If you’ve got text on your page, it needs to be edited and proofread. The act of writing, especially on a computer (is there any other way these days?), is error-prone. When I write something I’m frequently tweaking it as I go — lots of deleting and adding, cutting and pasting. If you don’t watch it, things can get pretty garbled in the process.
Case in point — I recently had the pleasure of proofreading a very short piece written by someone else (who will remain unnamed) on the topic of “the key to creating quality documents.” Here’s what she submitted to me:
This is probably the most single significant control in the development of your document. Poor version control means wasted hours errors.
I trust that proves my point. She knew what she was trying to say, and I was able to figure out what she meant, but left on its own, it was not a “quality document.” The addition and deletion of words is like a surgeon who stitches up a patient, leaving a sponge and tweezers inside. You need to take a good look at these things before you call it a done deal.
I’m a pretty solid proofreader, if I do say so myself. I’ve always taken great pleasure in finding fault with other people’s work. Aside from that, I believe that a shortcoming of mine contributes to my thoroughness as a proofreader; namely, I’m a very slow reader. I’m like half a notch up from moving my lips while I read. I “subvocalize.” I took a speed reading class once and boosted my reading speed by over 300%. It also decreased my reading enjoyment by 300%, so I pitched it and went back to my glacial pace.
But I think my subvocalization really works for me as a proofreader. When I got the hot mess mentioned above, I went back to Sandy the author and asked her to read it out loud. In the words of late, great American novelist Kurt Vonnegut, “It read like it was written by Philboyd Studge.”
I made a couple of tweaks to it. The finished product said:
This is probably the single most significant safeguard in the development of your document. Poor version control leads to errors that waste hours of your time.
Yeah, that’s what she meant to say.
Proofreading and editing. If you want a higher quality product, one that won’t make you cringe when it comes off the press, proofreading must be a priority — and multiple proofreaders reviewing the document multiple times is the best approach.
Check out this blog from a few months ago for more proofreading tips.
Click here to download our proofreading checklist.
And by the way – the document I was proofreading was our enewsletter, the Alpha Channel. If you’re not on our mailing list and would like to receive it, click here.
To checkout archives of our enewsletter, click here.
MySpeed™ by Enounce allows you to speed up (and slow down) videos as you watch them. “Speedreading for videos” is how Enounce describes it on their website. I’d say it’s a whole lot easier than speedreading.
We watch a good number of training videos here at Data Designs. I love this utility.
- The average reader processes 200 to 250 words per minute.
- The speed of most speech is only 100 to 125 words per minute.
- MySpeed keeps me from becoming impatient and giving up on the video before they get to the part I really need to learn.
- MySpeed saves me time while I’m spending time on training. That’s a good thing.
Speeding up videos occurs without any loss of audio quality – that means you avoid the Alvin syndrome – and it’s as easy as clicking a slider. You can increase the speed of videos up to 5 times faster or decrease them up to 3 times slower than their normal speed. You can alter the speed of online videos (including YouTube) or offline videos (with their Premium version only).
Best news: They offer a free trial. Give it a try here.
Most of the videos we watch are short, so we don’t save a lot of time on each video, but it all adds up. Since most of the videos we watch are training and how-to videos, there’s a good portion of the them that we don’t want to speed up because they’re doing demonstrations or we’re taking notes (in fact, sometimes we’ll slow them down at those times), but there are always other places where either we know the material or we’re not interested in that portion of the video.
Watching these types of videos, I did a few timed trials. I reduced a series of videos totaling 16 minutes, 40 seconds by two minutes. That may not seem like a lot, but it translates to saving 7 minutes for every hour of video you watch. That’s nearly a 12% time savings. And I got these results on videos by David Blatner, an InDesign Expert who could easy be described as a fast talker. I only increased the speed to between 1.1 and 1.3 times for this test. I’m looking forward to using MySpeed on videos in which the speakers talk much more slowly.
I did that once – just the other day I was watching a Toodledo tutorial. (I blogged about Toodledo here.) In this video I varied the speed between 1.0 (normal speed) and 2.0.
Apparently I finished that Toodledo video at 1.5. The next morning, I turned on Pandora as I often do. The first few songs seemed a little fast, but it was background music and I didn’t fully process what was happening. Then an oldies fave came on – “Saturday in the Park” by Chicago – and I knew something was definitely wrong. MySpeed was speeding up my Pandora tunes! (Fortunately, a click put it back to normal speed.)
