September Tech Challenge: Organize Virtual Files

This month we bring you tips for organizing your virtual files and documents to minimize digital clutter and stress!

Recently, I spent a happy half-hour re-organizing my OneNote notebooks. It had been on my to-do list for a while, but kept getting delayed in favour of more “urgent” items.

I discussed my accomplishment with a colleague who agreed that the urgency to organize files and documents is low since she’s never NOT been able to find something she needs. But, she also agreed that there’s a difference between being able to find what you’re looking for, and being able to find what you’re looking for quickly and without stress.

The “without stress” caveat is what really motivated me to start cleaning up my files. When a client messages me, “Can you send me the latest version of XYZ?”, I respond with, “No problem!”, followed by a smiling emoji who looks smugly in control of all their documents. What the client doesn’t see is me frantically searching for a paper bag to hyperventilate into while my brain is screaming at me, “WHERE IS IT? YOU DON’T KNOW WHERE IT IS, DO YOU?! YOU’RE NEVER GOING TO FIND IT! WE’RE ALL DOOMED!”

Ultimately, the stress is a bigger time and energy waster than the searching itself. So, with the goal to reduce stress (and save the paper bags for the kids’ lunches), I’ve gathered a few tips on how to best approach organizing virtual documents and minimize digital clutter:

Choose one location for each project or client

Do you have files, documents, and notes for a single project spread across Sharepoint, Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, your desktop, your downloads folder, your iCloud Drive, your Notes app… This is a good time to choose one file management system in which to store everything to do with that one project, and move it all.

files on a digital screen being collected in one folder

Gather all your files, documents, and notes for one particular project or client, store them all together in one location, and give each file and document a name that makes it easy to identify what’s inside

Organize the files in that location in a way that makes sense to you

The first time I opened OneNote, I was excited to make use of this new, uncluttered space. I dove in and started creating notebooks like I was Hilroy® preparing for a back-to-school sale. Before long I had created ten different notebooks for one single project. Trust me when I say that’s too many notebooks.

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Organize your digital files in a way that makes them quick to find

It’s OK to jump into a new file or document management system with both feet and try it out. But if you’re subsequently looking at your files with no idea what’s in half of them, it’s time to analyze how you’re using this system by asking:

  • How can I organize my files and documents in a way that makes sense to me and makes them easy to find?
  • Am I using a naming convention that quickly identifies the contents of each particular file and document?  (Tip: Make the file name descriptive but relatively short.)
  • Do I need a separate folder to archive older items?
  • Are there any classification features of this file management system, such as labels, icons, or colours, that would better help me identify a file’s contents?

Stay on top of it

Once your file management system is organized, review it frequently to make sure it’s still serving you and use that time to also deal with any digital clutter:

  • Weekly: Check your desktop, downloads folder, and email for documents that need to be moved, renamed, and stored with other project files. Also use this time to delete and unsubscribe from any email newsletters or notifications you don’t read or require.
  • Monthly: Delete any photos on your phone or computer that aren’t worth keeping. At the end of each year, find the photos that best tell the story of that year and make a photo book.
  • Quarterly: Check for any documents you haven’t opened in over 90 days and consider archiving them.

It can feel like an overwhelming task when you first get started, but take it folder by folder and soon you’ll be enjoying the extra time and sense of relaxation that comes with knowing that you can always find what you’re looking for. Good luck with this month’s challenge, and we’ll see you in October!

August Tech Challenge: Boost Your Wi-Fi

How should I start this month’s challenge?

“Boost your Wi-Fi” sounds relatively easy, doesn’t it? As if all you have to do is turn a dial or put in new batteries or switch internet providers. In reality, once you start reading about ways to improve your internet speed and Wi-Fi signal, you’ll find there are a LOT of variables that can impact your internet experience, and a lot of fixes that range from simple to technical, cheap to expensive. We’ll start simple and work up.

Is there a quick fix to improve my network?

If you haven’t tried the Fibernetics Self Help App, that should be your first move. It’s designed to assess the health of your network and provide you with suggestions for improving your network health.

Fibernetics Support App

Download the Fibernetics Support App from the App Store or Google Play. Run a Network Scan and get suggestions on how to improve your network’s health.

If you’ve done that and things don’t seem to have improved much, let’s move on.

Is something interfering with the Wi-Fi signal?

There are any number of obstacles your Wi-Fi signal may have to navigate so the next step is to ask: Is my router in the best possible location in my home?

Competing signals can come from microwaves, bluetooth devices, other Wi-Fi networks (from neighbours or within your home if you have multiple networks set up), and baby monitors. There may also be physical impediments like water (have a large fish tank?), large TVs, and building materials in your home (concrete, masonry, or thick wooden walls).

water can block signals

Wi-Fi signals can be blocked by baby monitors, microwaves, and large amounts of water

The best advice is to place your router in an open area, close to the middle of your home (vertically and horizontally), off the floor, out of the kitchen, away from walls… starting to sound like an impossible task? The trick is to not settle for the first spot you find. Move the router to different floors and different ends of the house. The “best advice” is just advice after all; you might have a nice large open space in the middle of your home, but if one of the walls is a two story glass aquarium, then your router will struggle (sounds nice though, can I come over some time?). Take your time to figure out which location provides the most coverage. You can actually map your home to see which areas are getting the best and worst coverage, using a free app called NetSpot.

antennas on router

If your router has multiple antennas, don’t have them all facing the same direction.

And don’t forget about those antennas, they aren’t just for decoration. If your router has two or more external antennas, make sure they’re pointing in different directions. As mentioned before, Wi-Fi signals may be navigating a lot of obstacles in your home to reach your devices. Having multiple antennas gives your router options and it will pick the antenna with the signal that has the most direct route to your device. Getting a higher quality router with more antennas, gives your router more signals and more routes to pick from, and a better chance of improved coverage throughout your entire home.

Do I have the best router? Best modem? What’s the difference?

Let’s start with the difference between them: The modem is the box that brings the internet into your house through cables. The router is the box that creates a network in your home which wireless devices can use to both access the internet and talk to each other.

Your Internet Service Provider may equip you with a router, a modem, or a combination box that does both, but there’s no need to stick with the one they installed. There are a lot of different routers on the market to satisfy many different customer needs. If you’re a single person living in a small apartment, with only a few devices, the standard-issue router may suit your needs just fine. But if you’re a family of ten all using different devices in an 8000 square foot mansion, that router your ISP installed just isn’t going to cut it.

wifi extender

Use a Wi-Fi extender or mesh system to increase coverage throughout your entire home

If you tried the NetSpot app and found dead zones in your house, you have a few options: you can try a wi-fi extender (a relatively cheap solution for smaller spaces), a mesh router (a more expensive but better option for coverage throughout your entire home), or get a new router. The choice you make will depend on how much you’re willing to spend, the amount of devices being used in your home at any one time, the amount and type of data being moved, and the number of square feet you want to cover. Use those data points to do your research and find the best option for your particular needs.

Are my router and devices configured with the best settings for my needs?

Here’s where things start to get a bit more technical. The following may give you some options for further improvements, or might make you say, “Uh, I can live with my connection the way it is!”

Depending on the type of router you have, there are a number of different settings which can improve your network. For example, some routers come with the ability to switch between 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. The 2.4GHz frequency reaches farther but moves data more slowly (wider range, lower bandwidth) while the 5GHz frequency moves more data but not as far (greater bandwidth, shorter range).

Deciding which to use is again based on your needs: overall you’ll get better throughput with the 5GHz and you should use it for streaming video or games at close range or in direct line of sight with your router where possible. If you’re using 5GHz and aren’t getting great coverage, then you may need to switch back to the 2.4GHz or try the aforementioned extender or mesh options.

To find out how to switch your router switch between 2.4GHz and 5GHz, consult your router manual. In some cases, your router will transmit both frequencies simultaneously and, depending on the technology in the device you’re using, your device may automatically navigate between the two to make use of the strongest one (although be mindful of the fact that older technology will not support 5GHz). Again, research is required to know exactly what your device is capable of and what frequencies your router transmits.

There’s a lot more we could say here about frequencies and channels… but maybe we’ll save some of the more technical fixes for another day. There really are so many options when it comes to improving your Wi-Fi network so for now, run through the ones we’ve provided and we’ll see you in September for another challenge!

July Tech Challenge: Update Antivirus Software

We know, you’ve had it up to here with talk of viruses. At the risk of agitating you further, we’re going to use the current global climate as a metaphor for computer viruses and an argument for why you should keep your antivirus software updated. Except, it’s not even a metaphor because computer viruses and antivirus software for your computer, behave exactly like viruses and vaccines in the human body.

What is a virus?

A virus on its own, can’t do anything. Whether it’s a physical virus just sitting on a door handle or some lines of computer code typed out on a screen, neither one can replicate, move around, or cause any harm. Viruses are made up of a set of instructions, but to follow those instructions they need to make their way into a host, whether that’s a computer or a human cell.

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A computer virus is made of a lines of code which only become active when the infected program is run.

Once a virus finds itself in a computer (or a cell) and gets activated, it springs to “life” and starts following the instructions written inside it. It begins attaching itself to other computer code (or cells) and modifying that code (or cells) to create the perfect environment in which to replicate itself. That’s when everything hits the fan.

How Do Viruses get in?

