Are digital Everything Buckets a good filing system?

Services like Evernote and Pocket make a compelling case in favor of the Everything Bucket: capturing information is easy (simply save information and don’t spend time filing it into a topic-related folder) and finding what you need when you need it is easy with a powerful search engine (search with keywords instead of drilling through folders).

Meanwhile, the idea of all your stuff in a pile, be it digital or physical, makes some people itch. Everything is together! In one place! There is no order!

The choice to use an Everything Bucket versus filing data into subfolders is a personal one and there are advantages and disadvantages to the Bucket system when considering it. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses can help you make a decision for what filing system is right for YOU.

As mentioned above, adding new items to an Everything Bucket is a breeze. Evernote’s web clipper, for example, lets you quickly stash any page you like. You can even grab a specific snippet from a website, if a paragraph is all you need. Meanwhile, desktop shortcuts make it just as easy to add items as you work.

Tagging helps you find items later. Simply attaching a tag like “recipe” or “receipts” to an item, you can make it easy to find information later when you do your search. Speaking of search, that really is the marquee feature of programs like Evernote and Pocket. Simply open the “bucket app” of your choice, enter a word or phrase into its search bar and up pops what you need.

You also can go paperless and have access to your stuff virtually wherever you are, even on a mobile device. It sounds like a good deal, right? But there are downsides.

First up in the strikes against the Everything Bucket: they discourage the use of a structured file system. In exchange for ease and speed, you let the computer make sense of your collection. It will do just that, as computers are more effective with organized data. The program will build an index to make sense of that pile, which takes time and effort. If you’re a Mac owner and you have a slow machine pretty much immediately after updating the operating system, it’s likely because Spotlight is making a new index of your disorganized data.

In the case of an Everything Bucket, you’re inviting an application into your daily workflow that could possibly go out of business in the next couple years. If it does, hopefully you’ll be given notice so you can export your data or, at the very least, operate the existing app but not be able to add more information to it.

There is a middle ground, should these Everything Bucket concepts only partially make your skin crawl.

One thing you can do is use what I think of as dedicated or specialty buckets:

  • Evernote is for reference material I will one-day want but have no immediate need for. (I call this “cold storage.”)
  • Recipes I want to try are handled by Paprika.
  • Web links for things I want to go back and read are saved to Pocket.

Instead of filing into subfolders, it’s as if I’m filing into apps. Within those apps, however, there are no subfolders, only an Everything Bucket.

Organize digital lists with Google Keep

Google Keep is the company’s note-taking app and to-do manager that works on nearly every device you throw at it: computer, iPhone, Andriod phone, or tablet. It gets the job done and is quite pleasant to use. If you’re looking for a digital list manager or to-do app, Keep is one to consider.

Keep didn’t get the recognition it deserved upon launch and that’s because of the inevitable, yet unfair comparison, to Evernote and Microsoft’s OneNote. I say unfair because it’s not meant to be the all-encompassing tool that other apps clearly are. Instead, Keep is a synching notepad for Google Drive that lets you quickly record notes, photos, voice memos, lists, and the like to Google Drive, all of which are then accessible via the devices I mentioned earlier. And that’s just the start.

Notes are color-coded and entirely searchable. That means you can search the entire body of a note, not just its title. Speaking of search, that works on notes you’ve deleted, too. That’s because, much like Gmail, notes aren’t deleted but archived out of sight. If you need information you thought you were done with, you can still find it.

Keep is also fast. My yardstick for speed for this type of app is in comparison to pen and paper. While not quite that good, Keep is speedy enough that it will “disappear” as you use it. That is to say, you’re not paying attention to/thinking about the app, you’re just writing down what you need to record.

You can set reminders, create labels, and re-arrange notes, so that similar ones — errands, home, shopping, etc. — are right next to each other.

After more than a week of playing around with Google Keep, I’ve moved it to my iPhone’s home screen (a coveted position). For its speed, simplicity, and cross-device sync, Keep is a keeper.

Ways to take advantage of digital photography advancements and still stay organized

Digital photography is changing the hobby of photography in interesting ways. The most obvious change is the ease with which we can fire off 300 photos in a matter of minutes. As a result, we’ve got bulging digital photo libraries that have tech companies struggling to organize for us. Additionally, The Next Web reminded me of the emerging changes that we’re still working to understand. The following are explanations of some of the changes taking place and possible solutions to issues those changes might create.

