Being Productive with Technology

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This is Part 2 in a series about the good use of technology. We are examining how the Christian should think about technology today, with practical tips on each topic. Check out the overview explaining why this is a good idea and a list of the topics discussed so far.

As I mentioned in the introduction to the series, technology is not inherently bad. One area in which it shines is productivity. The key is to make technology work for you, instead of being a slave to it. To spend your time wisely, I recommend at least three pieces of software everyone should have: A calendar, a todo list, and a place to store content and documents. I will go over each in turn.

Many of our obligations have dates attached to them. Appointments, play dates, meetings, and other activities all have a time and date. Add to this the need to coordinate among family members, and juggling all these in a paper planner becomes almost impossible. Luckily, you probably already have access to shared calendars: Apple and Google accounts both offer them free. We’ve used Apple’s calendars for decades before moving to a self-hosted solution (did I mention I am a geek?). This way, any events I add to my calendar are automatically synced to my wife’s, and vice versa. Every morning I check the calendar to remind myself of what’s going on. This has probably been the single most useful thing to organize our married and family life.

A todo list captures items I must do. While they may have a due date, they usually don’t have a fixed date and time on which I have to complete them, or they would be a calendar event. Examples are bills (though I’d recommend auto pay; the most efficient task is the one you don’t have to do), home improvement projects, important annual or multi-year events like passports expiring, car registrations to be renewed, etc. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between a todo item and a calendar event, in which case just pick one and move on. I spent some of my most productive time in the car, thinking about and telling Siri to remind me of stuff. Once an item is captured, I don’t have to remember it, freeing up my mind.

Lastly, you need a place to store content. This includes important documents like recipes, articles you wish to keep, receipts, etc. We use Evernote for most of this, but also have a cloud storage account similar to Dropbox for just files. The line between them is pretty blurry; if it is just a file I will likely never edit or annotate, it’ll go into cloud storage. If it’s something I may edit over time or want to annotate in some way, it goes into Evernote. The key to capturing these items is the ability to enter new items quickly, so both content and todo items first go into an inbox. This allows me to capture important things when I suddenly remember them in the middle of doing something else. Later, when I have more time, I can properly organize my items into the proper categories.

None of these will work well without curation, so set aside regular time (in your new calendar!) to sort through your todo items and captured content and decide how to organize it. Delete old, unused, or otherwise unwanted items. Update titles, descriptions, or due dates. Clear your inboxes. Much more can be said about how exactly one ought to organize things, but there is no right or wrong answer. You can find examples online and adopt whichever one works for you, so keep an eye out. We started small, with only a few categories, and grew them as time went on. It is important to keep things as simple as possible and not overthink it in the beginning. The more time you have to spend trying to figure out which one of the 25 similar categories to use for an article you want to save, the less efficient you become.

Chances are, with a system like this, you no longer need to rely on your email to do any of these jobs, meaning you can move to “Inbox Zero” and fully declutter your digital life. Try it, and I think you will find it just as liberating as we did.

For more info, I recommend a couple of books: