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When More Is Less

When More Is Less
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    Image credit: ImJustCreative

    Too often we look for a silver bullet, one app or one program that will solve it all. For some, this works. All it takes is a quick read of David Allen’s Getting Things Done and they are on their way. For most of us, especially those that tend to read these sites, there is no get-rich-quick approach to productivity. It just isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition for us.

    More often than not, prevailing wisdom and general laziness lead us to try and take powerful, albeit bloated applications like Outlook and attempt to make them work for us. We learn all the bells and whistles, ignore what we don’t want to use and try to manage our contacts, calendars, tasks and email all in one place. And if you are reading this, chances are that this approach did not work for you either.

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    Put Your Own Pieces Together

    So much of what set the Mac apart was the decentralization, yet integration of everything. Address Book for contacts, iCal for calendars and tasks and Mail.app for email. Each one is highly focused, yet deeply entwined with one another. However even this was not enough. While these solutions are often perfect for casual users, many of these stock applications are just far too limited for power users (or even just for particular geeks such as myself).

    Thankfully the idea of decentralization took hold with developers and what we’ve seen in the past few years is a renaissance of highly focused, highly polished applications. Apps that were built from the ground up to integrate with both stock and third-party software, enabling users to create their own personal tapestry of productivity.

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    And How Does One Manage To Do That?

    In theory, the goal should be to find a few apps that solve your needs. Pick a calendar, pick a contact manager, pick a word processor and email client, learn them and move on with your life. But honestly, and I’m speaking from personal experience here, it’s the wrong (yet familiar) way to go about it. You are far better off working inside out. Start off by finding your biggest pain point and identifying the absolute perfect application for solving it (as long as that app plays nicely with others). From there go one problem at a time and slowly build your perfect system.

    For me, that was email and my starting point was Inbox Zero, followed by a switch to both Gmail and Mailplane. For you, that could be tackling your writing projects and you may want to look at apps like nvALT or Scrivener. Perhaps it is constantly forgetting to add things to your calendar, causing you to miss key obligations. If so, quick entry apps like Fantastical can help. Just have an honest conversation with yourself, figure out where you suck and start there.

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    That Sounds Like A Lot Of Work…

    This process will take more applications and take more time, but you’ll quickly begin to notice something. Even though you’re choosing to use more, it will feel (and likely look) like less. The applications only show you what you need, they integrate so seamlessly that you hardly notice switching from one to the other. Many, such as Dropbox, LaunchBar and TextExpander, run in the background and are ubiquitous across your system. Over time this more complicated system feels contoured to your life, to your unique challenges and is far better suited to attacking them. Strange as might sound, it will feel far more a part of you rather than something you are working (or likely fighting) with.

    Consider Yourself Warned

    There are some risks. Other computers can start to feel unfamiliar and frustrating; you’ll potentially have trouble shutting up about how there is a better way (e.g. this blog post and my entire blog for that matter) and there will be some pieces of software you just cannot avoid. There is also the very real fear that you will end up spending so much time figuring out how to get things done that you never actually get anything done. But as long as you are aware of the realities and the potential side effects, you’ll be fine. Combine this awareness with some brutal honesty about where you fall short and start building a computer that might include a lot, but is so personal that you’ll hardly care.

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

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

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

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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