Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Tech Gadgets

Holiday shopping time is here, and with it comes the opportunity to buy cool tools! Here are our picks for super-cool gadgets that the tech-friendly unclutterers on your list will love.

The iFixit Essential Electronics Toolkit contains unique and essential tools for most electronics repairs like screen and battery replacements. It’s also useful for repairing other electronics and household appliances. It has a great little carrying case with designated spots for each tool so you know where everything belongs and can easily see when something is missing. If there’s a tinkerer on your list, or someone who wants to save money by doing repairs at home, this toolkit is a great gift.

The Automatic Pro is a small device that plugs into a port that most contemporary cars have. Once in place, it provides a whole host of useful information to the companion smartphone app (iOS and Android), including:

  • Diagnostics of engine warning lights
  • Parking tracking
  • Expense tracking for business travel
  • Crash detection and response

There’s even cool collaboration with existing apps and services. For example, have your Hue Lights turn on as you pull into the driveway, set your Nest thermostat to turn the heat down as you pull away or log trip distances onto a Google document automatically.

The KBAR USB charger looks like a power strip but don’t let that fool you. This charger has eight USB ports that intelligently charge up to eight high-power mobile devices like iPads, Android tablets, and full-sized smartphones simultaneously. I say “intelligently” because the KBAR recognizes all of these devices and charges them at their maximum designed speed. Plus, the built-in surge protection helps keep them safe during a electrical power fluctuations.

Finally, I want to mention the PIXNOR 7-piece tweezers set. I seem to always have trouble finding a pair of tweezers when I need them, let alone the right tweezers. This kit offers a variety of sizes, shapes, and weights. Whether it’s removing a sliver from your finger or performing a precision repair, this kit has precisely what you need. At a little under ten dollars, it’s a super deal.

There you have our recommendations for gadget gifts for the organized. Happy shopping. Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Easily save and sort Gmail with G-Save

This is no surprise, but Unclutterer readers are a productive, clever bunch. Recently, a reader wrote in with a project that further reinforced this fact. Kate shared a great Google Chrome extension that she and some co-workers created called “G-Save,” which makes the company’s Gmail service just a little more pleasant to use.

Google Chrome Extensions are “…small software programs that can modify and enhance the functionality of the Chrome browser.” Chrome extensions often make a certain website or service easier to use, by adding additional or alternate functionality, etc. There are many extensions available across multiple categories, including productivity-enhancing gems like Papier, which lets you quickly jot down notes and random thoughts, and Taco, which lets you easily enter tasks and other information into the project managers Wunderlist, Evernote, Asana, Basecamp and Trello.

Installation

Kate’s G-Save has a sharper focus. Specifically, it lets you quickly and easily save emails and their attachments to some location outside of you email client, like Google Drive, Drop Box, Outlook…really anywhere you what.

Setup is so minimal it’s barely worth a mention. First, open the Chrome browser on your computer and navigate to G-Save’s home. Next, click the “Add to Chrome” button in the upper-right. You’ll get a confirmation window. Click “Add extension.” That’s it. You’re done. A small, red Gmail icon appears on the right-hand side of your browser’s toolbar.

G-Save is platform-agnostic, so it doesn’t care if you’re using a PC or a Mac. Here’s how to use it.

Use

With installation complete, it’s time to try this out. Open Gmail in Chrome and you’ll see a new button labeled “Save Email” beneath the familiar “Compose” button. To save a message, simply select it in the list and then click Save Email. The message and any attachments it contains are saved in a universal EML file, with any email client can read.

This appealed to me because I’m a huge opponent of using your email client as a filing cabinet/to-do list. G-Save lets you move messages out of Gmail and into relevant folders, be they for a project, reference storage and so on.

When a new email message arrives, you must ask yourself, “What is this?” It sounds silly but it’s crucial. There are three possible answers:

  1. It’s garbage
  2. It’s something I need to do
  3. It’s something I might refer to later

That’s it. Every message you will ever receive will fall into these three categories.

The first one is simple. Spam, advertising you aren’t interested in, messages from old mailing lists you’ve lost interest in, etc. It’s all in the garbage category, so trash it — immediately.

The next category is the action category. These messages require someone — typically you — to do something. For instance, “Call Jane about the committee meeting,” “Forward the presentation to Frank,” or “Ask Faith about the camping trip next week.” Once you’ve identified what the required action is, make note of it in the appropriate place (on your to-do list or calendar) and then delete the message. Unless your company requires you to retain your email for legal reasons, then move it to an archive folder.

