21 Quick Actions You Can Do Today To Change Your Digital Life Forever

21 Quick Actions to Change Your Digital Life Forever

I know sometimes it’s too easy to sit and think and think and think about how to improve your life rather than take…what’s the word, oh yeah: action.

Action is the thing that will get results. Your desired outcome. Move the ball down the sportsball field.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great”― Zig Ziglar

So today you’re going to start an organized and awesome digital life, because here’s a list of 21 QUICK actions you can take.

Pick one, (just one to start!) and progress is on the way. Progress, not perfection, everyone.

Action #1: Set up Time Machine For Local Back-ups on Your Mac (10–20 minutes)

How this will change your life: There’s a geeky maxim: “it’s not a question of if your hard drive will fail, but when.” If you lost all the pictures and video of the halcyon days of when your daughter was two because you didn’t take 20 minutes to set up the preinstalled and easy Time Machine wouldn’t you be S-A-D? Let’s avoid that.

Simple steps:

  1. Buy an external hard-drive that is double your current storage rate. (500 GB? Buy a 1 TB) Here’s a 2TB drive for $99 deemed best drive by reliable site The Wirecutter.
  2. Connect external hard-drive to your Mac.
  3. Turn on Time Machine. Follow instructions in this official Apple Support article: Mac Basics: Time Machine backs up your Mac.

Additional Resource:
Back Up Your Mac With Time Machine – Jordan Merrick

Action #2: Set up Super Duper For Clone Back-ups on Your Mac (10–20 minutes)

How this will change your life: What, more back-up? Yes, more back-ups. Time Machine is fantastic for it’s ease of use and especially useful when you want to find a specific version of a file you had 2 days ago. The advantage we’re creating with clone backups is that if on the day you have an urgent deadline due is the day your HD craps out…well, no problem you just plug your cloned drive into the Mac and you’ll be able to continue right where you left off.

Simple steps:

  1. Buy another external hard drive. See above. It’s best to keep your Time Machine and clone back-ups on separate drives.
  2. Connect external hard-drive to your Mac.
  3. Download SuperDuper! from Shirt Pocket Software. There’s a free version but it’s worth paying for the upgrade to unlock scheduling and Smart Update (will on backup changes since last backup.)
  4. Run SuperDuper! backup and schedule it to run as much as daily or at the least: weekly.

Additional Resource:
SuperDuper! User’s Guide

Action #3: Set up a dedicated online backup service like Backblaze (10–15 minutes)

How this will change your life: Everything comes in threes, so surely you saw more back-up coming down the pike? Okay, you have two external hard drives now: a Time Machine one and a SuperDuper! (clone) drive. But what about if natural disaster or a robbery parts you with these two? No problem, because you have a trusted offsite, online back-up too. I’ve used Backblaze, designed by ex-Apple engineers, for years now and I’m super satisfied but there are alternatives that others like too: Carbonite and Crash Plan among them.

Simple steps:

  1. Go to backblaze.com and sign up for an account.
  2. Install Backblaze on your Mac. You can also set it up to backup your external drives at no extra charge.
  3. Congratulate yourself on being the king/queen of the all mighty trinity of back-ups: incremental (Time Machine), bootable (SuperDuper!) and off-site. (Backblaze.) Good on you for taking responsibility of your own data!

Additional Resource:
The Sweet Setup: Backing up Your Computer is Easy

Action #4: Practice this Dropbox habit (10–15 minutes)

How this will change your life: Dropbox is not a back-up solution. However, it is an ideal place to keep all of your text documents for access to them on any device AND as third tier back-up solution.

Simple steps:

  1. If you don’t have a Dropbox account, sign up for a free 2GB one here. Text documents are so small in size you may only need a free account.
  2. Install Dropbox on your Mac and the Dropbox apps on your iPhone and iPad.
  3. Read my article: How to develop a simple Dropbox habit that will save you time and grief.
  4. Remember each time you save a document: save it to your Dropbox, not Documents or your desktop.

Additional Resource:
Daring Fireball: An Ode to DiskWarrior, SuperDuper, and Dropbox

Action #5: Make sure your iPhone and iPad are backing up to iCloud (5–10 minutes)

How this will change your life: There was a time in the not so distant past when to backup your iOS device you had to be so diligent as to remember to sync it to your Mac on a regular basis. That’s a tall order even for a big nerd like me. What does happen on a daily basis though is charging our phones while connected to a wifi network. Brilliantly those are the only 2 requirements for backing it up to iCloud. Well, if it’s turned on! Don’t assume that is, let’s check.