It seems like most online businesses are intent on getting your email address so that they can bombard your inbox with tempting offers and fascinating announcements — which you have no interest in whatsoever. They enticed you with some attractive come-on offer, but your relationship with them lost your interest long ago. Now you just want out. You want to close your account. But how do you do it and how easy (or hard) is it going to be?
There’s an app for that! Well, not really an app, but a website called JustDelete.Me. Just Delete Me is a single-page site that has the names of dozens upon dozens of websites that you may have an account with. The sites are listed in alphabetical order for ease of searching, and color-coded to indicate how simple or difficult the process of deleting your account is going to be.
For example, do you want to close your Dropbox or eBay account? That’s easy. Ready to say goodbye to etsy or iTunes? That’s harder. (Not just the concept, but the process.) How about closing your account with Netflix or Evernote or Pinterest or Starbucks? It ain’t gonna happen. Impossible.
So check out JustDelete.Me to see the list and click on any website name to go to a page on that site that gives information about cancelling your account with them.
Warning! This may backfire on you. Looking at the list of all the interesting sites on JustDelete.Me might lure you into starting accounts with new sites that you had never known about before. (Don’t say we didn’t warn you.)
It seems that I am forever looking for a great To-Do List tool. For years I was a dedicated Day-Timer user. Unfortunately their transition from being a paper product to a digital one wasn’t very successful. Enter Franklin Planners. They were good, but still too cumbersome to be fully useful. Digital planning was in its infancy and none of the available products seemed to help. So eventually I gave up on digital organizers and for about the past ten years, I’ve simply used Excel spreadsheets to manage my tasks. Over the past year that’s been overwhelming – not working effectively and taking too much time. Not to mention that no one else could understand my spreadsheets so task delegation wasn’t efficient. This year I set about looking for a new system. I was looking for something that is less than a full-blown project management system (because they tend to be too complicated) but much more than a simple to-do list.
After creating and recreating my to-do lists in several different programs and living with each for about a week, I’ve found one that I’m nearly completely satisfied with. (Are we ever fully satisfied with anything? There’s always tweeks we’d like to make, enhancements we’d like to add…but that’s the tradeoff between simple and complicated or off-the-shelf and custom-built.)
Let me introduce you to my friend Toodledo. Yes, it’s a cutesy little name, but it’s a powerful organizational tool. Toodledo is a web-based solution that you can get on your mobile phone, in your email, on your calendar, integrated directly into your web browser, and more. I’ve found some of the integration a little clunky, but as a desktop/laptop/mobile app it’s doing a great job helping me organize and manage my life.
Entering tasks is simple – click on “Add Task” and type a short title or description. You can then provide as much (or as little) additional information about it as you’d like. The more info you identify, the more capability you have for sorting and viewing. You can provide only a due date or identify a start and end date. You can set priorities and identify a task as being a repeating task. Tasks can be set to repeat at just about any interval (using preset criteria or identifying your own in plain English) and to repeat from the scheduled due date or from the completion date. I love the latter option. There are things I want to do weekly but they’re not so critical that they must be done on a certain day. So perhaps I have a task that I schedule for Tuesday, but Tuesday gets overcrowded, and then Wednesday falls apart, and it doesn’t get completed until Thursday. Toodledo reschedules it for the following Thursday.
You can assign tasks to folders, contexts, locations and tags. Each of these terms can mean whatever you want it to. We use folders to identify customers and tags to identify the person responsible for the task. If you assign locations, a mapping feature in Toodledo allows you to sort by distance from a specific location, making it easier to be efficient with sales calls or errands. Assigning contexts allows you to identify tasks based on similarity of effort. You can sort and filter by contexts so you can focus on similar efforts and efficiently complete them. Here are just a few of my contexts:
- Writing – I write for four different blogs, as well as books and training material. When I’m in a writing mode, I want to easily see all the things on my writing to-do list without being distracted by everything else that screams for my attention.
- Web Effort – It’s not something I do regularly, so it always requires taking my brain to a “website management” place. Once my brain is there, I want to do all the website management tasks at once.
- Client Support – I want these tasks to stand out prominently and I want to be able to filter out all other tasks when I’m focusing on client effort.
- Accounting – Like web effort, once I start on accounting, I want to get in the groove and do all of it at once.
