Tech & Work

New Year's resolution: 3 challenges to help you clean up your computing habits

Cloud apps, mobile devices, and collaborative tools let us work differently. But our habits sometimes get in the way.

Image: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

I work with cloud apps and mobile devices as much as anyone. But, a couple of incidents in the past month caused me to review my habits and assumptions.

Here are three challenges to help you develop good computing habits.

Cleanup: Device and cloud

Over the weekend, I helped my neighbor restore a Windows laptop to a working condition. My neighbor had accepted Microsoft's free upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7. After the upgrade, her laptop was unusable. It turned out that the security software from her internet provider slowed her system to a crawl.

I also uninstalled or removed software she didn't use. The links to games? Gone. Pre-installed promotional apps from the laptop maker? Uninstalled. Desktop links to buy printer cartridges? Removed.

The whole process prompted me to review my own app usage. I looked at the apps on my devices, which included all of the apps on my Chromebook, tablet, and phone; as well as the sites I'd bookmarked in my browser.

However, since I do much of my work with web apps, I also needed to review apps—and app authorizations—that I couldn't necessarily see on my devices. This included reviews of my:

Desktop device cleanup is simpler: You can look at the installed apps in a nice, simple list. Cloud apps and logins exist in many different places, so the search for apps and logins is more scattered—especially if you test many tools.

Challenge 1: Review the apps you've installed on devices and the accounts you've created online. Remove apps or close accounts no longer needed.

Mindset: Mobile and desktop

A small business client emailed me to ask, "How do I find the IP address of a storage device on my network?" His internet provider had replaced some equipment and the IP addresses had changed.

I gave him a link to instructions that allowed him to identify the new address from his laptop. He followed them successfully.

A few days later, he emailed me again: "I could have used my app!"

A couple weeks earlier, I'd helped him install a network utility app on his phone. The app scans his network and lists all the devices discovered—along with the IP address for each device. A few taps and he would have had his answer without my help.

We both missed the simpler solution—even though we both knew of it. Our years of desktop-centric computing blinded us. In spite of the fact that we both depend on mobile devices and cloud services, we both were stuck in desktop-solution mode. (As the well-known philosopher Homer Simpson once said: "Doh!")

A mobile app might give a faster workflow than a desktop one, but you have to think of it when you need it.

Challenge 2: Look at the apps you use. How could a switch from a desktop to mobile app—or vice versa—help you complete a task faster?

Workflow: Share and create

The biggest shift, though, may be workflow. The order of tasks changes from "create a document, then share it" to "share a document, then create it together." This is an item I feel that I've mastered: I haven't distributed a static, printed document in years.

For example, consider a meeting agenda. Share the agenda in a Google Doc, and let people add comments, suggest changes, or make edits. A conversation in the comments may help resolve some issues before you meet.

Meeting slides and handouts offer another example. Share a link to Google Slides. Unlike a printed document or link to a PDF, you can add content later. I often add information to my slides or handouts as a result of a conversation and update it from the mobile app on my phone.

Challenge 3: Examine any document you print (or handle) more than once. How could a collaborative process—where you share, then create—improve your workflow?

What do you think?

How well have you mastered each of these three challenges? How did you help other people manage the shift?

Also see

About

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

Editor's Picks