Simple steps:

  1. Open Settings>iCloud>Backup and make sure it’s marked “On.”
  2. Notice the date of your last backup in gray letters below the “Back Up Now” button. If it was within the last 24 hours you’re golden, otherwise tap “Back Up Now.”

Additional Resource:
iCloud: Back up your iOS device to iCloud

Action #6: Move passwords out of your mind and into 1Password (40–60 minutes)

How this will change your life: I will unequivocally use the word “unequivocal” for this guarantee: switch your password management from your overloaded memory and into a robust app like 1Password and 85–90% of your computer stress and security concerns will be cured.

Simple steps:

  1. Read : The Essential App for Digital Security (And organization, huzzah!).
  2. Download 1Password for your Mac and iOS devices.
  3. Set up 1Password to sync its data with Dropbox or iCloud, so passwords can be shared (super securely and encrypted) between devices.

Additional Resource:
ScreenCasts Online: 1Password Password Manager – Full Free Tutorial

Action #7: Fill out the 1 Password Emergency Kit (20–25 minutes)

How this will change your life:This one will probably change your loved one’s lives more like it, but it may change your life when they see how thoughtful you are in thinking about their future.
Simple steps:

  1. Download the 1Password Emergency Kit PDF from Mike Vardy at the Productivityist , updated by Charles Hamons.
  2. Print it out.
  3. Fill it out with a pen. Remember these?
  4. Put it in your safety deposit box. Make sure to look both ways when crossing the street for the next few days.

Additional Resource:
Get Your Sh**t Together: a website for all aspects of life planning.

Action #8: Start using a digital task manager (40–60 minutes)

How this will change your life: You may still list your frogs for the day out on paper but a digital task manager is perfect for reoccurring tasks and being available to you almost anywhere so that as soon as a task comes to mind you can put it into your trusted system.

Simple steps:

  1. Check out Todoist: my current task manager of choice.
  2. Create projects for yourself, your business/job, and home to start.
  3. Do a brain dump: fill out all the tasks that are knocking around in your brain and add them to Todoist.

Additional Resources:
The todoist collection – Everything Productivityist Has Written About Todoist
Macstories – Why I Left iCloud Reminders for Todoist

Action #9: Set up a digital calendar (40–60 minutes)

How this will change your life: While using a digital task manager is still debatable, if you’re managing a calendar with more than yourself or you need access to it in every situation where you have your iPhone: trust me a digital calendar will be a life changer.

Simple steps:

  1. Choose a cloud based calendar system. If you’re a Gmail user, then Google Calendar. If not then, iCloud. Cloud is especially important in this context because you don’t want create any situation where you have to move information from one calendar to another manually. That’s crazy making.
  2. I recommend using Fantastical as the app interface for Google or iCloud calendars.
    Additional Resource:
    The Sweet Setup: The best calendar App for iPhone – Fantastical 2

Action #10: Create a filing naming convention and use it (5–10 minutes)

How this will change your life: Deciding on a consistent way of labelling your files can make all the difference in finding them later. Creating a Text Expander snippet to make sure it’s easy and automatic to hit that consistency each time will be a revelation.

Simple steps:

  1. I recommend creating something that starts with a date. This makes the files fall into line like a calendar when you look at them in Finder. (Visual example of this in the article linked below.)
  2. Read more about it and how to employ Text Expander in this task here: Why You Should Use Text Expander: it’s so choice.

Additional Resource:
Paperless – David Sparks

Action #11: Set up Keyboard Shortcuts on your iOS devices (5–15 minutes)

How this will change your life: Text Expander Touch brings Text Expander to iOS devices but even if you haven’t jumped on the TE train yet there’s a text expansion system built into iOS that will make sure you never have to type your email address again on your iPhone’s touch keyboard.

Simple steps:

  1. On your iOS device of choice: go to Settings>General>Keyboard>Shorcuts.
  2. Hit the “+” in the top right corner.
  3. Fill in phrase as your email address. Fill in the shortcut as “xem”. (I use x to trigger all my shortcuts since few words actually begin with this letter. For example my address shortcut is “xadd.”
  4. Hit save.
  5. That’s it. Each time you need to fill in my email address, you can just type “xem” and hit space and it will appear.
  6. Create ones for your mailing address, phone number, and other common phrases you dread typing out on your digital keyboard.