You can also identify length of time it takes to complete a task. Have twenty minutes before your next meeting and wondering how to be effective during that time? Sort your tasks by length and you will easily be able to identify what can be accomplished in those twenty minutes. I love this feature.
Additional features include an ability to define and track goals, identify tasks to goals, collaborate with other Toodledo users, import and export tasks, and customize what task information appears on your screen as well as how it displays.
Toodledo has created a helpful and well-done set of videos training users in the basics of the system. They’re available on Toodledo’s YouTube channel. Each video is less than five minutes, so they can be watched and implemented quickly and easily.
Toodledo is available at four different subscription levels: free, Silver ($14.99/year), Gold ($29.99/year) and Platinum ($9.99/year). I tried the free version for a couple of weeks before upgrading to the Silver version. The silver version allows you add the collaboration feature and allows you to create subtasks. It also allows for customizable alarms and longer retention of history. The Gold and Platinum versions include features I don’t need but are worth the cost if you need them – cloud storage and file attachments are the most significant. We have all the cloud storage we need from other sources and we maintain our files in a very specific manner – adding them as attachments to our to-do list isn’t it.
The power in Toodledo is its ability to view, sort and filter based on any of the fields or task characteristics that you’ve assigned. Toodledo’s flexibility allows you to mold it into whatever type of to-do list or time management app you need it to be. You can re-sort tasks with one click, or use the top menu to sort by multiple criteria. When you add in the filtering and viewing capabilities you can create custom lists that drill down to the level of task management you need at any given time of the day. Be careful, though — it’s easy to get lost in the number of levels of filtering and lose tasks. It takes a bit of practice to learn these features, making them work for you.
I spend a lot of time on the Web researching products, finding recipes, learning new stuff – you name it. As such, I have a frequent need to make a print web pages, usually to pass off to someone else.
If you’ve done much printing from websites, you know that it can be problematic. It might print everything, including ads, log-in boxes, headers, and a bunch of other things that aren’t really what you want. Some sites will frustratingly not print the section of the page that you went there for. Other sites just don’t seem to want to print at all.
What to do?
I’m happy to say that I’ve found a Web-based app that can make your site printing much easier. www.PrintFriendly.com Go to this site and enter the Web address of a site or page that you’d like to print. Print Friendly will generate an interactive preview of the output for your review. It eliminates all the ads, navigation, and Web crud, leaving you with very usable output.
How usable? How interactive?
- For starters, it gives you the option to print the site, save it as a PDF, or send it in an email.
- It gives you the ability to increase or decrease the size of the type.
- Print Friendly gives you the option to show or hide all images.
- Not only that, but as you hover your mouse over the page, it gives you the choice of deleting any section of the page with a click of your mouse. This is slick. Be careful, though, because if as you hover between paragraphs Print Friendly highlights the entire page. If you highlight the entire page and click to delete, your printout won’t have any content.
- Not happy with the changes you’ve made? Print Friendly has an undo button.
- Install Print Friendly as a bookmarklet on your browser’s bookmark bar. (Their home page has a link that will take you to the simple directions for a number of popular browsers.) With the bookmarklet installed, you don’t have to go to Print Friendly’s website and enter the address of the site you want to print. Instead, just click the button in your browser’s bookmark bar to access all of Print Friendly’s awesome abilities from the comfort of your target site.
Here’s a short YouTube video of Print Friendly in action:
At the moment I said the fated words, I was working on a different blog and wanted to grab an image from my screen. Enter Jing. That’s when I realized I haven’t blogged about this handy – HANDY – program.
Jing is made by TechSmith and is represented by the Jing sun, which sits idly at the top edge of your monitor waiting for you to call upon it. Unfortunately, if it rests for too long, it simply fades away and you have to open the program again. Not a big deal really, but it’s at those times I can be heard saying “I’ve lost my Jing again.”
Jing takes both still and video shots of your monitor. It’s free software from a company that makes the popular Camtasia video editing software. Most of the screen shots you see in our blogs have been taken with Jing. Our videos are created using the Camtasia creation and editing tools.
You can move the Jing sun to anywhere at the top edge of your monitor so that you can move it out of your way if necessary. When you mouse over the sun, three rays appear which allow you to (1) capture an image or video, (2) look at your Jing history (that is, the images you’ve captured), and (3) do other things like change preferences, send feedback, get help or close the program. Until a few minutes ago, I’d only ever used the capture ray. I checked out the other rays simply to write this blog. That’s how easy the program is to use.
