7 life-improving tech tips
Life is fun, crazy, exciting, liberating, educational, daunting, sobering, and an adventure. The one thing that life is not is dull. In this age of electronics and gadgetry, there is certainly no shortage of what we can accomplish if we set our minds to it. That should be evident to each of us if we look at what we, as a human race, have accomplished over our lifetime of 40 years or so (not to mention past generations). With all the technology advancements readily available to us, wouldn’t it be nice if there were a simple list that helps us to make sense of it all? A simple list that reminds us of how we can use technology to make our lives just a little (or a lot) easier and more enjoyable?
Well, I have good news for you! I have a simple list that does just that. These are 7 life-improving tech tips. There are certainly more than 7, but we’ll keep this list relatively short. Think of it as a good springboard for more. Here we go!
1) Use a good web filter
The introduction of email and the Internet in the home has transformed the way we communicate, research, work, and play. Can you imagine life without it at this point? With all that data readily available to us, there is bound to be good and bad. We all know this. This is why it’s critical to have a good web filtering system in place. A good web filter will allow you to enable and empower the younger members of your family to freely browse the Internet with a minimal risk of running into those unwanted and dangerous sites.
There are two web filtering systems that I recommend for home use. OpenDNS (www.opendns.com) is a free web-based solution. You sign up for a free account, make a simple change on your home router, and all devices on your home network are instantly and automatically protected. The sites and categories of sites are configurable by you. The second recommended solution is Circle (www.meetcircle.com). The Circle is a small hardware-based solution that you add to your home network (wired or wireless). It takes a little bit of work to get Circle set up initially, but once that’s done, you can restrict Internet use per person, run reports, and even completely turn the Internet off on some or all devices. Circle is a one-time $99.
Regardless of the filtering service you decide to use, adding web filtering to your home network can save you time, headache, and most importantly, keep your family safe!
2) Keep your tech up-to-date
New features and security updates are constantly being developed and released for both applications and Operating Systems (Mac OS X, Windows, iOS, Android, etc.). Keeping current with technology will not only help to ensure that your technology is kept healthy, but it will also allow you to use new features to improve your workflow, communicate with family members, and avoid malware that usually results in data loss.
Checking for updates is usually pretty simple. For Mac OS X, simply open the Mac App Store and click on the Updates tab. For Windows, open the Control Panel and search for “Windows Updates.” I typically recommend checking for updates weekly. You can also enable the “check automatically” feature to make this automatic for you.
3) Using cloud storage
Have you ever learned something really, really awesome only to keep it to yourself? Why would you do that? When I learn something really great, I can’t wait to tell someone else because I know it will help them, too. Saving files to your computer can be a little like that in the sense that it makes it difficult to share those files with others (or even yourself between your many devices). If I create a great Keynote file, for example, you’d better believe that I want access to that file from anywhere and on any device. Isn’t that the point? With cloud storage you can! I personally use (and recommend) two different cloud storage systems: Dropbox and iCloud.
Both of these systems are useful in their own way and both start out completely free (you can add more storage for minimal monthly fees). While iCloud (www.icloud.com) is really designed for personal use, Dropbox is great for personal use and for business (scalable to any size). There are a series of additional tools available for Dropbox Business accounts (including auditing, access control, security groups, and more). You can find more information at www.dropboxforyourbusiness.com.
4) Manage your Inbox
When it comes to time management, the Inbox can be a huge life-saver or time-waster, depending on how we manage its use. Inbox management is a personal preference and what works well for me, may not work well for you. With that in mind, I will give you a little insight into how I manage my Inbox.
First, I find it important to attack email in a single-piece-flow model (rather than batching). That’s manufacturing talk for “when an email arrives, look at it and process it as soon as possible.” The alternative is checking email twice a day and needing to process 100 emails at a time. Yuck! For me, processing 100 emails is too daunting and I will procrastinate, making the problem worse.
When an email arrives, I quickly skim the subject and body. If it’s something I need to read more closely but don’t have time right then, I will leave it in my Inbox until I have time later. If it’s something I need to respond to, I will respond, then delete the email. If it’s something I need to know about but doesn’t need a response, I will digest the information, then delete the message. Either way, the message will be deleted when I’m done with it. Doing this with each message as it arrives ensures that my Inbox (which I consider to be a form of a to-do list) is always as short as possible. If all of this is done correctly, it takes no more than a few seconds per email.
