Start the year off right: empty your email and take some time off from Twitter/Facebook

Want to get a fresh start on the new year? Here’s a few quick tips:

- Start the year off with an empty inbox in Gmail. It’s pretty simple to do: you assign a label for everything in your inbox right now, then archive everything so your inbox is empty. You can still dig into that label if you want to work down your email backlog, but it feels great to start the new year fresh. Follow the steps to declare a lightweight email bankruptcy, with the chance of still responding to those emails down the road.

- Do a one week (or one month!) digital cleanse by staying off Twitter and Facebook. I think I’ve said before that if you want to fill five minutes, Twitter is a great way to fill 35 minutes. Sometimes I end up spending more time on Twitter than I mean to, so last year I took a week off from Twitter, which turned into a month off. It’s easier than you might think–why not try a digital cleanse yourself? I’m going to do this digital cleanse for at least a while.

Also think about what you want from this year. Resolutions work for some people and not for others. But if you come up with even a single area you’d like to explore more, it helps you to recognize those opportunities throughout the year.

In 2009 for example, I went on 10-11 trips. When I looked back, I realized that they’d all been inside the United States. So one of my goals for 2010 was to get out to other countries more. I ended up visiting Asia with my wife, taking a work-related trip to Europe, visiting Mexico with my wife, and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa with friends. I wouldn’t have done so many of those trips if I hadn’t set a goal in the back of my mind.

So think about your goals for the new year. Lots of people want to get their finances in better shape or have goals about losing weight/getting fit. Speaking as someone who has lost 35-40 pounds in the last few years and kept it off for ~3 years, my main recommendation is to look for small changes that you think you can sustain for the rest of your life.

But you could also ponder all sorts of directions you’d like to explore. Maybe you’d like to work on being happier this year. Maybe you’d like to improve your skills. If you’re a left-brained person, maybe you could get in touch with your creative side by learning to draw, sing, dance, play guitar, etc. Maybe you want to practice being thankful, or widen your circle of friends. Or spend more time with family. You could even break your goals down into 30 day challenges.

But I think the main thing is to do some thinking about where you’d like to go this year. It can really pay off. What sorts of goals do you have for the new year?

Doing the “Digital Cleanse”: no Twitter for a week

John Mayer had a good post about a “digital cleanse.” The idea is to step away from the busy, buzzy world for a week. John mentioned four ideas, but I’m going to try just one: “no use of Twitter or any other social networking site”.

That’s right, I’m going Twitter-free for a week. I don’t really use Facebook, so that’s not a problem. The only other social networking website I use is FriendFeed, so I’m cutting that out too. To keep me on track this week, here’s what I did:

  • Tweeted that I was doing the digital cleanse and changed my Bio line to mention that I was doing the digital cleanse.
  • Removed all Twitter apps from my mobile phone.
  • Removed the Twitter and FriendFeed shortcuts from Chrome’s new tab page.
  • Hard-coded a bunch of websites so that I can’t even access them. In Linux, you can type “sudo vi /etc/hosts” and add the following lines:

    What these lines say is “Computer, when you try to use the domain name system (DNS) to resolve to an IP address, hard-code the IP address to be” Note that is a special IP address that corresponds to your own computer. In essence, these entries make it impossible to browse to Twitter, Facebook, or FriendFeed. You might need to reboot your computer too for the settings to take effect.

I’m thinking that I might blog a little more now that I’ve stopped tweeting for a week, so I’m doing one extra step–I’m linking my blog in Feedburner so that when I publish a blog post, it will tweet a link to that blog post. Here’s how to do it:
1. Log in to and click on your blog’s feed.
2. Click on the “Publicize” tab and then the “Socialize” service on the left.
3. Add your Twitter account and select the options you want. Here’s how it looks:

Tweeting from FeedBurner

Then click “Save” and that’s all you need to do.

So far, I’ve been Twitter-free for twelve hours. In that time, I’ve
- worked out
- taken down our Christmas tree, chopped it into sections and put it out on the street
- typed in three months’ worth of data for a project that I’m working on
- taken down our Christmas lights and packed them away
- stored all our various Christmas decorations
- run a couple loads of laundry
- put out the trash
- gone shopping and had a couple meals with my wife
Oh, and written a blog post. We’ll see how the digital cleanse works for the rest of the week. :)

How to Unlock the Amazing Secret of Unlimited Productivity

All of us could use some help increasing our productivity. So I’m going to share one of my best productivity secrets. This secret can literally CHANGE YOUR LIFE!!! Are you ready?

Step 1. Buy a productivity book.

Any productivity book will do. I use a book called “The Now Habit.” It doesn’t matter what book you order though, because you probably won’t read it. You can use any random “increase your productivity” book.

Step 2. Look at the productivity book and tell yourself, “If I don’t get X done, I’m going to have to read that productivity book.”

