you from scouring a message’s footer for the hard-to-find default link.

Unlistr. Finally, this is a service that does the dirty work for you. Simply identify the email senders you don’t want to hear from anymore, and Unlistr does the rest, unsubscribing for you. Thanks, Jeeves!

Apps to track your fitness

Improving fitness and health is a popular New Year’s resolution. And scientists who study such things have found that keeping track of your workouts can help with reaching your goals. Tracking helps you monitor your progress and that is beneficial because increased strength and endurance are often hard to perceive. Also, it is much easier to remember your workouts when you see them rather than trying to remember what exercises you need to do or what weights you need to use.

Pen, paper, and notebooks are ideal for recording and monitoring your progress. You can record as date, time, workout description, weight levels, repetitions with as much or as little information as you wish. There is no special technology required and it is very cost effective. However, your notebook may be too bulky to carry with you back and forth to the gym and it may be time consuming to re-write the same information over and over again. It isn’t easy to see the information in a graphical format either, which is why I recommend apps you can access on your smartphone, tablet, or other digital devices.

Fitbit is a bracelet that tracks your steps, calories burned, and distance travelled. It syncs with your smartphone and provides a daily report of how active you are. There are several models of bracelets. The most basic models track steps, calories burned, and distance. The more advanced models track heart rate, sleep quality, and have a built in GPS tracking system. With the Fitbit website you can set goals, earn badges for reaching your goals, and connect with other Fitbit users to create a support network.

Abvio is a software company that makes three easy-to-use apps for your smartphone that can be used to track your workouts: Cyclemeter, Runmeter, and Walkmeter. All three apps allow you to record splits, intervals, and laps. They also have maps, graphs, announcements, and built-in training plans. These apps will sync with different types of sport watches that monitor heart rates. Cyclemeter can connect to some types of bicycle computers to record cadence as well. Abvio does not have its own website, but the data from the apps can be exported and uploaded into various other social fitness sites.

Those who participate in different types of sports such as yoga, martial arts, or horseback riding, may wish to consider The Athlete’s Diary. It is a multisport computer log, available for both computers and smartphones. It has a special-purpose database program designed for athletes and keeps track of the date, sport, category (training, interval, or race), distance, time, pace, route/workout, and has an area for comments. The Athlete’s Diary syncs with your computer and smartphone through Dropbox so you can use either device to enter your fitness data.

Virtual Trainer Pro is a really unique app for your smartphone. It is a database of hundreds of exercises, each demonstrated in a video by a fitness expert. You can create your own routines easily by dragging and dropping the exercises into the order you wish to follow or you can use one of thousands of ready-to-use workouts. Tracking your score and earning points and medals will help to keep you motivated.

There are many other apps available for monitoring fitness progress. Some are sport specific, others also allow you to track caloric intake and nutritional information. It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out or you’re a serious fitness pro, being organized and tracking your fitness information will help you to reach your fitness goals.

Todoist is a task manager with two cool tricks

We’ve covered some nice productivity software over the years, like TeuxDeux and Due. Today, I want to point out Todoist, not only because it’s nearly ubiquitous, attractive, and effective, but because it has two features I think are really great. The following reasons are why Todoist is the digital project manager that has my attention these days.

It’s everywhere

Okay, so this isn’t one of the cool tricks but it’s something very much worth mentioning. Todoist boasts that it’s available on 13 platforms and devices. I’ve been using it on my Mac and iPhone, but you’ll also find options for Android and Windows, plus extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Outlook, Gmail and more. In my experience, synchronization between my computer and phone is lightning fast.

Import and export

Todoist lets you make color-coded projects and tasks, complete with tags, due dates, repeating events and so much more. It’s great-looking and effective. What’s really cool is its ability to import and export templates.

Here’s how this time-saving feature works:
When you create a new project, it’ll probably have several steps that must be ticked off before the thing can be marked as done. You can be really thorough, like me, and add due dates, contexts, color coding and more. Sometimes there will be a project that you’ll do over and over. A good example is the podcast I run at 5by5. Each week I go through the exact same steps, from scheduling to research and publication. I could add those steps to a project week after week, or I could just use a template.

