10 simple steps for successfully spring cleaning your computer

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As media types who spend most of our working days sat in front of a screen, we’re big advocates of spending as much time away from computers as possible. It’s also important to make sure that the time you do spend on the computer is productive, to avoid endlessly scrolling through Tumblr timelines or stalking old Facebook friends until you accidentally (and embarrassingly) like a photo that has nothing to do with you.

Spring is a perfect time to change old habits – we use it as an opportunity to clean out our homes, so why not our computers? These 10 quick tips will help you to make the most of every moment you spend logged in, leaving more time for the real fun stuff.

1. Have a Facebook cull

You know that cocky Facebook friend who bragged about unfriending half their contacts in one fell swoop? They’re actually on to something. By getting rid of any person who makes you do a little internal ‘ugh’ whenever you read their cringey status updates, you allow yourself to focus more on the people who really matter to you. The same goes for all those Facebook apps you signed up to when you first joined the site, unless you want to be constantly reminded every time your friend’s Mum who still plays Farmville wants a new chicken.

2. Create Twitter lists

This oft neglected feature will revolutionise the way you use Twitter. Sort everyone you follow into lists – close friends, companies you’d like to work for, parody accounts, and so on. This will mean you don’t have to spend all your Twitter time scrolling through a constantly refreshing timeline, trying to find updates from the people you’re curious about. It’s especially useful if you use apps like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, where you can make separate columns for each list.

3. Decide which apps and websites you really need

7910370882_39d180fb66_zYou don’t need to be on every social media site. Make note of the ones you find useful or enjoy spending time on, and delete your accounts on the rest. It’s a liberating feeling – no more emails or push notifications reminding you to log in and check the multitude of time-sapping content you missed doing something more important.

4. Stream what you can

Computers obviously have limited file space, so if you want to keep yours running fast and smooth, make the most of streaming services. This way, the big media files you need access to will all be stored on massive internet servers instead of your modest hard drive. You may decide it’s not worth migrating your entire iTunes to a new laptop, in which case you’ll probably find most of the songs you want to listen to on Spotify and Soundcloud. Likewise, you don’t need to download entire films and TV shows when they can be streamed online.

5. Clear out your bookmarks

A super quick one that anyone can do in less than a minute: delete all those bookmarks that are taking up space at the top of your browser. Yes, all of them! Start fresh, and only create new bookmarks for the sites you find yourself visiting time and time again. If you desperately need anything else you previously bookmarked, it’s only a Google away.

6. Delete your cookies

Unless they’re the chocolate chip kind, I don’t fully understand what cookies are. However, I do know that periodically deleting them can miraculously cure your browser of any niggles you’ve been experiencing. For this reason, it’s well worth doing every once in a while.

7. Create a filing system that works for you

15846226225_e487ef842b_zDesktops crowded with files are a drag to look at every time you log in. You know what else is a drag? The solution! Create a glorious multi-layered filing system, then drag (see?) and drop your files into the relevant folders to achieve beautifully organised bliss. Celebrate by setting your desktop wallpaper to something you like looking at, and vow to keep that pretty picture free from clutter.

8. Use productivity boosting apps

While many things on the internet are designed to waste your time, others are designed to help you make the most of it. Evernote, for example, has completely revolutionised my note taking. No longer do I scribble things down on easily lost scraps of paper – I simply add an item to my ‘to do’ notebook and it’s instantly there to read on both my phone and computer. Dropbox is similarly handy, especially for accessing larger files on the go. A ruthless little app called SelfControl is the ultimate weapon in my productivity arsenal. It lets you to block yourself from certain sites when you can’t afford to be distracted. Cruel but effective.

9. Procrastinate with purpose

If you REALLY aren’t in the mood to get on with that thing that needs doing, you may as well spend your computer time doing something useful. Research fun things to do on the weekend, find the best price for that holiday you’ve been planning, catch up on current affairs, write a blog post. When you’ve scratched one of those itches you’ll be in a better frame of mind to get on with the bigger task.

