Chris O'Neal


@onealchris on Twitter

The Digital Side of Life - Sync, Order, and Randomness

This wiki is a collection of resources for helping you bring a little more synchronization and order to the digital side of your life.

First, make sure you are really using Siri or Google Now to its fullest extent. This will save you tons of time, trust me.

Organize your digital documents
  • Try to use a central, "cloud storage" hub for general document storage. I like Dropbox. Here's a great article called 62 things you can do with Dropbox. Inside my My Documents folder, I have a folder structure that makes sense for me. My folders are all project names, because that's how I work. Regardless of your structure, you should have one - and base it on your workflow. I like storing all my (non sensitive, of course) current work in Dropbox, because it stores and syncs a local copy on each of my devices, and allows me to access my files from any web browser.
  • Using a tool like Dropbox,, SkyDrive, or Google Drive is a fantastic way to keep your working documents in order across multiple locations. Here's a nice comparison of the top cloud storage options.
  • *Of course, I still have everything backed up onto my own "earth-based" drive, just in case.
  • People often ask me which cloud-storage option is best. I think it's a matter of preference. The main ones each offer something unique. If you're already a heavy Google user (Google Docs, etc.) then Google Drive might be best for you. If you are a heavy Microsoft Office user, you should explore SkyDrive. If you want just a general, overall cloud/sync/storage, then maybe Dropbox is best. For a comparison of numerous cloud-based storage/sync offerings, visit this review at Tech Radar.
  • If you do end up using Dropbox pretty heavily, check out ways to extend it even more!

Don't accept paper anymore

  • Quit adding new paper documents to your life - don't take paper handouts, paper menus, meeting agendas, etc. Just use your favorite app to take a picture of them with your smartphone or tablet.
  • Any number of apps will let you use your phone/tablet camera to snag a picture and save it in cloud storage.
    • Evernote will let you take pictures with OCR, those pics then become searchable - even things like chart paper you used during a brainstorming session!
    • Google Drive lets you take pictures on the go and they're automatically saved and synced in your Google Drive folders.
    • If you just want to take pictures of documents and have them automatically saved as PDF, then you should use an app like CamScanner (free for K12)

Convert existing paper to digital
  • Take some time to convert manuals, menus, study guides, etc. into PDF then store them in your favorite PDF storage app/site - I use an iPad so I use iBooks. Do you really need to shuffle papers around?
  • Do you really need that messy junk drawer in your kitchen that has all those paper take-out menus in it? Go online and find the PDF and just store it in your favorite cloud storage tool - you'll have it no matter where you are! While you're at it, go look for the menus of all your favorite restaurants! (see next bullet item)
  • Did you know you can search the web for files, instead of just web pages? Each major search engine lets you go straight to PDF searching. Here's how to search for specific file types on Google. So, try to find digital copies of your generic "how-to" guides that are currently taking up space in your office.
  • Not sure how to get started with the "going paperless" effort? Here's a great guide from Lifehacker about which types of paper you shouldn't convert!
  • All those weird instruction manuals (your kid's Barbie car) are available online - search and find the PDFs. Once you've confirmed you've found a match, save the PDF into your favorite storage place, and get that paper out of your house!

Use a personal, digital assistant. Evernote lets you take notes, record memos, save recipes, keep snapshots of your parking space, etc. Those post-it notes in your pocket can sometimes cause more harm than good - it's time to get all your random bits of info organized.
  • Create an Evernote account if you don't have one already. Install the Evernote app on all your devices, and the Evernote clipper in your browser. Now, think about all those random post-it notes, mental notes, frequently-accessed pieces of information that you sometimes forget - get them all in Evernote.
  • Video overview of Evernote on YouTube
  • Tips for educators using Evernote
  • Use Evernote to handle to handle your recipes by either taking pictures of your old-school recipe cards, or typing them in. If you're a real "foodie," you might look at the Evernote app called Evernote food

Run your presentations from the cloud
  • Now's the time to try Prezi - a cloud-based presentation tool. They've just updated the interface, and created some options that are way more friendly to the linear thinkers. Be sure you sign up for the education version.
  • Of course, if you still prefer powerpoint, then consider sharing your work at

Get rid of all those loyalty-reward cards weighing down your keychain!
  • Even though this tip is a little off the current path - think about it - does your keychain REALLY need to weigh that much, or does your wallet really need to be that thick? The free Keyring app will be a lifesaver - take a pic of your current cards, they'll sync across multiple devices!
  • Once you've taken a picture of your loyalty card, all the info (current points, the bar code itself, etc.) is stored in the app, so next time you're at CVS, you can just hold up your phone to the scanner (it works, I do it all the time!)

