Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

How to Organize Your Messy Contacts List

How to Organize Your Messy Contacts List

Tuesday, 16 July, 2019 - 07:00
Getty Images
New York - Whitson Gordon
When was the last time you memorized a phone number? Thanks to smartphones and the internet, you can stuff hundreds of numbers and email and mailing addresses into your pocket without a second thought. But those contacts can get disorganized over time as you rack up duplicate entries, outdated information and numbers for people you no longer talk to.

Sadly, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to cleaning up your address book — and apps can’t read your mind, so you’ll have to do a lot of legwork yourself. But with a few tricks, you can make the process a little easier and ensure that your contacts don’t get disorganized in the future. Here’s how:

Pick one ‘bucket’ and sync all your contacts there

Before you edit anything, you’ll need to make an important decision: Where do you want to store these contacts? Depending on your phone, there’s a good chance that you have some contacts stored in, say, an iCloud account, while the others are in a Google account. That likely means you have duplicates for some contacts, and storing them in two places means you could have trouble finding a contact’s information when you need it most.

Here’s my advice: If you have a Gmail address, put your contacts in Google’s address book and keep them there. You can sync a Google account with just about any phone and access it on the web. Plus, it contains lots of advanced features and can even suggest updated information for your contacts who also use Gmail. iPhone users could sync with iCloud, Samsung users can sync with their Samsung account, and so on — but these usually don’t have as many features as Gmail and won’t always sync with other platforms, so I recommend sticking with the bucket of contacts attached to your email service.

If you use a phone with Google’s Android operating system, your contacts are likely already stored in a Gmail account. But if you use an iPhone, they could be stored in any number of places, so head to Settings and then Passwords & Accounts to see the different accounts on your phone. Any account listed here with “Contacts” under its name is set to sync contacts — this could include iCloud, Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook and others.

If you have contacts in other accounts, you’ll want to export them to a file on your computer, then import them into Gmail (or your email account of choice). Head to the web interface for each of those accounts, find the “export” option and use it to put the file on your desktop for the time being — then import them into your main bucket (ideally, Google, just because it’s available in the most places and on the most devices). Don’t worry about duplicates — we’ll deal with those soon.

Once you’ve done that, you can head back to your iPhone’s Accounts page and uncheck “Contacts” for the accounts you no longer want to sync, or delete the contacts from those accounts altogether. (It might also be a good idea to also export your main list of contacts from Google so you have a backup in case anything goes wrong during the steps below.)

If you’re forced to keep contacts in a few places (for example, if you have a work email in addition to a personal email), that’s fine — just keep your work contacts in your work bucket, and your personal contacts in your personal bucket, and try not to duplicate them across accounts.

Get rid of contacts you don’t need

Now that all your contacts are in one place, it’s time to start organizing — and as any Marie Kondo fan would tell you, that starts with getting rid of clutter. There’s a good chance your address book is filled with contacts you don’t need: acquaintances you don’t talk to anymore, former co-workers you didn’t even like and contacts previously imported from other apps like Facebook. While it doesn’t hurt to have these numbers in your phone, it does make finding the people you want to talk to more difficult, since you have to scroll through a seemingly endless list of names to find the few you actually want.

So take some time to go through your contacts and delete the ones you don’t want to see. If you’re using an Android-based device, you can just tap and hold on a contact to enter selection mode. From there, you can select as many contacts as you want, then press the Delete button to remove them all at once. If you’re on an iPhone, there’s no option for purging multiple contacts at a time — you have to open each one up, tap “Edit,” and scroll down to Delete Contact. That’s why I recommend performing this step on the web, using Gmail’s address book (or whatever service you use), since you can check off multiple contacts and delete them at once.

Merge duplicate contacts

Purging clutter is easy. Now for the hard part: taming the mess of contacts you are keeping. If you’ve been syncing contacts from multiple accounts, you probably have a few duplicates in your list (or, if you’re unlucky, lots of duplicates).

If you’re storing your contacts in Google’s address book, you can merge those duplicate contacts on the web by clicking the “Duplicates” option in the left sidebar. (If you don’t see it, click the “Try Contacts Preview” button, which will bring you to the newer interface that contains the “Duplicates” feature). You’ll be presented with a list of contacts Google thinks are duplicates, and you can click the “Merge” button to combine each pair into one item. You can also view this menu on an Android phone by opening the Contacts app, clicking the three-line menu on the left, and tapping “Suggestions.”

If you’re using an iPhone, once again, you’re in a sticky wicket, since the iPhone has no built-in features to deal with this problem en masse — only on a contact-by-contact basis. (It’s as if Apple wants you to have a cluttered mess of contacts.) You can, however, use Google’s web interface as described above, or — if you sync your contacts with iCloud — use the Contacts app on a Mac to get rid of duplicates. Just click “Card” then “Look for Duplicates” and merge them together. If you aren’t using Google and don’t have a Mac, you can use an app like Cleaner to help streamline the process instead.

If you have work contacts stored in your office Outlook account, you can remove duplicate entries there, too, but you’ll have to do some fancy footwork, since Outlook can merge duplicate contacts only when importing them.

Update everyone’s information

You’re in the homestretch now. You’ve got your list of important contacts, you just need to make sure each email, phone number and address is actually up-to-date (not to mention contact photos, if you’re a completist). Unfortunately, you’ll have to do a lot of this work yourself: While Gmail can import some extra information from contacts when you add them, this information can often be outdated. So grab that pile of Christmas cards you were going to throw away, check the return addresses and punch them in. Delete any old work email addresses that no longer apply. Since you pared down your contact list earlier — right? — this shouldn’t take too long, and you’ll have to do it in one big batch only once a year or so.

While you’re going through your contacts, you may find it useful to mark certain people as favorites so they’re easier to find or exclude from your Do Not Disturb settings. In addition, you can add contacts to different groups like Family, Work and so on, making smaller lists that are easier to navigate. These tricks aren’t strictly necessary — cleaning up the main list is going to matter a whole lot more — but they can be helpful for some people.

It isn’t fun, but when you’re done, your contact list should feel like a well-organized Rolodex instead of a mess of metaphorical sticky notes stuck inside a book. And the next time you send someone an email, you’ll know it’s going to the right person.

The New York Times

Editor Picks