Wellbeing | Productivity | Technology
This section is all about making our digital lives a lot easier and a lot more productive. Most of us are bombarded with information and choices throughout the day, so it’s all about identifying what you really need and then making sure it’s there when you need it. It's also about working smarter, rather than harder.
Getting in control of your digital world can help you become healthier, happier and more productive. There are countless articles you're told you need to read, urgent emails that need your attention and instant messages that pop up everywhere, so you usually have to focus on several things at the same time. This isn’t good for you and it can be very stressful and distracting.
How to Own Information
In this section, we’re going to start being smart about the way we use our digital devices and remove unnecessary distractions. This will not only help you get more done and free up time, as it should also help you feel better and improve you mental health.
I’d like you to start off by thinking about the apps and services you use and what’s really essential.
If you can, and know how to, I suggest backing up and restoring your devices and just reinstalling the apps you actually need. You should also make sure that everything important is in sight and within reach. If you need to, you can create folders for all the other apps, like games, but keep them out the way where they won’t distract you.
It may sound drastic, but you’ll be surprised what a difference it makes and how many apps really aren’t important and just get in the way.
It's also a good idea to take some time to make sure everything is set up. This is so important, as you don’t want to be caught out when you need to access something urgently.
Email Action Folders
We’re now going to take a look at a simple way you can get on top of your email and remove a lot of the stress involved with it. It’s essentially something you’re better off doing at work but it can also be useful at home.
There’s nothing worse than an overflowing email inbox when you really need to get things done. It’s also the last thing you want to see first thing in the morning and it often feels like it’s taunting us throughout the day.
It can really start to get you down after a while, but there are some simple things you can do to sort it out.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a magical secret that does the work for you, but there is a smarter way to manage your inbox. Most people aren’t really sure what to do with a lot of messages, or feel they need to be reminded they are there, and end up with a packed inbox with all sorts of coloured flags fighting for their attention.
You end up being afraid to move anything as assigning it to a folder can be almost as bad as deleting it, as it’s out of sight and inevitably out of mind. To most people, having a clear inbox is something that happens when they first start their job and aside from system issues, it won’t happen again given the sheer amount of messages they receive each day.
There is a way to achieve ‘inbox zero’ without pulling all-nighters though.
You can set up ‘Action Folders’ to effectively manage your new messages and ensure your main one is as clear as possible, with just new and unread messages.
You simply need to create some new inbox folders. It’s also a good idea to add the ‘@‘ character before the name, so they appear first in an alphabetical system.
Here are some of the folders you could create:
- @Action - These are the messages you need to deal with. This is also a folder that you need to keep checking.
- @Read - These are the messages that pass on information. Some are important, some aren’t and you probably don’t have time to read everything when it comes in. This is also a great way to keep it close so you can catch up when you can.
- @Waiting - This is a great place to store all the messages that are effectively in limbo while you wait for someone else to respond. It’s also handy to have them at hand when people get back to you.
- @Chase - Unfortunately, we can’t always rely on things getting done so this folder is usually essential.
When you’re done, you can then delete the messages or archive them in a standard inbox folder. It’s really up to you which Action Folders you choose, but the main thing is that you don't treat them like the standard ones. They need your attention, but it will be worth it when you have all that clear space to think.
We’ll now look at a couple of apps you can install to make life easier and we’ll stick with email for a bit. Now you have a great way to deal with the email you receive, it’s time to try and cut down the amount you receive.
I personally use an email client, which is an app that merges all the email accounts I've set up over the years. This is in addition to my main account where I receive all my important messages.
Now I only have to look in one place once a day at most and I can make sure all my non-essential messages come though these accounts well.
My main account is then reserved for what’s important and things I know I need to look at. When I hear a ping from it now, I know it’s probably something that’s worth my attention as there’s nothing worse than disrupting your flow to read about a new Twitter follower or a sale somewhere.
In terms of clients, I’ve suggested Airmail and in the ‘Resources’ area below as it should deliver everything you need.
Password Management Apps
Now let’s think about passwords, as they’re sure to trip you up at some point. Although we still don’t have alternatives to these, there are some solutions out there. I strongly recommend 1Password and you can also find out about it in the ‘Resources’ area. It really helps you take control and it can seriously save you a lot of time.
Just think of it when you’re forced to reset a forgotten password at a time when you really need to be working.
Content Collection Services
There are two more services I think everyone should think about and they help collect all your content and articles together. They’re free as well, and offer upgrades to advanced users. The first is Feedly and this simple service helps you put all your news feeds in one place. Why spend time going through individual websites every day when you can just look at one thing? It also gives you complete control and it's available everywhere.
The other great service is Pocket as it lets you save articles you come across on-the-go to read later on. Trust me, this will save you a lot of time in the long run.
The Simplicity System
So to sum it up simply, if you want to use your devices as efficiently as possible you should:
- Make sure everything is set up
- Master email
- Manage passwords
- Collect all your content together
Getting into good habits now should really pay off over time. Technology keeps burying itself deeper into our daily lives and it's highly unlikely we will find ourselves less connected in future. While 'owning information' may be an option now, it's probably going to be essential down the line.
Good luck with everything and I hope it makes a difference. I’d also be very interested to hear any feedback you have as The Simplify System will always need to evolve and improve.
Your Own Information Resources
Follow the links below to learn a lot more
Your Own Information Golden Rules
Have everything set up
Make sure your key apps and services are set up and ready to go. Is everything in sync and can you access everything you need on all your devices?
This is important, as it’s unlikely to be a relaxing day off when you need them.
Cut down notifications
Do you really need all those distracting pop up messages that are constantly demanding your attention? You really need to ask yourself if the thing they are telling you about is more important than the thing you’re doing.
Even if you do need them, do they have to pop up like that and make a noise?
It’s a good idea to regularly check the notification settings on all your devices and work out what really needs to be turned on. It may also be an idea to check your notifications at set times, rather than the instant they come in, as well.
Activate night modes
The blue light in your screens can become a problem if we use your devices at night, as it raises serotonin levels which can interfere with your sleep.
The good news is that a lot of devices now have a night mode. If you have a newer Apple device, you should be able to activate Night Shift and the f.lux app is also available for your Windows devices.
Your Own Information Slots
If you can, try to make sure all your emails are accounted for and filed away at the end of the day. This will help you maintain inbox zero and be aware of what you need to do.
If you keep on top of things, this shouldn’t take long either. You could also do it as part of a daily productivity check.
3 Month Sort
It’s worth setting aside some time every 3 months to make sure everything important is backed up (to an external drive if possible) and all in order. Are all your apps and services where they need to be and is everything set up?
If you have an Apple device, you may want to think about restoring it whenever a new version of the OS becomes available each year. I’ve seen the difference, particularly on older devices, between a clean install and an update.
Only attempt this if you know what you’re doing though and make sure you have all your data backed up.