Additional Resource:
iMore: How to setup and use text shortcuts on iPhone and iPad

Action #12: Create an archive folder (5–10 minutes)

How this will change your life: You won’t be wasting time scrolling through old files that you don’t want to delete but don’t need to see on a daily or even yearly basis.

Simple steps:

  1. Create a new folder in Finder and label it Z_Archive. (The Z will push it to the bottom of the list when sorted by name unless you have a host of zebra labelled files.)
  2. Drag and drop all those files you want to keep, but don’t need for current work into this new archive storage.

Action #13: Learn one keyboard shortcut for one of your favorite Mac apps (5 minutes)

How this will change your life: Here’s a secret: learning a single keyboard shortcut for an app instead of reaching for the mouse or trackpad will make you feel like a ninja. Feeling like a ninja every day will change your life because you’ll be a ninja. (Doesn’t apply to actual ninjas. Obviously.)

Simple steps:

  1. Open an app you use everyday.
  2. Go up to the menu bar and find an action that you use in the app every day. To the right of the action you’ll see it lists its corresponding keyboard action. For example: CUT is ⌘X.
  3. Find one of the command keys – to the left and right of the space bar.
  4. Hold down command key. Then hit it’s corresponding letter – voila! Ninja. Practice this every day for a week. Then pick a new keyboard shortcut to learn for the next week.

Additional Resource:
Michael Hyatt: Using Keyboard Shortcuts to Boost Your Productivity

Action #14: Install a helpful Chrome extension (5–10 minutes)

How this will change your life: Finding the right extension for Chrome can save you time in your workflow or help teach you a new skill. (Keyrocket will teach you Gmail keyboard shortcuts.)
Simple steps:

  1. Here’s a list of 2 of my favorite extensions and here’s another one from Tom Frank at College Info Geek: 16 Chrome Extensions Every Student Should Use.
  2. Pick one! This is important. We’re looking to improve your digital life, not overload it with a bunch of crap. Think about an app that you use a lot and would be useful to have help with or access to in your browser. For example: one of my recent favorites is Todoist’s Chrome extension because it allows me to check my tasks without switching apps.
  3. Install it and try it out for a week. If it’s useful it stays, if you forget about it, delete it!

Additional Resource:
Lifehacker Pack for Chrome: Our List of the Essential Extensions

Action #15: Complete these two simple tricks to keep your iPhone and iPad safe (10–20 minutes)

How this will change your life: You’ll know that when the time comes for your phone to “disappear” that your odds of recovery will be much greater after completing these two simple tricks.

Simple steps:

  1. I detail steps for both tricks here: Two Simple Tricks that Bring Your iPhone Back To You…

Action #16: Move your music to a cloud matching service like Google Music or iTunes Match (30–60 minutes to start)

How this will change your life:Music can take up a decent amount of storage space especially on iOS devices where space is still at a premium. A match service allows you to have 24/7 access to download your music from your personal cloud so you can keep only the tracks you currently listening to on the device. Also both services allow you to “upgrade” to higher sound quality tracks if you ripped CDs eight years ago at a low bit-rate.

Simple steps:

  1. Decide on using either Google Music (my choice – explained here or iTunes Match. ($25 a year.)
  2. Start the matching process for your service of choice.

Additional Resource:
Macworld: How to upgrade tracks to iTunes Match, fast

Action #17: Learn how to quickly see what’s slowing your Mac down (5–10 minutes)

How this will change your life: Once you learn this you’ll spend less time cursing the Mac’s spinning beachball and more time doing the work you sat down to do.

Simple steps:

  1. Hit ⌘+ space bar to bring up Spotlight. (Add this to your now growing repertoire of keyboard shortcuts!)
  2. Type in “Activity Monitor” to the Spotlight search bar.
  3. Check the “%CPU” column and see if there’s an app there that’s using more memory than the others. Do you recognize it? If not: quit it and research if you need it installed at all.
  4. For example: I ran Activity Monitor recently and found that an app helper for a photo app I wasn’t even using was taking up 50% of my CPU. Uninstalled it and bye, bye beach-ball.
    Additional Resource:
    How to use Activity Monitor to make your Mac faster

Action #18: Delete unwatched movies and apps after learning about the “purchased” section of the App & iTunes Store (15–20 minutes)

How this will change your life: Movies are the biggest data hogs and certain apps are not far behind. But deleting an app or movie doesn’t mean you lose it…

Simple steps:

  1. Go to the App Store. On your iPhone tap the “Updates” tab at the bottom, then tap “Purchased” at the top. On the iPad tap the “Purchased” tab at the bottom.
  2. Behold! A list of all the apps you’ve ever bought and you can see them in “all” or “not on this iPhone.”
  3. Same is true in the iTunes app, tap “More” and then “Purchased.”
  4. If you ever needed to re-download an app, or a movie, tv show, or music track you bought from iTunes you just tap the cloud next to the item and Poof! it’s back.
  5. Go through your iOS device and delete apps you have not used and movies you’re done watching for the moment.

