Meet my client, Emily (her name has been changed to protect the innocent).
If I were giving out grades, she’d get a solid A. She has put in place the systems and routines I’ve shown her to keep on top of a jam-packed life of work and family – and she’s rocking them like a pro.
Except for one thing.
The other day she said, “It’s all those little tech things that happen. Like when I have to sign into a retirement account and I can’t find the password. Or I can’t take any more photos on my phone because I have no more room. Or I put notes about an upcoming trip in some app – I just can’t remember which one. I waste a lot of time and energy on this stuff. And it always happens when I'm pressed for time.”
Emily speaks for so many.
You know the drill. You sign up for the next app jazzed by the promise that this tool will save the day. Make things Easier. Faster. Better. Cooler.
And in no time, there you are with a big pile of tools, and life is not easier. It’s just more Confusing. Disconnected. Frustrating.
Believe me, I love an app. It’s amazing what these tools can do for us. But they can’t do it magically on their own. You have to power the tools you use. You are the brains behind the digital operation of your life.
It’s time to get your digital act together.
Create Your Power Tools Blueprint
Here’s how to go from digital chaos to digital clarity: Create a blueprint of your power tools.
First, take a sheet of paper and make a map of the types of tools you need. What are all the work and life functions that either need or would benefit from a digital tool?
Then, fill in the specific digital tool (app) you choose for the function. On your blueprint, indicate the name, and any other relevant info like cost. You are creating a visual - a map of your digital life.
The Basic Tools
There are some basic tools of the trade that should be part your digital equipment. You will need to decide the specific "make and model" (app) that will work best for you. There are examples included below, but do some research to find out the tool suited to your style and needs.
Examples & Notes: There are a few types of tools in this category.
Desktop email clients, such as Outlook, Mail, Postbox, etc., allow you access your email account(s) on your desktop. You can add multiple email accounts for ease. The desktop client allows you to access your email even when you are not connected to the Internet.
Mobile email apps allow you to access your accounts on your phone. The webmail accounts and desktop clients have mobile versions. Or you can use the built- in email app on your phone or other apps that are mobile and online only, such as Inbox, Spark, Sanebox, etc.
Notes: Set them up to sync across devices. If you have multiple calendars, add them into one application. You will be able to select the calendar(s) you want to view.
Notes: The task management apps are too good not to use. So I'm sorry, but ditch the handwritten notes. Stop rewriting your to-do list and adopt a fast tool that will give you the confidence that nothing is falling through the cracks.
Notes: You may have several cloud storage services. Determine the ones you have and how you plan to use them. Choose one to be the primary cloud storage and consider going to a paid plan for more space and sometimes, more security. Set up your computer to sync automatically with it.
Also, set your photos on your mobile phone to sync to a cloud service. Please. Otherwise, you may find yourself: a) ready to take a one-of-a-kind photo and no space on your phone; or b) without your phone (stolen? damaged?) and those precious photos gone forever. Seriously, set it up and make your life less stressful.
Read about the cloud services and get to know about the security features, etc. Knowledge is power.
Notes: Say goodbye to the cryptic notes here and there to keep track of your passwords. Or using the same password - or some variation - for everything (You know you shouldn't do that, right?). These tools not only save your passwords, but most of them autofill passwords when you visit a website from your computer or mobile device. They often back up to a cloud service, so be sure to check if the app integrates with the other tools you have.
Online Research & Notes
Notes: Get Evernote or OneNote, if you haven't. These tools are awesome. If you research things online (and who doesn't?), these tools will change the game for you. Goodbye, bookmarks - hello, fast organization.
Let's say you are in the market for a car and doing some research so you know what you want and don't get bamboozled by the dealer. You can google until the cows come home and collect all those helpful reviews in one notebook. Neat and tidy.
Plus you can add notes, photos, and documents on the go. It's a fantastic way to organize project material and make it accessible on all your devices.
Project Management (Team Communication)
Notes: If you are coordinating with others to accomplish things, use a project management tool. These tools keep everyone in the loop without the need for so many lengthy meetings and emails. They make team collaboration and communication a breeze.
Slack is a little different than the others. It focuses on communication and document sharing/collaboration (rather than more elaborate task management). Slack reduces the inefficiencies of back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth email. And as far as I can tell, cool people use Slack.
Notes: Keep on top of your finances - what is coming in and what is going out. These tools typically have the option to link bank accounts (or not). They are great for tracking expenses and sticking to a budget.
Notes: These tools allow for real-time collaboration no matter where you are. They allow you to meet by video- or audio-conference, display slides, share a desktop, and more. If you want to quickly share a screen with someone you are speaking to by phone - jump on Join.me. It's fast and easy.
Notes: These apps keep your travel itinerary and documents in one place and keep you (and those you designate) updated about changes in flight schedules and departure gates. There are many other apps that can make traveling easier whether you need to figure out how to say something in the local language; or find the right accommodations, food, or flights; or video-document your trip.
Notes: This might not qualify for "Basic Tool" status, but I'm adding it anyway. Physical journals are a joy. But I do love Day One. You can include photos, maps, thoughts, etc. in a beautiful interface.
From a productivity perspective, I think a journal is a great tool. It's a place to reflect. What happened? What worked? What didn't? What ideas are rolling around in my head? What do I want to accomplish? What is bothering me? What is inspiring me? What am I happy about? And the powerhouse question that seems to show up on everyone's productivity tips: What am I grateful for?
This reflective state is a must if we want to hone our skills and direct our work and our lives. So write.
Notes: Again, a fitness tracker might not qualify for the Basic-Basic list, but I highly recommend it. Two of the greatest boosters of productivity are exercise and sleep - both of which go away when we have a lot on our plate. These fitness trackers help integrate fitness into daily life. I have Jawbone and, as a result of wearing it, I now often decide to walk to the grocery store instead of drive in order to get my 10,000 steps in.
Include on your blueprint the other tools you use for things such as maps, weather, and social media. Then add your specialized tools, so that you can see them all lined up together.
Integration: Speak to Me
My clients often express a deep longing for a single app that can do it all. And I have to bring them down to earth and let them know: it's not going to happen.
What you do want to look out for is the integration of apps. For example, I can forward an email onto Evernote, and my passwords get backed up to Dropbox. When you are deciding on the apps to use, look at how well they play with others (or not).
Which brings us to IFTTT (If This Then That). This is a dreamy little app that will help your apps communicate better based on your specific instructions or what they call "recipes." For example, post a photo to Instagram and it automatically saves to Google Drive. Star an email and it automatically saves to Evernote. IFTTT provides thousands of recipes you might want to try, or you can make your own.
Another Reason to Have a Blueprint
Creating a blueprint of the digital tools you use helps you to see where you need a tool, have too many tools, or need a better tool. You will be able to assess how much you are spending on all those tools and if they are really working together. It helps you get a clear grasp of how you are running your digital life.
And another thing: Part of being an adult is having your affairs in order. Which gets me to the less fun, but important, thing to talk about. One day, you won't be here. But all your digital stuff will. You won't just be leaving behind clothes and photo albums. So, while it's a little uncomfortable to think about, get your digital act together now. Create a Power Tools Blueprint. Keep it current. You'll experience the immediate rewards of clarity and your loved ones will thank you.