Once a project is set up exactly how you like it, select “Export template” from within Todoist. It converts all those steps into a simple text file, with all my customization intact. I can store it wherever I want, and opting to import it sets up that project all over again, and all I had to do was click a single command.

There’s a great post on the Todoist blog that features several templates that are ready to import and use, including holiday gift shopping, pre-Christmas organizing, a holiday party plan, and even one for travel. I’m using the Christmas organization one now, and have saved the travel template for the future. This feature saves me so much time.

Karma points

I promised you two tricks, and the second one is something I should not like as much as I do. As you complete tasks, Todoist awards you with “karma points.” The more you use the app, the more points you receive. There are several ranks to earn and a pretty chart. Ignore the app or fail to complete tasks on time, and you’ll start to lose points. Yes, it’s 100 percent gimmicky and silly, but I totally get excited when I see my point total climb.

There are a huge number of project management apps available, and Todoist is only one of them. But I love its clean looks, near ubiquitous access and fantastic templates. You can use Todoist for free as long as you like, or upgrade to the premium version for $29 per year. I’ve found it to be definitely worth the expense.

Unclutterer’s 2014 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Technology gifts

It used to be that I’d ask if you have a techie on your holiday shopping list before beginning a gift-giving post like this, but the truth is, almost everyone is a techie these days with devices, gadgets, and gizmos as part of our everyday lives. Now, you can buy an uncluttered tech gift for nearly everyone.

Earlier this year, I reviewed the the ScanSnap iX100 and it did the impossible: it made me fall in love with a scanner, of all things. This small, portable, fast, and wireless scanner fits on my desk or in a bag. In my continued and extensive testing I have found that its battery holds a charge for a long time and it lets you export your scanned image to a huge array of sources, from your desktop to a shared folder to Evernote and so much more. Gone are the days of cranky flatbed scanners the size of a 1970 Ford Galaxy 500.

The Magnetic Organization System or “MOS,” is one of those why-didn’t-they-think-of-that products. If you’re like me, you’re constantly looking for effective ways to combat cable clutter. Sure, you can take the DIY route, but I encourage you to consider the MOS. The attractive, metallic pad sits on your desk and holds unused cables in place with magnets. It comes in black, silver, and white, so you can find one to accommodate your other hardware. My favorite part: if you have cables that won’t be held in place by a magnet, just use one of the included, magnetic cable ties and you’re all set.

Finally, if you want to use it to store something other than computer cables, have at it (see the image above right).

The Kanex GoBuddy+ is unobtrusive and a brilliant multi-tasking cable organizer that I love. First it has two cables attached — either a USB and a Lightning cable, or a USB and a micro USB. Both tuck out of the way when not and use, and unfold to connect your smartphone or tablet to a computer or USB-based AC adapter for charging. Best of all, it’s got a built-in bottle opener. Yes, please! It comes in black or white.

Here’s one that’s for you and/or the kids. The dreamGEAR Nintendo Wii Induction Power Base Quad adds a rechargeable battery to the Nintendo’s Wiimotes. When the gaming ends, simply plop the controller back into the base and it begins charging. You can either plug it into a wall or make use of that mystery USB port on the back of your TV (what is that for, anyway?) to save a slot on the wall socket. I have one of these at home and love it. The kids never ask for batteries for the Wiimotes anymore.

Last year I recommended the BookBook Travel Journal, and thought I would never fine something I like just as much. Well, I have. The Better Together Note Pouch is a zippered carrier that can accommodate a tablet or a laptop plus a myriad of pens, notebooks, labels, and a host of other things. It comes in several colors.

The Anker® 40W 5-Port High Speed Desktop USB Charger doesn’t have the sexiest name in the world, but it’s great for multi-device families. Once connected to a wall socket, this puppy can charge up to three USB-based devices. Not only that, it eliminates the clutter of “Where’s my cable?” and “Where’s my charger?” I recommend paring it with these great cable labels so everyone knows exactly whose is whose.

Last but not least, a handy little stocking stuffer for the techie on your gift list. The DCI 4-Port USB Power Strip fits into a bag (it measures just 1.1 by 4.4 by 0.75-inches), accepts up to four USB devices, and even has colored covers for each port so you needn’t worry about debris getting inside them when not in use. I’d give this to the tech-friendly traveler, as a full-sized charging station is too unwieldy to pack easily.

