How to Streamline Your Life


Life can feel overwhelming, but with the right tools and habits you can reduce stress and chaos.
Life can feel overwhelming, but with the right tools and habits you can reduce stress and chaos.
© iStockphoto.com/jhorrocks

There's just not enough time in the day. For every item you check off on your to-do list, three more pop up. On top of everything else, the technology you hoped would make life easier just seems to get in the way. What are you doing wrong?

Here's a little secret: Most of the time, technology alone can't solve all your problems. While there are plenty of gadgets and computer programs that can help you keep your life organized, you still have to do some of the work. If you're willing to take the time to learn these tools, you'll be able to take advantage of them. You can achieve the same results without using technology, but it requires a lot more work and discipline. Besides, engineers and developers worked hard to create tools designed to make your life easier. Why not make the most of them?

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The first step to streamlining your life is to take a close look at your needs. Which activities seem to take the most time? Do you have trouble keeping up with appointments or meetings? Do you have a contact list a mile long? How often do you need to access information? Do you receive dozens of voice mails whenever you're away from work or home? Are you working in an occupation that requires you to stay in touch with your employer or coworkers?

Once you've answered these questions, you can take a hard look at what you need to stay on top of everything. For some people, a simple cell phone might suffice. But for others, it may seem like an entire suite of programs and gadgets might be required to meet their needs. It's important not to let yourself get overwhelmed -- often the answer is much simpler than you first imagine.

Before we take a look at the kinds of technology you can use to help streamline your life, let's look at some healthy behaviors that will provide the foundation for your new approach.

Practice Good Habits

One of the secrets to streamlining your life is getting rid of clutter -- keep the devices you depend on and put the rest away.
One of the secrets to streamlining your life is getting rid of clutter -- keep the devices you depend on and put the rest away.
© iStockphoto.com/abalcazar

If you've ever purchased a personal organizer, you know that just because you own it doesn't mean your life magically becomes uncluttered. You have to develop some positive behaviors before you can take advantage of your new gadget. Here are some tips to help you stay on track:

Make a note of important dates. Create a list of birthdays, anniversaries and other regular events. You can later enter this list into a device like a smart phone or use calendar software to set up automatic reminders. A timely reminder might save you a night in the dog house.

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Create schedules and to-do lists. Have you ever focused more on how much you have to do than actually doing it? As the list of tasks piles up, we tend to get caught up in the notion that there's not enough time to get everything done. Making a list helps us prioritize our tasks and often shows us that there's not as much to do as we imagine. Once you prioritize your tasks, you can tackle them one at a time. It's also important to check off tasks once you've completed them. This gives you a sense of accomplishment and can serve as a motivator for the next task.

Avoid procrastination. This one can be tricky -- when faced with a tedious chore or unpleasant task, many of us will try to find some way to avoid doing it for as long as possible. It's better to complete these tasks when you can. After all, they aren't always as bad as we make them out to be and it may not even take very long to complete the job. And best of all, the feeling of relief you get when you finish a particularly mundane chore can improve your mood.

Manage your stress. If you concentrate on a single task at a time and avoid procrastination, you'll also reduce stress. But if you let tasks pile up and focus more on how your workload is getting larger, you'll feel more stress. Sometimes the biggest hurdle is getting started. It's also a good idea to take breaks throughout the day. Deep breathing can help relieve stress and exercise is also a good way to relieve tension.

Now let's take a look at how technology can help streamline your life.

Consolidate Your Gear

One of the barriers to streamlining your life is clutter. Clearing clutter from your life can help you create an ordered routine that gives you more free time to do the things you enjoy. And while clutter comes in all shapes and sizes, technology is a major contributor to the problem.

Take a look at your devices. How many of them duplicate the features of your other devices? If you were to take a trip, how many gadgets would you carry with you? Here are just a few electronic devices you might find in a typical tech geek's luggage:

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There are devices on the market that are capable of performing all of these functions and more. It's true that no device is perfect at everything -- for instance, you may find a smart phone that's also a great MP3 player but has a substandard digital camera. But in some cases, you may find that the consolidated device is good enough to perform the functions you want. If it isn't, you may require a second device. But it's still better than loading up with half a dozen gadgets.

The same can be said for computer programs. You may have several different programs that all perform the same function. That's not efficient and it can cause confusion when you need to find a particular file at any moment. A single application or software suite may have everything you need to produce the files you typically use.

Hardware manufacturers are blurring the lines between small laptop computers and handheld devices like smart phones. Choosing a single device that can meet most or all your technological needs will help you avoid unnecessary clutter. Of course, it also means if you lose that device, you lose everything.

Remember that ultimately you are the most important element to streamlining your life -- no gizmo is going to do it for you. But a little help never hurt!

Find out more ways to get the most out of your devices from the links on the following page.

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Sources

  • Bohl, David. "Get Prepared to Streamline Your Life." Dumb Little Man. Dec. 4, 2008. (May 14, 2009) http://www.dumblittleman.com/2008/12/get-prepared-to-streamline-your-life.html
  • Collingwood, Jane. "Streamlining Your Life." PsychCentral. April 1, 2008. (May 14, 2009) http://psychcentral.com/lib/2008/streamlining-your-life/
  • Levit, Alexandra. "Use Technology to Spend Less Time Working." Forbes. March 17, 2009. (May 13, 2009) http://www.forbes.com/2009/03/17/work-life-technology-leadership-careers-online.html
  • Segal, Rachel. "Get Organized! 7 Ways to Streamline Life." March 3, 2009. (May 13, 2009) http://www.splendicity.com/thelistmaven/get-organized-7-ways-to-streamline-life/