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10 Tools for the Non-Handy Person’s Toolbox

10 Tools for the Non-Handy Person’s Toolbox

10 Tools for the Non-Handy Person's Toolbox

    I’m not handy. I wish I were, sometimes – I’d love to craft a bookcase, patio bench, or computer hutch with my hands, or even fix a busted electrical outlet. But I can’t – somewhere along the line I missed out on developing that talent, and at this point in my life learning to be more handy is simply too far down on my list of priorities to be very likely.

    Still, work must get done. It’s neither practical nor even possible to call in a specialist every time I need something done – not to mention the cost! Most of the time, I can figure things out given enough time and the room to make a few mistakes – whether it’s a toilet that runs all the time or a set of shelves that need mounting on the wall.

    Having a broad set of tools helps. If you’re not particularly handy and rely more on trial-and-error than on know-how to get things done, having a bunch of different tools can be helpful simply in suggesting things that might work. And of course, that one tool that you might never guess you’d need might well save the day!

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    Below are some of the tools I have in my tool chest. They’re the “extra” tools – that is, not the basics that everyone should have. If you don’t have any tools, you’re going to want a decent hammer, at least two screwdrivers (one each, Phillips head and flat head), an adjustable crescent wrench, a handsaw, and a couple pairs of pliers (needle-nose and adjustable). Once you have those, look into adding these to your collection. They’re listed roughly in order of usefulness – but of course, that’s subjective.

    1. Power drill

    Mine’s a Black and Decker 18-Volt rechargeable drill, and it rocks. It’s easily the most useful and more often used tool I own. It cost less than $50 and runs for quite a while on a single charge.  It came with a handful of accessories – a few bits and some screwdriver heads – but I also picked up a huge set of accessories for around $20: a range of drill bits but also concrete bits, torx and hex screwdriver heads, socket wrenches, and so on. I’ve used it to install shelves, build a work surface into a walk-in closet, hang curtains, and replace a smashed rear view mirror, among other tasks. Once you have a power drill, you’ll start looking for tasks to do with it – there’s nothing more satisfying!

    2. Laser level

    Laser Level and Stud Finder

      Another tool I use all the time – far more often than I would have expected, is my laser level. Mine’s the Black and Decker pictured here – it’s actually a combination laser level and stud finder, but I rarely use the stud finder. The laser level is awesome, though – it comes with a pair of pins you push through the center hole to hand the unit on the wall, allowing gravity to pull the lasers level; twin lasers come out of either side and trace a line along the wall (and around corners for a short distance). Then you just hammer your nail, drive your screw, or measure out your mark along the laser lines. It’s so fun, it almost feels like a toy!

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      3. Dremel rotary tool

      A Dremel is a rotary tool that relies on speed to cut, grind, drill, and polish (unlike a standard drill, which relies on power to do it’s thing). I’m not proud of how I decided to get one – I saw one of those late-night infomercials singing its praises and went to a Wal-Mart the next weekend and bought one. But I’m glad I did – I’ve used it to trim closet rods, cut too-long nails or screws down to size, de-rust tools, sand the inside edge of holes, and cut drywall. One quirk I’ve found is that, because the head is spinning so fast, it’s almost impossible to cut in a straight line; my cuts always veer in the direction of the spin. But for tight jobs and a whole range of sanding and polishing jobs, it’s really the best. Some people even use them to cut their dogs’ nails! This is another one that once you own it, you’ll find yourself seeking ways to use it.

      4. J-B Weld

      Dangerous. Powerful. Toxic. Messy. What could be better than J-B Weld? J-B Weld is an epoxy adhesive that comes in two tubes – you have to mix it together to activate it, and then it dries as solid as steel. It’s awesome – it bonds to just about everything and hardens water- gas-, and oil-proof.

      5. Socket wrench set

      A good solid socket wrench set will save your life. That’s in the Bible!* You can likely share all the wrench and screwdriver heads with your drill, but a socket wrench fits places that are totally impractical for a power drill, like tight corners of your car’s engine compartment. Very useful to get leverage on a stubborn bolt that’s too stuck for your power drill’s motor, too.

      * Not actually in the Bible.

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      6. Leatherman Multitool

      Although a Swiss Army Knife takes pride of place in my pocket, I have three or four Leatherman Multitools – one in the kitchen drawer, one in my tool chest, one in my car’s glove compartment, and one in my desk drawer. Two are knock-offs, and one is one of the baby ones, but the concept is the same – sturdy, solid tools folded into a portable form. This way I have some basic tools handy when I’m feeling too lazy to take down my big tool box and dig around for something.

      7. Tape

      Duct tape, of course, but also electrical tape (for quick and dirty wire splices), plumbing tape (which isn’t really tape, but a kind of plastic gauze that goes around a pipe fitting’s threads to create a leak-free barrier), painting tape (for masking off areas you don’t want to get oil or WD-40 or anything else on), and whatever other kind of tape you see around. Tape is cheap, and you’ll almost always find at least one job that you can take care of with whatever kind of tape you’ve wisely stocked up.

      8. Putty Knife

      Putty Knife

        Intended, as the name suggests, to spread putty (for example, while sealing a bathtub), putty knives come in various shapes and sizes. I like to keep one or two handy for things as random as spreading spackling over a screw hole in the drywall to scraping stickers off of glass. They’re cheap, so grab a couple.

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        9. Precision screwdriver set

        A set of tiny screwdrivers (like this one) is a must-have accessory for geeks, who often must remove dozens of itsy-bitsy screws while changing a hard drive, opening a PDA, or swapping RAM into a laptop. They’re also super-useful for tightening screws on glasses!

        10. Silver marker

        And finally, folks, the silver marker. Not just for teachers, teenage girls, and scrapbookers! In fact, the silver marker is perhaps the single most important piece of equipment available to today’s Homo technologicus for one simple yet vital reason: AC adapters are almost always black. And they’re almost never marked in any useful way to show you which one goes with what gadget! Silver marker shows up on black, and is permanent, which means you can mark each and every wall wart, power convertor, and adapter with the name of the gadget it goes to. I also mark the top side of black USB cables so I can tell which side goes “up” when I plug something in. I’m sure there are dozens of other uses for silver markers – throw a pair in your toolbox and just see how many uses you come up with!

        So those are the 10 tools that round out my tool box. What tools do you rely on?

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        Last Updated on July 8, 2020

        3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

        3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

        It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

        This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

        Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

        When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

        This is why setting priorities is so important.

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        3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

        There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

        1. Eat a Frog

        There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

        Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

        When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

        2. Move Big Rocks

        Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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        You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

        If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

        For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

        To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

        In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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        3. Covey Quadrants

        If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

        Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

        1. Important and Urgent
        2. Important and Not Urgent
        3. Not Important but Urgent
        4. Not Important and Not Urgent

          The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

          Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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          You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

          Getting to Know You

          Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

          In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

          These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

          More Tips for Effective Prioritization

          Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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