1. Mouse over the Jing sun.
2. Click on the capture ray.
3. Click and drag to draw a square around what you want an image of.
4. When you release the mouse button, the following options appear: Capture, Capture Video, Redo Selection, Cancel
5. If you want to…
• Capture the image within the square, select Capture. Jing then brings up the Jing Preview box, shown below. Notice the basic tools available at the left for editing the image. You can draw arrows, add text, place a square around something of interest, or add a highlight. The colored box allows you to change the color of your text, arrow, border or shading. At the bottom of the preview box you can name the image (by default it is named using the date and time), share it via Screencast (you must have an account), save the image, copy it without saving it, or cancel. When you save an image, it is saved as a PNG file, which can be used by most programs. If you can’t use the PNG, you can pull it into Photoshop or other image editing software and convert it to another format.
• Capture video that will occur within the square, select Capture Video. After doing whatever you want to capture video of, you can click Finish. (There are other options while capturing your video like Pause, Mute and Restart. Yes, Jing will also capture the audio.) When you click Finish, a video previewer appears and gives you the option to Share the video via Screencast (you must have an account), saving the video or deleting it. Anything that is saved goes into your History.
• Redraw your square because it’s not in the right place or not the right size, select Redo Selection.
• Give up, select Cancel, or just hit escape.
It’s that easy. It’s effective and it’s free.
TechSmith also offers a more robust screen grabbing program called Snagit, which sells for $49.95. Jing, Snagit and Camtasia are available for PC and Mac.
(No, you won’t really learn anything from this blog, but you will be mildly amused…)
Phil and I attended the premier InDesign conference this week. PePcon, the Printing & Electronic Publishing Conference, was held in Austin, TX and sponsored by none other than Anne-Marie Concepción and David Blatner (InDesign superstars). If you turn on “Tips” in InDesign, all of them have been written by David Blatner. If you go to the Lynda.com online training site (and we really recommend that you do), about a third of the InDesign courses offered are by either David or Anne-Marie. Together they own and publish InDesign Secrets magazine and have just purchased CreativePro magazine.
It’s been a few years (perhaps quite a few years) since Phil and I have attended such a large-scale conference. Indulge me as I share my reflections.
- What used to be called “desktop publishing” (DTP) has now become “printing and electronic publishing.” DTP used to be almost exclusively for print media. With the proliferation of mobile devices, the pendulum is now swinging toward electronic or digital publishing.
- There are people here (at this conference) who have been around before DTP existed (that is, from the typesetting and Exacto knife days).
- There are people here who have relatively recently graduated from college.
- All of us are in the same place in the industry – because the electronic publishing industry is still in its infancy and is constantly changing. The slide titled “Braving the Perils of New Technology” by one of the presenters said it all.
- Designers are becoming coders and (to a lesser degree) coders are becoming designers. That’s a weird thing.
- Digital publishing should significantly impact your print workflow.
- Attending conferences helps you get out of a rut in your own thinking and approaches.
- I’ve been brought face to face with my laptop size vs. tablet dilemma. I recently bought a new laptop and opted for a larger one because I love the bigger screen. But larger means…well, larger. That means more space in a bag and on a table. I look around and many people have little tablets resting on the table in front of them and it looks so nice and cute and I’m jealous. Then I remember that I also brought my tablet and I made the conscious decision to want to type on my larger laptop instead of my smaller tablet. In discussing this with Phil, he pointed out that “sometimes you want to drive a Lincoln and sometimes you want to drive a motorcycle. They both take you to the grocery store.” He’s so much more pithy than me.
- Speakers have much more competition for the attention of their audiences than they used to. That’s both good and bad – for both the speakers and the attendees. In the first session I attended, the person next to me shopped for handbags throughout the session while the presenter proved outstanding content. Perhaps it was info that she had no need for. I’ve made notes for this blog throughout the past few days. I’m typing them as two presenters are boring me with things I already know (so why did they name this session “deep dive”?).
- Either I’ve become more geeky or other attendees have become less geeky in the years that have transpired since I attended something like this. Probably a little of both.
- Background music really does get in your head. I’m sitting on the aisle before this session starts. Every person who walks past me is humming “I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me….” Yep, it was playing in the hallway. Yep, I was humming it, too.
- Laptop batteries really don’t last as long as you want them to.
- Afternoon snacks sure have been upgraded – peach cobbler à la mode this afternoon! (WTG Hilton Garden Hotel in Austin, TX.)
