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The Simple Manifesto #14 – Simplify your computer life


This is part of our series on The Simple Living Manifesto. We invite you to join us on the journey.

The 14th idea in the manifesto is:

Simplify your computing life. If you have trouble with too many files and too much disorganization, consider online computing. It can simplify things greatly. Read more.

I spend a lot of time on my computer.

Whether it’s my 9-5 (as a web worker), free-lancing (mostly web related work), blogging, social networks, or just piddling around in my free-time — I spend a lot of time on my computer.

To simplify, I use a lot of cloud based tools to get my work done (read 9 tech tools for living simply).

In addition to using cloud based Google Docs and Wiki’s for collaboration and file sharing, I also use for sharing large files (up to 100 MB) with others. is a great free alternative to using FTP sites, with an easy drag and drop user interface. You can store up to 100 MB in each “drop” and each drop gets it’s own URL (with optional password protection) for easy access as well.

Simplifying your computer tasks — without the cloud

However, whether you opt for keeping your files in the cloud, or leaving them on your desktop there are still a number of ways you can simplify your daily computing tasks…

  1. Use Launchy – This is in my list of 9 tech tools for living simply, but it deserves repeating again. This saves me a lot of time using minimal keystrokes vs. hunting across my start menu for the next application I need.
  2. Google Desktop – Yup, another Google product. I use this software for one feature — indexing the files on my desktop, as well as my e-mails. I’ve never been pleased with the built in search for XP but this little app does the trick. It indexes and searches all sorts of file types and even scans the content of the documents for optimal search results. BONUS TIP: Activate a pop-up search bar by hitting CTRL twice. You can set the search bar to either show web or desktop results (or activate your desktop apps like Launchy).
  3. Inbox Zero – Want to save real time and effort? Keep your e-mail inbox empty. This is great for personal and work e-mails and works in any e-mail system/software you use. I’m still trying to do this 100% of the time but at least once a week I try and spend 15 minutes or so clearing out both my personal and work inbox.
  4. Close your e-mail – E-mail can be such a time sucker. Close it! The advantage of e-mail is that you can respond to it 24/7. The disadvantage to e-mail is that people expect you to respond 24/7. But you don’t have to! They can wait! Don’t let your e-mail become a distraction by keeping it open all day long. (Same goes for Twitter, Facebook, etc.) Try keeping your e-mail closed all day, except for five or six 10-minute breaks. Do a quick check to put out any fires and then get back to work. Save the forwards from your mom and co-workers for later (or delete them) and try and delegate everything you can. Then tomorrow, do the same thing with only four or five breaks. The next day try it with only three or four. See if you can go all day without opening your e-mail except for when you first arrive to work and/or right before you head home.
  5. Unsubscribe – Who needs all those newsletters anyways? Nine times out of 10 we sign up for a new e-newsletter because they’re offering something cool as an incentive but in the long run, they just bog down your inbox and cause further work. Do a quick search of your inbox for the words “unsubscribe,” “opt-in” and “opt-out” and unsubscribe from every newsletter that hasn’t benefited you in the last few weeks. If you can’t make the move to unsubscribe, at least setup a few rules or filters to move the e-mails to another folder for later reading.
  6. Keep a notepad handy – One of the biggest distractors in my day can be Google (or Bing, or AltaVista — choose your search engine poison). Because we have the web at our fingertips, whenever a thought comes to mind, I can quickly pull up my search engine and find a million rabbit trails to follow. And don’t get me started on Wikipedia. So keep a notepad handy and jot down those ideas for later (like during those 5-10 minute breaks you’ll be taking soon). Trust me — the web will be there when you finish with your work.
  7. Save for later – Whether it’s a web link via Twitter, an e-mail or something great in your RSS feed, you don’t have delve into it immediately. I keep a folder in my browser bookmarks entitled “followup.” It’s where I save/bookmark videos, podcasts, websites and other things I don’t have time to look at right then but want to return to later. Surprisingly I rarely return to them all and delete most of the bookmarks after a week or so. Turns out they weren’t that important after all — but would have cost me a lot of time if I’d focused on them right away.
  8. Clean out the crap – Like your home or car, a clean machine will run far better than one that’s bogged down with junk. My advice, download and install CCleaner (CrapCleaner). The software does an excellent job of cleaning out your Internet cache, as well as your startup process and your system registry (definitely use the backup option when cleaning the registry). Also, don’t forget to run a disk defragmenter from time to time as well.
  9. Unclutter your computer’s desktop – I’ve gone uber-minimalist on my desktop, removing everything but my recycling bin (I’m still hoping to find a way to remove it as well). It’s been such a breath of fresh air.
  10. Unclutter your desktop – Put your empty coffee mugs away, hide all those ugly cables and file or recycle any papers your not using on your current task. The less papers, chords and mess you have around your working environment, the easier it will be for you to focus on your tasks. Less clutter = less distraction.
  11. Remove all the add-ons in your browser – Remember when you first got your computer and your browser opened so fast? Those days can return. One of the reasons our browsers start dragging is all the add-ons. I’ve removed all unnecessary add-ons to Firefox (keeping a few web developer ones) and then switched to Google’s Chrome (without any add-ons) as my primary browser.
  12. Chrome runs a lot faster now than Firefox but I have the option to go back to Firefox anytime I need a specific add-on tool.