Photos as short-term memory

When I park my car in a huge public lot, I always take a shot of my parking space (“5F” for example) to help me remember where I parked. I do the same when driving a rental car, so I don’t forget which car in the lot is mine. And before driving out of the rental lot, I capture all the angles of the car to have proof of pre-existing scratches or issues that existed before I rented the car.

More recently, I took a photo of a poster advertising a walking tour that looked like fun. As with the shot in the garage, the intention wasn’t to capture a moment, it was to capture information.

Photos as file sharing

Earlier this week, I received a phone call from my wife who was at work. “Can you go into my bag and find [Paper X]? I need you to send me a photo of it.” In this situation, she needed the information on a paper she left at home, and a photo of said paper — while not ideal — was the easiest way to get her the information she needed.

Photos as shopping list

I take images of specific shopping items a lot. If I need to buy a special lightbulb or odd battery for something at home, a quick picture of that product saves me from having to lug it with me to the store.

Often times I’m out shopping with my wife when she expresses interest in something that I think will make a great gift. I’ll covertly take a photo of it to remind myself when the time comes to give her something. It’s really handy when, months later, I’m trying to remember exactly which scarf she meant.

How to manage these types of photos?

As Boris Veldhuijzen Van Zanten noted in his article on The Next Web, an ideal situation would feature apps that recognize when we’ve taken a throw-away photo or an image that’s meant for short-term memory, and act accordingly. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. Until our phones get smarter about digital photo management, we must be proactive.

First, if you’re backing up your photos to a cloud service like Dropbox, Google, or Apple’s iCloud, save yourself some space and don’t back up these shots. I use an app called Camera+. It allows me to shoot photos that aren’t sent to my phone’s camera roll where they’re automatically synchronized with my remote backup. Temporary photos I take exclusively with this app.

Next, remember to delete those one-offs. This isn’t the best tip, I know, but it will save you storage space as well as those “Why did I take a picture of this?” moments in the future.

Of course, you can turn to dedicated apps to help you manage these photos. Evernote is fantastic for long-term storage and supports photo notes beautifully. Gift Planner (free, iPhone) and Gifty (Android) will let you keep track of presents you’d like to buy. Lastly, Tiny Scanner for iPhone (free) and Smart Receipts (Android) will let you “scan” legible images of receipts and more.

Organizational tips from top tech CEOs

Tim Cook (Apple CEO), Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO), and Jack Dorsey (Twitter founder and CEO) are some of the biggest names in business. It’s likely that their products touch your life every day. With such a tremendous amount of responsibility, how do these titans stay organized and on top of everything they need to do?

Late last year, TIME magazine published a look at how high-profile tech CEOs stay organized. I love articles like this since a peek at such high-level organization and productivity is rare…and often surprisingly simple. The following are my favorite insights from the article.

Jack Dorsey gives each day a theme. Mondays are for management tasks, Tuesdays for focusing on products, and so on. I’ve set aside a day for administration type work, but never thought of giving each weekday a theme and, therefore, a focus.

Meanwhile, Marissa Mayer (president and CEO of Yahoo) looks to the impromptu moments that happen between meetings and scheduled get-togethers to spark meaningful ideas. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” she wrote to her employees in 2013.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg embraces the power of creating goals for himself. In 2010, for example, he set out to learn Mandarin Chinese. Just four years later, he stunned an audience at China’s Tsinghua University by conducting a 30-minute interview entirely in their native language.

Finally, Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction, makes a point to empty her mind and spend time on reflection. “I take 15 minutes every morning for contemplation and to empty my mind. I take a bag full of thoughts I need cleared and each morning I pick one out, read it, and send it down the river near my house.”

I love this one as it seems we spend less and less time in quiet reflection, processing the day’s activities, lessons and challenges. It’s so easy to succumb to the temptation to fill every quiet moment with a smartphone or an app that there’s no time to let your mind work on what needs attention. I’m going to adopt this practice and intentionally make myself stop, reflect, and process each day.

Simple, beautiful to-do management with TeuxDeux

Life fact: You’re more likely to use a tool that you enjoy using. Think about how you probably have a favorite knife in the kitchen, a preferred sweatshirt, or a beloved pair of hiking shoes and how those are your go-to items whenever you want to use that type of thing.