You know you’re at a geeky InDesign Conference when the networking BINGO has blocks that require you find someone who…
- Helped design or lay out their high school yearbook (yes, I could have signed that square)
- Has a pet named after a computer-related term (Uh, no – we generally prefer human names…although Phil’s always wanted a dog named Booger)
- Uses a pen input tablet instead of a mouse
- Can tell you what DPS stands for in Adobe DPS (Digital Publishing System)
- Can tell you the name of their custom workspace (nothing creative here – I just call it “Sandys Workspace” – which of course means “Use it if you like, but don’t even think about changing it.” Phil calls his “Phil’s Binary Shack.” Who do you think is most geeky?)
- Has a phone hooked onto their belt, Batman-style
- Can tell you the keyboard shortcut for Paste in Place (Ctrl-Alt-Shift-V)
Many of our clients have begun to include QR bar codes in their marketing literature, but there are still many people who ask “QR what?” when the subject comes up. I was surprised to learn that QR (Quick Response) codes were created almost twenty years ago. A subsdiary of Toyota, Denso Wave Inc., created the codes to track vehicles as they were manufactured. Now they’ve been hijacked by the internet to provide information to consumers.
QR codes are simply a two-dimensional bar code that is encoded with information. They are a lot like the traditional bar codes you see on the sides of cans and other products but they contain 100 times more information. A user can scan the code with a smart phone and access a tremendous amount of information, either directly from the code or by being linked to an information source like a website.
In today’s smart phone environment, they’re used to educate customers and potential customers, and to provide instant promotions. To educate, QR codes are being used to direct customers and potential customers to product benefits, information about purchasing, or to pages on your website that provide installation instructions or warranty information. A QR code can be created for any web page – which means don’t let any discussion of QR codes limit your thinking about how to use them. But that’s not all they can do.
The two-dimensional nature of QR codes means that they have a greater surface area allowing them to hold thousands of alphanumeric characters that can accommodate web URLs, text or other information like photos, videos, graphics and more. QR codes can even dial a number or generate text messages! It’s like having the ability to control your prospective customer’s smart phone almost anywhere in the world!!
QR codes are surprisingly simple to implement and use. You can generate a QR code using any of a number of code generators. Most are free. Google “QR code generator.” We’ve already done that to make your life even easier. Here are three easy to use code generators:
- Kaywa – http://qrcode.kaywa.com/
- Qurify – http://www.qurify.com/en/
- QRStuff (for high-resolution artwork files) – http://www.qrstuff.com/
We’ve used the code generator at http://qrcode.kaywa.com/. To generate a code that will take the reader to a web page, you simply enter the URL in the QR code creator and hit enter. In seconds you have both an image of the QR bar code and the HTML code to add the QR bar code to a web page. We generated the code used in the upper right of this blog.
QR codes are read by code readers – again, there are many free apps available for whatever smartphone device you own. Download the app and scan the code. Scan the above code and it’ll take you to our InDesign Basics & Beyond training page.
For you techies, here’s the HTML code provided by Kaywa’s site for the above QR bar code.
<img src=”http://qrfree.kaywa.com/?l=1&s=8&d=http%3A%2F%2Fdatades.com%2Fresources%2Fdata-designs-publishing-resources%2Ftraining-by-data-designs-publishing%2Finddbasicsreplay%2F” alt=”QRCode”/>
(We modified the HTML to place the QR code into the blog so that it would be right aligned and properly sized.)
QR codes are a good choice for the business marketers:
- They work! Consumers are responding to the scan codes they see and taking action to get more information about products/services promoted by these codes. According to the CIA World FactBook, as of 2011 there were 290.3 million mobile phones in use in the US. Two-thirds of that group are scanning QR codes to learn more about a product.
- The future is bright for QR codes. 290.3 million potential users is a respectable number, and experts agree that the number of QR code users will continue to grow, in keeping with the aggressive growth trend in QR code usage over the last few years. Scanlife (a provider of QR code services) reports that from the first quarter of 2011 to the first quarter of 2012 the number of unique users scanning codes through its system tripled. NOTE: While usage is up, how QR codes are being used is changing…significantly. You’ll need to be on top of that information to succeed.
- Low cost! Unlike a printed brochure or poster, the QR code is one marketing tactic that you can create for free! And even though it’s free, it doesn’t fall into the category of “you get what you pay for.” Rather, it falls into the category called “if it’s for free, it’s for me!”
