How to Keep Your Digital Life Synchronized – Automatically!

This is a guest post from Anders Vinther (Easy-Email.net)

These days, most people use a variety of electronic devices every day – computers, smartphones, iPads – you name it. I think the only person left who only uses one computer is my mum.

We all know how difficult it is to keep your information up to date and readily available when we need it. If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to have to remember to update your USB key before you leave the office or email yourself from your work email address to your personal email address… most often you don’t even know what you will need.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could have all your files, bookmarks, emails, passwords, contacts and calendar up to date, no matter where you are or which computer or device you are using? Here is the complete guide to synchronizing your digital life. Set it up once and then forget about it, it’s all automatic! It will take a bit of time to get it organised up front, but it will save you so much time from then on.

First of all we need to answer the question: what are the building blocks that make up your digital life?

I have narrowed it down to:

  1. Documents
  2. Email
  3. Contacts and Calendar
  4. Internet Bookmarks
  5. Passwords

1. Synchronize Documents

You want to create a document on your office computer, save it before you go home, and then edit it on your home computer at 3am in the morning when you have had that brilliant brain wave.

You also want to be able to get that missing document while you are visiting a client – even if you didn’t bring your computer.

How you do it

There are a number of different file synchronization options available. Dropbox is my preferred choice. It has been discussed at length here, so I will keep it short.

sync-dropbox

You install a small program on your computer. A new folder is created and everything you place in this folder is automatically synchronized with every other device you own. And you can also access your files from an internet browser by logging on to the Dropbox site.

It is dead easy to use! You can even share folders with other people, so there’s no need to keep emailing each other different versions of a document.

Where to get it & price:

Go to www.dropbox.com and sign up.

You get the first 2GB for free. 50 GB is $9.99/month, 100 GB is $19.99/month.

2. Synchronize Email

Email is here to stay (just ask the Google Wave people). It is still the essential means of communication. And that will not change in the near future.

How you do it

IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) is the key here. IMAP is a techonology which enables you to synchronize your email with a server instead of downloading it to your computer. And this means you can access all your email from other computers and smartphone too. By storing a local copy on your laptop you can also work with your email offline.

There are many ways of doing this. I recommend you make use of Gmail’s excellent service. You can create a free Gmail account and use this as a central synchronization hub. The benefit of using Gmail is that they support a wide range of mobile devices, so you can get your email on your smartphone too. Another benefit is Gmail’s ability to collect and send email from your other email accounts too, whether webmail or another email client.

sync-gmail-imap

All modern email clients support IMAP (some better than others).

In short, the steps for setting up synchronization via IMAP are:

  1. Create a Gmail account and enable IMAP (in the settings).
  2. Configure Gmail to collect and send email from your other email addresses.
  3. Setup your email clients (Outlook, Apple Mail, Thunderbird, Windows Live Mail etc) to connect to your Gmail account using IMAP.
  4. Setup your email clients to send email from your other email addresses too.
  5. Setup your mobile devices to talk to your Gmail account.

Where to get it & price:

IMAP is a technology and is supported by most (if not all) email clients. So you can use your favorite email client or even a combination of email clients.

You can get a free Gmail account at www.gmail.com.

If you would like detailed instructions on how to set this up, you’ll find easy to follow, illustrated guides at Easy-Email.net (free for 1 email address, $37 for multiple email addresses).

3. Synchronize Contacts & Calendar

We meet more people than ever before. And we have more ways of communicating with those people than ever before. So we need to keep on top of our contact information.

And as we become busier and busier we need our calendar available at all times too.

How you do it

There are many ways to synchronize your contacts and calendars. Most of these are sufficient for point to point synchronization, so if you only ever use one computer and one phone it is easy to keep both synchronized. However once the number of computers increase, it becomes more difficult to keep everything in sync.

As with email, the best way to avoid headaches is to use Gmail as a central synchronization hub. Gmail can synchronize with most devices.

Where to get it & price

Mobile devices:

For Outlook 2003, 2007 and 2010:

Thunderbird:

Apple Mail:

  • Built in functionality in latest releases of Apple Mail (free)

If you would like detailed instructions on how to setup synchronization of contacts and calendar between your email client and Gmail, you can get easy to follow, illustrated guides from Easy-Email.net ($10 or $1 in combination with an Advanced Guide). Available for Outlook 2003, 2007, 2010, Apple Mail and Thunderbird.

4. Synchronize Internet Bookmarks

How many times have you been searching for that site you know you bookmarked only a couple of days ago? Only to find that you bookmarked it on your other computer!

Great news! Xmarks is still alive and kicking! (It was touch & go for a while)

How you do it:

You simply install xmarks in all your internet browsers, setup an account and forget about it. Easy!

sync-xmarks

Xmarks can even remember which tabs you had open! (Premium version)

Where to get it & price:

Go to www.xmarks.com.

Free for Internet Browsers, $12 per year for mobile devices/premium version.

5. Manage and Synchronize Passwords

Worried about identity theft? Can’t remember your passwords? Re-using passwords and user names across different web sites?

How you do it:

You create an account with Lastpass. Whenever you sign up for a new site, Lastpass will offer to generate a strong password for you and store it securely so only you can access it. Next time you visit the site, Lastpass will fill in the login information for you. This is much more secure than storing login details in your browser. Not only have you increased your security considerably, but you have also made your life easier!

sync-lastpass

You simply install Lastpass on all your computers and your user names and passwords will automatically be synchronized everywhere. You can even access them via the internet.

Now you only need to remember one password.

Where to get it & price:

Create an account at www.lastpass.com.

Free for Internet Browsers, $1 per month for mobile devices.

Extra Tip for Small Businesses

We run a small two man band business. We write the Easy-Email guides and run the web site. In the company we use Dropbox, Easy-Email and Lastpass to share everything company related. This means we can work on the same documents, respond to each others email when one is away and have easy access to all our company logins for our 40+ web sites. No problem!

Conclusion

I hope this helps save you hassle and increase your efficiency. As mentioned, we use all of these tools daily in our business and I’d hate to think how much time we would waste if we had to go back to how we used to work before.

So go ahead and get your missing pieces of the puzzle set up – then you can kick back and enjoy the freedom to compute from anywhere.