The 21 worst tech habits--and how to break them

Your keyboard is just one spill away from dark roast Armageddon. Sound familiar? Then you have a very bad tech habit, friend.

You bite your nails. Your house is a sty. You never signal before changing lanes, and when you finally reach your destination, you're 30 minutes late.

[ALSO: 20 tech habits to improve your life]

We all have bad habits in real life. Why can't technology help cure them? While technology should help us break bad habits, all too often it makes things worse.

Are you guilty of a bad tech habit? Here are 21 of the worst technology-oriented habits, plus potential fixes for all of them. (And we have a bonus at the end, on mending bad email habits.)

1.A Leaving equipment in plain sight

The typical gadget isn't stolen by thieves who've done lots of planning. No, most gadget heists are conceived and executed in seconds, and probably beAAcause you left the item unattended. That cozy window corner at the cafA(c) is great until you need to run back to the counter for a refill. A thief can pop in, grab your device, and be gone. Gadgetry is also commonly snapped up from airport security conveyers (sadly, sometimes by TSA agents themselves) while you're waiting for your body scan. Your locked car isn't safe, either. An eager crook will happily smash your window and grab the laptop bag from the passenger seat, even in broad daylight.

Fix: Don't leave laptops and other gadgets unattended. Yes, that means you must either take them to the bathroom or leave them with someone you trust. At a cafA(c), it doesn't hurt to ask the staff if you can leave something behind the counter for a minute. In any case, skip asking, "Can you watch this for me?" and pointing at your PC across the room.

2.A Oblivious gadget usage

Here's how street hoods steal your phone. They lurk at the top of the stairs as you emerge from the subway, or sneak up behind you while you're lounging at an outdoor cafA(c). Either way, you have no idea they're there, because your nose is buried in your smartphone's Facebook feed. Next thing you know, you've been punched in the face, and the thieves are dashing off to a getaway car. Can you identify the suspects? No, because the last thing you saw before it happened was a picture of a puppy.

Fix: Everyone uses phones everywhere, so it doesn't feel risky to break one out on the train or while walking home in the dark. But electronics remain some of the most easily fenced items on the black market, and it pays to keep your wits about you when using them in an unknown situation. Make it a policy to limit mobile device usage to areas where you're completely certain you won't be the victim of a smash-and-grab attack. That goes double for using your phone while you're driving. Don't become another statistic!

3.A Using your devices with dirty hands

Anyone who has ever handed a cell phone to a child knows that the device will come back covered in a crust of dirt, crumbs, chocolate, and sneeze spray.

But you aren't much better. Playing Bejeweled while downing a burrito won't leave your phone looking fresh, and holding your phone against your face to talk may leave an oily shadow behind.

This isn't just gross, but brings health risks, too: The old adage that your keyboard is dirtier than your toilet applies to your phone, as well. One report last year claimed that a Ugandan thief contracted Ebola from a stolen phone.

Fix: Keep an electronics-cleaning vial on your desk in plain view. Clean your phone, tablet, and other touchscreen devices daily. Add a quick wipe-down any time you see visible grime.

4.A Not cleaning your equipment

We covered the problem of filthy touchscreens (increasingly problematic in the Windows 8 era) in the #3 item, above. But what about everything else?

Literally everything in your high-tech arsenal is vulnerable to damage from dust and dirt. Grime seeps in through any crack and crevice, but machines such as desktops, laptops, and even printers, which have air-intake vents for cooling, are the most affected. Dust generally won't damage electronics, but it can clog fans, optical-drive mechanisms, and other moving parts, which can lead to component failures and overheating if the fans stop working properly. Dust in scanners and printers can affect the quality of your printouts, too.

Fix: Cleaning your equipment isn't hard, but it's important to do so regularly before things build up too much. Once or twice a year should do it. Can't remember? Try cleaning out your PC at the same time you replace the filter on your furnace or air conditioner, or whenever you get the oil on your car changed. A calendar reminder on your PC can help, too.

5.A Sitting with bad posture at the computer

The posture lessons, cautionary tales, and ergonomic gadgets of the past 30 years have apparently taught us nothing, and as a result, carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common form of neurological syndrome called entrapment neuropathy, affecting 5.8 percent of the population. The typical treatment, even for moderate cases, is surgery. And all beAAcause you were too lazy to sit up straight.

Fix: Fixing this problem requires a proper work environment. Keep your chair at a height so that your knees bend at a 90-degree angle; also keep your feet flat on the floor, your monitor directly in front with the top of the screen at eye level, and your keyboard placed so your wrists are parallel with the floor.

This is easier said than done if, as it is for many, your office is now a Starbucks. But Imak Computer Gloves can keep your wrist at the correct typing angle and cushion your hand--an easy solution that you can drop into your gadget bag.

6.A Not taking breaks

Most parents have no trouble limiting their children's screen time, but they find it harder to put down their laptops or smartphones when work demands action (or Angry Birds chirps).

Breaks are essential to good health. Your joints, muscular system, circulatory system, and eyes all benefit from a change of scenery once in a while. Remaining in a seated position for extended periods of time can cause blood clots (sometimes even fatal ones). And staring at a screen for hours on end can cause eyestrain that may affect your vision afterward and make it dangerous to drive home.

Fix: Fortunately, programs such as Scirocco Take a Break, mobile apps, and Web browser plug-ins can remind you to step away from your gadgets, stretch your legs, get a drink of water, or call it a day on your computer time.