Feel welcome to explore our past Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Digital organizing and productivity tools

I’ve been working with a few tech tools lately to improve my organization and productivity. Some are proving themselves to be quite useful, while I’m on the fence with others. Here’s a look at what I’m using lately, both the good and the could-be-good.

Photo management

I’m still years into my search for the perfect digital photo management solution. Today we can take 400 photos as easily as breathing, but the technology for organizing it all has not kept up. My search for the current something that meets my needs has led to Dropbox’s Carousel. When matched with a Dropbox account, the Carousel app automatically uploads your photos to your storage. It’s pretty nice and, in my experience, the uploads are fast. I have the app installed on my phone and on my wife’s phone, so all of the photos we take end up in the same account — no more remembering to text or email photos to each other.

Picturelife is another solution I’m working with. It does auto-upload, too, and offers some unique tools. For one, I love the “Memories” feature. Each morning, I get an email prompting me to review photos I’ve taken on this day from years ago (you can opt out of this if you’re not interested). I find it is a lot of fun to peruse those memories. In fact, Picturelife makes it very easy to find old photos, which is no easy task when you have a contemporary digital library.

Productivity

Bartender is a great little Mac utility that keeps my computer’s menu bar very well organized. The Apple menu bar displays icons that allow quick access to certain applications and utilities. The problem is, I’ve got a lot of those apps installed, and the menu bar becomes a cluttered mess. Bartender lets me display those I use most often, and hide the rest. It’s a great way to keep things tidy and accessible.

Google’s new invite-only email application for iOS and Android devices is named Inbox and it is … interesting. I’ve been using it for about a week and I’m not sure I’m ready to abandon my existing email software. It has some interesting features, like a “pin” that keeps certain messages at the top of your box, and defer options that I’m growing to like. I can tell the app to put a message in front of me on another day or time, when I suspect I’ll have more time or energy to deal with it. The app’s looks aren’t the most straight-forward, and so far that’s the biggest struggle for me. But, it’s still early in its life cycle, so that could change.

Kids

My daughter has been blessed with the same sieve-like brain her father enjoys. Now that she’s in junior high, the casual forgetfulness that she’s gotten away with is becoming increasingly detrimental. So, I’m trying to introduce her to a couple of strategies.

One is a good old notebook. I’m a huge fan, as regular readers know, and I’ve given her one of my beloved Field Notes Brand notebooks and pen to carry around. She’s using it all right, but I wonder if the novelty will wear off. The more you love a tool, the more likely you’ll use it. With that in mind, I turned her to an iPad mini and an app for it.

Remember The Milk is a no-frills, straight-forward task manager that’s compatible with just about every platform you can conceive. I know that she loves that iPad and is highly motivated to play with it, so an app may be her long-lasting solution. A habit takes time to build, and attractive tools will make that more likely.

Are you using any interesting organizing and/or productivity tools lately? Have a suggestion for any of the above categories? Let us know in the comments.

Organize a mini office for on-the-go productivity

I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home. Despite the battles with distraction, it’s a real luxury that I definitely appreciate. I’d wager that those of you who don’t complete your 9–5 at home still have a home office, computer room, command center, or some such other space that you use to attend to professional and personal management tasks.

Although these home work spaces are helpful, it’s inevitable you’ll be ejected from it at some point. Flaky internet, construction right outside your window, your kid who needs to do research for a school project, your neighbor’s dog that just won’t stop barking … these factors can make your sacred space less than amenable to productivity. Fear not! There are many public options available, and early organization and preparation will make it easy to head out the door and get back to work. The following are insights into how I’ve organized a mini, portable office.

First, identify the equipment you’ll need, and then whittle the list down to the most essential. For example, I’d love to bring my laptop, folding stand, Bluetooth keyboard, and Bluetooth mouse to an off-site work session, but all I need to work is the laptop. Sure the trackpad stinks, but not as badly as hauling all of that stuff around. The idea here is to travel light.

I also bring a notebook and a pen, both small. I know myself well enough at this point to understand that I like to scribble and doodle random thoughts and tasks during my work day. Lastly, I grab a charger for the laptop and a charging cable for my iPhone. I put the lot into a bag and I’m good to go as soon as the jackhammer starts pounding out my window.

Or am I?

