Saturday, January 17, 2015

Keep Your Combinations Safe

Remember back in the day when the worst thing that could happen to you was forgetting your locker combination and you'd be late for class? Well, the stakes might be a little higher, but the challenge is the same: How to keep your private information private.

ID theft is a very real threat. In fact, ID theft complaints are the number-one complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, accounting for 18% of all complaints and accounting for billions of dollars in loss (2012 data).  And it can be very costly to repair the damage, as I know from experience!

While your identity can be stolen through the postal service or by swiping your wallet, by far your greatest exposure is online. And when you're an online businessperson, that risk is even higher; not only your personal information is available, but your professional information, too. Thankfully, there are a number of low- and high-tech options for keeping track of your passwords and user names.

Low-tech: You can purchase “password journals” from stationery stores, or just create your own from an inexpensive spiral notebook. On the plus side: This method is easy and inexpensive, is portable, and is perfect for technically challenged individuals. The problem is that if you don't have your notebook with you, you don't have the information – and if you lose it, you're in trouble!

Mid-tech: Start a computer file with all your password and user names in it, like an Excel spreadsheet. You can save this on your desktop, or upload it to a file-sharing service like Dropbox or Google Docs. The upside: It's free, portable, and (if you use the file-sharing service) available online from remote computers. The drawbacks: Hackable. If someone somehow accesses your spreadsheet, they have your world at their fingertips.

High-tech. Online password storage and management services are big business. Check out Roboform, KeePass, and LastPass. For just a few dollars a month ($29.95/year for Roboform, for example) these services will generate, store, and even fill in your passwords for you. Plus side: The safest method for managing passwords online. Downside: you have to pay.

Whatever you choose, any of these methods are more secure than using the default “password” or “12345” as your password for everything from your bank account to your Twitter account. Don't wait until someone breaks into your locker and steals your lunch money before you start protecting yourself.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Have a Fling!

The beauty of being an entrepreneur is that you are in control of your own destiny.  But that can make it really, really difficult to take time away from the computer or office to let your hair down, relax, and have some fun.  If you're like most entrepreneurs,  you travel with your smartphone in one hand and a laptop in the other, and even when you should be relaxing, you're responding to emails.

That level of dedication to your work is commendable, but it's also dangerous.  If you never slack off, you're in danger of burning out, losing perspective, or alienating the people in your life, none of which is helpful for long-term success.  The cold, dreary days of winter are a perfect time to get in one little warmer-locale fling before settling back down to work after the holidays..

Can't get away for a week-long retreat?  Never fear.  Here are some ways to enjoy a mini-fling:

Turn off the cell phone.  The smallest move you can make with the biggest impact is simply unplugging yourself.  Take mealtime off, at a minimum, particularly when you are dining with friends or family.  Carving out a few periods during your day when you can relax completely will have untold benefits on your relationship, as well as your stress level.

Do something different.  With tough economic times, everyone has been touting the benefits of “staycations,” when you enjoyed all the attractions your immediate vicinity has to offer without getting on a plane or staying in a hotel.  Continue in that vein by visiting a local park or museum, or trying a new restaurant you've never visited.  Even venturing down a different street or checking out a new grocery store can have benefits in terms of opening your eyes and enhancing your creativity.

Make a new friend.  If most of your personal interactions take place around answering your door to the UPS man, you need to expand your social circle.  Make it a goal to create a new relationship, business-wise or otherwise.  Attend a meet-up in your area, join an online networking group, or just chat up an interesting looking person at the dog park.  People matter, and they can be your biggest source of pleasure and refreshment.

Cross something off your bucket list.  Always wanted to ski?  Dreamed for years of speaking French?  Have a soft spot for authentic Indonesian cuisine?  Pick one of your life goals (preferably one that has nothing to do with your work) and get started.  Realizing that there is more to life than your computer will energize you and make your work all the more effective.

You may not be able to take off to Baja in a VW bus with a surfboard strapped to the top, but you can still enjoy these last days of summer.  Life's short; enjoy it.