Get your bookmarks/favorites online and organized

  • Traditionally, we save our Internet favorites (referred to as bookmarks from this point on) on our own computer. But, this doesn't help us much if we use someone else's computer and need to remember a specific website. Using a tool that lets our bookmarks travel with us makes a lot more sense, and allows us to share our bookmarks more easily.
  • Diigois an online, social bookmarking tool that houses your bookmarks in "the cloud." And, unlike older online bookmarking sites, it gives you a nice way to collaborate with others and learn from their bookmarks. Visit the Diigo help section to learn more about social bookmarking.
  • Diigo doesn't house content of its own - it's simply a cloud-based warehouse of social bookmarks. Therefore, sites that are blocked by your school filter, will still be blocked inside Diigo. Using it in the classroom requires the usual teacher discretion and classroom management. Be sure to apply for the education version, so you can create and manage student interactions with Diigo, leave 'sticky notes' attached to websites for your students, etc.
  • Once you've got a Diigo account set up, remember that the sites you bookmark are private by default. But, you could have a subset of them available to students/parents.
  • P.S. Install the Diigo toolbar. It makes saving the bookmarks way faster.
  • Diigo has all sorts of apps, browser extensions, etc. that can really streamline your use of frequently-needed sites.

Remember, in addition to just a filename, Diigo, and most Web 2.0 sites, use "tagging" to keep things organized. When you store a bookmark in Diigo, you're asked to give it a name, as well as some tags or keywords. Here's a good slideshow that highlights the various benefits of Diigo for the classroom. If you need more in-depth information, visit this site.

If you're not into Diigo, but have a better bookmark-organization tool, now's the time to share it! (Delicious? Google Bookmarks? Symbaloo?)

  • Consider using Picasa or setting up Dropbox or your cloud-storage of choice to handle your photos. But, dumping them into a random folder is probably not going to serve you well!

Old School:

Are you an efficient calendar user?
  • Google Calendar, in my opinion, is the best free calendar. Have you really explored all that Google Calendar can do (video)? It's way more slick than you might even realize!

Get your email in better order
  • Understand "saved searches" in your email client. Outlook, Mac Mail, and Gmail all allow you to save your usual search queries so you don't have to repeatedly type them.
  • Depending on your email client, set up a good folder or label structure. Nearly every email client now has great searching capability, so there's no reason to keep everything in your inbox. That searching is even more efficient if you get into the habit of sorting email into folders or, if you use Gmail or other newer email tools, labeling/tagging effectively. Here's a great video tutorial to help you understand Gmail's labeling technique. Labeling/tagging is a "Web 2.0" method for adding embedded keyword descriptors to messages or filenames, allowing you to easily retrieve those items later, no matter where they end up in your email client. Here's a nice Gmail productivity tips page.
  • Use Filters (also known as Rules) to sort incoming and outgoing messages. I did a blog post at Edutopia about email filters and rules. It's really old now, but still relevant. Read that here. The short version is that once you do have folders set up in your email client, the next logical step is to have your incoming mail automatically go into those folders. There's some automated organization for you, and it's easy to set up.
  • Email addresses are free. Instead of posting your one main email address for everyone to use (and potentially spam), create a new one instead. If one of your duties is delivering professional development, create one along the lines of "" or something similar. Then use that "fake" one when need to register for demos, or show others how to set up an account at your favorite site. You could pretty much knock off some of the email that comes into your main inbox that way. Plus, anything sent to that email address is probably not urgent, and wouldn't require you checking it often. If you really want to be efficient, you could have email that goes to that address automatically forwarded into a unique folder at your main account, tucked away for later when you do have time to go check it. Either way, avoid having your "real" inbox cluttered unnecessarily.
  • Get better at your email Subject lines. An email with the subject "hey" is going to be hard to find later on if the content of the message is actually about a grant writing workshop. How about a subject line that reads "Information about Grant Writing Workshop in June" for the subject line instead? That way later on, when I'm sorting through email messages, I'm much more likely to be able to quickly and efficiently retrieve the right email.

  • You need to understand what 'tagging' is in the web 2.0 world. Tags (sometimes referred to as labels or keywords) let you apply additional descriptive properties to a file, site, document, etc. to give it qualifying information, above that of the simple file name. For example, I can only give a Powerpoint document one actual file name: maybe something like "Tech Order Presentation." The benefit of understanding and using 'tags' is that I can apply additional tags (descriptors) to that file name, should I forget exactly what I called that document. So, I "name" the document "Tech Order Presentation," but in most web 2.0 situations, I can also 'tag' that document with numerous keywords that will help me find it later, should it become buried. In this case, I might use tags like: order, presentation, conference, productivity. That way, I can just search for this file later by remembering any of those tag words related to its contents/topic.

General Resources:
LifeHacker - my favorite blog geared toward improving the digital pieces of your life.

*Advanced Users - if you're already pretty organized, and you're in this session just because you weren't sure where else to go, then stay here and head over to If This, Then That - play around with it, and at the end of our session, give us a 1-minute overview.