The same goes for all manner of tools, including software. TeuxDeux is a great-looking, effective, simple to-do task manager that might become a favored companion for you. Its developers describe it as “designy,” but we can go with pretty and functional. It works in a browser or a mobile browser, so don’t worry about compatibility. If you’re an iPhone user, there’s an app for you. The following is a quick look at TeuxDeux.

The timeline

The app’s timeline shows you five days at a time. Your view isn’t restricted to Monday – Friday. Instead, you can focus on today and the next four. If you need a broader view, just move forward (or backward) in the timeline with a click. It’s fast and intuitive.

Adding tasks

To add a task, simply click beneath the appropriate day’s header and begin typing. You can reorder items by dragging them up and down on a day’s list, and even move them between days just as easily. To edit a task, just double-click it, enter your change, and hit enter.

The app’s developers wanted to make something that was as “…easy as paper,” and I think they came very, very close. To me, paper is the ultimate in speed and efficiency because I learned all I needed to know about writing on paper in the first grade. At this point, there’s nothing new to learn. As far as the mechanics are concerned, that is.

Similarly, using TeuxDeux requires only skills you mastered a very long time ago, like typing, clicking, and drag-and-drop. When you sign up, you’re good to go.

Advanced stuff

What about advanced stuff like style (bold, italics) and recurring tasks? These things are not a problem. To make an event recur ever day, simply type “every day” at the end of the task. The same goes for every week, every month, and every year. Easy.

The staging area

The top half of TeuxDeux’s main window is pretty much a calendar of to-do items. Beneath that is what’s called the “staging area,” where you can create as many custom columns as you like, and fill them with whatever you want. For example, “To Read,” “For the Party,” “Errands,” “Dad Jokes,” or whatever you like.

TeuxDeux is pretty, functional, and inexpensive. You can try it free for 30 days, and after that, sign up for a mere $3 per month (or $24 per year).

Quickly measure a room with Roomscan Pro

Last week, I spoke with Jacki Hollywood Brown, former Unclutterer contributor. During that conversation, she brought a great app to my attention called RoomScan Pro by Locometric.

“Being a military family,” Jacki told me, “we move a lot. Presently we’re on our tenth move in 25 years.” With each new move, the military allows them do a “house hunting trip” of about 5-7 days, during which they can choose a new home prior to their actual move.

This preparation requires some careful calculation. The following is how it works. There is a maximum house size limitation that is based on number of family members. The calculation for the maximum house size only includes actual living space such as living room, kitchen, bedrooms, bedroom closets, and bathrooms. It does not include stairways, hallways, storage areas, utility rooms, or laundry rooms. Most of the time, rental agencies and real estate agents provide the square footage of the entire house. They may include room sizes (e.g. bedroom = 12′ x 11′). All this means that Jacki must quickly calculate the actual living space to determine if the house they are looking at meets the maximum limits.

“In the past,” she told me, “we’ve carried a large measuring tape and measured each wall. We also used a laser measurer.” That’s a time-consuming practice. RoomScan Pro makes things easier.

Instead of lugging a tape measure around and making measurements, you simply launch the app, place your phone on each wall in the room and watch as it creates a floor plan, complete with wall measurements. (RoomScan Pro in action.)

You can use it to draw the floor plan of one room in less than a minute. You can add windows and doors to your rooms too. In order to place the windows and doors in the correct places on the walls, you do need to measure the distance from one edge of the window/door to the edge of the wall.

You can add another room beyond any doorway you create in order to do the plan of an entire house. The length of the walls can also be manually edited if you so choose, for example compensate for thick baseboard trim.

Jacki notes that she and her husband were able to measure a 2000 square foot apartment in about an hour. The resulting plan will allow them to figure out what furniture will go where or whether or not it’s even worth it to move certain pieces of furniture from their current home.

I highly recommend this app to realtors, professional organizers, interior designers, and decorators who need a fast and easy way to create a floor plan. There is also an in-app purchase option that allows you to download the floor plan in various formats, including those that can be imported to a CAD program. It’s just not for those who routinely move, but anyone who needs a reliable floor plan quickly and easily. If that’s you, check it out.

Organizing your reading effectively with Goodreads

Goodreads is the internet’s largest site for book discovery. Countless book lovers use it every day to find titles to read, talk with each other, post reviews, and interact with some of the authors they admire. That’s fun, but there’s so much more you can do with an Goodreads account. The following are suggestions for how to get the most of Goodreads.