I have a confession…I was going through very old email this morning to find info on a quote I sent out awhile ago. In the process I came across two articles I had saved to read at some future date…Both articles were on the same subject: dealing with being overwhelmed! Given that I was hunting for a piece of information I couldn’t find, it seemed a bit ironic that I would come across these articles.
I’m not alone in having to deal with an overwhelming flood of information. I’m guessing you’re in the same place I am. Being overwhelmed comes from a variety of sources but here’s the top two we’ve seen:
Too much information: I read an article about a study by Magnify.net. The study found this amazing fact: “64.2% of the participants said that the information they receive had increased over 50% (!) in comparison to the previous year. Nearly 73% of the respondents described the information overload with superlative terms, such as: a ‘roaring river’ or a ‘massive tidal wave.’” That’s some increase!
Too many conflicting priorities: In today’s working environment, every professional becomes an entrepreneur. Staffs have been cut so close to the bone that engineers are creating their own marketing material (makes no sense to me – give us a call!) and accountants are becoming marketing/pricing strategists. We’re all wearing too many hats. But yes, it sure makes life interesting.
Here are just six tips I gleaned from the most comprehensive of the two articles, 44 Tips for Dealing with Overwhelm. The following tips are my takes from the author’s tips, so they differ a bit. Check out her article for more great ideas:
Set priorities and goals. I do this by meeting with a small group of friends once a month in a mastermind group. In preparation for this group, I identify the top six to ten things I want to accomplish during the month, then break the top six things down into what I’ll do each week. Those goals might relate to many different areas of my life: meeting ambitious client deadlines, completing training in new technology, writing for my ministry blog or personal goals. Usually they’re a combination of all of the above. But it forces me each month to check my progress and redirect my efforts.
Periodically simplify. If we’re not diligent, we tend to keep adding and adding and adding to what we have – whether it’s things we own (and therefor have to take care of) or things we do (which add to our already busy schedules) or things we’re responsible for (which causes the overwhelm monster to creep closer and closer with each task). So every now and then, be intentional about simplifying. Throw away, delegate, say “no.”
Identify what’s most important each day. I do this using the “6 Things” approach. Most days I create a “6 Things” list – that is, the six top priorities for the day. In theory, one is not to go to bed until those six things are accomplished. I’m not so legalistic. I do find, however, that having my “6 Things” list helps me stay focused as I finish one task, get interrupted by three phone calls or two unusual email requests…or just get back from lunch. I can be incredibly focused, but once that focus is lost I need my “6 Things” list to bring me back to today’s priorities
Bite-sized chunks. We are big on bite-sized chunks at Data Designs Publishing and I’m an expert at creating them. One of the ways we accomplish all we do with such a small staff is that we break large tasks into bite-sized chunks so that many people can work on the same project without losing consistency. (Creating long checklists aids in that process and I’m known as the queen of the Excel checklist in some circles.) While I do it as a matter of course with our client projects, I often have to remind myself to do it for DDP tasks. Bite-sized chunks allow you to fill those small periods of time with progress instead of frustration and confusion.
Get it out of your head and onto paper. It’s said that Albert Einstein claimed never to memorize anything which could be looked up in less than two minutes. A good organization system does wonders for helping keep the overwhelm monster at bay.
Action alleviates anxiety. I hate to admit it, but there are times when I look at my “6 Things” list and am simply at a loss as to which of those few tasks (or the phone call I just took) to attack. It’s very easy to become immobilized at those times. That’s when I simply remember that action alleviates anxiety. Any action. My “6 Things” list helps me to make it profitable action. And if everything on my “6 Things” list is too overwhelming for the moment, I look for a task on my longer “To Do” chart. (Yes, mine is a chart, not a list.)
Those are my top six tips to avoid the overwhelm monster. Check out the author’s other 38 tips here.
If you’re like most people you aren’t as cautious with your passwords as you ought to be. I know, creating unique passwords for each site you have an account with can seem daunting and there’s probably enough complication in your life already. Yet you have this nagging voice in your head that says “if someone hacked any of my accounts, they could get into all of them…and that wouldn’t be pretty.”
That nagging voice is right. It wouldn’t be pretty. In June LinkedIn was hacked and millions of passwords were leaked online! (Read about it here.) If yours was one of them, does someone now have access to other accounts of yours because you’ve used the same password on that account? Scary thought. (If you haven’t done so, you can check to see if your LinkedIn password was leaked here. )
Both Sony and Yahoo! have had passwords hacked and leaked over the past year or two – just to name two companies you’ve probably heard of. There are many others.