The final category is reference material. These messages do not require action, but they do hold information that could be useful someday. Identify what that information is, (sewing patterns, recipes, etc.) store it in the appropriate place and then delete the email. Yes, delete it. G-Save makes this simple.

Do what must be done

This step is a biggie. Just as you don’t pull a hot turkey out of the oven without first knowing where you’re going to set it down, you should’t delete that email message until you’ve identified a trusted place to put its important information. This is what David Allen calls a “trusted system.” Essentially, it’s an obvious, reliable stake in the ground that holds your information.

Congratulations to Kate and her colleagues for creating such a useful tool. Thanks for sharing and I hope you, dear reader, find a place for G-Save on your computer, too. I know it’s on mine.

Uncluttering your digital junk drawers

The proliferation of inexpensive cloud services offer near-ubiquitous access to your files as well as something rather insidious: an out-of-sight, digital junk drawer. That drawer in your kitchen with the pens, receipts, batteries, fortune cookies from the 90’s, and who knows what else, is in your face every day. Its presence is a constant prompt to clean, sort, and organize. You tend to it because you see it.

Your Evernote account, however is hidden, just like your Dropbox, Box.net, Google Drive, or iCloud account. Digital files like documents, photos, music, and electronic receipts add up slowly but surely, and soon enough you’ve got a mountain of forgotten stuff just hanging out, taking up storage space.

Typically you’ll know it’s time to organize a digital junk drawer by observing how much time you spend searching for what you need. Instead of finding it right away, you scroll and scroll or use the search function, which may or may not be especially helpful. Suddenly that convenient storage solution is wasting time because it takes too long to find things and wasting money, as the cost of storage increases once you exceed your storage threshold.

The good news is it’s easy to clean out a digital junk drawer, as well as ensure it doesn’t get to a sorry state again. Here’s what we recommend.

Use the delete key

It’s time to get to know the delete key. Do not fear it. Instead, embrace its power and banish unwanted files to the Land of Wind and Ghosts.

I recently started to poke around my Dropbox folders. I found many documents I had not touched in months or years — parts of old projects long abandoned, screenshots I had no need for, old software I no longer wanted, unfinished articles that would never get written, etc. There was so much such stuff just sitting there, acting as clutter, hindering searches, and taking up precious space.

I took the time to go through each document, identify it, and if I no longer needed it, I deleted it. It felt great.

It is possible you’ll find documents that have been stored for a long time that you still need. That’s the difference between “reference” and “junk.” For example, the schedule for my local theatre is reference. It holds information that doesn’t require action, but might be useful in the future. User manuals and some receipts fall into this category, too.

Junk, on the other hand, has no value. That screenshot I took simply to post as a joke on Twitter? I don’t need that anymore so into the trash it goes.

A quick way to identify seldom-touched files is to sort a folder’s contents by “Date last opened” or “Date added.” Doing so gives you a clear picture of which files you use and which are collecting digital dust.

Be ruthless. Find a file, ask what it is, and act accordingly. When that’s done, it’s time to prevent it from happening again.

What’s in a name? Structure.

Many years ago, I came across a fantastic article from PC Magazine that tackled this topic beautifully. It’s about intelligent and purposeful naming. It suggests that file names meet the following criteria:

  • unique
  • indicative of what the file contains
  • in line with how you (or your business) thinks about information
  • “scannable”  (with the human eye) according to how you (or your employees) find information
  • naturally ordered alphabetically (or numerically)
  • consistent

I’ll let you read the whole article — you really should — but I’ll point out a couple of ideas here. First, the second item on the list, “indicative of what the file contains.” Photos are the biggest culprit here. Your camera or smartphone will give images names like “img5468.jpg.” That means nothing when your scanning through a list of files (more on that in a minute). Instead, use something like “201710WineTour.jpg.” That way you know exactly what it is from the title, and sorting is so much easier.

I touched on “scannable” above, but it’s worth repeating. Instead of scrolling while muttering to yourself, “Hold on, it’s in here somewhere,” you can see exactly what you want in an instant.

Also, consistency is key. It may take more time to rename files prior to storing them but it’s worth it when you consider the time saved on the other end.

This weekend, spend a little time with your digital junk drawers, be they a cloud service or even your computer’s own hard drive. It takes time to get sorted, yes, but it’s completely worth it.

Dropmark organizes links and digital files

Two years ago I was lousy at organizing web bookmarks. If I found an article I wanted to read later, a recipe or anything else I couldn’t attend to right then and there, it went into Dock in Apple’s Mac operation system, where it sat indistinguishable and forgotten. What a mess.

