20 Tech Habits to Improve Your Life
6. Get Your Cables Under Control
When you have a tangled mess of dust-coated cords knotted into a bundle under your desk, disconnecting a laptop or setting up a new printer can be impossible. The cords for power, USB, speakers, and FireWire all look the same. Simple labels can help you avoid accidentally killing your entire rig by pulling one wrong plug. Print out your own with a label maker, or buy a prefab pack of Pilot ID labels to stick on your home-office or living-room plugs. When the cat knocks one out or it's time to rearrange, you'll be glad you did. Then, get cords up off the dusty floor with an under-the-desk cable tray such as this $10 Ikea model. To keep gadget and laptop cords from falling off the back of your desk when they're not plugged in, affix a simple cable catcher (or a binder clip) to the edge of your desk to hold them. Finally, plug your workstation and your collection of peripherals into a single power strip or UPS to shut down the energy hogs with a single switch when you're not using them.
7. Stay on Task With the Right To-Do List
The key to staying on track with the stuff you need to get done is writing it down and checking it off--whether you do so online, on your desktop, on your smart phone, or in a plain text file. PC World has tried a number of online task manager sites, and our pick is Remember the Milk. It provides all the bells and whistles you'll ever need in a to-do list online, on your desktop, and on your phone. RTM offers task categories (such as Work and Home), file attachments, notes, priorities, tags, due dates, and even "honey do" items (you can send tasks to other RTM users, such as your spouse or assistant). RTM also offers a Firefox extension that integrates the service with your Gmail inbox, so you can turn e-mail into tasks. Of course, no matter how good your software is, nothing can replace the visceral satisfaction of crossing off a line on your paper to-do list with the stroke of a regular old ballpoint pen.
8. Replace Your Laptop With a Thumb Drive or iPod
Instead of lugging a laptop on your next trip, save your aching back by taking your computer's desktop with you on a thumb drive or iPod. Portable Windows software offerings such as MojoPac and U3 put a full desktop on your USB thumb drive (or disk-use-enabled iPod), letting you run applications like Microsoft Outlook and save documents all on that drive. All you need is a host computer: You can plug the MojoPac drive into your in-laws' PC or a coffee-shop workstation, for instance, to access your documents and applications without leaving a trace behind. Alternatively, you can save and run free portable applications--like the Firefox browser, Pidgin IM client, and Sumatra PDF reader--from your thumb drive. Download those and other programs for free at PortableApps.com.
9. Use Your Camera Phone as Your Digital Photographic Memory
Almost every cell phone model now includes a built-in camera, and they're good for more than just snapping pics of your buddies' bar shenanigans to blackmail them with later. Use your phone's camera and memory card to capture the spot where you parked, the label on a bottle of wine your spouse loved, the price on a new gadget to look up online, or an amazing meal you'd like to try to cook at home. A new crop of Web services can turn digital photos of whiteboards and documents into searchable PDF documents, too. E-mail your camera-phone shot of a whiteboard or document to Qipit, and the service will recognize the text and e-mail you the resulting searchable PDF.
10. Create Your Own Price-Protection System
Deal search engines such as RetailMeNot.com or SearchAllDeals.com and social sites like BeatThat are great at finding the best prices before you buy, but PriceProtectr.com and similar services will save you money afterward by monitoring over 130 stores that have price-protection policies. If the price goes down after your purchase, that store might owe you money, but knowing whether the price went down is the trick. You can take advantage of price guarantees by going to RefundPlease.com, or track items on your wish list by using the free Amazon Price Watch software. Travel sites like Farecast and Orbitz also have price-protection systems and e-mail alerts for when prices reach a certain low point.