Own Information

This section is all about using your technology in the healthiest and most effective way you can. The aim is to work out what information you really need to see, and then make sure it's there when you need it. This shouldn't just help you get more done though, as you should also feel a lot better when you're in control.

There are countless articles you're told you need to read, urgent emails demand your attention and notifications pop up everywhere. You usually have to focus on several things at the same time as well, and this isn’t good for you. It can be extremely stressful and distracting, but the ideas here can help you do something about it.

This section can help you:

  • Get everything set up
  • Save time searching for things
  • Cut down distractions
  • Deal with email

Digital devices are everywhere now so as well as improving your productivity, this is a critical element of wellbeing as it can seriously start to effect you. It's easy to waste a lot of time or even worse, find out something isn't there when you really need it. Feeling overwhelmed when you switch on your computer first thing is also one of the worst feelings, and it can really ruin a good day. 

In around 3 minutes, you'll be able to get on top of things and set everything up exactly the way you need it.

How to Own Information

This guide will help you get everything set up and make sure all the information you need is right where you need it. We'll also take a close look at email, password mangement and content collection.

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. Don't worry if you can't do this though, because the advice below should still work for you and make life a lot easier.

If you want to own information, you should:

Set up 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 you 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.

Try an Email Client

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.

Manage Passwords

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. It's also helpful when you need to set up a new device.

Collect Your Content Together

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 effectively 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, so it's highly unlikely we'll find ourselves less connected in future. While 'owning information' may be an option now, it's probably going to be essential down the line.

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 so important, as it’s unlikely to be a relaxing day off when you really 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're telling you about is more important than the thing you’re actually doing. Even if you do need them, do they have to pop up like that and make a noise?

Activate night modes

The blue light in your screens can become a problem if you 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

Daily Tidy

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 the next day. If you keep on top of things, this shouldn’t take long either.

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?

Regular Restores

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 and accessible.

Own Information Blog Posts

Remember, you need to take control of your digital world by identifying what information you really need and then making sure it’s there when you need it. You should also feel a lot better when you feel you're in control.