Determined to rise above that disorganized mess, I explored four solutions: Instapaper, Historious, Pinboard and Ember. Each has its pros and cons, but I eventually landed on Instapaper. It’s quick and easy. Still, that was two years ago and I thought the idea deserved another look. This time, I’ve discovered Dropmark.

What drew me to Dropmark is that it is a lot more than an archive of links. Instead, it sorts things you’d like to save into “collections.” The collections can be customized however you like. To get you started, Dropmark offers six default collections:

  • Inspiration
  • Recipes
  • Playlist
  • Save for Later
  • Video Que
  • Book Club

Each collection has its own permission settings. You can make it private, available to a select few, or public. Once you’ve created a collection, simply drag and drop something from your computer into a browser window to add it. It’s then listed in a tidy grid. You can increase search-ability by adding tags to any item.

Organizing bookmarks (my personal goal) is easy, too. Simply click to add a new item, choose “Link” and paste the URL you’d like to save.

While I’m just looking for a digital organizational tool, Dropbox can do much more than that. You can form teams for collaboration, and share any collection you’ve got.

Lastly, there are browser extensions and mobile apps for iOS and Android that let you manage your collections with ease. It’s simple, good-looking and available both as a free app and a paid service. The pro version ($50/year) lets you add comments, annotations, and choose from several style options. It’s a very nice service and if you, too, struggle with organizing digital bookmarks and files, give Dropmark a try.

Tips and tricks for Google Keep

About a year ago I wrote a post praising Google Keep, the light, effective note-taking app from Google. At the time I was only a few months into using it but I was already smitten. The fast, lightweight app let me store and find notes easily. Twelve months later, it has become an indispensable part of my day.

Along the way, I’ve picked up some very cool tricks that make it even more useful. If you’re a fan too, I hope you learn something new here. If you haven’t used Google Keep before, consider this your formal invitation to give it a try. It really is useful. Now, the tips.

Transcribe notes from pictures

I learned this trick from Tech Republic and it has become my favorite. If you take a photo of written text with Google Keep, it can extract the text in the photo and turn it into editable copy in a note. Just follow these steps:

  1. Take a photo with the app
  2. Tap the three dots in the upper right-hand corner
  3. Select “Grab image text”

That’s it. Keep will find the text in the photograph and paste it into the body of your note. Super cool.

Drag and drop notes from Keep into Google Docs

Here’s something I tried on a whim. Much to my delighted surprise, it worked. Just follow these steps.

  1. With a Google Doc open, click “Tools” from the menu bar and then “Keep Notepad.”
  2. A list of your notes appears on the right.
  3. Simply drag the one you want out of that list and into your document.

The cool thing here is that the formatting in the note is retained. Drag an ordered list, and you’ve got an ordered list in your doc. Drag an image and it’s an image. Text is text. The lesson here is always poke around the tools menu.

It’s great for social media drafts

Sharing isn’t limited to Google Docs, or course. Open a note on your smartphone (Android or iOS) and hit the three dots or Share Button to send the contents of that note to Twitter, Facebook, Slack, etc.

Create reminders

I only discovered this recently. You can use Keep to send you a reminder. To begin, just create a note and click the icon of a finger wrapped in a string. From there, create your reminder. That reminder will automatically appear on your Google Calendar, the Chrome browser (if it’s signed into Google) and your Android device.

As you can see, Keep is for much more than jotting down shopping lists (though it does that, too). I’ve grown to love it and I bet you will, too. Give it a try.

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.

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.

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.

Reduce key chain clutter with Key Ring

In the world of retail, customer loyalty programs are designed to keep shoppers going back to the same store over and over. They often employ those little plastic “loyalty cards” that many of us have dangling from our key chains and cluttering up our wallets and purses. While the rewards can be nice, the cards are just one more thing to keep track of, carry around, or simply lose — unless you make them digital.

Key Ring is an app for iPhone and Android devices that lets you store all of your loyalty cards on your phone. I’ve been using it on my Pixel and I have to say, it’s pretty darn handy. Plus, it let me seriously reduce the amount of clutter on my key chain and in my wallet, which I appreciate very much. Here’s a look at this clever little app.

I’ve been using Key Ring on an Android device. The iPhone version, while generally the same, might have slight variations in functioning that are unique to iOS.

Setup

Setup is simple. After installing the app, you’ll be prompted to create an account by adding your email address and a password. That’s it. From there, you can start adding loyalty card information.