Stats on books you’ve read

To visit your stats page, log in to your Goodreads account, then click My Books at the top of the page, and then Stats on the right. Here you’ll see all of the books that you’ve told Goodreads that you’ve read, sorted by year.

Click Pages to see the total number of pages you read in a given year, and hit Publication Year to see how often you read books published within a given year. Additionally, click Details next to each collection to see the specific titles you read as well as their ratings. Lastly, I like to click View Books From [year] for a list of those titles, and sort the result by rating, author and more to try and spot trends. Did I enjoy a certain author’s work? Was there a genre I went to more often than others? It’s a fun and very organized way to take a good look at your reading habits.

Barcode scan books you want to read

The practice of “showrooming” — visiting a brick-and-mortar store to do research before making an online purchase — is real. The Goodreads mobile apps for Android and iOS includes a barcode scanner that’s much more versatile.

Instead of making a purchase, you can use the app to quickly find reviews of a book you might buy right then and there. I’ve done that several times. If you do buy the book, you can add it to your “shelf” to share what you’re reading.

Join a reading challenge

Each year, Goodreads challenges users to read a certain number of books. It can be fun, and the 2016 challenge is underway. Once you’ve joined, your followers and friends can note your progress and cheer you on. Of course, this isn’t for people who don’t want to make reading a competition, but others can enjoy it.

Customize shelves

Goodreads lets you sort books into categories, or “shelves.” By default, you start with three: Want to Read, Currently Reading, and Read. You can create as many custom shelves as you want for additional organization.

To create a shelf, click My Books at the top of the page and then Add Shelf on the left. The rest is up to you: “vacation favorites,” “guilty pleasures,” “business and work,” “borrowed from friends” and so on. With a click you can see only the books that are on any shelf.

Get useful recommendations

Goodreads also will recommend books you might like based on your habits. You can improve its accuracy by liking and rating lots of books. Also, note the books you don’t like and lastly, keep sorting books into your custom shelves. You’ll notice your recommendations improve over time.

With a little time and organization, you can turn Goodreads into a very valuable organizing service. Spend an hour or so with these tricks and you’ll have a much more satisfying experience.

How to clean a smartphone or tablet

Spring is finally here (well, at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere) and it’s time to do some spring cleaning. Previously, we’ve discussed how to prepare, start, and focus your spring cleaning efforts on specific areas of your home, like the yard. Today, I’m looking at your smartphones and tablets because your electronic devices need to be cleaned, too.

This topic deserves more attention than you might think. Given that tablets and smartphones are sensitive electronic devices — not to mention expensive — there is a right way and a wrong way to clean them. Additionally, keeping your devices looking great no only makes them more pleasant to use, but it usually enhances its resale value.

First things first

The simplest bit of advice for keeping your smartphone and/or tablet clean: Keep your device in a case. You can buy a protective case for the most extreme conditions (think protection from water, dirt and falls), but if you’re simply interested in avoiding dirt, lint, and other day-to-day messes, a simple case will do. I use a plain leather case from Apple most days and it does its job well.

Screen protectors are another option. These adhesive bits of transparent plastic are custom cut to fit perfectly over your phone’s screen, offering a layer of protection without sacrificing touchscreen features or sensitivity. Most peel off without leaving any residue as well.

How to clean a smartphone or tablet

First, get a microfiber cloth. Unlike paper-based tissues, a microfiber cloth does not pose a risk of scratching your device’s casing or screen. They attract oils and dust for complete removal, versus your cotton t-shirt which just spreads stuff around. Microfiber cloths are readily available, and you might even get one for free if you ask your local optometrist nicely.

Next, turn your device off or put the display to sleep. This is done to make it easier to see the grime. Wipe to clean one section and then move on to the next. Soon the whole device will look shiny and new.

It’s important to keep the cloth clean as well, as repeated use will cause a built-up of the oils and dust that you remove. Just briefly soak it in warm, soapy water, rinse well and let it air dry. Don’t ever throw it in the dryer with a sheet of fabric softener.

If you don’t have access to a microfiber cloth, just grab some scotch tape. It does wonders for lifting fingerprints and dust from a glass screen. Just press it on and then lift it off. Repeat until you’ve cleaned the whole screen. It’s a bit more wasteful than a cloth, but will work in a pinch.

What not to do

First and foremost, never spray cleaner or water directly on your device. Ever. Also, never use alcohol-based cleaners. These can damage or remove the protective coating that exists on the screens of many smartphones and tablets.