  13. Take a break – Take a 5-10 minute break every hour or two to relieve your eyes, your wrists and the rest of your body. Get up, stretch, walk around. You’ll feel refreshed when you come back and more energized to keep going.
  14. Sit up straight – Remember what your mom always said. Better posture will not only keep you awake and alert but will also reduce wear and tear and pain later on. (As I type this, I’m reminded to quit slouching back on the couch with my laptop in my lap… There that’s a lot better. …Do what I say, not what I do :-) ).
  15. Pick a computer that works best for you – I’m a PC. My wife is a Mac. When her Mac bit the bullet a couple years ago I was able to talk her into getting a PC to save (a lot) of money. She agreed and she’s had a PC with Windows Vista for the past two years. But within the last couple weeks she’s longed for her Mac. I knew I couldn’t keep her a PC forever and so I wasn’t too surprised when she went and purchased a brand new Macbook a week ago. I could complain but she has to find what works best for her. She doesn’t need much. She just needs something simple and reliable and something she feels comfortable with — and so do you. That may be with a cheap Linux Netbook, it may be with a high powered laptop, it may be with an (overpriced :-) ) Macbook, it may be a dual screen setup or a basic 19″ monitor — or it may be somewhere in between. Find what works best for you and put it to use. Because while ultimately it’s what you do with the tool that makes the difference, if you’re not comfortable using the tool — you won’t use it — and it’ll just collect dust like so many other things in our lives.

I’d love to hear how these ideas are helping you simplify. Have you switched to “the cloud?” Are you holding on to your desktop computing and trying some of the other ideas on this list? Share you experiences.

Join us!

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5 to “The Simple Manifesto #14 – Simplify your computer life”

  1. Responding to #14, if you want something cheaper (free) and MUCH more stable and secure, move away from Windows completely and start using Linux. I’ve been using Linux for 13 years and never once have I run into an issue where I couldn’t do something because I wasn’t running Windows.

    Also, I registered for your site and I love the way you inserted a step asking for a Twitter account. I need to do that on some of my client sites. :)

    • Thanks cmccullough!
      I haven’t used Linux much other than a brief trial with Ubuntu on a flash drive. What flavor of Linux do you use and/or recommend for a novice?
      I’ve got an older laptop I’ve considered wiping clean and installing Linux on.

  2. Karo says:

    Great advice, all around. I’m a big believer in #3 (inbox zero) and #10 (unclutter your desktop), and if I didn’t practice #7 (save for later) I would never get anything done. Too easy to get sucked in.

  3. jehey says:

    I found another alternative to Google Desktop or other desktop search software, that is Search Everything. Fast and easy to use. File size less than 1mb. Here is the link:

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