Adding a new card is just as easy. You’ll find a “+” at the top of the screen. Tap it, give the app permission to access your phone’s camera and take a picture of the bar code on your card. The app will recognize it right away and it’s ready to go.

My hesitation with solutions like this is always the same. I’m always afraid that when asked for a loyalty card and I present my phone, I’ll get a confused look from the cashier. Or, the equipment the cashier has access to won’t accept a bar code that’s on my phone’s display. Fortunately, that has not been the case. I’ve had success at the grocery store, electronics store and elsewhere.

More than loyalty cards

Key Ring offers even more benefits than just storing cards and reducing key chain/wallet/purse clutter. If you allow the app to have access to your location, it can find sales in the area, let you identify favorite sales for later reference, and even create shopping lists. You can browse store coupons and even have the cashier scan them, right from your phone. There’s no need to fumble with flyers and slips of paper.

In the weeks that I’ve been using Key Ring, I’ve grown to love it. It’s well laid-out, simple and effective. Plus, it does exactly what it says on the label. My key chain can attest to that.

Can a digital assistant help you stay organized?

There comes a point in your life when you think, “I could really use an assistant.” School, work, kids, and a myriad of other things demand more and more of your attention. I don’t know about you, but the luxury of a personal assistant is not in my budget. With that in mind (and my wallet firmly in my pocket), I turn to artificial intelligence like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Assistant .

These technologies, and others, are the so-called “digital assistants” that their respective creators hope will become the hub of our future lives. Today they’re good at streaming music, setting kitchen timers, and performing a few other mediocre tricks, but can a digital assistant help you stay organized?

For me, the answer is a qualified “no.” Before I explain that qualifier, let’s look at the “big three” of digital assistants.

Siri

Apple purchased the digital assistant “Siri” in 2010, and has since integrated the service with its iPhones, Apple TVs, and Macintosh computers. As for productivity and organization, Siri is great at setting calendar events, creating to-dos, and reading and composing texts and emails. When connected to smart home devices like Wemo Switch wall sockets and Hue lights, Siri offers a bit of control over household products as well.

Google Assistant

Google’s Assistant, made a splash last year as the marquee feature on the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones. Today, Assistant can be found on Google Home and elsewhere. It’s helpful for many of the same tasks that Siri handles.

Alexa

Amazon’s Alexa currently resides on the Amazon Echo and Dot. While very useful, it is restricted to your home. Alexa can play music, play games, set timers, read off your calendar, provide news updates, control “smart” devices like Hue lights and so on. Unfortunately, Alexa can’t find you a hotel or help you drive to your Aunt Tilley’s house. She can — and this should not be a surprise — buy products from Amazon.

It’s not as fun as the computer on Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise, but it’s still fun.

And brings me to the qualified “no.” All of these technologies have nailed one aspect of artificial intelligence in our daily lives: fun. It’s cool to talk to a gadget in your home or your phone and have it follow your commands. My kids are delighted every time they use our Echo to add an item to a shopping list or to turn the kitchen lights on.

Fun yes, but “helpful” is pushing it.

I can usually complete the same task with my computer or smartphone, and often faster. But that’s not the real hang-up here. When you look at these three, really look, you see them for what they are – middle-men.

Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant don’t really get things done for you, they provide information that helps you get things done. That’s helpful in its own way, but it is also what prevents me from recommending these technologies as true organizers. Siri can locate a hotel on a map, for example, but it won’t make reservations. Alexa can read my calendar, but it won’t tell people attending my 2:00 meeting that I’m going to be late.

Speaking of calendars, here’s my next point.

To use digital assistants effectively, you’ve got to hand over a lot of information including your calendar, contacts, and certain preferences. Some people may be uncomfortable sharing all of that. All of this leads me to my favorite digital assistant, and it doesn’t even talk!

Google Now

Google Now (or “Google” as the iPhone app is called) doesn’t have a personality like the others. It offers no jokes or quips like its companions. However, backed by the power of Google, it excels at providing information.

On my phone, Google Now notices where I am (I’ve enabled location services) and it lets me know when to start driving to appointments, what local traffic is like, where to find good restaurants, where the car is parked, and so much more. It has me saying, “Wow,” much more often than the others do.

None of these are truly “assistants,” but they’re on the right track. In a few years voice-controlled assistants will be true organizers. For for the time being, stick with Google Now.

