mportant Rules To Keep Your Online Life Simple And eXcited
First of all, almost everything I do is online. Now that I quit my day job (with the horror of its fax machine), I no longer keep paper files. I can access all of my information and documents online, so I can work from anywhere, from any computer. And thereís no longer any time spent on organizing, as I use Gmailís philosophy of archiving instead of filing.
I use an iMac, first of all, just because itís so beautiful and nice to use and aesthetically minimalist. I have an iMac on my desk (really, itís just a table) and nothing else. No drawers for filing or papers. No desktop tower or fax machine or scanner or anything. Iíve ordered a printer, but thatís more for my wife.
Software I use include Gmail for email and IM, WordPress for blogging, Firefox for everything, Google Docs and Spreadsheets for all my document needs (although I do use TextEdit, WriteRoom, NeoOffice and a few others), Google Reader for feeds (yes, Iím a Google fanboy, but only because their programs do what I want the best). I favor Open Source software if possible.
Focus on the essential: Itís important to take some time to think about whatís essential to your tech work (and play). What do you really need? What gives you the most benefit for your time? Whatís not so essential? What takes up a lot of time without making much of an impact? What gives you the most enjoyment? If you can identify the activities, sites and software that is most essential to you, you can eliminate or at least reduce the non-essential. And from then on, focus almost exclusively on whatís essential. This applies to your work tasks as well - what tasks are extremely essential? Focus on doing those each day.
Do one thing at a time: I know. This is super hard when it comes to tech. Browserís on, a dozen tabs open at once, switching between reading and email and work and IM and Twitter Ö we live in a multitasking world. But it doesnít have to be this way. While thereís nothing wrong with having multiple tabs open, it can be very helpful to focus on one task at a time. Have 10 tabs open, but do one tab until youíre done, then close it and move on to the next, and so on. If youíre going to do IM, just do IM. If youíre going to do email, just do email. Sure, you can do more than that at once, but it adds to the stress of your day and decreases your effectiveness because of all the switching. Practice doing one thing at a time and youíll find your work to be much more peaceful.
Have periods of disconnectedness: While I do most of my work online, I find it extremely useful (and calming) to close my browser and just work offline for awhile. This post, for example, is being written in a text program, and when Iím done writing Iíll go and post it in WordPress. This really allows you to get much more done, because thereís no temptation to go check something just for a sec.
Donít live in your inbox: Iíve done this, and if you do it you know who you are. Email is everything to many people. Itís communication, itís a task list, itís where you do your work, itís your organization system. But if you work from your inbox, you are constantly being interrupted by new messages. Get your task list out of your inbox. Do email only at pre-appointed times. Do your work with your email closed.
Schedule your IM time: Same thing applies to IM. Iím not a huge fan of IM, especially if you have your IM program open all the time. Thatís because it encourages people to interrupt you whenever they want, instead of you valuing your time. If IM is important to your work, then schedule IM meetings, or have certain times of the day when youíre available for IM and tell your colleagues and friends about it. And have it for a limited amount of time and then end it.
Turn off notifications: Again, email and IM and other notifications encourage interruptions and multitasking. Instead, turn everything off so that you check your email when you choose, not when others decide to send you something.
Set limits on what you do: For example, check email just twice a day. Write emails of only 5 sentences or less. Only check Twitter once a day. Only respond to 4 messages on your favorite forum. Or whatever works for you. Limits force you to choose the essential, instead of trying to do everything.
Create a morning routine: Iím a fan of morning routines in general, and the same concepts apply to tech. The Morning Coffee extension for Firefox is a great way to set up your routine with a single click. It opens all your essential sites in tabs, so that you can work through this routine one thing at a time and be sure that everything is finished.
Create a weekly routine: With Morning Coffee, you can also set up routines for different days of the week. This allows you to check a certain site or inbox once a week, for example, instead of every single day.
Clear out your inbox: Iíve written about this before, but clearing out your inbox is a very calming thing. It also prevents the overwhelming feeling of having hundreds of emails in your inbox ó some read and some not.
Pare down your feeds: I used to have well over a hundred RSS feeds to read in a day. The need to go through them all, every day, was very stressful to me. So I eventually cut them down, one stage at a time, until I got down to 10 essential feeds. Now it takes just a few minutes each day to scan through my feeds, pick out a few articles Iíd like to read, and mark the rest as read. Much simpler.
Simplified filing: As I mentioned above, I use Gmailís philosophy of archiving instead of filing. I used to be a compulsive filer, as I like things to be organized. I had folders and subfolders, and Iíd spent a bit of time each day filing every single email. What an effort! Instead, I archive everything and just search for what I need (I donít even use tags or labels anymore). It takes seconds to find something. Seriously, there has never been a time when I couldnít find something through search. I do this not only with email but with all my documents (through Google Docs and Spreadsheets).
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