Get Your Digital Ducks in a Row

Ducks in a row by John Morgan.
Ducks in a row by John Morgan.

As recent years have marched on we’ve all been slowly migrating more and more aspects of our lives into the digital world. And just like the real world, the digital world gets messy.

To give myself a fresh start for 2013, I’ve been gradually doing a digital-life clean up during the month of December, or you could say – getting my digital ducks in a row (hardy har har).

If your on-line life is feeling a little cluttered, put away the swiffer, crank up that Michael Buble holiday album, and get down and dirty on these tasks:

1. Recurring Payments.

I’m personally very guilty of signing up for things that are, “Only $1.99 a month!” or more likely, $10, $15, or even $35 a month (damn you GoGo in-flight wifi!). The end of the year is a good time to pull out those last couple of months of credit card statements and see what you’re getting charged for that you a) don’t use; b) totally forgot you signed up for; or c) have been meaning to get around to thinking about possibly cancelling but it hasn’t been the top of your priority list.

Take 15 minutes to do a quick comb of the credit card statements and 15 minutes to cancel those outdated recurring payments. If you’re feeling generous with all of that dough you save, I accept gifts mailed to my name at Launch Pad.

2. Unsubscribe!

E-mail is the bane of my existence. I keep up with my e-mail about as well as I keep up with my snail mail – which is to say I either totally ignore it or casually glance through the pile every now and then only to shudder and throw it under a box of cap’n crunch.

E-mail newsletters may be the biggest inbox-busting-time-sucks to ever be invented. Unsubscribe! It’s hard to do it all at once so here’s little strategy to make sure you don’t miss anything when checking email on that mobile device or in a hurry. Create a label in gmail called (you guessed it) “Unsubscribe!” and tag things with that label if you want to a) total unsubscribe; b) change frequency preferences from that sender; or c) auto-filter similar mails to never hit the inbox. Go through the label later when you’re in front of a real computer with 5 minutes and tell those newsletters what’s up.

3. Or at least filter, you e-mail hoarders.

Let’s talk about those, “I might want to read it someday…” e-mails you just can’t bring yourself to unsubscribe from. If you use gmail (which you should be, it’s almost 2013!), auto-filters are your digital BFF.

Every retailer email I get skips the inbox and auto-filters into a label called “Shopping.” Similar story for social networking notifications, young professional & volunteer groups, etc. There is a basic tutorial on gmail filters here and some detailed documentation from Google available here.


  • Emails I want to see right away when they arrive but want to be able to archive easily in their proper place (I do this for travel reservations, financial notifications, and even emails from friends & family):

Matches: from:(
Do this: Apply label “Travel”

Matches: from:(
Do this: Apply label “House”

  • Emails I want to be auto-filed and “off of my desk” but available for general perusal at a later date (usually when I’m in a store and wondering if I have a coupon):

Matches: from:(
Do this: Skip Inbox, Mark as read, Apply label “Shopping”

Matches: from:(
Do this: Skip Inbox, Mark as read, Apply label “NOLA”

4. App Notifications – le sigh.

This is very similar to #2/3. Those pesky apps are bugging you all the time but it seems like such a pain to change the settings. Many apps have become significantly more granular in your ability to manage notifications. Facebook for example lets you choose whether or not you want to be notified via the app for event invites, messages, friend requests, comments, pictures, tags, etc. You can choose to be notified for everything but event invites, nothing except pictures, or nothing at all based on your own personal phone buzzing needs.

In some cases you can also tell apps how often to notify you. While you’re at it – delete some of those apps you don’t use so they stop sucking up your valuable disk space and data usage.

5. Disconnect.

You didn’t read that wrong.

Sometimes the best thing to refresh yourself from the overwhelming madness of your digital life is to shut it down for a few minutes/hours/days. The holidays are the perfect time to put up that auto-responder and step away from the computer/tablet/smartphone/smartTV/smartFridge/smartRoboticPet.

Start off the new year with a fresh perspective on what technology is really all about: making your life easier.