That’s it. As far as I can discern, staring at the cover of a productivity book gives you almost as much of a motivational boost as actually reading the book. And if staring at the cover doesn’t work, then tell yourself the punishment for not getting your work done is that you’ll have to read that dang productivity book. Pretty soon you’ll be off and working. Enjoy. :)

Start the Year with an Empty Inbox!

Here’s a nice Gmail tip that will make you feel like a million bucks: empty out your crufty email inbox. There’s nothing like an empty inbox to motivate you and give you a fresh start for the year.

“But Matt,” you say, “my inbox is my to-do list!” I know, me too. So here’s how to do it without losing that to-do list. Add a label like “oldinbox” to everything currently in your inbox and then archive all the email in your inbox. Presto! Your inbox is clean and empty, but you can still visit the “oldinbox” label when you’re ready to whittle down those older emails. I know it sounds scary, but there’s only two simple steps, and both can be undone.

Step 1: Add a label to all the email in your inbox. Click on “Inbox” at the top left of your Gmail. Then look for “Select: All” and click on the “All” link. If your inbox is bigger than one screenful, you’ll see a message like “All 25 conversations on this page are selected. Select all 666 conversations in Inbox.” Click on the second sentence of that message to select everything in your inbox. Now click on the “More Actions” button and select “New label…” . You’ll be prompted for a label name, so enter something like oldinbox as the label name and click OK. Gmail will ask if you’re sure you want to apply this label to all the selected emails, so say yes by clicking that OK button. Congrats! Everything in your inbox now has the label “oldinbox”. Now we just need to archive every email with that label.

Step 2: Archive all your email with that label. Look for the “Labels” box on the left-hand side of the screen, and click on “oldinbox” (or whatever label name you gave). Click Select: All. Do the trick to select all conversations if you need to. Then just click the “Archive” button. That’s it. Your inbox is now empty, but you can get to those older emails if you need to by clicking “oldinbox” in the Labels box.

Can you undo these changes? Yes!

Putting the email back in your inbox. If moving things out of your inbox is too stressful, you can move them back into your inbox. Click on the “oldinbox” label (which you can find in the Labels box on the left-hand side of the screen). Select all of the emails with that label. Then click “More Actions” and click “Move to inbox.” In a jiffy, all that old email is back in your inbox.

Removing the “oldinbox” label. Under the “Labels” box on the left-hand side of the screen, click “Edit labels” and then you’ll see a “remove” option for each label. Note: do not remove the “oldinbox” label if you’re still using it to keep track of your old inbox.

Try this trick to start out the new year with an empty inbox. It’s also great if you want to declare email bankruptcy, but think that you might find the time to get back to those old emails as some point. Try this trick, and you’ll feel like you’ve got a fresh new chance at keeping your inbox at zero.

Five fun smartphone tips

Tip #1: See what you’re ordering. You’re at a restaurant and looking over the menu. But you don’t know the difference between a turkey bolognese and a turkey piccata. What to do? Fire up your iPhone, Android, or other smartphone and go to and do a search for turkey bolognese. In just a few seconds, you’ll see what to expect:

Turkey Bolognese images

Ah, turkey-based sauce over spaghetti or pasta. Why couldn’t they just say that? :)

Tip #2. Comparison shop. A few days ago I was in a college bookstore that wanted to charge $178.60 for a copy of Mathematical Physics, by Eugene Butkov. $178.60? For a used, paperback book? Grrr. I took a picture of the UPC code and/or ISBN number:

UPC code

You can search for an ISBN or UPC code (e.g. [9780201007275] ) on Google or other search engines and usually find out a product pretty quickly. I found a copy for $115.34 at Amazon, plus eBay had a hardcover copy with a current bid of $23.20. For a college student, $60 to $150 is a lot of savings.

Tip #3. Make a note to remember later. You’re at IKEA or Petco or someplace where you need to remember a part number or the aisle/bin to pick up some IKEA furniture. Do you need to write the info down with a pen and paper? No! Just whip out your phone and take a picture of the label or part number:

Cat toy

In this case, my cat Ozzie loves the “long boa” cat toy, but two different Petco stores were both sold out. Taking a picture let me order the exact right product from Petco later online.

Tip #4. Archive a brainstorming meeting. If you end up brainstorming on a white board, it’s nice if someone is taking notes. But just to be safe, you can snap pictures of the whiteboard before you leave the room:

White board notes

Now you can refer back to the notes you made.

Tip #5. Keep a food diary. Some blogs have a direct “email-to-post” address that you can add as a contact in your phone. When you eat interesting food, take a picture of it and email it to that address:

Food diary or blog

Sometimes it’s fun to remember the more memorable meals you’ve eaten.

Are there smartphone tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment..