I’ve been making some changes in how I use some of my technology tools, hoping to help increase productivity by working smarter, not necessarily harder.
Technology: Help or Hindrance?
Do you look back on a day and wonder if you lived the email-driven life or did you have time for what you wanted or needed to get done? Did you respond to lots of other messages, too, from social media and texting? You want to be updated, not inundated. Are you more or less productive because of technology?
Maybe some of the steps I’ve taken could help you, too.
Decades ago, before emailing and texting, I’d spend a fair amount of time writing correspondence. Some things are still meant for snail mail: all thank you notes as well as greeting cards and prayer letters for our ministry partners and family. I do use Facebook for quite a few birthday greetings and send a third of our prayer letters electronically (to non-donors).
Of course, it’s convenient to get a quick answer from someone through a text or send an email through MailChimp or Sidekick (and know who’s reading my messages). So, yes, I reach more people more efficiently, but it’s amazing how few emails I receive when I’m “out of office.” I seem to be the key to how many emails I’m receiving. Sometimes, when I toss a few emails out at the top, I end up with an avalanche at the bottom of the hill. I’ve been trying to send less to receive less.
I recently set up some filters in Gmail so that any email with “Subscribe” in the body of the email goes into a @Read/Review folder. This has removed a lot of emails from my inbox. Next, I took about 80% of the remainder and put them in a folder marked @soon. For more than a week now, I have only around 50 emails in my inbox to work with on Monday. As email comes in, I reply that day or move it to “delete” or “archive” or @soon. At the beginning of the next week, I check the @Read/Review and @soon folders and drag some into my Inbox, keeping the total close to 50. This has kept important emails from getting lost in the pile.
I’m still experimenting with tracking my to do list and calendar better. Here’s some things I’ve started.
I’ve been using Momentum for several months now. I’m on the Internet constantly, so when I open a new tab in Chrome, Momentum opens and I see my top three tasks for the day. This way, I’m reminded frequently and I’m hopefully doing the most important tasks daily. For me, I can’t just keep adding things I need to do to this particular list, instead, I stick with the top three that I’d like to accomplish for that day. (Why not include three rewards for completing the three tasks? Check a reward off before doing the next task.) You could use Momentum for a basic to-do list or as a daily reminder of new habits.
I’m trying out the Sunrise app as a Chrome extension and on my phone and computer. It coordinates all my calendars into one. I’ve linked Google Calendar, TntMPD (through Outlook), Evernote, Todoist, TripIt, and Trello. I do different things with different calendars, like adding an event to Google calendar from within an email or importing travel reservations from TripIt. I don’t have to spend time recording all dates into one location because these all sync into Sunrise. (As I get better at this, I’ll do a separate post for you.) Sunrise syncs with Facebook, LinkedIn, and more.
Tracking or Side-tracked?
I like keeping track of data, but find I need to strike a balance between recording “everything” and actually doing what I need to do. For instance, it’s helpful to know the best way to reach people, so I have “groups” in TntMPD indicating if it’s best to text, email, or phone someone. I try not to spend too much time on putting people in these groups when I should actually be calling!
I’m starting to use IFTTT and Zapier to do tracking and tasks for me. These app managers will be explained in a separate post, but I mention them now if you want to check them out. Both will recognize an activity in one of your apps and then generate an action in another app. I recommend this brief overview of the two by Lifehacker so you know how these could help you. One of the IFTTT Recipes I use recognizes a new connection on LinkedIn and adds their information to a spreadsheet in Google Drive. I check this spreadsheet every other month and import the names into my TntMPD database for my e4e ministry. I don’t manually add twenty or more new connections, I just take less than a minute to add them this way.
I’ve found myself side-tracked: reading great content and watching videos when I should be tackling that #1 project for the day. I now use the Pocket app and Chrome extension. If Fran on Facebook recommends an article that I know would be interesting, I add it to Pocket, which is also installed on my Kindle Fire. When I’m winding down in the evening, I pull out my Kindle Fire for some reading.
I use Feedly to follow specific bloggers, like Cru bloggers, and read their posts on my Kindle Fire, too. A helpful article, The Best Way to Change Your Habits? Control Your Environment. got me thinking about using my tablet as my only reading tool instead of interrupting my productive time on my desktop with random reading recommendations during the day. (The author has quite a few useful tips to help you form good habits in any area of your life.)
What about you? Is technology helping you be more productive? Or not? What ideas can you share with us? Or maybe you’re struggling and need some advice. Please comment… or email me at e4e at cru.org.
NOTE: The photo was taken by John and is available on Flickr with an Attribution-ShareAlike License.