10. Literally clean your computer

Computers can get pretty mucky. It’s important to keep their components squeaky clean to avoid them overheating, breaking or generally being a bit gross to use. Turn the thing off, let it cool down and unplug it. To clean the inside, carefully remove any detachable parts (laptop batteries, fan covers and the like) and use a can of compressed air to blast the dust out of delicate bits. For the screen and keyboard, a microfiber cloth is ideal. Dampen it slightly if you need to – as long as you aren’t dousing your device with water, you’ll be fine.

Got any computer productivity hacks of your own? Leave us a comment below or tweet @Creative_Hacks and let us know!

Matt

Small space solutions: how to live comfortably in a compact home

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Not many people are lucky enough to have the luxury of moving straight from their parents’ house and into a perfect first home. When Amy and I finished our university courses and decided to find a new place together, we had a choice to make: a slightly shabby house in the suburbs with room to spare, or a significantly less spacious modern apartment in the city.

We chose the latter, and haven’t regretted it for a second. It’s fantastic living so close to the places we love to spend time in, and we’ve enjoyed kitting out our small but sweet flat with furniture that fits our style and shows off our creativity. That said, many people are worried about feeling cramped in a small home. We’ve picked up several tips that should help to alleviate those concerns, letting you feel cosy and content in your compact pad.

Think vertically

15-corner-shelvesIf you don’t have much floor space in your home for furniture, use the height of your ceiling to your advantage. Storage becomes easier when you decide to use the space on your walls, instead of just cramming everything under your bed.

If you want to show off your stuff, you can’t beat a good wall mounted shelf – thoughtfully arranged, these will display your personality and give you a place to keep your favourite possessions. Books, pictures, cameras, toys and souvenirs from your travels all look pretty out in the open.

Alternatively, keep your things dust free behind closed doors in cabinets. You can often pick up nice vintage-looking ones dirt cheap from flea markets and car boot sales. Sand them down and give them a fresh coat of paint in your favourite colour for easy, attractive storage.

Be picky: choose furniture that works for you

shelvesDon’t listen to the people who tell you flat pack items are flimsy and unattractive – we know first hand that they have their place. The key advantage when shopping for mass produced furniture is the incredible amount of choice you have, and if you’re limited for space, you need to make the most of this variety.

When we moved into our little apartment in Cardiff, we immediately noticed a narrow nook in the wall – ideal for a bookcase. A quick flick through the IKEA catalogue revealed several that would fit. It was tempting to automatically go for the iconic BILLY bookcase, but we eventually decided that a taller shelf in a dark colour would better suit our needs.

Similarly, when we got fed up with eating off plastic boxes on the floor and decided to invest in a dining table, we were concerned about it taking up too much room in our already limited living area. With tape measure in hand, we explored the local superstore and discovered the perfect solution – a folding table that’s big enough to accommodate a small dinner party when fully extended, but barely noticeable when folded and pushed against the identically white wall. Even the chairs fold down and fit snugly between the table legs.

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Live a clutter free life

This one’s easier said than done, but listen up. You REALLY don’t need all that old tat that’s cluttering up your cupboards. You know the stuff: clothes you don’t wear, mementos from friends long gone, boxes for every electrical device you’ve ever owned. Be brutal. Sell the high-ticket items on eBay. Donate your unwanted clothes, books and DVDs. Chuck the rest.

It’s a liberating experience, and when you live in a small space, you badly need that extra room for storing the things that matter. Now all you need to do is decide on a place for everything and stick to it. You don’t have to be a neat freak, just pick one day of the week when you’ll put everything back where it should be. We like doing this on a Sunday – there’s always a lull in the late afternoon that’s perfect for end-of-week tidying, and it feels good to reset your home before Monday rolls around.

If you enjoyed reading this post and have your own secrets for small space happiness, share them with us! You can tweet us @Creative_Hacks or drop us a friendly comment below – we love to hear your thoughts, and always reply!

Matt

Six tips to stay warm without turning up the heating

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Oh, winter. The season of sipping hot drinks beside a roaring log fire while watching the snowflakes fall. It can also be the most expensive season in terms of heating bills. Nobody likes being cold in their own home, but rather than turning the thermostat to a tropical 30 degrees, try some of these easy, low cost tricks to stay cosy without it costing the earth.

