Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Getting it right in your digital life

Remembering multiple passwords, managing a flooded inbox, tracking daily expenses and smartphones running out of storagewe have all encountered these problems. Here's a 10-point guide on how to organize your digital life with tools that can help you be more productive

Personal information management is a legitimate term. In the 2007 book, Personal Information Management, edited by William Jones and Jaime Teevan, a section looks at possible solutions for effective personal information management, or PIM. The introduction to this section, titled “Search Everything", describes how personal information management tools “can rescue human memory from the transient mistakes and failures that are commonplace, giving a remarkable ability to look up things quickly". It adds that the human memory is wonderful and subtle “but when it comes to login names and corresponding passwords, telephone numbers or mailing addresses, human memory is a leaking bucket that needs all the technology support it can get". All of us have a lot of clutter in our digital lives that needs cleaning and organizing. Here’s a 10-point guide to get you started in the new year.

Managing storage

Be it configuring a new phone or setting up an email account, one of the first things to consider is storage. Plan ahead because the original storage space on your device is eventually going to run out.

Identify the elements that are taking up space: Multiple elements take up space on your smartphone. Apart from the apps you use regularly, photographs, audio files, app data and recorded content occupy most of your internal storage. Even a basic photograph captured with one of the latest flagship phones can be around 3-4MB in size. If your phone comes with expandable storage options, you don’t have much to worry about. But if you have limited internal storage, then you need to keep a track of things that can be discarded. Start with backing up all your photographs on the cloud. All latest Android and iOS devices come with options of backing up visual content in high quality. You can then delete the content from your device.

Get rid of apps that you don’t use often. You can also delete the app cache. When you use apps over a period of time, they start accumulating data or information cache. If you are a regular on instant messaging apps, then delete forwarded attachments after viewing them.

Use file managers for smartphones: Most smartphones (mostly Android) come with an on-board file manager, but there are others that offer added features, such as Files by Google. It gives personalized clean-up suggestions on duplicate files, unused apps and attachments from instant messaging apps. It also lets you search for files and share them (offline) with other users. Similar file management functions can be performed by iOS devices through third-party apps such as File Hub, File Manager and iExplorer Mobile.

Clear your inbox: After years of usage, email inboxes become a dumping ground for forgotten files and attachments. Most email services come with search options that can be customized to look for old emails with big attachments. Gmail, like most other mail services, has an effective search option which lets you look for emails filtered on the basis of size of attachments, date, subject, etc.

We are often told to reduce screen time and embrace the positive changes it can bring in our personal and professional lives, but there are apps that not only keep you on track at work, but also help you learn a new skill.

Productivity apps

Otter Voice Notes

Transcribing long, recorded interviews can be a nightmare. There is a reason why Otter featured among the Best Daily Helper apps in the Google Play Best Apps of 2018 list. This smart note-taking app gives you 600 minutes of free recording. You can record interviews, lectures and other important conversations with Otter, which then uses audio, speaker identification and key phrases to make notes.

It works well if the recording is made in the absence of any background noise. Users can train the app to detect their voice so when there are two or more people talking, it can recognize your voice from others.

Free on iOS and Android with in-app purchases

Drops

Drops was chosen as the best app of 2018 by Google Play. Using pictures and gamification modes, Drops can help users learn useful words from 30 different languages, including Hindi, Korean, Japanese, English, French, German, Spanish and Italian. New languages are added to app almost every month.

The app promises to make language learning fun if you give it just “5 minutes a day" and engage with its “minimalist illustrations and fast- paced micro-games". A newly-added feature allows you to choose between different dialects, such as Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese Chinese, among others.

Free on iOS and Android with in-app purchases

Todoist

This app efficiently tracks your to-do tasks to compute how productive you’ve been through the day or week.

Start by creating or adding a new task and attaching a due date or a recurring due date to the task. For example, “water the plants every Monday". Tasks can also be added to different categories or projects—"household chores" or “office tasks". The next step involves assigning a priority level to the task. Todoist also lets you share or designate tasks to colleagues or your family members.

The app tracks your task-wise progress with charts, productivity graphs and other visualizations. It’s an ideal app to help you finish errands at home or achieve timely team goals at work.

Free on iOS, Android, Mac and Windows, with in-app purchases

Password managers

There were a lot of usual suspects in the list of worse passwords of 2018 released by SplashData, a California-based company that specializes in security and productivity software, in December. “Qwerty", “123456" and “password" were among the notable mentions. But one that stood out was “Donald".