Yet there are ways to develop safer passwords without overly complicating your life. We’re happy we’ve done it, and although we literally have hundreds of accounts and therefore hundreds of different passwords we can access most without taxing our memory or digging out that sheet of paper that lists them all. You can too.
Let’s start with what makes a safe password. Here’s some advice about how to make your passwords safe:
- Don’t Join the Crowd: The first rule is that you want your approach to your password to be different from what most people do. Computer programs are written to crack passwords and these programs are based in large measure on the behavior of most people. The following advice will put you on track to create a password that is outside the norm.
- More is Better: Most people have a password that is eight characters or less. A password that is at least eight characters and ten or more is best.
- Variety is King: Most people create passwords that use only one or two different types of characters, often just lower case letters. There’s more to your keyboard than lower case letters! Choose a password that mixes lower case letters, upper case letters, numbers and symbols. A very small percentage of people use a combination of numbers and letters in their passwords and an even smaller number use letters, numbers and symbols. We’ve read that every symbol you add to your password makes it 1500 harder times to hack!
- Don’t be Common/Don’t be Identifiable: Sometimes called “randomness” this characteristic relates to how easily the password can be identified to the person. For example, is your password your wife’s name and the date of your anniversary. (OK, maybe that’s more likely to be a wife’s password using her husband’s name and their anniversary.) Does it include the names (or initials) of your children or your favorite sports team or favorite dog? Is it a phrase you use frequently? (“NeverSayNever” uses upper and lower case letters and has more than ten characters, but if you’re known for saying that, it’s a bad password.) Never, ever, ever use “password”, your username, your address or birthday or anniversary. Likewise, don’t simply pick characters that are next to each other on your keyboard. (That would include not using consecutive numbers.)
- Be Unique: Yep, don’t use the same password for each site. And don’t use a system that is easily discernible. Security pros say don’t use a system. Period.
Actually, security pros will say that the safest password is the one you can’t remember. And we fully endorse that for critical sites such as banking, credit card access, investing, etc. For those less critical sites, however, we do recommend that you develop a system that incorporates these guidelines but allows you to easily access your accounts.
A password strategy can provide you with security and simplicity. The strategy will include a combination of a “root word” and unique prefixes or suffixes. Remember, the goal is to keep a hacker who gains access to one of your accounts from accessing other accounts.
- Develop a “Root Word”: In all cases, you will want to develop a “root word” for your password – a five to seven character “word” that you will use in all passwords. I’ve placed “word” in quotation marks because it won’t be a real word, but a combination of characters that incorporates both upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Remember, this root word should be random and unique. Don’t make your root word Cru1seS! if you like to take cruises. Yes, it uses upper and lower case letters. a number and a symbol, but it is too easily identifiable to you. The best approach for your root word is to not use a real word. nR8!3 is a better root because it is meaningless.
- Then Make it Unique: Add to your root word, either as a prefix or suffix, something unique for each site. You might make it every third letter in the name of the company the site is for (which may or may not be the same as the site URL). So it your root is nR8!3 and you were accessing the Data Designs Publishing website your password might be nR8!3tDis. I added my unique characters as a suffix to the root word and used every third letter of the name of the company, counting spaces as letters, and following the capitalization in the name. That’s a pretty unique password strategy that would not be easy to break.
- Alter the Uniqueness: To make the strategy more secure, you can alter whether you apply the unique characters as a prefix or suffix. For example, you might apply the characters as a prefix for all sites of companies whose names that begin with the letters A-N and as a suffix for all the sites of all other companies.
- Two or Three are Better: Another approach to making the strategy more secure is to have two or three strategies that you apply when you create new passwords. We have two. At worst, if I can’t remember which strategy is used, I will “guess” the password wrong only once.
Simpler Still: Automate the Process
There are a number of software/cloud applications that will create complex passwords, store them and automatically log you in when you revisit sites. Check this article from InfoWorld for a review of seven of the top applications.
Want to test your password? Gibson Research Corp. has created a site that estimates the amount of time it would take to crack any password that you want to test. Check it out to test your newly created passwords. By the way, that password we created earlier – nR8!3tDis – would take 2.03 hundred thousand centuries to crack! So don’t even try!