1. Insulate yourself

The first thing to do if you’re feeling chillsome is to wrap yourself up. Put loose layers on top of loose layers to give yourself maximum insulation. Girls, pop a pair of tights under your leggings or jeans, and guys, layer up socks and sweaters. By keeping the layers loose, you trap more heat and allow blood circulation, meaning heat will spread around your body better.

2. Jump around

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Exercise may not be the most appealing activity when you’re cold and grouchy, but just thirty star jumps can give you a quick and free heat boost. You can also do simple things like running on the spot, lunging or practicing your dance moves ahead of the weekend.

3. Mind the gaps

Take a few minutes to look carefully at your windows, doors and walls. If you have a gap between the bottom of your doors and the flooring, plug it with a draught excluder (or, for a makeshift version, the leg of a pair of tights that has been stuffed with socks). Make sure all windows are tightly shut and sealed. If there are any little holes in your walls or small gaps where cold is coming in from outside, use duct tape as a temporary sealer. In the long run, you may want to think about sealing these air holes properly.

4. Central eating

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Nothing seems better than hugging a mug of freshly made tea, coffee or hot chocolate when the weather turns. Make your own, or head out for a treat in a local café every now and again (cafés are a source of free central heating too, so look for one with steamy windows!) Some people report feeling much warmer in winter after they have eaten something really cold; if you can brave a sub-zero ice cream, give the theory a try.

5. Grab a hottie

Cuddle up to a hot water bottle, a microwavable heat pack or a human hottie. The heat from them will transfer to you and the air around you, so your shivers will stop in no time. You could also pop a thick blanket on top of you and your hottie to further raise the temperature.

6. Cook up some warmth

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Like you need an excuse to get a tray of cookies or fudgy brownies on the go! Not only will baking deliver delicious warmth right to your core, the heat from the oven will transfer all around the room. Did someone say cake?

If you have any more ideas on how to keep warm without cranking up the heating, let us know in the comments below or drop us a tweet @Creative_Hacks.

Amy sig

Life without internet: a survivor’s guide


Like everyone else, I find myself regularly tangled up in the world wide web.

While it’s easy to look back longingly at the days before we were addicted to looking at digital devices, it’s also undeniable that the internet has enriched our lives with services that we now take for granted on a daily basis.

I can certainly relate to the millions of frustrated Americans who experienced an online blackout last Wednesday, when Time Warner Cable’s service crashed without warning. That’s because Amy and I have been living without WiFi for the last two months.

“WHAT?” I hear you gasp, clenching your buttocks on the office chair, gripping that computer mouse a little tighter than before. “Why?! How are you surviving?”

I appreciate your sympathy. When we moved into our new flat, we bravely decided to wait a little longer in order to benefit from a super speedy new connection that, apparently, would be installed soon. Weeks later, though, we’re still stuck without internet while our future provider makes sluggish moves towards an installation date.

Needless to say it’s been a rollercoaster of emotion, but we’ve actually become accustomed to the offline life – within the confines of our home, at least. I’ve learned a lot from the experience and want to share my wisdom with you, in case your home router ever fails to emit those glorious waves of internet magic.

Watch your smartphone data usage

It’s tempting to think you can rely on the online data that comes with your smartphone package when WiFi is unavailable, especially if you have access to lightning-fast 4G download speeds.

There are a problems with doing this, though – relying on mobile data for all the heavy duty loading and streaming you’d normally use broadband for means that you’ll burn through your allowance much more quickly.

That’s especially dangerous if you consider tethering (using your phone as a WiFi hotspot for other devices like laptops and tablets). For example, if you decided to watch an hour-long programme on iPlayer via your smartphone data, you might end up ploughing through the majority of your data allowance in one fell swoop.

A useful way to get around this is by downloading programmes when you have WiFi access. We don’t have a TV yet (I know right, no telly AND no internet… what are we, animals?), so for us this has been a good way to ensure that we always have a bit of audiovisual entertainment lined up for evenings and weekends.

Make a local WiFi map

Knowing the local spots where you can rely on speedy, reliable WiFi is essential if you’re an internet addict stuck without a connection in your home.

Make an effort to memorise nearby cafés, bars and other public spaces that offer internet access. Even shops offer WiFi nowadays – we have to give props to John Lewis for providing us with both beautiful homeware and dependable WiFi.

