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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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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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