When Your Brain Can Only Manage Simple Things


I’m in overwhelmed mode. While I’m getting some real benefits from new and tried and true fully-integrated, slick-interfaced Web-based solutions that are solving my workflow and organizational quandries, sometimes, I just want simplicity. I’m talking about raw, bare-bones, no-frills, focused-on-a-single-task tools tools that won’t contribute to making my overloaded brain explode. And when it comes to doing my work, a brain is a good thing to have relatively intact.

My two pieces of advice if you, too, are overwhelmed with all the web app options?

1. Focus & ignore. Zoom in on what you need to do and just get the job done. Don’t worry about fancy add-ons until you have the mental bandwidth.

2. Go free & lite. Sometimes the free versions or lite versions of software products have just the right amount of features to do the simple tasks. Don’t overdo it if you don’t need it.

Here are some of the things I’m using or that I revert to using when the fancy schmancy apps are ringing too many bells and blowing too many whistles.

1. Simply a reminder.

memotomeI’ve been trying to graduate from MemoToMe.com to IWantSandy.com but I am running into a wall. Sandy is not being friendly to me this week, and I’m longing for the plain vanilla email reminder system that looks like it was designed in the 90s. Somehow that is like mental comfort food to me.

The menu of options down the left side of the page is so straightforward. View My Reminders and View My Email, Create a New Reminder (one-time, daily, weekly, every few weeks, etc.). No special commands, no learning curve. You just click, enter your info, and submit.

I’m still getting a twice monthly reminder that I set up over a year ago like clockwork (yes, the “Pick up organic produce!” entry). This week, Sandy has sent me none of my repeat reminders which means she and I just aren’t communicating. I’m going to key in my most important recurring events and will let MemoToMe do the rest.

2. Simply a scheduler.

Ah, Doodle. Mike G. mentioned this simple little site last year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t revisit the almost zen-like simplicity of Doodle.ch (that is Switzerland, not China, in case you were wondering). What does Doodle do? Just one thing – creates an polling page that is perfect for coordinating meetings, conference calls and other events that require the juggling of multiple people’s schedules.

Before I discovered Doodle, I can’t tell you how many times I went back and forth in emails and phone calls to schedule a multi-party conference call, confirmed the call, then someone else responds later that the time won’t work for them. With Doodle, you can give multiple options of days and times then provide the other parties with a link directly to the poll. They enter their name and click all the days and times that work for them.

Then all you have to do is go back to the page and get an instant picture of what days and times work for everyone. Green means yes they can attend, red means no good. Doodle is a no-frills Web tool at it’s best.

3. Simply a Big File Sender.

When I was faced with having to send or receive a really, really big file in the past, everyone involved would go into a panic. Then I started using YouSendIt.com and the whining ceased. For free, you can send and receive a file up to 2 Gigabytes. Yes, that is Giga. Gotta love it.

I have no idea why they bothered to put a smiling redhead on their home page although I’m sure it is to entice you to order their premium services. Me? I stick to the simple and easy interface on the home page: Enter who your email is to, who it is from, the subject, the message, then attach the file.

There are a few more options such as:

  • Premium delivery
  • Password-protected secure delivery
  • Certified delivery with tracking
  • Return receipt

I just ignore the add-ons and do my no-frills thing in seconds. Saves me time, hassles and headaches from an overloaded e-mail box.

4. Simply a Converter.

xe1I’ve been using XE Currency Converter for eons for currency conversion in my travels. The site actually went up in 1995, and I probably learned about it soon after. While over time, this simple site has added a lot of sections and features, you can just ignore them all and focus right in on the quick and dirty currency converter.

As I do more global work, this tool is coming in handy, particularly to convert Euros and Canadian dollars into US dollars or vice versa. This is one of those Web tools that I’ve totally taken for granted because it is there, I know it is there, it always works when I go there, and it helps me do the math where I never want to go.