We all know by now how the current Coronavirus travels around (wash your hands, people! And don’t cough or sneeze on anyone. Although, frankly, those are just good rules to follow all the time.)

Like a human virus, computer viruses also travel around. They can arrive through email and text attachments (94% of malware is delivered by email), files you download from the Internet (1 in 13 web requests lead to malware), and questionable app downloads (apps in the lifestyle (15%) & entertainment (7%) categories are the most commonly seen source of malicious apps).

antivirus software blog post

Viruses can get onto your device through emails, downloads, and questionable apps. Your device can also be infected by other infected devices sharing the same network.

Once on your computer, a virus will lie dormant until you run the program the virus infected. This means there may be no signs or symptoms of a virus for days to weeks after your computer becomes infected. Once activated, the virus can infect other devices on your network at home or work.

How much can a computer virus cost me?

On average, a virus on your device will cost you $5600 in terms of lost time (figuring out what’s wrong with your device and taking it to be fixed or shopping to replace it), money (to have viruses removed, replace devices, and actual money taken from your accounts if your passwords have been exposed) and, productivity (from the loss of corrupted files and documents which will need to be recreated).

If you run a business, the cost can be much higher. Businesses spend billions of dollars every year dealing with viruses – whether that’s cleaning up after them or trying to prevent them.

How does antivirus software work?

Programmers who study computer viruses, identify common pieces of code that exist in all families of a particular virus. From that, they’re able to create generic pieces of innocuous code which they load into the antivirus software. The software works by scanning your device and searching for any code that looks like the generic code. When the software finds a match, it shuts down the viral code.

antivirus software blog scanning

Antivirus software works by scanning for harmful pieces of code and deactivating them.

(And in case the analogy wasn’t clear: this is exactly what vaccines do. Vaccines are harmless pieces of a virus, paired with antivirus “technology” which your body uses to match and shut down (or at least minimize the effects of) the actual virus.)

Do I really need antivirus software?

The only digital device I use is a single computer that never leaves the house, doesn’t access the internet, doesn’t run any programs, and isn’t connected to any other devices. Basically I use my computer as a giant calculator.

If this is you, you can probably get away with not having antivirus software.

I have a Mac.

While traditionally this statement has given Mac users a pass on having to invest in antivirus software, even Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior VP of Software Engineering, recently stated that, “Today, we have a level of malware on the Mac that we don’t find acceptable.” Noted.

I don’t really care if my computer gets a virus. None of my files or photos are valuable to me. I’m happy to ditch it all and get a new device if necessary.

In this (unlikely but theoretically possible) case, we’d just like to say: consider others. You may not care about your music and memories, but chances are, other people in your family, workplace, and contact book do. They won’t be too happy when they discover it was your unprotected device that sent them an email with the subject line, “Hey, check out this really cool video I found that I think you’ll love” which they then opened in a moment of distraction (47% of employees cited distraction as the reason for falling for a phishing scam while working from home).

Ok, I’m convinced. What do I do now?

It wouldn’t be a proper tech challenge if we didn’t put some of the responsibility on you. Now’s the time for you to do a little investigation work and figure out what kind of antivirus software you need. PCMag provides an excellent breakdown of the best antivirus software on the market this year, along with the pros and cons of each one, and how much they cost. For the sake of your devices, your friends’ devices, your coworkers’ devices, your bank account, and your peace of mind, we beg you, take this month’s challenge seriously! And when you’re done, get revved up for next month’s challenge!

June Tech Challenge: Restart Your Devices

A quick and easy challenge this month: restart your devices!

How many times have you had this experience: Your work computer is behaving strangely and won’t send or receive emails? Or, your smart phone freezes and you can’t type a message? Or, your home internet seems super slow and Netflix keeps crashing?

You pick up the phone, call tech support, and the first thing they say is:

“Have you tried turning it off and back on again?”

There’s something about the “turn it off, turn it on” directive that most of us find infuriating. It feels too simple. The tech industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that solves complex problems faster than we can roll our eyes. To hear someone who is educated in this field and paid good money to develop new technologies say, “turn it off and turn it back on” makes us wonder why they needed so many years of school.

But, in spite of our incredulity and frustration, this method does actually work. Computer slow downs and glitches are often caused by memory leaks. Programs get opened and closed and opened again, and with each activity the program takes up more and more working memory. Computers, like our brains, get stuck in loops trying to solve problems within programs that we’ve long since closed. A restart clears the working memory, closes any loops, and gives the system a fresh start. It’s like a good spring cleaning for your computer, but done in five minutes or less (that’s the kind of spring cleaning I can get behind!).

Should I Restart, or Shutdown Entirely?

If you’re looking to clear your computer’s working memory, end all processes, and give your machine a quick refresh so it runs a bit smoother and faster, then just perform a simple Restart (this goes for both Macs and Windows 8 or later). Your computer will shut itself down and spring back to life within a few minutes.

