Sometimes Less Really Is More

At first glance, my office looks like a neat and tidy den of well-organized supplies, electronic equipment and an in-control inbox. So much so that visitors to my work area often blurt out an astonished, “Does your office always look like this, or did you clean it up for me?”

“No,” I sheepishly say. “It pretty much looks like this all the time.” Inevitably my response brings an involuntary shake of their heads, followed by a statement that always goes something like, “Wow, I wish my work area was this together.” If they only knew.

On the surface, my office is a well-oiled organizational machine, and, compared to many people, I suppose my compulsive neat-freak streak does win out. But the deep, dark secret of my organizational shame is that my computer, while well placed on my uncluttered desk, is harboring enough unfinished business to choke a horse.

The problem is particle management. Up until a year ago, I was mostly working with five to six major corporate clients at one time. But in the wake of the economic shakeup, I now find myself juggling 10-20 smaller ones. And this requires a whole new way of thinking and managing information. I hunt for data on my computer the way I look for lost keys at the bottom of my purse — shaking the whole thing out on the table and sorting through the junk until I find what I’m looking for.

Let’s face it, my old systems for client and information management had broken down, and I was a loose-ends mess. So I went in search of a system of simplification that would help me regain my sense of equanimity, track my to-do’s effectively, follow up with potential clients efficiently and invoice in a timely manner. I don’t think that’s too much to ask – do you?

In my attempts to find software or web solutions that would keep things from falling through the cracks, I’ve tried at least five to-do-list managers, four contact management systems and several CRM products — all to no avail.

I even consulted my husband Jon for his sage advice. His recommendations seemed sound, but Jon, being a web designer and Internet marketing specialist, was all about the latest and greatest technology. Too much for me, since in spite of all my web work, I’m a simple girl, technologically speaking.

Frustrated, I turned to my administrative assistant Shelah for help. I ran Jon’s ideas by her. “Too complicated,” she immediately said. “Let’s start with the simplest solution and work our way up from there.” And what was Shelah’s simple solution? An Excel spreadsheet, and the to-do list built into my Apple Mail.

“Excel?” I said. “How could a simple spreadsheet resolve my complex workflow issues?”
“Here, I’ll show you,” said Sheila. Two hours later, all the data I had been hunting and pecking to find on my hard drive was integrated, organized and optimized into one nice, easy-to-find document with tidy tabs. I wanted to cry.

Next, we took all of the to-do’s off my very sophisticated to-do-list software — with its customized priority, multiple-context, project assigning capabilities — and moved them to my Apple Mail basic to-do list. You know, the kind that reminds you of the pen-and-legal-pad method we used to use, but a bit more sophisticated. I could enter the item to be done, the date it was due and its basic priority (high, medium or low). At the click of a button, I could see what I needed to do on what day and easily move items to a different date as I needed to. Again with the crying.

Now, I’m not saying that an Excel spreadsheet or a mail program to-do list is the right answer for everyone, so please — no cards and letters. But what I am suggesting is that folks who work in the world of high tech often look for more functionality in their productivity solutions than they really need in practicality.

How often do we as web workers make things more complex than they need to be? Because in the end, productivity isn’t about how many bells and whistles a solution has; it’s about how easy, practical and efficient it is to use. Sometimes, less really is more.

Are your productivity systems overly complicated?

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