Next, don’t spend too much money on those commercial cleaners. If you have a stubborn bit that the cloth can’t remove on its own, you may turn your device off and then dab a small portion of your cloth into water and then gently scrub at that bit on the screen or casing. Most times that will work just as well as the cleaners. Just don’t get the water near any openings (speaker, jack, etc.) and don’t dilute alcohol and water together. It’s been demonstrated that even a diluted alcohol solution can damage a device.

Finally, paper towels, facial tissues, napkins and the like have a very high likelihood of scratching a screen. Avoid them entirely when it comes to cleaning your tablet or phone.

There’s how to safely extend spring cleaning to your devices. With a little TLC they’ll work for a nice long time, until you’re ready to sell for a good price.

Have a family technology manager

Keeping your tech gadgets in working order is an aspect of general home maintenance. Just like you make sure the refrigerator is running well and the rain gutters are clean, many contemporary home owners must maintain a family’s digital life. To that end, it’s helpful to designate a “family IT manager.”

I want to differentiate this role from that tech-savvy family member who begrudgingly answers computer questions over the holidays. While it’s nice to tap into that person’s knowledge, he or she isn’t a long-term fix for ongoing needs. Plus, it’s easier than you think to adopt this role yourself by focusing on three main areas: passwords, backups, and updates

Family passwords

For many, password management is a bag of hurt. You’ve got yours, your spouse has others, and the kids have theirs. Managing multiple databases is a nightmare, especially when you’re standing in the hotel lobby and the password you need is on a 3×5 index card in a drawer back home. The best thing you can do is get everyone’s passwords and usernames in a centralized, secure, and accessible location.

1Password Family is what I recommend. For $5 per month, a family of five gets an accessible, shared repository of passwords and other critical information. Safely store information like passwords, credit card information, secure notes, and more, including 1GB of secure document storage. Plus, the online tool is so easy to use, and there’s an app for nearly every operating system.

Take charge of backups

Some day you will need to restore something from a backup. It’s going to happen, so be prepared. I talked with Peter Cohen about this, technology writer at Backblaze who also has experience working with Mac users in a retail setting. “My customers generally broke into three categories,” he told me. “Never backed up, never thought it was important; backed up once, a while ago, and then for whatever reason stopped; or came in with a backup ready to go. Of those three customers, only the last one typically walked away happy.”

Peter recommended a two-tiered backup approach. “Back up locally with an external hard drive and an app like Apple’s Time Machine, paired with offsite backup through a cloud service like Backblaze (starting at $5/month) or CrashPlan (free starter plan, as well as paid options). It’s twice the effort but it also eliminates any single point of failure that will keep you from accessing vital data.” Eliminating a single point of failure is something I’ve discussed on Unclutterer before.

If you have lighter backup needs, consider Arq. For a one-time fee of $40, you can backup to your own cloud storage (Dropbox, Amazon web services, etc.).

At the very least, use a cloud service like Dropbox or Box.net as your computer’s “Documents” folder. That way, when your hard drive on your computer dies (and it will), you need only to log into Dropbox for its replacement.

Maintaining the hardware and software

Finally, you’ll need to contend with hardware and software updates. The former is pretty easy, as it becomes obvious when a computer, phone, gaming console, or TV needs to be replaced. I go for a new computer every six or seven years, and I’ll replace a TV, well…when smoke comes out of it. I tend to hang on to TVs.

Likewise, your computer or mobile device will prompt you when an update is available. Designate a person to be in charge of running these updates, either the device’s owner or the family IT manager.

I want to make a special note about Apple’s auto-update feature for iPhones, iPads, and Macs. When enabled, a device can download and install updates on its own. It’s convenient, hands-off, but potentially problematic, as it’s possible to auto-install an update that breaks something. I recommend enabling auto-updates with caveats.

I discussed this topic with Mike Rose, Solution Engineer at Salesforce and a former colleague of mine. Mike noted that if a device is more than four years old, do not enable auto update. Gadgets like iPads, iPhones, and Macs have a ceiling for operating systems. It’s possible for a piece of software to receive an update that renders it unusable. If your device is only a couple of years old, go ahead and enable auto updates. I completely agree with this advice.

I hope this was helpful. Another aspect of this job could be supporting remote family members, like those in another town or state. But that’s another post entirely.

What’s in your pocket?

