Spring is almost here, and to most of us, that means cleaning windows and organizing our closets, attics and garages. But spring is also a great time to clean up your digital life.
Taking the time to clean up, de-clutter and organize your tech will certainly pay off. Not only will it make you more efficient and help you take advantage of features you've been overlooking, but it can also help you save money.
Here are four key areas everyone should try to tackle.
Your phone bill is where spring cleaning can really help you reap financial rewards.
First off, check to see if you're overpaying for your cell phone plan. Sites like MyRatePlan.com and WhistleOut.com make it easy to compare phones and plans, and find the right one for your personal, family or business needs. According to a January 2016 Consumer Reports survey, about 50 percent of consumers who switch phone plans save at least $20 per month -- so be sure to compare plans and make sure you're getting the best deal you can.
Also look for any promotions your mobile carrier may offer. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, as well as mobile virtual network operators like Republic Wireless, Boost Mobile, Cricket and more, are all competing heavily to get -- and keep -- your business. They frequently offer special deals to scoop the competition which will lower your monthly costs, increase data limits or upgrade devices.
Mobile data usage is such a problem, it deserves its own category.
If you're a heavy data user, it's time to take control of this so you avoid paying extra fees each month. There are a number of things you can do.
First, consider an "unlimited" data plan if you're constantly going over your limit and paying the price. T-Mobile and Sprint offer these, but keep in mind they will throttle you once you reach a certain data threshold (25 GB and 23 GB, respectively).
As an alternative to switching plans, consider taking some steps to cut down on how much data you use in the first place. For instance, if you have an iPhone, turn off "WiFi Assist" which switches you to a cellular signal when the WiFi connection is poor, or go further by turning off cellular data altogether for key apps on your phone. On Android, set data usage alerts and limits in the settings. You can also get a data usage monitoring app like My Data Manager, My Verizon Mobile or myAT&T.
Change your phone's settings so apps aren't able to run updates automatically -- this is another big drain on your data usage.
Additionally, go with offline viewing options for maps, music, online articles (Pocket) and videos. You could also try a more mobile-friendly browser like Opera Mini which uses less data.
For those who are still using more data than they'd like, apps are available that help compress your data, such as Onavo Extend and Opera Max.
By far the most important spring cleaning tip for your computer -- back up your files.
It's easy to lose important files if your computer has a hard drive failure, but also average people are increasingly at risk of "ransomware" infections which hold your data hostage. Either way, you're either going to have to pay a few hundred bucks to get the files back, or you may just lose them altogether. Think about all of those family photos, downloaded music, work files and personal finance records stored on your computer. Can you really afford to lose them?
When backing up files, go with a good cloud service provider like iCloud, Google Drive, OneDrive, Box, Dropbox or SpiderOak. It's also a good idea to have a local storage option too -- such as a thumb drive, mobile USB or external hard drive.
Two other important areas for your computer: desktop clutter and email.
Most people have heard that having too many files on your desktop will slow down your computer. Is it true? Kind of, but not really. It may slow down certain processes by a small degree, but assuming you have a modern computer it's unlikely to pose a serious problem. The real problem with desktop disorganization is that it's going to slow you down. In addition to simply creating folders and sorting the files yourself, also consider a few neat desktop tools like Dexpot, Fences and Rainmeter.
Email is another issue. Spam is probably one of the biggest problems in your inbox, so consider changing your spam filters to weed those out or add a tool like Unroll.Me or SaneBox to do it for you. There are also smart email assistants like Mailstrom or Triage.
Chances are, your online accounts are probably just as messy as your desktop. Try making some changes here too. There are a number of great tools out there that make it easier to organize your online accounts (like social media and streaming) and add rich new features.
For social media, consider going pro with tools that help you keep all of your accounts organized in one place and make it easier to stay on top of updates. Hootsuite is one of the most well known social media management tools, but it's not the only one. There are plenty of alternatives like Sprout Social, Buffer and Socialdraft. Keep in mind, these were developed primarily for business users, but they can work for you as well.
Then there's Netflix and Amazon Video. How much time do you spend surfing through endless movie title scrolls, trying to find the right one? Tools like InstantWatcher and AllFlicks make it easier to narrow down these titles into precise categories. There are also browser extensions like Super Browse which bring you into a hidden world of secret Netflix codes to search out good flicks. Not to mention Netflix Party -- this lets you chat with friends while you watch. Can I Stream It? and JustWatch are another option -- they let you search across the web for the movie you already know you want to watch, to find out which streaming service has it available.