It's a New Year's tradition to plan for self-improvement in the coming year — from learning that second language to visiting the gym more often. But it's important to remember your digital health, too.
If you've neglected your tech health — from strong passwords to knowing your privacy settings — now's a great time to get your digital self in shape.
You know those annoying reminders to update to the latest version of your operating system, Flash, Web browser or other software you've ignored for the past few months? Instead of clicking "cancel," take the time to get the latest versions. Updated software helps keep you safer from viruses and hackers and lets you take advantage of the latest features.
To stay updated throughout the year, be sure to have your computer regularly check for updates. In Mac OS, you can do this in System Preferences under Software Updates. Windows users will find Windows Update within the Control Panel. Also remember to restart your Web browser regularly, since browsers like Chrome and Firefox only update when they start up. To track when a new update is available for other software, check sites like PC Pitstop and MacUpdate.
Back up all your devices
As a responsible computer user, you back up your computer regularly. Right? If not, you can get set up in a jiffy with built-in apps. On Windows machines, use the Windows Backup app. On Macs, the best solution is Time Machine. (You can use any hard drive with Time Machine, but Apple makes a wireless drive called Time Capsule that makes the process especially smooth.)
Now what about your smartphone, tablet and other devices? One fatal drop could wipe away all your photos, contacts and notes. But if you set your devices to back up, you can reclaim your mobile life with a few clicks.
For iOS devices, you can back up your photos, documents and settings by plugging into iTunes or connecting wirelessly through iCloud.
On Android, you can wirelessly back up some key settings such as preferences and bookmarks by selecting "Back up my data" under "Personal" in the Settings menu. For a more comprehensive option, try an app like Rerware's $4 My Backup Pro. [See also: What is "Cloud" File Syncing? ]
Change your passwords
Your online security depends not just on strong passwords that include numbers and symbols, but on using different strong passwords for each account you set up.
To manage all these complex strings of characters, get a password manager like LastPass. The free service installs a browser plugin that gives you access to all your passwords from any browser, so you can log in at work or at home. It can generate strong passwords and autofill your login information, and it keeps a master list of all your passwords.
Clean up follow/friend lists
Over the course of a year, we change — and so do other people. The new year offers a reminder that maybe you don’t need to be friends with that guy you barely knew in high school or follow that professional guru who mostly posts about dogs.
To unfollow people on Twitter, click the "Following" tab to see all the people you follow, and then click the "Following" button next to their name to toggle if off. In Facebook, go to your profile and click "Friends." When you see a friend you want to remove, roll over the "Friend" button, and you'll see "Unfriend" at the end of the menu — although that can lead to hurt feelings.
To simply block what some friends have to say, you can remove them from your feed. To do this, deselect "Show in News Feed" under the menu that appears when you rollover the "Friend" button.
Check social media privacy settings
It's a chore, but a worthwhile one, to get your Twitter and Facebook privacy settings in order. Take the time to make sure you're only sharing what you want with the world.
On Facebook, you can control who sees what you post. Use the audience selector (usually next to the "Post" button) to decide if everyone, only friends or a custom list is able to see a post. Under "Privacy Settings," you can also limit who can see older posts that were created before Facebook added its audience selector.
On Twitter, you have the option of "protecting" your tweets so that only people you approve can see them. Your tweets don't show up in searches, either.