Additional Resource:
How to re-download purchased apps and games on iPhone and iPad

Action #19: Backup your Google data with CloudPull (10–20 minutes)

How this will change your life: Aha! More back-up, because as my pal Brooks Duncan argues You Are Responsible For Your Data. If you just check your Gmail and Google Contacts in a browser and have some spreadsheets in Google Docs what happens if Google’s servers go down or wipe your account for some weird reason? Back it up
Simple steps:

  1. Download CloudPull from Goldenhill Software.
  2. Connect CloudPull to your Google accounts to start the back-up process.
  3. You could also use a local email client like Mac Mail to download Gmail to your Mac, but that just covers email. Cloud Pull is also backing up contacts, calendars and documents too.

Additional Resource:
TidBITS: Back Up Your Google Data with CloudPull

Action #20: Learn how to switch Mac apps super quick (10–20 minutes)

How this will change your life: No more wasted time going back and forth to the dock with a simple and powerful

Simple steps:

    1. Watch this short screencast.

  1. Practice.

Action #21: Transform an aging iPhone into a Dream iPod Touch (60–120 minutes)

How this will change your life: Repurposing old tech and giving it a new life with your kids will be good for you, your kids, and the environment.

Simple steps:

  1. Read “The Ultimate Guide to Transforming your Old iPhone into a Kid’s Dream iPod Touch”

Alright, 21 Quick Actions You Can Do Today To Change Your Digital Life Forever.

Remember, you’re going to start with just one. But you are going to start and it’s going to be grand.

Let me know which one you’re picking for today in the comments below.

This post’s structure was inspired by Corbett Barr’s by 21 Quick Actions You Can Do Today to Set Your Blog Up for Massive Success which inspired Brooke McAlary’s 21 Quick Actions You Can Do Today to Simplify Your Life. Both were inspired by Adam Baker’s 24 Quick Actions You Can Do Today That Can Change Your Financial Life Forever.

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  • CasaJJ

    Wow, this truly was an epic post.

    The tip on changing applications with command+tab is a big game changer for my workflow.

    Also loved the shortcuts on my iphone, and the idea of creating a consistent filing name.

    question about that. If you start every file with the date, can you
    then sort the items in your finder by name or will that name option
    simply become another sort by date option?

    curious as to why Dropbox isn’t a backup option for you? I keep all of
    my files on Dropbox and none on my computer with the exception of
    photos which I keep on an external drive. Where’s my exposure if I have
    things on Dropbox?

    • Thanks, Jason, glad it was helpful to you and you were able to put some into immediate action.

      Great questions:

      #1) Yes, you’re still sorting them by name although part of that name is now the date. Then it will sort by the name after the hypen. I’ve attached a screenshot to show you how they all fall in line, just like the world’s most beautiful calendar. One advantage to creating a date as part of the name of the file is that it will stick rather than being changed every time it’s modified BUT you can still sort by that modified or created data in it’s separate field.

      #2) So Dropbox isn’t a true backup option for a couple of reasons. One, there’s a misconception that if you’re saving items to your Dropbox then you’re not saving them to your hard drive. Actually what’s happening is that Dropbox is a folder on your hard drive that is then being constantly mirrored by Dropbox’s server in order for you to have access to those files that are in the Dropbox folder on other devices.

      If you look at my screenshot again, you’ll see that Dropbox is a big folder on the left pane there that appears after you install the Dropbox plugin on your Mac. Do you have that installed? Otherwise, you would be uploading files from the Dropbox web interface only.

      So it is a backup, BUT it’s not a comprehensive system wide online backup like Blackbaze because if your hard drive goes POOF! then Dropbox will have you covered with all the files that are in its folder but not all the apps, system files, etc that are outside of it. Make sense?

      • CasaJJ

        Thanks so much for the reply.

        Yes, it makes a lot of sense. Although, I hate the idea that I now need to either do a backup to a hard drive myself, or pay to have it done with a service. Wish it were just as easy as using Dropbox alone.

        Your response does prompt another question though…

        When I first began saving everything to Dropbox, I did so in part because I wanted to save space on my computer. But if I understand you correctly, all of those files are still on my computer and are simply mirrored on Dropbox, so I haven’t actually freed up any space at all. Correct?

        • Great.

          It’s one of those things that seems like a pain at first, but once you set it up it’s pretty much set it and forget it. You really should have a local backup through Time Machine and an external hard drive and a service like Backblaze is $5 a month — worth it if it saves you from reshooting videos in one night, right?! Also, since you did mention you keep some of your files on an external hard drive that should be backed up too — because again it’s a hard drive, it’s going to fail at some point and you want to make sure you have copies of it when you do. One of the great things about Backblaze is that it covers not only backing up one computer but any externals that are attached to it too with no additional cost.

          You haven’t freed up any space at all, correct. But that’s actually a good thing, because if you were only storing it on Dropbox you would be completely beholden to Dropbox — so if their server gets fried, or they get hacked and your data is deleted there wouldn’t be anything you could do. This is a similar reason why I recommend CloudPull in #19 for Google Data — it allows you to have copies of that data.

          • CasaJJ

            More great info. Thanks!

            Question about hard drives… can/should you leave them connected to your computer all the time, or does that increase the likelihood that they and your computer will get fried for the same reason?

          • My pleasure!

            You CAN leave hard drives connected to your computer and I can’t see any reason why it would increase the chances of them getting fried. (In most cases it’s something mechanical that goes wrong — this happens a lot less with SSDs which don’t have the moving parts of a traditional drive.)

            It’s also fine to disconnect the drives — the only issue being remembering to connect it again on a regular basis so your backups are happening.

            For my Time Machine backups I’m backing up over wifi to my Time Capsule so I don’t have to sweat it.

            My Super Duper! external hard drive is connected by a cable to my laptop so I disconnect it every time I take the computer off my desk. I have a Todoist reminder set for every Friday afternoon to make sure if I haven’t done a Super Duper! backup in a while because of this to get on it.

  • Great post! I love #17… I am often guilty of keeping apps open for days after i’ve finished using them and I don’t realize how much my macbook speed is being compromised. Thank you 🙂

    • Excellent, Galen. Take a look at #20 too because although I didn’t mention it in the screencast as you’re tabbing through your open apps you can also hit ⌘+Q to quit apps in that view. Makes it much simpler to see what’s still open at the end of the day and then go through and quit the ones you want closed for the day.

  • Chezaré Sievers

    Love this! #17-18 was just what I needed. Especially #17 gonna get on Activity Monitor tonight. Working with movie files, would you suggest keeping them on dropbox instead of on my hard drive?

    • Great to hear that, Chez. Activity Monitor can reveal a lot with a few keystrokes.

      For movie files you probably don’t want to keep them in Dropbox UNLESS there’s a reason you want access to them on multiple computers or devices. Also, because movies are such huge data hogs a single movie would blow past the Dropbox free storage limit in a second. Not that there’s anything wrong with paying for Dropbox account especially since they upped the storage limits — it’s just for most folks just keeping their text files in Dropbox will mean they can get by with a free account for years.

      Also it’s not a question of either the hard drive on your Mac or Dropbox because ideally your Dropbox files are also on your Mac just mirrored by the Dropbox server so you can have access to them on multiple devices. I’ll explain this more in my answer to Jason’s question, below.

  • Julie Bestry

    Fabulous post.

    Re: #19, I see that CloudPull will give you access to your Google gmail, contacts, calendars and documents, but what about old Google chats. In ye olden days, I used to use Google chat for texting, but I’ve yet to figure out a way to download/back up those old conversations. Will CloudPull do that? If not, is there another way to back up those chats in the same way one can back up old gmails?

    • Thanks, Julie, glad to hear it’s helpful to you.

      Great question. I poked around and I thought maybe since Google archives the chats within Gmail by default that it will pull it down with the other emails, but a quick check on my own CloudPull backup shows that isn’t the case. I followed up with the developer and he confirmed it can’t backup the chats. It makes me wonder if there’s a way with Google Takeout to export the chats and backup them up in a traditional mail client. Possibly another blog post for that one!

      • Julie Bestry

        Thanks! There’s a dessert or an adult beverage (your choice) in it for you at conference if you can figure out an easy solution for me. I really want to back up those old chats for posterity, for when I’m famous and biographers come clamoring.

  • Louis T Noyes

    Has anyone read this article about transferring apps to iPad?