5) Password management
“How many passwords do you manage?” This is a question I asked of someone recently. I thought for sure they would fall short of my answer, but to my amazement, they far exceeded me. I was shocked, but not as shocked as I was when they told me they had no password management system. What the tech?! Password management is a must in this day and age. It seems that absolutely everything requires a username and password.
There are countless password management systems on the market, but the one I use and recommend is called 1Password (www.1password.com). The iOS version is free, but they have paid versions for Mac, Windows, Linux, Windows Phone, Android…. You name it, they have it. In a word, 1Password is incredible! With 1Password installed on all my devices, I can simply add a new set of credentials on one device and it automatically syncs (using iCloud or Dropbox) to my other devices in a matter of seconds. 1Password itself uses strong encryption, so it’s safe and protected. In addition to website credentials, 1Password is also great at storing social security numbers, software license codes, membership numbers, frequent flyer accounts, and even credit card information! This (along with Dropbox) is one of the few apps that I have installed on every Mac I own.
6) Embrace home automation
This is going to be a big year for home automation. We’ve seen this segment grow a little here and there over the last few years, but things seem to finally start coming together in a way that makes sense to most of us. Don’t fear it, embrace it! Just the other day, I was showing a friend of mine how I am automating my home and he was amazed. He had no idea how simple and cost-effective it could be until I showed him how I used it. Here are a few systems I use in my own home.
For security, we have a series of Nest Cams around our home (inside and out). These cameras are always recording (cloud-based over WiFi) what they see in high-definition. At any time, I can view live and recorded video footage. At the same time, I can listen to audio coming from the cameras and even speak through the camera using its built-in speaker. These cameras have motion and sound-detection (with notifications) and automatic night-vision mode.
For climate control, I use the Nest thermostat. At $250/each, they’re a little pricey but worth the price considering the control you have over the comfort of your home. I can view the status and change the temperature from anywhere in the world using my iPhone. I can also run reports to see how efficiently I am using my resources. When used properly, these devices can also save quite a bit on your monthly bill. This is possible because it learns your habits, preferences, and knows your location (based on the location of your iPhone or Android).
For garage door access, I installed the WiFi-enabled LiftMaster 8550w garage door opener. After a 2-minute setup process, the opener was connected to my wireless network and I could access it from my iPhone anywhere in the world. I can see if the door is open or closed, how long it has been in that state, and even open or close the door remotely with a single tap. This is great for those times that you forgot to close the door after you have left on vacation or when a neighbor needs to borrow a rake when you’re not home.
For interior lighting, I use the Phillips Hue lighting system. I certainly don’t use this everywhere in the house (that could get really expensive, really fast), but it’s very useful in certain areas. With Hue, I can schedule a specific scene to automatically turn on or off at certain times of the day. I can also have my lights automatically turn on as I arrive home and turn off when I leave (this is based on the location of my iPhone). The scenes are completely customizable with any color and brightness combination you can think of.
In short, home automation is here to stay and it’s only getting easier, better, cheaper, and more interesting. Embrace it! It truly can make your life better.
7) Learn Something New
This isn’t specifically a tech-related tip, but it applies to technology just like anything else in life. I love what Mahatma Ghandi said about learning: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” If you’re not learning something new every day, you’re not truly living. To learn is to grow and progress. Not only is this helpful to you, but it’s helpful to others as well. As you progress, others around you progress and the world becomes a better place.
The best way to learn is to pay attention and experiment. Paying attention is as simple as following tech-related accounts on social networks and asking questions. Experimenting is the act of taking what you have learned and applying it. Don’t be afraid to get things wrong or mess up once in a while. Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Knowledge is empowering and enabling. Just like physical exercise, we must mentally exercise every day to stay (mentally) healthy.
If you’re looking for good social accounts to follow, follow me (@kevinallgaier on Twitter and Instagram) and look at who I’m following. I’m constantly adding new accounts as I discover them (or dropping them as they become stagnant), so pay attention.
I hope these few tips help you make a little more sense of all the technology that is swirling around us and help you use it more effectively!