Tips & Advice

Time for a digital spring cleaning

Leena Elias, 3 June 2020

With increased time spent indoors, the technology that’s been serving as our lifeline could use a tune up

Spring has always been synonymous with cleaning — warmer weather and longer days work as a stimulant encouraging people to become more active. After months of cooler climates and — more recently, shelter-in-place — there’s no time like the present to tend to those over-cluttered closets, garages, basements, etc. 

This spring is also a particularly good time to spruce up our digital resources. The pandemic has kept us all indoors longer than usual, and the technology that’s been serving as our lifeline to the world outside could use some attention.

After dealing with the junk and the dirt, doing a quick scrub of our accounts and devices can help us operate more efficiently and do a better job protecting ourselves from hacks. Here are five ways to clean up our digital lives. 

Clean out email accounts

While some people manage to stick to a “zero inbox rule,” most of us let emails pile up month after month, year after year. Keeping some emails can be useful. Maybe you’ve stashed an old phone number or family list that’s worth saving. But keeping too many emails can cause problems — particularly if some messages contain personal information, financial details or identifying data. Bogged-down inboxes can not only get in the way of productivity – they can give hackers information you don’t want shared.

If your account is ever hacked, you’ll want to limit your exposure. Take a few minutes and delete all the emails you no longer need, and export the ones you still want either to the cloud or a hard drive. Email services offer ways to export messages and other account data so you control what’s stored on a company's server. Get rid of old folders. Set a rule that will automatically empty your deleted items on a regular basis. Unsubscribe to recurring emails that no longer interest you. And make sure to purge and delete old email accounts that you no longer use.

Scrub up your social media

Many social media users spend a decent amount of time posting, sharing pictures, browsing and generally connecting – but not much time tending to the back-end work. A spring cleaning provides a good chance to review what you share and how you share it. Take a look at your security settings, sharing rules, friends, connections and posts to make sure you’re still comfortable with them. Maybe you’ve changed jobs and your current management is more sensitive about what gets shared. Maybe you’ve had recent life changes, and are looking to put yourself “out there”. Is the information on your social networking and professional sites current? Are there social sites you registered for but don’t use anymore? Time for a clean-up.

Update your hardware, home networks and devices

During the work-from-home period, we’ve all relied heavily on digital hardware to connect us with work, school, family and friends. If you haven’t done a “deep clean” on these devices, now is a good time to do so. Start with the apps and operating systems on all your Internet-connected devices – your PCs, smartphones, tablets, home wifi routers. Update all the security settings to reduce risks from malware and infections. Get rid of all unused apps on your phone, computer and gaming consoles, and clear out any downloads you’re not using.

Also, instead of just deleting an app from your phone, close your account. That fitness app you stopped looking at months ago? It could still be monitoring your heart rate or tracking your whereabouts. Closing an idle account doesn’t automatically delete all data the service knows about you, but it does stop it from continuing to collect said data. 

Password maintenance

Practicing good password hygiene doesn’t always play a part in our day-to-day lives. Take this time to update and change existing passwords to reduce the risk of hacked credentials being used across other platforms. Apps like Avast Mobile Security can help flag any accounts that might have been involved in a data breach, helping you stay accountable to change your passwords and keep you up to date on when your data could be involved in a breach. 

Back things up

Do you know where all your important files are? Your financial information, the resources you need for work, important children’s documents, etc.? Those impossible to replace recordings of local rock bands from the late ‘70s? If there’s something you can’t afford to lose, and you haven’t backed it up, now is the time. 

There are many ways to save files – thumb drives, DVDs (albeit antiquated), more modern approaches are seen across various cloud back-up services, or an external hard drive. Exclusive to the platform used to store valuable files, make sure to save them in a way that both makes sense and is easy to keep organized for ease of reference and if needed, when the time comes to restore from said backups.  

Take out the trash

In any spring cleaning project the last step is to take out the trash. That applies just as much to digital clean-outs. Destroy old CDs, external hard drives and even thumb drives you don’t need anymore. Those phones, wearables, networking devices and printers are taking up space – and chances are you’re not going to be able to resell them. So, dump them. Be sure to pay attention to recycling guidelines. And make sure to thoroughly wipe them down or have them shredded by a vendor you trust.

Summer’s going to be here before you know it. You still have time to get your digital spring cleaning out of the way and be ready to tackle other projects the rest of the year.