Get a better 2022 with these technical solutions

It can feel a little uncomfortable to turn off messages: What if you miss something important? But most people I talked to said something similar about this concern: The people who need to get to you know how, whether it’s via text message or phone call. Your mental health and attention will thank you.

Celebrate Digital Cleanup January. If you feel ambitious, take a page from my colleague Tate Ryan-Mosley, a reporter on digital rights and democracy. She will celebrate her fourth annual Digital Cleanup January, dedicating four weeks to cleaning up every part of her digital life: emails, files, security and phone.

That is how it works:

IN Week 1, Tate does a “massive purge” of her email, unsubscribes to newsletters and other lists that do not serve her, and mass-deletes emails she will never read. She also spends a day reaching out to people who may have sent her an email and to whom she has not yet responded. The new year is a good time to revive these connections and let Tate start new conversations with people she cares about.

Week 2 is dedicated to file organization: clean up files in the cloud, on the desktop and on all drives and place them where they belong. “It’s my least favorite week,” Tate says. “But at the end of it, you feel like you’ve really achieved something.” Tate’s advice? Do not organize files by date, but rather by general category. And treat file organization as real work, because that’s it. “I want to do it during breaks at work if I’m waiting for a meeting, or put an hour off and listen to music and really do it,” she says.

Week 3 of Tate’s digital cleanup is devoted to security. She reviews each sensitive personal account and creates new unique passwords using the LastPass password manager. Tate is also using this week to Google herself to get rid of sensitive information such as her personal phone number and address that might be floating around the internet. Tate swears by the New York Times guide to doxxing yourself, available here, which provides clear instructions on how to keep your private information secure online.

Week 4 is the funniest, according to Tate. She spends this week cleaning up her phone’s backlog of photos, deleting apps that do not serve her, and rearranging the home screen. “The nice thing is, I don’t have to be at my desk to do this,” she says. “I might be standing in line or watching TV.” Tate is also taking time this week to turn off his notifications (see above).

For Tate, Digital Cleanup January is not necessarily fun. How many resolutions are there? But when the calendar turns to February, she has reached a ton. “I feel so good the rest of the year,” she says. “And until December, I can’t wait to take care of all this again. I love how I feel afterwards.”

Finally, remember that there is a whole world outside of technology. Once upon a time, people did not practice their phones and practiced on that particular flick of endless social media. Some read books. Others chatted with those around them – or just let themselves out for a while.

Cal Newport, professor of computer science at Georgetown University, is strongly committed to reforming your relationship with technology, especially when it really is not necessary. “When you implement technology against things that are important, it’s useful,” he says. “When you use it as a standard distraction from unpleasant thoughts or experiences, it can become a problem.” So put the phone away from you and feel these feelings, even if they are boredom, sadness or anxiety. It can make you feel a little more human again.

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