Long before Samuel L. Jackson asked about the contents of your pocket, I started to document what I kept in my pockets each day. Since then, many people have taken up the practice, including myth buster Adam Savage. And, if you’re a curious person, learning what other people carry can be interesting.

What I carry

Today I’m looking back on what I used to carry in 2007, in 2010, and now in 2016. I’m glad to say that I’ve trimmed things down a bit, but not completely. First, let’s look at what I had on me in 2007.

Back then, I carried a Moleskine notebook, an original iPhone with headphones, a Pilot G2 pen, a wallet, keys, and a 512MB flash drive. The flash drive is especially hilarious today, not only because it had a capacity of 512MB, but because I schlepped it around in the first place. Today, with nearly ubiquitous internet and cloud services like Dropbox, I simply don’t need the flash drive anymore.

Field Notes Brand notebook, and the original iPhone became an iPhone 4. I ditched the earbuds because I only listen to the audio while in the car. The wallet and keys are exactly the same (minus Chewbacca), though the wallet contains fewer “Bonus Club” type cards than it used to.

Drafts, which accepts dictated notes via my Apple Watch. When you get over the embarrassment of talking to your arm in public, you realize how amazingly fast it is to say, “Remind me to buy milk” to the Apple Watch, knowing that your words will be transcribed to a note-taking app on the iPhone. I love it.

A newer model iPhone has replaced what I was using in 2010 and my wallet has become a bit smaller. I’m very pleased that I’ve gotten rid of the store loyalty cards, as they’re a hassle. Finally, Yoda has replaced Chewbacca. Noticed that, you did.

Where I carry it

What’s even more important than what I carry is where I carry it. Each item goes in the same pocket every single time. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Phone: Right front pants pocket
  2. Wallet: Left front pants pocket
  3. Keys: Left front pants pocket

There other rules. I have a billfold wallet that folds in half. It always goes into my pocket with the “hinge” if you will facing up toward the sky. That’s because if I put it in with the hinge facing down, I’ll inevitably put the keys “inside” the wallet, so that I can’t pull it from my pocket without taking the keys with it.

The rules change if I’m wearing a coat:

  1. Phone: Right front pants pocket
  2. Wallet: Jacket inside pocket
  3. Keys: Right breast pocket

Moving the keys is important here, as a bulky coat typically makes it harder to get into jeans pockets, so the wallet and keys — the items I access most often — are made more accessible.

Why go through all this nonsense? Because when you know where things are, you save huge amounts of time. For me, it extends beyond my pockets. For example, when I park the car at the grocery store, I always park in the side lot to the far left of the store. When at the drug store, I park at the end near the dumpster. I never have to wander the lot wondering where my car is because I make parking in the same spot a habit.

What do you carry and where do you carry it? If you haven’t ever thought about your choices, maybe spend a few days taking notice of what you need and when you need it, and then streamline the process. Doing so will certainly help you save time and effort in the future.

Organize your email inbox with SaneBox

For many, dealing with email can be a full-time job. New messages arrive before you’ve attended to the old. What’s worse is that messages can be lost, misdirected, or marked as spam and unintentionally end up in the trash, and finding the important emails among so many duds is a real time-waster. In my constant pursuit to get email under control, I’ve found a fantastic service that I’ve been using for months now that is helping me to effectively deal with my email woes, and it is called SaneBox.

To use SaneBox, simply create an account by entering the email address you wish to tame. Right away, SaneBox begins analyzing your email history, noticing the addresses you respond to, and those you don’t.

Right here I want to address the security questions that some of you probably have. When I started researching this software, my first question was, “Wait, they’re accessing my email?” Well, no. First, email never leaves your server. SaneBox does not take possession of your messages. Also, they only look at the email headers, which are composed of the sender, receipt, and subject. They look at the patterns in your email behavior (messages you’ve opened, responded to, etc.). In other words, they’re not reading or downloading your email. Phew.

Back to the service. When the setup process is finished, SaneBox creates a new folder in your email software for you called @SaneLater. The messages flagged as “unimportant” during that initial analysis are moved there. The rest, or the “important” messages, are left right in your main inbox as usual. The result: you only see the messages that mean the most when you glance at your inbox. This has saved me huge amounts of time.

