Each year, our phones, social media accounts, laptops, smart assistants, fitness trackers and other tech somehow swallow up even more of our time.
For the new year, here are a handful of resolutions that aim to improve our relationship to the technology that rules our lives:
1. Start taking cybersecurity seriously
2016 was the year personal cybersecurity came to the forefront. In what was described as the worst hack ever, more than 500 million Yahoo email accounts were leaked.
Cybercriminals created a gigantic bot net built from insecure “Internet of Things” devices (like web-connected thermostats and coffee makers) that brought down major websites across the internet. Even the Democratic National Committee was compromised.
Luckily, it’s easier than ever to protect yourself. The first step is to stay vigilant. Google your name and look through several pages of results to see what information about you is publicly available. It doesn’t hurt to set social media accounts like Instagram and Twitter to private.
Don’t get lazy with passwords. The worst thing you can do is reuse the same password for multiple sites. It’s easy to use a simple tool like LastPass to keep all your passwords in one place.
The most important (and easiest) thing you can do is enable two-factor authentication. While that term might sound complicated, it’s actually super simple. When you turn it on, services like Gmail and Facebook require more than your password to get into your accounts.
In most cases, once it’s enabled, you simply fork over your phone number and when you log on, a site will text an access code to your device. Once the site has both your password and the access code, you’re in. Using it means that even if someone gets access to your password, they can’t get into your account without your phone.
You can check which sites offer two-factor authentication here.
2. Respond to texts and emails on time
Despite being glued to our phones, many of us have trouble responding to texts, emails and other messages from people we care about within a reasonable time frame. The problem then only gets worse. Instead of having one or two messages to respond to, within a week the pile of correspondence can seem unmanageable.
The easiest solution is to pick a time each day to respond to your non-work related correspondence. Although it doesn’t seem like a task, treating your messages like another errand to tackle can make the process seem less daunting.
Responding later is also better than never responding at all. Even if it seems awkward to answer a text a week late, the person on the receiving end will likely be happy with a late reply rather than no reply at all.
It also helps to not set unreasonable expectations. If you’re really busy, indicate to your friends and family that it might be easier to send an email or Facebook message instead of expecting regular short texts from you.
The greatest reward you’ll receive from actually getting back to people on time is being free from digital guilt.
No more worrying that your best friend saw that Instagram you posted when you haven’t even texted her back.
3. Be more present IRL
21 percent of Americans say that they’re online “almost constantly.” And we’re now spending more time with our phones than with our significant others. In 2017, cutdown on the amount of time you spend staring at screens it could also improve your mental health.
Psychologist Dr. Deepika Chopra draws a link between excessive screen staring and negative emotions. “Too much social media or smartphone usage may be costing you more than just time,” she told Mashable last year.
“Studies show it may be stealing your happiness, stunting development in children, and decreasing academic and social potential in our college student population.”
To try and decrease the amount of time you dedicate to your phone, the first step is to turn off notifications. That way, you’re only checking your phone when you want to as opposed to every time it buzzes.
Apps like QualityTime for Android and Moment for iOS track how much time you spend staring at your screen, which can help you visualize how much of your day is dedicated to checking social media and playing games on your phone.
4. Finally update everything
This one is easy. If you don’t think it’s important to regularly update your software, consider that you’re putting yourself at a security risk when you don’t.
Oftentimes, when a company like Apple issues a software update, included are patches that cover previously undiscovered security vulnerabilities.
Updating your software is also important because if you fall too far behind, some apps will stop working because they’re no longer compatible with your outdated software.
It can be a pain to update your devices, since it usually means waiting a half hour or so for them to reboot. Luckily it’s possible to automatically update your software while you sleep.
5. Delete digital clutter
I’m guilty of storing old text messages and photos from past friendships and romantic relationships on my phone because I’m afraid of losing them forever.
In reality, they’re just taking up precious storage space on my iPhone and causing me to dwell on painful memories when I come across the mementos by accident.
The easiest solution is to set your text messages to automatically delete after a certain interval of time. You can also backup texts and photos on your computer, but opt out of carrying them with you everywhere on your phone.
Another good goal is to clear off your desktop, which can be cluttered with screenshots, dowloaded files and old documents. Aim to actually be able to see your desktop background.
Another place to declutter is your email inbox. Instead of deleting unwanted newsletters and advertisements, force yourself to keep them around until you actually unsubscribe.
In the future, if you still want to sign up for mailing lists, it’s easy to create a dummy email that you use only for that purpose.
If you’re interested in staying on top of retail deals, you can use a tool like RetailMeNot instead of signing up for email blasts.
Only have a couple of minutes to make a quick fix? The quickest thing you can do to declutter your digital life is to empty your downloads folder. Clearing it will likely free up a good amount of space on your hard drive.
6. Actually use that fitness tracker you got for the holidays
Incorporating a new gadget into your life can be more difficult than you expect. If you want to actually start using a new fitness tracker, the first thing you can do is remember why you got it in the first place.
Are you primarily interested in counting steps? Monitoring your sleep? Are you trying to walk more or sleep better? Picking one goal and sticking to it can make incorporating the tracker into your life easier.
It can also help to not put pressure on yourself to check the data you’re collecting on a daily or even weekly basis. As long as you’re wearing the tracker consistently, it can still be useful to reflect on your health data monthly.