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Passwords are the first line of defence against cybercriminals or hackers. Setting a weak password for any of your social media or personal information accounts is like skating on thin ice. Since an average user has multiple accounts and passwords to handle, password managers come in handy. They can also help you create strong log-in credentials. You can store all your passwords in an encrypted format and keep them safe behind one master password—which is the only password you will need to remember. The data is saved either on a system’s local memory or on the cloud. Most password managers come with auto-fill options and a password generator. After creating an account and saving all your passwords (this requires saving the name of the website/service, username and the password) within the manager, you can log in to different accounts through your phone with the auto-fill option. The manager remembers your username and password, and enters it for you.

When you switch over to a web browser on a PC, install an extension of the same password manager. Some nifty password managers are:

Dashlane: Comes with password storage and auto-fill options. Also has a password generator.

Runs on Mac, Windows, iOS and Android; free, with in-app
purchases

LastPass: Available with browser and device support, it features a “LastPass Vault" where users can add and manage different websites and their respective passwords.

Runs on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android and all major web browsers, Price: Starts from $2 (₹140)/month

McAfee TrueKey: Allows support on multiple devices and comes with biometric features (facial, fingerprint recognition).

Runs on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android and all major web browsers; free

News & content

With access to unlimited content on the internet, filtering and managing what is relevant to you can be tricky. These apps can help you store and streamline content you intend to revisit.

Feedly

A good news aggregator app can be useful for those who want to stay in touch with the latest headlines from different fields. Feedly acts as a hub for all the information, news and content from the web that you can organize, read and share. The app shows you the best and latest updates from topics of your choice in a minimalist reading format. You can make personalized feeds for different topics and even choose the top sources (websites, blogs, publications) for your content.

There are options to save links for later viewing and view the top headlines of the day as well. If you are working on a laptop, you can use Feedly on a web browser and import all your preferences from the app to your PC.

Free on iOS, Android, with in-app purchases, and web

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

theScore

Sports lovers, look no further. TheScore brings you news, views and latest scores from sports leagues and countries around the world on one app. You can follow scores and updates from soccer (all major European leagues), American football (the NFL), motor racing and other major sports. The app also lets you interact with fellow followers and fans of your favourite sports teams. You can personalize the app—choose your preferred teams, sports, leagues, type of notifications—to make it a one-stop destination for all the latest sports news and scores.

Free on iOS and Android

Pocket

People who read on the go—without an active internet connection—will love Pocket. It lets you save interesting links, articles, videos and other content for viewing later. Once you have saved a link to your Pocket, you can access it on any device, even offline. The reading view inside the Pocket app, as well as the website version, is smooth. The “My List" section houses all your saved links, while a “Recommended" section gives you access to the best content on a variety of topics.

Apart from the “Explore" section, which shows you the must-reads and trending topics, its integration with apps like Twitter, Flipboard and other browsers make Pocket an essential app.

Free on iOS, Android, with in-app purchases, and web

It’s a date: How to get the maximum efficiency out of your calendar

While there are a bunch of calendar apps for both iPhones and Android phones, the stock apps on the two operating systems aren’t too shabby either.

Apple’s built-in calendar app can back up your events to Apple’s iCloud service and syncs between your iOS devices, while the Google Calendar has quite a few AI-powered features. While the iOS calendar is more secure given the enclosed nature of the Apple ecosystem, the Google calendar is the hands-down winner when it comes to nifty features and usefulness.

Besides using it for the usual scheduling tasks, it offers tons of options to make your life simpler. It integrates seamlessly with other Google apps, like Gmail and Hangouts, so you can add meetings and events to the calendar directly from your email or even from a chat window. It also integrates with third-party tools like Slack and Trello. You can create separate calendars to coordinate different areas of your life—one each for home and work, for birthdays, social events and even for Netflix viewing. The calendar also helps you find time for activities looking at your schedule across the different calendars, and can suggest the best times for your workout, meditation, learning a language, etc. You can also share calendars with your partner and colleagues, so everyone is literally on the same page at all times. The best use case is a combination of both these features—if your team shares their individual work calendars with each other, the Google Calendar app can suggest a convenient time for team meetings.

The iOS calendar app also has the “Time to Leave" alert, which gives you a heads-up for meetings depending on the time it will take and the traffic conditions.

There are a few other useful third-party calendar apps as well that can enhance your productivity
significantly.