Messages moved to @SaneLater aren’t deleted, so don’t worry. They’re simply in a new folder. While SaneBox is learning, it might place a message in @SaneLater that you consider important. In that case, simply move that message to your Inbox and future messages from that sender will stay in your Inbox. After a few days of training, I just let it go with my full trust. I’ve gone from around 40 messages per day to six or seven.

There are other options beyond the @SaneLater folder, all of which are optional. @SaneBlackhole ensures you never see future messages from a certain sender. @SaneReplies is my favorite folder. It stores messages I’ve sent that haven’t yet elicited a response. @SaneTomorrow and @SaneNextWeek let you defer messages that aren’t important today, but will be.

What’s nice is that SaneLater doesn’t care if you’re using Mac OS X, Windows, iOS or Android. It also sends you a digest (at a frequency you determine) of how messages have been sorted, in case you want to make any adjustments.

SaneBox offers a 14-day free trial. After that, there are several pricing tiers, available on a monthly, yearly or bi-yearly schedule.

Organizing video games

I really enjoy video games. My favorite one is, “Where am I going to put all this bulky junk?” Wait, that’s real life and it’s far from being a fun game. Along with playing video games comes games boxes, consoles, controllers and more cables than you’d ever want to see spread like locust around the TV, the entertainment center, and the house at large. If you’re a gamer, the following advice may help you to tame the swarm and organize your video games and accessories.

Game boxes

Games sold on physical media (that is to say, not games downloaded from a digital app store) typically come in decorative plastic boxes. They’re stackable, uniform in size, and clearly labeled with the game’s title. Still, finding the one game you want can be a hassle. Here’s what we do at home to keep things straight.

  1. Put all game discs in their proper boxes. It’s so easy to grab a disc and pop it into the nearest box, saying, “Eh, I’ll put it in the right box later.” In my experience, “later” never comes. Take the extra few seconds to store the game properly. Make sure you eject any disc in your console/computer before you begin this task.
  2. Spread out all of the boxes on a large table or even the floor.
  3. Sort alphabetically. Put all games starting with “A” in one pile, “B” in another and so on. And then again within each pile, “Marvel Nemesis” precedes “Medal of Honor.”
  4. Find a home for the alphabetized lot. In our house, we line them up on a shelf like books, but you might find it easier to put them in a box or drawer based on your space.

Those with a lot of games may want to sort by category. For example, after step two above, sort games by type: shooter, racing, educational, etc. Then do the ABC sort. Next, make labels for wherever you store the boxes so you can jump right to the category you’re searching and so it’s easier to put the discs away after use.

Game controllers and accessories

This is most likely where things get messy in your home, at least it’s that way in mine. Controllers are bulky and vary quite a bit. Some have wires, some don’t. Many have replaceable batteries, others don’t. Certain models must be charged regularly and/or require protective cases.

Storage

Video games are often played by kids, so a kid-friendly shelf is a good way to go if this is the situation in your home. An easily accessible shelf puts devices within reach and also out of the way. (A basic, no-frills option on Amazon, if you’re interested.) I also like wall-mounted models, as they’re one less thing on the floor and can hide cords more successfully than a shelf.

There are personalized game controller tubs on Etsy, which are cool, and look great while keeping unwieldy controllers in one place. Additionally, Instructables has a tutorial for wall-hanging your controllers, which is well done.

Charging

As nice as these solutions are, they don’t account for devices that need to be charged. A hidden drawer is a great way to go, as you can charge up the devices without having to look at them in the meantime. You may need to drill a hole in the back of the drawer for cables, if there isn’t enough space to run the cables currently. A converted storage box is another great-looking and effective option.

Game consoles

Xboxes, Playstations, Wiis, and other gaming towers are usually bulky and are stored on a shelf of the media center. There aren’t many options when it comes to disguising them while keeping them useful, however, there are some things you can do to keep them from being an eye sore.

First, keep them clean. A game console is just a powerful computer, and as such they give off a lot of heat. Make sure they’re stored so that all vents are unblocked. Additionally, dust them periodically as a build-up will hinder heat dispersion.

Keep cords in the rear separate. Twist-ties work very well here, and labeled ties are even better for keeping your cables organized.

Try to keep them clear of areas with heavy foot traffic or bounding pets. Gaming systems really don’t like to be suddenly flung onto the floor.

Really, the best thing to do is to get all of the gamers in your house into the habit of cleaning up after saving the universe, offing a zombie, or rescuing the princess. It only takes a minute and is a lot more fun than playing “Now Where Did I Put That?”