Tech suggestions for dealing with stuff

“That’s the whole meaning of life, isn’t it? Trying to find a place for your stuff.”George Carlin

This week I thought I’d revisit the eternal question of, “what to do with all this stuff?” This time, I’ve paired the four major categories of stuff — actions, projects, reference and trash -– with suggestions of technology to use in taming each category.

The two-minute drill

If you can do something in less than two minutes, do it right then and there. Do not file it or add it to that great to-do app that you love. Don’t even bother to write it down. Just do it and it’s done. If you’ve got time or ambition, move the criteria up to five minutes. Otherwise, stay at two.

Tech to employ: A simple timer will do here. All you need is to set aside 10 minutes (or whatever you have) to do nothing but run two-minute drills. Focus Booster is a great option. It’s free and runs in a web browser. If you prefer to download an application, there’s one available for the Mac and Windows.

Actions

Actions are the verbs of your project. Call Janie. Put the kids’ lunches in their bags. That’s the key here, really. An action is observable, it is something you do. “Call Janie” is a great action. It’s short and describes exactly what must be done. “Figure out the dinner party” is not. That’s a project. “Brainstorm the dinner party” is an action, and a great first step, in fact. Get into the habit of breaking things down into small, achievable steps.

Tech to employ: Where do actions go? That’s a great question, and the answer is varied and wide. As I said in my very first post for Unclutterer, I don’t store actions in my email software. Instead, I use OmniFocus for the Mac. It’s a stellar project manager that’s served me well for years.

Another great option is Wunderlist, as it’s not restricted to the Mac. Wunderlist is a full-featured project and task-manager that works in a browser as well as on the Mac, Windows, iOS, Android and even the Amazon Kindle. There are free and paid versions available. The important thing here isn’t the solution you use, but the act of getting your actions into a reliable, accessible system you trust.

Projects

I use David Allen’s definition of a project: anything that takes more than two action steps to complete. This means that some things we don’t think of as projects do, in fact, qualify. “Get 2014 budget approved” and “buy new windshield wipers” are both projects, and equally important as far as your brain is concerned. All your brain knows is, “I’ve said I’m going to do this thing, so I better do it.” Unfortunately, your brain does not excel at storing projects and their associated tasks and reference information. It’s best to get that out of your head and into a trusted system.

Tech to employ: You can’t go wrong with OmniFocus or Wunderlist, as mentioned above. But don’t think that computer software is the only option here. A reliable notebook — appropriately marked up — is a great solution if that works for you.

I’m also a fan of David Seah’s Task Progress Tracker. It’s a great-looking piece of paper that lets you list all of the actions that are related to a given project, and even track just how long you spend on each.

Reference

A lot of my stuff doesn’t require any action, but might be useful in the future. These types of items are reference material. Again, I don’t let this information sit in email.

Tech to employ: For me, the answer to reference (or “cold storage,” as I call it) is Evernote. This virtual filing cabinet holds everything I’ll want to review some day. It’s available on almost every device I own, so stored data is with me all the time. I love it.

Garbage

Finally, a lot of our stuff is garbage. If you deem something to be truly unnecessary, ditch it. You don’t need it. Stuff that sits around with no purpose or function is the very definition of clutter.

Tech to employ: A trash can and steely resolve.

2 Comments for “Tech suggestions for dealing with stuff”

  1. posted by Martin on

    A suggestion: I’d like to know more about how you use Omnifocus.

    I’ve been looking for some way to remember to do everything and at least stem my predilection for procrastination with pretty much everything. My brain has turned into a no-man’s-land of things, and my current strategy of just doing whatever is in front of me isn’t working.

    The thing is, these programs don’t appear to be built for mere mortals. It seems like the demographic is A-type people with laser focus. I couldn’t imagine having a to-do item that reads “wipe down counters” as part of a “clean kitchen” project. By the time I entered that, looked it up, marked it as done and closed I could have simply wiped the counter and be done. It seems laughably granular, and to me seems counter to the notion that such software offers a more clear mind. I’ve been trying like mad to reduce the notifications I get from my phone to check or do things. This seems like even more of that, and I’d start to micromanage myself into absolute misery.

    Anyway, this is too long. My point: Consider a post on ‘real world’ use of Omnifocus, please. :)

  2. posted by April on

    I really like the app Trello for stuff like this.

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