Design a strategy

Twenty years ago I was a first year teacher, renting my first apartment. I had to figure out a way to remember to pay my rent on the first of each month. I didn't get a bill, and I had no cell phone so I couldn't just create a reminder. I probably wasn't even on my home computer every day. I was late on my payment a few times and felt terrible about it.

Then I designed a strategy that worked. I used Verizon's voicemail service to schedule a voicemail to arrive on the first of each month. When I heard the voicemail, I immediately wrote out a check and walked it over to my landlord. Problem solved. I started using the voicemail strategy more often; if I thought of something I needed to do at home, I'd call and leave a voicemail for myself. I still do this today!

These days you can schedule a reminder, you can sign up for an app, you can email yourself, you can snooze your email, and so on. But as technology has expanded our options, it feels as if it has also increased our burdens. Information feels limitless, which is both good news and bad news. I don't know about you, but I'm a bit overwhelmed. I unsubscribe so I don't get hit with too many articles and offers, but there is still just so much. I often feel like I'm drowning in information, whether it's coming from other sources or stuff that I generate myself. So I'm designing a strategy for how to process the onslaught. Here's what I've come up with so far:

  • A book that sounds interesting: I used to immediately look it up in Amazon and then add it to a wish list or cart, but I think that put me in the position of consumer rather than careful considerer. Now I'm adding it to a list in an app I use called "Workflowy" - that way I've recorded it somewhere but yet my attention can stay focused on the books I already have.

  • Item I'd like to purchase: In the middle of writing this post, I cleaned out my Amazon cart and it was so freeing! Some of those items had probably been there for a year. Now I will add items to my wish list, rather than my cart. This will also reduce some temptation.

  • Article to read: Rather than email it to myself or print it, I'm going to bookmark it on my phone's browser. That way I have something interesting to read next time I face a delay, rather than scrolling mindlessly. And if I learn something useful from the article, I'm going to make a note in my planner about it.

  • Task to do: If I think of something to bring in from home while I'm at work, I'll write a note and put it in my lunch bag. If I'm out and about and think of something I have to do, I will set a timed reminder so I'm reminded when I'm in a position to do that task. If it doesn't have to happen in the next 24 hours, I'll write it down in the good old paper planner, which takes away the false sense of urgency my phone reminders sometime create. And if this week's list is already full enough, I'll add it to next week's. I'm also hoping to become more discerning to realize how many to-dos don't have to really be done at all.

  • Email I need to send: If it will take me some time to write it properly, I will email myself initial ideas. That way I have a starting point next time I'm in my inbox.

  • Blog idea: Here's another time I use an app. I have a Trello board where I'm storing blog ideas, so I just put it in there.

  • Text to send: I often think of texting people at the most inopportune times (unless you don't mind getting a text at 5:55 AM). So I'll draft a whole message as a reminder, timed for when it's appropriate to send it.

  • Bills to pay: I hit snooze on the email or put the paper invoice in my 10th and 25th files - those are my paydays so those are also the days I think about finances. (This is a habit I've had for quite some time, and it works great.)

  • Papers to file: I have a "Filing" folder that I clean out on the 15th of each month.

  • Mail: I try to open mail immediately, and it either goes into my 10th or 25th file, my Filing folder, or the recycling bin. If it's a store coupon I might use, I put it in the coupon file in my car.

As I think about it, all of this points back to putting things where you need them or use them. Having a specific strategy makes me feel more at ease and more in control.

You may not have trouble taming information and paper, but is there something else in your life that feels overwhelming or too time-consuming?

Design a strategy.

Photo by Startaê Team on Unsplash

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