I first became interested in what is now known as lifehacking because of a simple problem: I wanted to be able to get through all of my emails in 15 minutes, rather than the 15 hours it seemed to take. Then I became interested in personal finance. After that, it was study skills, and then project management. These areas are fairly disparate, but my exploration of each came down to the fact that I just wanted to make my own life a little easier.
Most of us take winding paths to productivity, subdividing our searches into different areas of personal development. If we are entrepreneurs, we’ll spend months on improving that skill set, but we’ll also explore personal finance separately. The problem that I’ve run into, time and again, is that my life is not so compartmentalized. If I have a problem with managing my time, odds are pretty good that I’ll have an equally difficult time managing my money — whether for my business or for my home life.
A System Here, A System There
I like Mint’s money management interface. I think Remember the Milk may be one of the best ways to control my tasks. And TiddlyWiki (or another wiki) is just plain perfect for project management. But do I really need to flit back and forth between all these different systems? Now, I don’t think that the perfect productivity suite, able to handle every type of lifehack rolled into one piece of software, has been written yet — if you disagree, point me to your recommendation in the comments please. But some systems can do double duty, and eliminate a little of that virtual running around.
Multitaskers and Unitaskers
I’m a big Alton Brown fan and, if you’ve watched even one episode, you’ll know that man hates unitaskers — kitchen gadgets that do just one thing. Many admittedly awesome web applications share that flaw. Sites like Mint are cool, but they only handle one facet of the big pile of productivity options that is your life. Instead, we want multitaskers wherever possible.
We won’t be able to get rid of all unitaskers, of course, unless we really want to roll our own productivity suites. And, honestly, considering the tools already out there, building our own may not be the most productive use of our time. So, where can we start?
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
Take a good look at the sites you go to on a daily or weekly basis. Personally, half of mine are Google-based, along with several very slick web applications. Most important to my day is Remember the Milk. It’s the second thing I check in the morning, only because I’m a bit of an email addict even after years of working on that particular problem.
I’m not entirely sure if one is allowed to stop using Google products after one starts, but I’ve noticed that my usage of Google Calendar, at least, has significantly dropped off. I used to plan out my day in extreme detail on GCal, but I’ve slowly moved more towards listing appointments as tasks on Remember the Milk. It’s a matter of simplicity — I can Jott a reminder of an appointment to Remember the Milk from anywhere I have cell reception. I still use Google Calendar to an extent — Remember the Milk isn’t practical for long-term planning, but most of my short term planning is now organized as tasks.
Making the Best of Complicated Situations
It can be extremely difficult to narrow down the tools you use to the ones that actually help you. As a general rule, any time I have type the same information twice, I probably don’t need a given tool. But specifics are far more complicated. The great thing about applications like Mint is that they do all the hard work for you — they pull a whole bunch of information into one place for you. And if your multitasking solution would require you do all that aggregation by hand, I have to tell you to ignore my advice to consolidate.
But it may make sense to bring other solutions together: for a single project, do you really need both a project wiki and a Basecamp account? Even if you’re storing different types of information in each, it seems likely that creative tagging or page creation would allow you to consolidate to just one project management option.
Many of us rush out and try each new productivity application. It’s fun to see what people come up with. But staying loyal to the absolute minimum of tools can help reduce the amount of running around we do online — the amount of time we spend measuring our productivity, rather than actually being productive.
This week, I managed to downsize my personal toolbox by two tools — two unitaskers that I used to help myself keep track of ideas and information. I’ve been dumping the same material into a special list on Remember the Milk and I’ve already noticed that I’m more likely to actually do something with that information now that I don’t have to open another tab to find it.
I’ve still got a few unitaskers I rely on — I’m torn on whether email is actually a unitasker or not, though I’m leaning towards a yes. Some I don’t see ever being able to get rid of, but I am enjoying having to keep track of a few less tools.
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