In addition to the items listed above, these next few items really make it a killer setup. Consider putting these things into your own bag to reach the next level of mobile office work.

  1. A little cash. Many people use a coffee shop or cafe as a backup office. Most proprietors welcome laptop warriors, as long as they buy some things in their shop. Save yourself a trip to the ATM by popping $5 or $10 in your bag now. Yes, the cafe likely accepts debit cards, but cash makes it easier to tip the staff. As a camper, you want to stay on everyone’s good side.
  2. A power strip. These are bulky, but hear me out on my justification for packing one. I like to work from my local library. It has free WiFi, huge tables, and very few power outlets. When I approach a crowded table and plug a six-socket power strip into the wall, I become The Hero of the Library. Try it yourself and bask in the glory of your appreciative peers.
  3. An extra AC adapter for your laptop. This one is a bit pricey but it’s worth it. The adapter I plug my laptop into at home is entwined in an under-desk cord manager and getting it out is a pain. Keeping one in the bag saves time and aggravation.
  4. A charging cable for your phone. You don’t want your phone to die, and you can’t always predict when you’ll be out or for how long. I don’t pack a wall adapter for my phone, as I’ll just connect it to my laptop which has its own USB adapter.
  5. A pair of headphones. This super useful item is the universal signal for, “Leave me alone, I’m busy.” You needn’t even listen to music if you don’t want to (unless the cafe’s radio station is especially awful).

I recommend packing this stuff into a bag right away and just letting it sit. When it’s time to go, prep time will be minimal and you’ll be on the road to productivity (and maybe a latte) in no time.

Organize wiry earbuds

When not in use, they’re unwieldy and messy. Even when tucked in a drawer, they tend to sprawl out and take over the whole thing. But, even though they create a mess, I still prefer to have them.

I’m talking about earbuds.

When you buy a new smartphone or digital music player, you often get a “free” pair. They don’t usually fit well, so you buy a cheap pair from the drug store or the mall. Perhaps you’re an audiophile, which means you likely ignore the default pair for something you really like. Next thing you know, all your earbuds’ cables are tangled and messy and all over the place and you’re longing for a clutter-free solution.

The starting point, of course, is to give away all your unused pairs. Some folks know they’ll never use the set that shipped with their new device. If that’s the case, don’t even unwrap them. Perhaps there is someone among your family or friends who would love to have them. Ebay and other online auction sites are an option, though you shouldn’t expect to get a lot for them. Freecycle is easy, too.

For the earbuds you choose to keep, having a cable organizer is a must. I recently received a Cord Taco from This Is Ground and I love it. This super-simple circle of leather and closes with a button (it’s pictured above). Once you’ve got the things wrapped up, you can pop them in a drawer or on a desk, tangle-free. They sell in packs of five on Amazon for less than $30. You can keep them all for yourself or keep one and give the rest as gifts to family and friends who could use them.

If you’re the DIY type, your options are many for earbud control. A good, old-fashioned ID clip works in a way that’s very similar. It’s not as pretty as a Cord Taco, but it does have the added benefit of a clip.

There are numerous other options you can buy from online retailers or your local electronics’ store if you’re keen on wrapping up your cables when you’re finished using them. Erin swears by her LG Bluetooth headset, which gets rid of the cable completely, but is significantly more expensive than most earbuds.

Of course, earbud cable management is an excellent opportunity to get tinnovative. The term tinnovations refers to the practice of repurposing or hacking an Altoids tin in a fun, useful way. It’s quite simple to rig up an earbud holder with a tin. You can even make a nice little speaker if you’re up to it.

Finally, lets say you don’t want to buy extra hardware or make something that will itself clutter up the joint. If that’s the case, check out this super clever way to wrap up earbud cords into a tidy package that’s sturdy yet just as easy to take apart. I like this technique.

There you have several ways to tidy up these insidious little things. Now get to it, and enjoy the look of your earbuds for a change.

Protect your home business computer

Home-based businesses may be small, but they are (hopefully) a significant source of income for their owners and they provide a valuable service to their customers. For this and numerous other reasons, it is essential for these businesses to be able to quickly return to normal operations after a disaster.