Get your email organized in 2017

We closed last week with a post about how to get a jump-start on uncluttering and organizing. Today, I’m going to look at how to get email sorted out in 2017. From cleaning out your inbox to setting up best practices, this is how to tame the email dragon for the new year.

Clean out your inbox

I’ll never forget an experience I had several years ago when a co-worker wanted to show me a certain email message and I stood by her desk while she scrolled through literally 5,000 messages. The experience was a time-wasting exercise in frustration. If you’ve been using your email inbox as a filing cabinet (a practice I rallied against in my first post for Unclutterer in 2012), follow these steps.

First, create a new folder called “2016,” and then sort your existing messages by date. Place any emails from 2016 into this new folder. You aren’t deleting or archiving anything yet, just getting them out of the way. You can then sort them later, when it is more convenient for you.

With that done, take control of what actually arrives in your inbox with SaneBox. I wrote about SaneBox before and in 2017 I will gladly renew my membership. SaneBox learns what you consider high-priority messages and automatically moves the rest to a folder called SaneLater. Once a week you can review those results, and correct any instances of important email being moved to SaneLater (Sanebox remembers this correction for the future). I save literally hours per month thanks to SaneBox and sing its praises at every turn.

Deal with unwanted newsletters

While you’re sorting through email, take the time to unsubscribe from all of those unwanted newsletters, digital catalogs and other mailings that sounded good at the time. As they come in over the next month or so, look for the “Unsubscribe” link. It’s usually at the bottom of the message and deliberately hard to find, so take a minute to scroll through and click on that unsubscribe link.

If you’re using SaneBox, you can train it to move certain messages to a folder called “SaneBlackHole,” never to be seen again. Goodbye, persistent spam!

Best practices for 2017

Now, let’s adopt a new practice to prevent a cluttered accumulation of email in 2017. When a new message arrives, ask yourself the question, “What do I need to do with this?”

There are three possible answers:

  • It requires action. Put the action items on your to-do list. I use Todoist but there are a number of good project management tools available.
  • It is reference material. No action is necessary, but it is useful information. I keep these emails in what I call, “cold storage.” Evernote works for me but you may wish to save it on your hard drive.
  • It is trash. Unsubscribe (if necessary) and delete the email.

If you can, you may delete original emails but be aware that your job, and/or legal requirements may prevent you from doing so.

With these practices in place, you’ll have a tidy, clutter-free inbox for 2017.

Last second holiday shopping: software

Many people love to receive tech-related gifts during the holidays. Phones, computers and tablets are sure to make the gadget-friendly name on your shopping list very happy, myself included. The neat thing is that in 2016, software is a valid gift option for techies and unclutterers alike. Here’s how to gift apps and software this holiday season.

Apple App Store

Gift cards

Apple’s App Store has been providing software to iPad and iPhone owners since July, 2008. Since then, it has delivered apps to customers more than 130 billion times. That’s a lot of software on a lot of devices.

If you’d like to give that perfect app as a gift, it’s easy to do. You’ve got two choices. The easiest is to simply buy a gift card that is redeemed by the recipient. You can send buy a physical card like the one linked above from Amazon or from your local grocery store.

The other method is to buy a digital gift card. It’s a little more involved, but still not difficult. Here’s what to do.

  1. Open the App Store either on your iOS device or Mac.
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of the page.
  3. Tap Send Gift.
  4. Enter your lucky recipient’s email address.
  5. Enter the amount you’d like to give.

By default, your gift is delivered immediately. However, you can opt to have it show up on a certain date. To make that happen, tap Today and then select your custom delivery date.

Gift specific apps

If you know the exact app you’d like to give as a gift, you can do that, too. Once you’ve found the app you’re after, tap the Share button (it looks like an arrow jumping out of a box) and then follow these steps:

  1. Tap Gift.
  2. Enter the recipient’s email address and if you’d like, a custom message.

Again, the app will be delivered by default. You can change that by tapping Today, and then selecting your own date.

Google Play Store

Let’s say the techie on your list uses an Android device. You can easily buy a Google Play gift card just about anywhere (grocery stores, shopping malls, etc.). You can also buy a digital gift card by following these simple steps.

First, visit the Google Play Store in any web browser, select the amount you’d like to gift, enter the details and off it goes. Unfortunately, as of this writing, you cannot gift individual apps from the Google Play store. It’s a bit disappointing but the recipient can use the gift cards to buy his/her favorite apps.

Some would argue that a gift card isn’t the most personal gift in the world, but because it lets someone choose precisely what he/she loves, gift cards are fine with me. Happy digital shopping.