20 tech habits to improve your life

A few new habits can make the difference between staying on task, finding what you need, and getting things done--or having a tech meltdown.

Technology is supposed to make life easier, but it doesn't seem that way when you're struggling to wrangle 289 new e-mail messages, dealing with a hard-drive crash, or suddenly realizing that you left an important file on the office computer. Thankfully, plenty of tools can help. We'll tell you which ones are worth trying, and we'll also suggest some practices that you can incorporate into your workday to use tech tools more effectively and efficiently.

1. Telecommute by Remotely Controlling Your Office Computer

You can work from home — but use the computer in your office — through remote control software such as LogMeIn (free version available) or TightVNC (free). You can view the remote computer full screen, launch and close programs, read e-mail, copy and paste text between PCs, and access any files you left behind. Save money on gas, claim home equipment on your taxes, and convince your boss that you'll be more productive without leaving your house. Even the iPhone has some VNC clients, such as Mocha VNC and Teleport.

If you don't need full remote control but you do require access to your office or home files, set up Microsoft's free file-syncing tool, FolderShare. Your files will always be up-to-date, no matter where you're working or where you last updated them.

2. Schedule Automatic Hard-Drive Backups, Locally and Remotely

Backing up your critical files is as exciting as purchasing home insurance, but just as important, too. Don't risk losing your irreplaceable digital photos by making empty promises to yourself to burn a couple of DVDs every few months. Instead, set up software and services to do the job for you while you concentrate on more-exciting projects. First, save yourself from an "OMG my hard drive crashed!" catastrophe with a top backup program. Or get started now with a free copy of SyncBackSE, and schedule regular backup jobs to your external FireWire drive, thumb drive, or network drive. (If you have FTP-server access, SyncBack can back up to that as well.)

Of course, local backup isn't enough. To protect your data against fire, lightning, theft, or other disasters, you want to back up your data to a remote server over the Internet. Both Carbonite and Mozy Home offer affordable unlimited server space and utilities that quietly back up your data in the background while you work.

3. Work Faster and More Efficiently Without a Mouse

Streamline your computer work by teaching yourself keyboard shortcuts for your common actions, such as Ctrl-S to save, Ctrl-T to open a new tab in Firefox, and Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V to copy and paste. Then, become a keyboard master with the help of a keyboard launcher such as the free Launchy (Windows) or Quicksilver (Mac). You can start programs, open documents, and even do advanced actions such as resizing images and moving files without moving your hands from the keyboard.

You can also assign key combinations that automatically type out common phrases--such as user names, passwords, addresses, and e-mail signatures--with utilities like TypeItIn (Windows) or TypeIt4Me (Mac OS X).

4. Lose Weight, Get Fit, Save Money, and Increase Your Mileage Online

A new crop of social self-improvement sites help you monitor how much you've eaten, exercised, and spent, to motivate you and keep you on track.

Web services such as FitDay and Weight Watchers log and guide your diet and fitness regimen.

If Quicken or Microsoft Money has become too complicated to update, you can track your spending, balance your checkbook, and run charts on expenditures versus income at personal-finance sites Mint.com and Wesabe.

As for your car, avoid online gas scams. Additionally, you can squeeze the last bit of mileage out of every expensive tank of gas with a miles-per-gallon tracker like Fuelly or MyMileMarkery. Entering your information into such sites gets you personalized suggestions, comparisons, and a community of like-minded people who can offer support and suggestions.

5. Clear Out Your Inbox Every Day

Beat e-mail overload once and for all by emptying your inbox completely — and keeping it that way. The "Inbox Zero" philosophy says that e-mail messages are just calls to action--not clutter that we need to hang on to. Create three folders or labels in your e-mail client: Action, Later, and Archive. Each day when you check your e-mail, make a decision and do something with every new message you've received until you've moved them all out of your inbox and reduced your message count down to zero. Ruthlessly delete the messages you don't need, on the spot. Respond to the ones that will take under 2 minutes. File messages that you want to keep for future reference in the Archive folder, those that will take longer than 2 minutes to reply to in Action (and add those to-do items to your list), and messages you need to follow up on at a subsequent date (such as Amazon shipment notifications) in Later. Then breathe a sigh of relief when you see that glorious declaration: 'You have no new mail.'

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gina Trapani

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?