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One System To Rule Them All

One System To Rule Them All

Sticky Notes

    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.

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    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?

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    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.

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    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.

    Downsized

    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.

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    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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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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