Posted in Strategy, Techniques

Managing Physical Clutter

“Does it spark joy?” If you’ve done anything in the organization or productivity space you’ve heard this phrase from the popular organizer Marie Kondo. While I haven’t gone down the complete rabbit hole yet I have been making a concerted effort to get my physical clutter challenges under control. A few things have started to work well for me and I thought I’d share them. Your mileage may vary.

Label, label, everywhere

I used to chuckle at my father for years because there wasn’t a thing he had that wasn’t labeled in some way. The drawer, the box, the bag, it didn’t matter, there was always a label to tell you what it should contain. I’ve resisted using labels for years out of a foolish desire to find a way to make things work differently than my father. Since his passing, I’ve learned how foolish I truly was and that labels just make sense.

By breaking things down into categories, providing a container for each category, and then labeling each container, I’ve started to get not only a physical grasp on the clutter but a mental one as well. For example, I used to have a large freezer bag of pens (way too many to ever use them all) kept in a cabinet in my office. I thought that since they were all together in one place, I had them “organized.” To quote the late, great comedian John Pinette, “Oh, nay nay.”

Now what I do is break the pens down into the types of pens as I would need them. Those groupings fit into smaller containers (more about that later) and then I label the containers accordingly. The key is for the label to be relevant to the need. When I need a refill for my Parker pen I know there is a small container labeled “Parker refills”. When I need a cartridge for a fountain pen, it’s in the container labeled “fountain pen refills.” Again, the key is the labels identify the answer to the need rather than just being a description of the contents.

Little boxes

Over the past several months I have been on a quest to try and reuse as much packaging as I can from orders and purchases. If I buy something that comes in a small box, I keep the box. If something comes with a small cloth bag, I keep the bag. The idea is to use these free “little containers” to help subdivide my things into relevant groupings. If you go back to the labeling example, the “Parker Refills” container is actually a small, flat cardboard box from Harry’s shave club. I cleaned the packaging out and labeled it appropriately before putting it in my cabinet. Not only does this help the environment, but the smaller divisions make keeping a grasp on what I have and what I don’t have much easier.

Labeling things as well as containers

There are some things that don’t lend themselves to singular containers as well as others. For example, power supplies. Being a technology guy I have accumulated a large number of stray power supplies over the years. Now each power supply typically marries to only one device (thanks a lot old-school lock-in thinking) so it is important to know what goes to what. Hence the labeling for the power supplies. Rather than putting a label on the wall plug end of the supply (where there is usually a large wall wart to stick it to) I wrap the label around the plug end of the cord like a flag. This way I can easily tell what plugs into what before I damage anything.

USB cables are another excellent use case as to the importance of labeling. Look at this mess I have:

  • USB-A to USB-A
  • USB-C to USB-A
  • USB-A to MicroUSB
  • USB-A to mini USB
  • USB-C to USB-C

In most cases I have multiple of these cables of varying lengths and qualities. This is where I go back to the “little labeled containers” approach, but in this situation rather than hard containers I go with fabric pouches. These make it easy to bundle the cables by type and store them for easy access. It also means I can create “go bags” that are composite of the different cables into one bag so when I need to “go” I can grab one of the bags and know I’ll have all the standard cables I might need.

Only a beginning

There are many types of clutter that still elude me and my new ways. Notebooks for example are going to need some special thought to get them under control. In the end, each step closer to getting the clutter under control is freeing up mental cycles for me and making the quest of being productive move that much closer to success.

Posted in Strategy

One of those years

Ever have one of those days where every time you turn around, thinking you have things finally under control, the universe’s twisted sense of humor shows up and throws everything sideways? Ever have one of those weeks? Those months? Yea, I’m with you.

No matter how much we plan and prepare the world will do what it wants to. Motivational speakers will claim that life is what you make of it, but yet we all know there’s times where life seems to have it in for us. How we deal with this is critical to how we make our way in this world and I’m by no means egotistical enough to suggest I have any magic solution to the challenge of life for anyone. What I can do is make a couple of suggestions I have learned through this year so far.

Put the small stuff on autopilot

Looking back at the year so far, the things that have been in my control have been the little things I’ve let get away from me. Send an email here, file a document there, make a follow up phone call and so on. They’re little things but when they fall by the wayside and later rear their ugly heads they can be huge.

Any time I can put something on autopilot now I try to. Bill pay, reminders, scheduled activities, even down to the lights turning on and off in my living room at the right times, if I can get something else to handle it reliably I do so. The reliably part is critical, but if I can trust the tool doing the work, it’s one less open loop to deal with.

Simplify

I’ve been through this one in the past but it’s becoming truer every day. We’re always looking for the better tool, the better process, the better strategy for making things work in life. Usually what winds up happening is either disappointment or worse yet dysfunction.

Evaluate change carefully

A concerted effort I’ve been putting myself through this year is evaluating the benefit of change. As an expert on Microsoft Office 365, my job is to help people put change into motion using the tools whether it’s personally or professionally. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the short term benefits of a change without thinking about long term impacts or if those benefits scale over time.

For example, I’ve been going back and forth in an active comparison of two note taking tools this year: OneNote and Notion. While I’m not going to go into the details here, let me just say there’s no clear winner in this fight and that’s what makes things difficult. If one were clearly superior to the other the decision would be easy, but since one isn’t the cost of the change takes a higher precedence.

How much time will it take to change? How long will it take to learn? Will it provide short term and long term gains as well? Do the gains blind me to a potential liability brought about by the change? What’s the cost?

The questions go on and on, but they all come back to one key question now: is the change worth the effort?

Four more months

The year still has a fair amount left and the pace only picks up as the clock ticks by. I’ll try to keep posting as frequently as possible to share my successes and failures in the hopes they’ll help you or others with your challenges.

Posted in Chromebook, Strategy, Tools

New life for Chromebooks and Microsoft?

Microsoft has been making some major pivots over the past few years to expand their reach and “playing well with others” when it comes to cloud based services. One of the biggest, and honestly most surprising, changes has been altering the rendering engine for Edge to the Chromium engine. There’s lots of speculation as to what this will mean for Edge in the future but I think it will have a greater impact on Chromebooks when it comes to working with Office 365.

With the primary browser platforms all running under one common engine, the developers on the Office 365 will have a much easier time writing applications that work across multiple machines, be it Edge on Windows 10 or Chrome on a Chromebook. As a Microsoft user who counts on his Chromebook I couldn’t be happier. While G Suite (Google’s office platform) has some strengths, it still doesn’t compare one-to-one with Microsoft’s offering.

You’ll hear the argument made that Microsoft’s pursuit of “Windows Lite” or “Lite” or whatever they’re calling it will take a chunk out of the Chromebook market but honestly that’s not the play for the long game. Microsoft is about the cloud now and hardware is just a way to get there. It doesn’t matter the tool, what matters is what you do with it. Personally I like the thin client approach of a Chromebook coupled with the power of Office 365 and Azure. You’d be hard pressed to find a combination that offers the same level of flexibility, power, and accessibility.

I’d wager we will see more and more changes in Office 365 over the coming months that work equally as well on Chromebooks as they do Windows 10 machines. It’s to Microsoft’s benefit to do this because if you can run Office 365 equally well on both hardware platforms, why wouldn’t you get a subscription?