10 simple steps for successfully spring cleaning your computer

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!



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.


Image credit: Photo by Jane Drumsara