1.Fantastical 2: Possibly the best calendar app for iOS. It works with the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch by integrating advanced features like 3D Touch and Force Touch, and supports multiple languages. One can also use speech to create reminders and events.

2.Cloudcal: One of the best non-stock calendar apps for Android, Cloudcal has a unique way of displaying your activities and showing how busy you are on any given day using a system called Magic Circles, which depict every day of the month as a clock face.

3.Busycal: An excellent calendar app for Mac, it has an iOS companion app to sync with the phone. Supported by Natural Language Programming, it has an easy-to-use system of tags to plan your day and has map support to show you an event’s location and estimated travel time.

4.Shift.Cal: This Android app is ideal for those who work in shifts, especially rotating ones. It tracks shift schedules and predicts future shift timings.

Manage your expenses

Walnut is a popular expense-tracking app in India. Co-founder Amit Bhor tells us the best way to manage spending and keep your finances ship-shape:

What are the advantages of using a mobile app such as Walnut?

“Have money, will spend", as the saying goes, but “spend money, track expenses" often gets lost in all the noise of bill reminders, SMSes, notifications, emails and so on from multiple banks and service providers. Further, with the increase in mobile penetration across the country, more Indians are now using their mobile for most activities—whether to send and receive money, split spends with friends, pay for travel, entertainment, commute, online shopping and so on. An app like Walnut combines all inputs from all these sources and presents a snapshot of: All spends across categories and merchants; bank and credit card balances; credit card and bill payment reminders; and notification for upcoming events and travel.

How does Walnut work?

Almost all banks and merchants send SMSes when a spend is generated via bank account, debit/credit card or a wallet. Walnut works by reading these business and transaction SMSes, analysing them, and automatically categorizing them. In case an SMS is not received, there is an option to add such spends manually, including cash spends as well. A user can further add hashtags to have a more granular view of spends, for eg. #Personal, #Office (to claim reimbursements), #Goa (to track spends on a specific trip or holiday). Each expense-tracking app is different and while some may choose to read SMSes, others may read emails or need the user to input each spend manually.

Is this method safe?

Walnut uses business and transaction SMSes, and ignores OTPs and does not read any personal messages. The app cannot access any bank login or password details.

Does your data suggest that expense tracking helps in saving money?

A snapshot of spends across categories and time periods serves as a reality check. Based on user feedback, we can say that this helps hugely not just in saving money, but also in understanding better where and when their money goes, leading to better financial discipline.

Who are your typical users? What are some of biggest spending-related trends you have noticed?

A typical Walnut user would be in the 20-40 age group—from a college-going user who is learning to manage pocket money, splitting spends with room-mates, understanding the value of money, to salaried or self-employed professionals who feel the need to have a money management system. Spends typically go up during online shopping festivals. We recently observed an increase in online food ordering during a cricket match.

What are the low-tech alternatives to using a smartphone app to track expenses?

Expenses can be tracked manually in a spreadsheet. Some financial portals also offer such tools to manage finances online. Till the advent of smartphones and such portals, yet another favourite method was to use pre-printed money manager/budget planner notebooks with columns for income and expenses, along with a list of common spends in the month.

Apps for the New Year

Here are some apps to help you make a positive start to the new year. Break some old habits, read some new books and share them with the reading community and meditate to ease the stress in your life.

Streaks

This is a simple app that helps you track up to 12 tasks you want to complete every day. The idea is simple. You either ditch a bad habit (quit smoking) or create a new one (start running), and build a streak of consecutive days. It tracks your all-time progress with different colour themes and visualizations. You can even set up a widget to quickly see your tasks and complete them. The app also gives you timely reminders to get moving on your tasks.

Available on iOS for $4.99 (around 350)

10% Happier

While meditating is a goal for many, only a few of us are able to make time for it. With 10% Happier, you can learn to meditate in simple ways, thanks to video lessons and meditation techniques for different purposes. Inspired by the best-selling book of the same name, the app gives you access to lessons from author Dan Harris and other meditation teachers. The app also gives you quick meditation tips to follow on a
busy day.

Available on Android and iOS for free, with in-app purchases

Litsy

If you love reading, then Litsy is an app that can help you start 2019 on a happy note. The app lets you share and discover new or favourite books with a growing reading community around the world. You can look at the “reading moments" created by a community of passionate readers and authors in the form of blurbs, photos, quotes from different books. The app also has a “Litfluence" scoring system, which calculates keeps your score based on the number of books you have read, added to your list, your likes and comments, etc.