One of the more frequent “disasters” in small business is data loss. This often happens when a virus infects the business computer or if the computer’s hard drive fails. The easiest way to protect your business from data loss is by ensuring you have up-to-date anti-virus software and to do regular backups of your computer’s hard drive. Daily backups to an external hard drive is an inexpensive way to ensure you can access your data and continue business operations should your computer crash. However, if your office were destroyed by fire or flood you would also lose your external hard drive, so I strongly recommend a cloud-based data storage solution, too. There are many inexpensive, secure online backup services available.

Protecting your computer system itself is important. Small business owners should purchase a surge protector and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) battery for each computer. A UPS will prevent electrical power surges from “blowing up” the computer system, and, should there be a loss of power, the battery will provide enough power for the user to back up data and shut the computer down safely.

Fire, flooding and theft are disasters that unfortunately occur all too often in small businesses. Having a detailed inventory of business assets (electronics, furniture, etc.) is essential in order to restore operations as quickly as possible and ensure the insurance company can process the claim promptly. Record the make, model and serial numbers along with receipts of purchase of all your business equipment. Copies of important paper-based records should be available after a disaster. Scan items such as insurance policies, cheques, and signed contracts. If you’ve stored this information on your computer and backed it up to your online storage area, you can access it easily and provide this information to your insurance company.

Disasters do strike, but if you’re organized and prepared your small business will be protected.

Declutter your email subject lines

Long ago in a town far, far away, I was an undergraduate student. I had one teacher, professor O’Brien, who insisted that his students communicate with him via email. Back then, I sent and received at most two messages per week.

Today, you can put a pair of zeros behind that number.

I’m sure I’m not alone. For many, reading emails is more of a chore than a convenience. One thing you can do to make things easier on your recipients is to write clear, uncluttered subject lines. It’s not very difficult, but can go a long way to making this often irksome task more pleasant and efficient.

First and foremost, keep your subject lines short. According to Business Insider, most computer-based email applications only show around 60 characters in email subject lines. On smart phones, mail apps show maybe half that number. Full sentences won’t really work to meet those restrictions, so consider key words or ideas. Focus on the heart of what you’re going to say. And, to be clear, “Hey!” is not a worthwhile subject.

Since mobile phones give you so little to work with, get the most important words out first (often it’s a verb). “Cancel lunch Friday,” for example, is just 19 characters, the crux of the message, and “cancel” is featured first.

With that point made, it’s time for some decluttering. We aren’t shooting for a diagrammable sentence here, so implied words may be sacrificed. This isn’t always a good idea, of course, but if you’re pushing the limit, feel free to jettison an “although” or even an “after,” if you can without changing the meaning.

There are a few people I communicate with regularly who have a habit of indicating whether or I not I need to respond in the subject itself. For example, “no response needed” or “please respond.” I don’t like this practice, though I know many do. I think it’s just extra words for me to process, but I also understand that if you’re skimming your inbox, it can help identify which messages need attention and which can be set aside. I’ll leave this one up to you.

If your recipient understands the meaning, a message that is completely conveyed in a subject line can be ended with an EOM (end of message). This is good for simple status messages like “Finished (EOM)” and “Meet me in lobby in 5 (EOM).” It saves your reader time by knowing they don’t even have to open the email. If you have more than 25 characters, however, it’s best to keep the subject line brief and put a longer message in the body of an email. Anything longer than that and your reader might have to open the email anyway to see the whole subject line.

Finally, I have two pet peeves I want to share with you. Unless you’re aiming to be funny, don’t start a sentence in the subject and then finish it in the body. Typically I din’t know that’s what’s going on, and I read the body as a fragment sentence, which is confusing for a few seconds until I interpret your setup. I’ve seen this work where the subject is the setup and the body is the punchline, but that’s rare.

And, this should go without saying, don’t use all caps. Slogging through email is annoying enough; yelling doesn’t help.

Sometimes I long for the days when I was sitting in the library at Marywood University, that orange cursor blinking at me while I banged out a simple, three-sentence message to Dr. O’Brien. Two messages per week? I could live with that.

Review: ScanSnap iX100 is a fast, portable, uncluttered scanner

When I worked as an IT director in the early 2000s, scanners were huge, bulky slabs of plastic and glass. They demanded a lot of desk space, cranky software, and patience. I thought of those olden days while I reviewed the ScanSnap iX100 this past week.

