Do you feel that you are spending more and more time at your computer but getting less done than ever? You're not alone. In fact, as massively beneficial as technology has been to our lives, it's also capable of being a huge timesuck.
Over the past couple of years I've been on a mini quest to spend less time looking at screens while still accomplishing everything I need to do in a day. While my system is far from perfect, I'm going to share with you here some of the best things I've implemented into my day. Not only do I feel like I have more time, but I also feel less stress and end the day feeling like I've achieved something.
As I've already said, this is far from perfect, and depending on what you do your mileage can and probably will vary, so I encourage you to experiment, and if you have something that you feel that works for you that might help others, feel free to leave a comment.
#1: Manage email
I bet you knew I was going to say that. And I'm covering this first because this is the one I get asked about the most.
Email for me is one of the biggest timesucks of the day. I'm literally bombarded with the stuff every waking hour, and it's no joke when I say that if I responded to every email I get, then responding to emails would become my new full-time job.
Here's what I've done with to get a grip on my email. And I have a lot of email tips.
- My primary email account is a Gmail account, and as such I use Gmail Inbox as my primary client on my systems. While it's far from being perfect, and does require you to do some legwork in the beginning organizing things, it's allowed me to get a better handle on my email than any other email client.
- Gmail has a tremendous powerful filtering capability and I've used that extensively to categorize and group much of the routine email hitting my inbox. Mail I need to see floats to the surface, less important stuff is stored away for future reference, and the stuff I can live without seeing ends up silently redirected into a folder where I can look at it at my leisure before deciding what to do with it (a good 95 percent of the stuff that goes here I either ignore or delete outright).
- With the filtering I focus on two things -- emails I want to see, and emails I don't want to see. There's always going to be that "stuff in the middle" that you can't predict in advance that you have to make a call on what you do with it (triage it, deleting it, mark it all as read, whatever) but being able to float what's important to the top of the pile really helps.
- I rarely unsubscribe from emails newsletters and such any more because I find it quicker and more effective to create a rule that trashes those emails than it is to unsubscribe.
- I deal with a lot of PR folks, and don't get me wrong they're great people, but I've found that as a rule of thumb, replying to an email -- even if it's to say "no" or "not interested" -- triggers unnecessary follow-up emails. This is why I consider silence to be a message.
- I keep the emails I send brief and to the point because I find that helps me get the same in return.
- Because I filter my inbox aggressively I can scan for important emails quickly, which means I can be flexible on how often I check my inbox. Because I'm not being distracted by unimportant stuff (thanks to aggressive filtering) I can keep an eye out for important emails without being sucked into the rabbit hole.
- Aggressive filtering means that I'm never swamped in email and don't have to take the approach that some do of declaring email bankruptcy, marking everything as read (or deleting it) and hoping for the best.
#2: Manage browser bookmarks
I store a lot of browser bookmarks, and more than once I've had to declare bookmark bankruptcy because I let them get out of control and just delete the lot.
My solution to this has been two-fold:
- Save fewer bookmarks and instead save interesting pages using a notes application (such as OneNote or Evernote or similar)
- Get a good bookmark manager for my browser (since I use Google Chrome I use Google's own Bookmark Manager extension)
#3: Manage your notes/web clippings/ideas
I used to have notes everywhere, spread across multiple applications and devices. It was a disaster.
Don't do what I did.
Instead find a service that you like -- Evernote, OneNote, even iCloud Notes at a pinch -- and use that to store your stuff.
#4: Get serious about scheduling
I think this one is very personal. Some people love scheduling and really get into it and have everything down in the calendar, others hate it and find it horribly restrictive.
I have adopted the middle ground of making sure that I have everything important down as a reminder or an appointment, and make sure that I'm reminded in a timely fashion so I don't forget to do something or be somewhere.
#5: Make sure all data is accessible from all devices
Gone are the days of having to remember where something is stored or fire up a device to access some service. For me now, unless a service works on my phone, tablet, and desktop/laptop, I'm not interested.
#6: Keep lines of communication simple
I found that with every new method of communication I added to my life, hassle and complexity increased geometrically.
More apps equal more hassle, more distractions, more spam, and more to keep organized.
This led me to the conclusion that phone, email, and text, along with a messaging service and a one video chat service were more than enough for me. I also settled on email being my primary communication tool because this was the one method that I had best control over.
This approach won't work for everyone, but it works well for me.
#7: Keep distractions to a minimum
My distractions fall into two broad categories:
- Things that distract me -- messages, emails, notifications from apps and so on
- Things I distract myself with -- Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or whatever your internet "time poison" of choice happens to be
As for the first, I've found that disabling notifications and popups and sounds and such goes a long way to help keep me focused on what I'm supposed to be doing.
As for the other category, I have to admit that I'm pretty ambivalent about social media so don't really get distracted too much by that on the whole. The other things -- YouTube, audiobooks and such -- are where willpower come into play!
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