Another easy way to remedy the problem is to keep, at all times, a very large glass of water at your desk (the solution for another bad habit: failure to hydrate). Sipping a gulp from that glass of water regularly will force you to take an occasional break to the bathroom.

7.A Working with your laptop on your lap

Yes, they call it a laptop, but you weren't supposed to take that literally. Using your laptop on your lap can lead to a whole host of problems, many caused by the heat that most laptops spew from their undersides. The maladies can range from simple skin dryness and discoloration to reduced sperm count to--the jury's still out on this one--cancer.

Heat isn't the only problem. Placing a heavy object across your thighs for hours on end can cause neurological damage, particularly when coupled with the typical laptop-on-lap posture: hunched over, legs outstretched, neck craned. Arthritis can also develop over time.

Fix: Fixes aren't easy unless you want to move your desk into the living room so you can watch Game of Thrones while you work. Instead, start with a lap desk that shields your thighs from heat, and follow the break-taking tips outlined in item #6. Periodically shifting your laptop from one leg to the other can help. Avoid working on your laptop with your legs outstretched on the coffee table, too. Your nervous and muscular systems will be in better alignment if you keep your knees bent and your feet on the floor.

8.A Failing to back up data

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Everything is zipping along just swimmingly until one day it suddenly isn't. Maybe it's a hard-drive crash, maybe it's a malware infestation, maybe it's a stolen laptop. One way or another, your data has abruptly vanished, and you're left crying that you should have been backing up your data.

The excuses for not backing up your data are becoming increasingly thin. Any number of online backup services will sync your files automatically with a cloud-storage system, whether you use a PC, a tablet, or a phone. Don't be lulled into thinking that you have nothing important on that device. Whether it's a forgotten baby picture or a game save on the verge of hitting 100 percent completion, you'll feel differently once it's gone.

Fix: With most backup systems now, you don't need to do anything except install an app and set it up. If that's too much effort, well, perhaps it's time to go back to pen and paper.

9.A Reusing passwords over and over

We are all guilty when it comes to this bad habit. How are you supposed to remember your 100th different password for the latest social network you've joined? You take the easy way out and reuse a password that has worked for you time and time again.

Password "strength" is a bit illusory. All it takes is one website that doesn't store passwords securely and gets hacked, or one old and unencrypted hard drive that's sloppily disposed of, to bring the whole house of cards tumbling down, no matter how many numbers, uppercase letters, and special characters you use.

Fix: The solution involves coming up with a system to build a unique password based on each website where you use it. Build from a base phrase and, for each site, add something unique to it. Take, say, Flurpb&rgl3r as a base and add fb8 to the end for Facebook, or tw7 for Twitter. (In this example, the numerical component of the end tag is the number of characters that the site name has.)

Presto: a password that you won't forget but is virtually impossible to crack.

10.A One account, multiple users

A parent's typical move, when giving a child his or her first computer, is to hand it over and hope for the best. Mom then wonders where her address book went, and her boss wonders why she sent him 20 email messages full of gibberish.

Fix: Setting up multiple user acAAcounts on Windows isn't difficult, and it's an incredibly prudent precaution if more than one person is going to use the machine. Never mind the privacy issues--accidents happen, even among grown-ups sharing a PC. Having two people working on different files called "resume.doc" can only end in heartache.

For children, security and safety are bigger concerns. Setting up kids with Standard User accounts (instead of Administrator) is the wise thing to do to keep unwanted software from being installed, and it's the key to letting you configure parental controls on the computer, as well. So next time Junior wants to use your PC "real quick, just to look something up," tell him sure, and give him his own account.

11.A Failing to update

Software published today is updated on a near-constant schedule. If you have a few dozen apps on your smartphone or tablet, you've probably become accustomed to downloading updates on a daily basis--unless you're one of those people who never update anything.

Software updates are released for a variety of reasons. The application's developers add features, fix bugs, and plug security holes. Installing updates upon release--particularly operating system updates and security software updates--is essential to keeping your device stable and secure.

Fix: Every application has to be updated, so it's forgivable if you don't want to deal with the constant nagging to install, reboot, and repeat every day. Automatic updates take some of the hassle out of this operation, but most software updates today still have to be manually installed. There's no easy solution to this. If immediately installing updates when they appear in the system tray or on your handset doesn't fit with your computing habits, make it a weekly event to update everything all at once--perhaps after you take out the trash.

12.A Printing anything

You've seen the request at the bottom of so many email messages: "Please consider the environment before printing this email." Is that really necessary in 2013? Who is not considering the environment? And more important, who is still printing out their email?

In an age of $75 terabyte hard drives and endless cloud storage, why does anything that starts out in digital format, such as email, ever need to go back to paper? Even utility and bank statements are archived online (often for years), much safer as backups than the ones sitting in file cabinets in your house.

What legitimately needs to be printed? The only thing I can come up with is mailing labels for products that have to be physically shipped somewhere, and maybe the packing slips or receipts that are included with those packages. Also arguably acceptable is the occasional printed photograph that you'd like to frame and put on the wall.

Fix: Unplug your printer and stick it in a closet for a week. See if you can't go paperless, cold turkey.

13.A Faxing, ever

As bad a habit as printing is, faxing is infinitely worse. Here, you have the opportunity to break the paper cycle, but instead you're continuing it, indeed worsening it by duplicating the paper and possibly racking up long-distance telephone charges in the process.

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