This small scanner (pictured above with my computer’s mouse for scale) is just under 11 inches long and about 1.5 inches tall. It’s very light — only 14oz — and completely wireless. But don’t let the size fool you, the iX100 is a very capable scanner. I scanned everything from documents to 8″x10″ photos to playing cards with ease. Finally, the lack of cables makes my clutter-averse heart happy. The following is a detailed look at the Fujitsu iX100 ScanSnap wireless scanner.

Unboxing

It was very simple to get the iX100 up in running. Inside the box, I found:

  • A DVD with installation software for Apple’s OS X as well as Windows
  • A Getting Started Guide, complete with URLs for detailed instruction in 10 languages
  • A detailed handbook, again in several languages
  • Warranty and registration information
  • A micro-USB to USB cable
  • The iX100 itself

I was happy to see the USB cable, as I’ve bought a few printers that shipped without one.

Setup

The iX100 requires software to run, of course, and you’ve got two installation options. To get started, just insert the supplied DVD. From there you can install from the disc itself (the faster option), or download the lot from online. It’s a simple process and the installer walks you through the whole thing.

When that’s done, you can connect the scanner to your computer via the supplied USB cable and turn it on by simply opening the feed guide (the little flap on front). My Mac recognized it instantly, which was great. That’s cool and all, but wireless setup is even better.

The installer will ask if you want to enable wireless scanning. If you do, flip the Wi-Fi switch on the back of the machine so that the indicator light turns blue. The software will ask for permission to access your local network. Grant it and follow the instructions on the screen. When that’s done, you can put that USB cable right back in the box! Hooray! This entire process from opening the box to being ready to scan took less than 10 minutes.

Scanning

Easy setup doesn’t matter if the thing doesn’t work, right? Well I’m glad to say that it definitely does. There’s a tiny feature here that I really like. On the far left of the feed guide there’s a tiny arrow pointing to its edge. That little guy tells you how to orient documents, as well as where to place smaller items. If you’ve ever wasted time by scanning something upside down, you how nice that tiny arrow is.

To scan a document, push it gently into the iX100 until you hear its motor give a tiny whirr. That tells you that it has hold of it. Next, decide if you want to scan in straight or “U-Turn” mode. If you decide on straight, it will spit your document out behind the scanner. If you decide on U-Turn mode, it won’t do that. To engage U-Turn mode, fold the top of the scanner’s case up. This directs the paper going through the scanner back toward the front. If you’ve got the scanner on the edge of your desk like I do, this is terrific, as you needn’t worry about anything falling to the floor or getting crumpled by an adjacent wall. Then tap the Scan/Stop button and the scan begins.

Once the scan is complete, a menu pops up asking what you’d like to do with the scanned file. I was elated to see my beloved Evernote included. You can either send your file to Evernote as a document in the inbox or as a note. Other options include sending it to a specific folder, email, your printer, Dropbox, Google Documents, and more. This set of options is really nice, as chances are you aren’t going to simply drop the file onto your computer’s desktop, but do something with it once you’ve made the scan. There are even dedicated operations for organizing receipts and business cards in the software.

Scanning to Mobile

This feature is super cool. Scanning to a mobile device lets to scan even if your computer is turned off or not around. Once wireless scanning has been set up, all you need to do is download the iX100 ScanSnap mobile application. It’s available for iOS, Android, and the Kindle Fire. I have an iPhone, so I tested the iOS app.

Once the app has been installed, and both devices are on the same wireless network, just launch it on your smartphone or tablet. It will immediately begin looking for the scanner, and once it has found it, it asks for the device’s password, which appears on a sticker on the scanner’s underside.

Now, all you’ve got to do is place a document into the scanner and hit the blue scan button in the app. The document is scanned and sent to the device. It worked just fine for me and it’s a super fast way to get a document into my phone and ready to share. When you’re ready to scan to the computer again, simply close the app.

In conclusion, I’m quite impressed with the iX100. It’s very small and light, takes up almost no room, scans quickly and offers a wealth of options for working with your scanned document. Setup was a breeze and scanning directly to my iPhone is super useful. It is perfect for a small home office and for anyone who travels for business. Anyone looking for a clutter-free and simple scanning solution should definitely consider the iX100.