Now to find a plain and simple site that offers Linden to Dollar conversions for my Second Life.


Angie Gerken

I’m mired hip-deep in an overloaded work and personal schedule and have become focused on simplifying my life as well as clearing my mental closets of clutter – this article was timely and welcomed. I often feel a weird sense of guilt when I use a fraction of a “tool’s” functions. I just pared down from my old fav Photoshop Pro to Photoshop Elements. It’s just right for my needs now. Great tips on products I didn’t know about. Thanks!

Deborah Fields

Great comments. Malevole is wonderful! and the YouSendIt.com tip is great. Thank you. You’re saving me time and wasted thought processes.

Marc Eisenstadt

Caramba…the phrase “I have little time to spend doing fun stuff” in the above post is a bizarre copy/paste error (long story… comes from someone else’s chat window… looks very bizarre out of context!).

Sorry about that… anyway, thanks for checking out http://www.meetomatic.com


Marc Eisenstadt

Great post… but don’t forget the grand-daddy of simple/no-frills/nobrainer meeting scheduling, Meetomatic.com
Different ‘gestalt’ and approach from the wonderful Doodle, but has an amazing fine-grained scheduling visualizer in its private label version. I have little time to spend doing fun stuff. The free one is insanely simple, and suits some people better than Doodle because of its calendar layout!


A couple of months ago we put our internal schedule tool on the web: http://www.moreganize.com

Our idea at that time was to take doodle and make it better. In the meantime doodle is commercialized and made a lot of progress. What makes us proud is that doodle copied already several features from our page themselves.

Cheers Tom

Rael Dornfest

Hi Aliza,

Thanks for giving Sandy a whirl. I’m sorry you’re running into something that’s not working for you — please do drop us a line at help@iwantsandy.com and we’ll be glad to get you off to the races.



I think http://whichweekend.com is worth checking out as a Doodle alternative, although it only does weekends at the moment – which is what I made it for. Oh yeah – I made it :-) Hope you find it useful. My goal was to keep it as simple as possible, which I think I’ve achieved.


I agree that XE Currency Converter is great and simple. But you didn’t mention one of the best features: historic conversion rates. That way I can calculate the exchange on the date of a specific transaction.


Yousendit.com and Doodle! I am always learning new things from you, Aliza. Thank you!

David Leffler

If you want simple, try adopting the digital practices laid down by Mark Hurst in his book “Bit Literacy.” This book is nothing short of an amazing guide of how to deal with the overload of information in which we live. From emails to the organization of files on your computer, Mark deals with it all with his well thought out methods. I guess his MIT education wasn’t for nothing.

Joel Johnstone

Oh man! Now I feel bad that Memo to Me doesn’t sport fancy flyovers, semi-transparent panels, and stuff sliding around all over the place. For what it’s worth, Memo to Me WAS designed in the 90s.

Joel Johnstone


I completely agree. The bells and whistles productivity tools are nice, but always feel overwhelming in the beginning. I tend to go “ooh look, shiny!” and sign up and then don’t really begin USING until much much later. I am terrible with reading manuals and instructions, I just want to start USING IT.

And now I’m thinking of dozens of simple tools that I can’t live without.

One is Image Shack (imageshack.us) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a conversation in IM or on a forum and just needed to quickly throw an image up on the web to link to for discussion … despite having loads of server space and the skills to FTP to said space, the one click upload is just so quick and dirty, I love it.

Another tool that I can’t live without in my online universe is tinyurl.com … genius! Oh and Malevole text generator for alternative Lorem Ipsum text. Combine and voila: http://tinyurl.com/yqao3

I could be here all day!

Amanda Rothbarth

I’m with you! My brain (and world in general) has so much stuff in it that sometimes I think I can’t possibly put anything more in my brain. As a business owner and full-time mom, I need all the simplicity I can get. Thanks for the tools to help me sift through the clutter.

Comments are closed.