Available on Android and iOS for free

The screen monitor

Afew days into using Smarter:Time, you start panicking as you figure out exactly how much time you spend on WhatsApp, Facebook, and that tough-to-shake off Candy Crush habit. You may be asking, “Does anyone even play Candy Crush anymore?". The answer is “yes", and one can know exactly how much of a time-sink it is, thanks to this handy little app called Smarter:Time, which asks the user, “What would you do with one more hour every day?". Its AI-powered engine monitors your smartphone usage and then analyses it to give you a minute-by-minute breakup of your activities. I found out, for instance, after using Smarter:Time for over a week, that I spend almost 5 hours on my phone every day, mostly in short bursts but almost constantly during my hour-long commutes to work and back, and that my most frequently used apps are WhatsApp and Twitter, followed by emails. You can check this breakup for every single day that you have been using the app, and while the patterns will eventually become obvious even to the naked eye, the app’s analytics platform also gives you a pie-chart of your preferred activities clubbed into categories such as “Professional Life" and “Arts and Entertainment". The apps location and motion sensors also track your movement and categorize them as “commute to work", “went for a walk" and so on. You can also set goals and limits like “1 hour of walking" and “limit WhatsApp to 1 hour", and while the app won’t make your phone go into lockdown if you overstep these limits (though it probably should), it will tell you what percentage of the goal you have achieved.

There is a desktop version of the app as well, which integrates with the smartphone app to give you analyses of the time spent on the computer.

While Smarter:Time is Android-only as of now (their website says an iOS version is coming soon; meanwhile its desktop client works on Mac OS, Windows and Linux), there are other apps that offer similar functionality and are available on both Android and Apple phones, like Rescue Time.—SB

Useful extensions

No matter what internet browser you work on, you will need extensions. A good extension can make your browser more efficient. Here are some extensions that can improve your browser experience.

OneTab

We have all encountered the “too many tabs" problem when the top of your browser becomes an endless queue of tabs vying for your attention. By adding the OneTab extension to your browser, you can convert all of your tabs into one list. When you need to access a tab again, you can either restore it individually or all of them at once.

PushBullet

Wouldn’t it be great if you could look at notifications from all your devices on your computer? PushBullet acts as a connecting point for multiple devices. With this extension on your browser, you can send and receive SMSes from your computer (requires Android) and even reply to messages on apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Grammarly

Once you add Grammarly as an extension to your browser, it scans your messages, documents, and social media posts to make sure they are clear, mistake-free, and with no grammatical errors. The extension can vet spellings and grammar on platforms such as Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and so on.

The most promising gadgets of 2019

Geeks will have plenty to cheer about this year. Latest reports suggest a new gaming console, a foldable screen smartphone and a smart speaker by Samsung are in the offing in 2019.

Samsung Galaxy X

Foldable phones are coming. Samsung has already got one lined up for launch in the first half of 2019. It is expected to be called the Galaxy X and will have a flexible OLED display that can open up to offer a bigger than the usual 7-inch screen. This is expected to be a game changer as users will have more screen space for gaming, reading and working.

Samsung’s new foldable screen smartphone.
Samsung’s new foldable screen smartphone.

Samsung Galaxy Home

Samsung had announced a smart speaker, Galaxy Home, in August last year. Reports suggest that the speaker is finally coming this year and there will be multiple variants, including an affordable version on the lines of Amazon’s Echo Dot and Google Home Mini. It will run on Samsung’s AI assistant Bixby and will serve as a control hub for other IoT devices.

One Plus TV

The makers of OnePlus smartphones want to tap the growing TV market. In September, CEO Pete Lau confirmed that a smart TV was in the works. Latest reports suggest that a smart TV running on Android with OnePlus’ custom UI is expected sometime in mid-2019.

Sony PS 5

While Sony has been quiet about its plans for the next PlayStation console, reports hint at a possible launch of the PS5 before Christmas 2019 since Microsoft’s Xbox 2 is expected in 2020. The new PS console is likely to support advanced virtual reality (VR) capabilities such as hand tracking, which will let users play VR games without controllers.

Nokia’s five camera smartphone

Phone makers are betting big on multiple sensors to enhance camera options and overall picture quality. HMD Global is expected to take it to the next level in 2019 with a smartphone that will offer five lenses. This was reportedly confirmed by a patent filed by lensmaker Zeiss and leaked images of a Nokia smartphone with five cameras on the back.

—Abhijit Ahaskar

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