Simplifying our lives with technology can seem to be an effort in futility. Doesn’t technology bring more clutter, more data and more confusion to our lives than the lives of any previous generation?
Yes and No. For most people, technology ends up adding more complexity and anxiety to our lives. Who hasn’t been busily working on their computer and lost hours of work in one power failure or crashed software application or even the dreaded Blue Screen of Death? Or what student hasn’t tried to study and been distracted by text messages, the lure of Facebook or the myriads of available links discovered during ‘research’?
So how can you harness technology to simplify your life without becoming a distracted puddle of confusion? Here are ten ways I have discovered that work in simplifying my personal, work and business life with tools you can use today to do the same.
- Discipline Your Use of Time | Yes, the lowly alarm clock is one of my most frequently used ‘technologies’. Over the years, I’ve used everything from a wristwatch to an iPhone in making sure I get things done in a timely manner, get enough sleep at night and make it to work on time every morning.
- Document Management | I remember as a child surveying those giant metal filing cabinets which my parents used to file away all their important paperwork. Medical records, housing records, financial records, home schooling records, and thousands of other records in loose leaf form were stashed away in a semi-organized fashion. Accessing these records when needed was a chore in itself and there was no redundancy or backup plan if the paper document were to accidentally end up in the trash or get coffee spilled on it. Today, I maintain virtually no paper-and-ink based records, choosing instead to scan them as fully searchable PDF’s using a high speed scanner and then shredding and recycling the paper.
- Photo Collection | Old shoe boxes and large plastic bound photo albums used to be the most common method to manage our photographic histories. I still remember as a teenager buying rolls of film; then getting my first prints back from the local pharmacy and writing on the back of each paper 4×6 photograph before sliding it into the album. Not anymore. I hate to think what my photography habit would have cost me by now as the number of digital image files on my laptop slides past the 100,000 mark.
- Audio Assortment | Stacks of vinyl records, drawers of audiotapes, and boxes of CD music albums used to clutter our family’s living room when I was growing up. Now, my wife and I have a single speaker/subwoofer unit which we plug our iPhones into where we can play radio, internet radio, or any of the hundreds of albums we own in digital format (including all those old vinyl records now converted).
- Video Management | This one is still a work in progress. Video simply takes up a lot of data, and the 1996-era DVD medium is still the de facto standard. Maybe once hard drive technologies are large enough and fast enough, our little collection of DVD albums will also disappear.
- Calendar Events | One of the constants in my dad’s office was a paper wall calendar, usually graced with beautiful photographs on one leaf and honeycombed with the days of the month on the other leaf. Each day which had passed into history was crossed off with an X and future events were added one by one with a pen. Consulting this calendar required physical presence. And there wasn’t a ‘sync’ feature combining the ‘family wall calendar’ upstairs with this office-bound one. Now, my wife and I share multiple Google Calendars on our iPhones and consulting the calendar is a cinch as it is constantly either in our pockets or within arms reach.
- Contacts Confusion | Along with a calendar, some pens and a stack of fresh writing paper, an unusual object graced my dad’s office. Known as a Rolodex, it contained all his personal and ministry contacts. Every time he wanted to write to Richard or call John on the telephone, he would spin the knob on the one side of the device, first finding the letter corresponding to their last name, then fingering through the cards to the one he wanted. Today, I simply sync all my contacts from my iPhone and laptop computer using Google Contacts. To find them, I can just start typing part of their name and instantly all their contact information appears.
- Knowledge Management | The World Book Encyclopedia was what the entire lower shelf of one of our family’s bookshelves read spanning the 22 volume tome. Each book had been carefully bound… back in 1973. So, there I was in 1993 reading 20 year old information about ‘current technology’ for a school research report! Now, online sources are updated almost immediately as new technologies arrive and current events unfold. And thanks to modern search engines like Google, this information is quickly found with just a few keystrokes.
- Financial Management | When I first started keeping financial records, I was fifteen years old. Our family had never owned a computer, so I thought nothing of writing down in long hand every purchase I made and every check or amount of cash I received. If I wanted to know how much I spent last month, I had to manually add up all those values. Now every debit card or credit card purchase I make gets recorded at http://mint.com. It costs nothing, I have full visual and statistical reporting capabilities and I can even compare my expenditures in any budget category to other Mint users in my geographic area.
- Going Places | Stopping at the State Welcome Center and buying a road map was something I remember doing on road trips my family took throughout the 90’s. Now an iPhone or car GPS unit guides me to my destination and even helps me avoid traffic. In case you wondered, I do occasionally stop at Welcome Centers, especially ones that give you something free like the free orange juice at the Florida Welcome Center.
How has technology simplified your life? Share your thoughts in the comments below.