Be sure to connect to WiFi and ensure that it works well before ordering a drink in cafés and bars, or you’ll be rushing through your beverage in order to find somewhere better.

In Cardiff, our favourite hotspots include Gwdihŵ (a quirky owl themed boozer, pronounced “goodyhoo”), Coffee Barker (caffeine plus comfy sofas) and the St David’s Centre (a retail mecca with loads of places to sit for a quick web fix).

Local web genius Neil Cocker made this WiFi map a little while ago, which contains plenty of other cosy connection points in Cardiff. A quick Google could well reveal something similar for your home city, but make sure you take note of the best spots before you’re cut off from the web.

Browse efficiently

You know those wasted hours at home when you plan on doing lots of useful things online, but end up clicking through some stranger’s profile pictures on Facebook instead? That type of procrastination can still be tempting when you have important stuff to do via public WiFi or a limited data allowance.

Write an online checklist to prevent this – send emails, check your bank account, schedule a happy birthday tweet to your best friend. Just don’t spend hours aimlessly scrolling through social media timelines or watching cat videos while you drain your laptop battery.

You’re bound to feel better when all the important stuff you rely on the internet for is done – then you can get on with enjoying your free time without all the distractions that the online environment curses us with.

Read a classic book, walk somewhere that’s far away, go bowling with your friends. Relive the days before you discovered MSN Messenger, Neopets and MySpace, becoming irreversibly attracted to anything that starts with triple W dot.

Of course, one thing the internet will always be good for quick communication, so if you have any ideas about how to balance online with offline more efficiently, be sure to drop us a friendly comment or tweet.

Matt

Image credit: Photo by Jane Drumsara

Studying art in school is an education for life

Watercolours and brushAll the way through my schooling, optional creative subjects were deemed inferior to the core curriculum. I skipped double maths to work on music compositions, scheduled my guitar lessons to coincide with physics and avoided lunchtime trigonometry revision by camping out in the art room. Each time, I was given a verbal scolding for wasting time on something that was not worth its ink on my exam certificate.

I carried on regardless because art mattered to me. It still matters to me now. If I’m waiting for a train, I’ll origami a forgotten scrap of paper from my handbag. If I’m shampooing my hair, I’ll join the dots of steam on the cubicle door to make an image. If I’m feeling antsy while on hold on the phone, I’ll doodle or tap out a beat with a pen. Art is there, somewhere, in almost every part of my life.

I’m not alone in believing art is crucial in education. Nor am I alone in recognising its place in history, identity and modern politics.

Art party In 2011, Bob and Roberta Smith (the creative pseudonym of Patrick Brill) kicked back against former Education Minister Michael Gove’s calls to remove art from the syllabus. The artist’s upcoming feature film, Art Party, documents his protest against the sterilisation of the curriculum in a visual and, unsurprisingly, creative way.

This may seem a controversial statement, but I think that the arts are as critical as respected, centralised subjects. Art gives so much more than number-crunching alone could provide. It is an open door to expression, both of the self and others. It allows people to comprehend weighty things that trouble the world and convey them visually, audibly or physically. For many, art is a gateway for releasing anxiety, for voicing an opinion or simply taking time out.

An education in art is an education in life. The trials and errors of colour mixing and balancing compositions, the degree with which artistic effects are scrutinised, the rethinking and reimagining of shapes or approaches to reach an end goal – all of these are life lessons that walk with you long after you leave the art room.

If it wasn’t for art in school, I don’t know where I’d be now. It was my favourite subject, but also my hobby, my retreat and my social. Rejecting the typical high-achiever route of medicine or accountancy, I had space to see that what matters to me also matters to society.

Without creative thinkers, artists, musicians and wordsmiths, everything we know would crumble to pieces. Sure, you can add numbers up, but can a number show emotion, offer commentary or provide an alternative perspective? I don’t think so. Then again, I did skip maths class.

With thanks to Chapter Arts Centre, who are among a number of UK independent cinemas to screen Bob and Roberta Smith’s Art Party.

Image credits in order: 1. Photo by Tony Bartholomew 2. Photo provided by Chapter Arts Centre