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Experts recommend a complete weekly shutdown of all your devices.

A complete shutdown, in which the computer doesn’t start up again until you turn it on, is worth doing if you’re going to be away from your machine for a while (overnight or longer). It’s more energy efficient and will prolong the life of your battery. It also makes your computer more secure; taking a computer completely offline removes the opportunity for it to be hacked.

How Often Should I Restart or Shutdown?

More often than you might think! Most experts suggest restarting your computer, laptop, tablet, and smartphone every few days, and performing a complete shutdown about once a week. So maybe don’t wait a full year before you revisit this challenge!

Have fun with this month’s challenge and we’ll see you in July!

 

May Tech Challenge: Delete Old Files

Signs of spring are everywhere, which makes this is a good time to tackle some spring cleaning…on your computer. It may not seem like the most challenging of challenges to delete old files, and it may not make a huge difference to your computer’s operating speed (unless you’re deleting very large files). But it can make a difference to the speed at which you are able to find what you need and therefore the speed at which you operate.

The thought of permanently deleting files is making me break out in a cold sweat!

Permanently tossing out files is a bit like down-sizing your house. It’s time to throw out those boxes of junk you haven’t looked at in years and you’re thinking, “But what if I need this broken blender one day?”

If you completed last month’s challenge then you have a disaster recovery plan and are hopefully making good use of a Cloud service such as Google Drive or Dropbox to backup the files you can’t afford to lose. So instead of permanently trashing old files, consider uploading them to the Cloud and only deleting them from your local storage. This will make the files available if you ever do need them, but they won’t be taking up space on your desktop or in your downloads folder.

I have thousands of files…where do I start?

I recently asked a colleague (whom I consider to be pretty techy) what advice he would give in a blog post about how to delete old files. He said, “I don’t know, but I definitely need to read that post. I have way too many files and I don’t know where to start.”

If your job involves working on a computer for most of the day, chances are you have files on your desktop, files in your download folder, and multiple copies of files “just in case”. If you like the idea of going through all the folders on your laptop one by one and deleting what you don’t need, by all means go for it! But you can also use some of your computer’s automation features to make this process easier.

If you have a Mac: Use Smart Folders

The purpose of a Smart Folder is to collect files that fit specific criteria from anywhere on your computer. It’s an automation that saves you from having to search for certain types of files over and over again. But you can use a Smart Folder for other purposes too. If, for example, you know you created an image last month but you can’t find it, just create a Smart Folder to pull together all the image files on your computer created within the last month.

So, how does a Smart Folder help with this month’s challenge? The beauty of a Smart Folder is that you can use it to find any files you haven’t opened in a while. For example, I ran a Smart Folder filter to search for any files I haven’t opened since before December 2018. My theory was that if I haven’t opened the file in over three years, chances are I don’t need it anymore. I was right; my Smart Folder returned a very small number of files that I was able to view quickly and decide which ones to completely delete and which to upload to my Cloud storage. It took all of five minutes. I then ran a Smart Folder search on any files I haven’t opened since 2019. Admittedly that returned a more overwhelming number. But again, Smart Folder to the rescue. I used the filter feature to move month by month through 2019, breaking the larger task into more manageable bites.

How do I make a Smart folder on my Mac:

  1. From your Finder, click on File: New Smart Folder.
  2. Select where you want to search (“This Mac” or “Desktop”)
  3. Click the Plus sign beside “Save” to reveal filter functionality
  4. Use the filters to select by File Type, Last Opened Date, Last Modified Date, etc
  5. Use the Plus button to create additional filters if desired

Create a smart folder and filter on old files

(For more reading on Smart Folders and some other great uses for them, check out this article.)

If you have a PC: Use Your File Explorer

You can create Smart Folders in Windows (and this post will show you how) but a quicker filter feature is available directly in your File Explorer.

  1. Open File Explorer
  2. From the left-hand menu, select the drive you want to search (select “This PC” if you want to search everything)
  3. Type “datemodified:” in the search bar and select the date range you want to search

Hold up…there’s one caveat

Your computer deals with way more files in a day than you do, from caching images on websites, to operating system applications, so be mindful of what you’re deleting. As I overheard once in a restaurant between a mother and her son: “If you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it.” Or in this case: don’t delete it.

Make spring cleaning a year-round event

Again, this isn’t a challenging challenge, but it is time-consuming. Consider setting aside a half hour each week and work through your files bit by bit. Once you’ve gone through all the effort to tidy up your files, keep that half hour blocked off in your calendar and use it to run a search on any files you worked with that week. Then you can quickly delete what’s no longer needed, and upload the rest to the Cloud.

Good luck with this month’s challenge and we’ll see you in June!