Experts estimate we will each spend 3,680 hours in our lifetime searching for misplaced items. As we spend more of our lives online, more of that time is lost on digital clutter – on our computers, phones, and tablets. I want to share with you three must have tools for digital organization that keep our house and family sustainably productive.
Long Term for Reference
Google Drive is our family’s choice for long term storage of files we need to keep for reference. These might be files we are actively using or just need to archive. Google Drive is free and can be used on Mac or PC, Android or iPhone for mobile. Here are a couple ways we have used it recently.
The Girl graduated high school this spring, and we wanted to send announcements. She and I created a spreadsheet on Google Drive and shared it with her mom so we could make sure friends and relatives from all four of her parents’ families were included. Google Drive makes it easy for several people to work on a document together. Bonus points because you can all be in the document at the same time, and it will tell you who else is in it and where they are. This eliminates version hell that can happen when collaborating on files.
Like many of you, we have about a zillion owners manuals. They took up about 4 folders in our filing cabinet. In order to find something, we had to sift through all 4 folders to find the manual we needed. We decided not to do a “Command Center Binder” with all of them because it is a waste of space (and ugly, in my opinion) to have a row of binders.
One evening while watching some random episode of The Office (again), I pulled out all of the manuals and searched for them online. Then I saved them to Google Drive by the title of the appliance. This helps tremendously with retrieval. When an appliance breaks, I am already annoyed. When I just need to know what the model number for a replacement part at Lowe’s Hardware is, I am already inconvenienced. This is the time to make life less of a hassle. One of my rules of organizing is to think about what will make it easier to access something as you plan for its storage and organization.
Sustainable Productivity Tip: Plan your organization and storage around retrieval, not clean up. Make it easy to find, then train yourself to put it away in that spot.
It will fill up – you only get 15 GB free. Sometimes I use Google Drive to share photos when I do volunteer photography work or am just sharing with several people who were at an event together. Each year (usually at the end of the year) I make sure to clear them out of Google Drive because I am too cheap to pay for storage. Pro tip – don’t forget to empty your digital trash, it counts against you with the free storage.
The Pain Point
Although the tool I am going to tell you about is used in corporate America, for our family’s purpose I use the term “project work” very loosely. But we take it very seriously. It is our food. Bixby is quite a foodie and an excellent cook. He is in charge of our meals. This was something we agreed on early in engagement. He said he would cook meals as long as when he said he wanted to go out to eat, I would not complain.
I agreed quickly before the concussion cleared up. I jest! There was no head injury, just new love.
So while he is quite a chef, he is also an absent minded professor type that hates to meal plan. So that leaves me to nag him and the kids into picking dinner for at least the next three nights, checking to see what ingredients we have, ordering groceries online, and reminding him to start making dinner. [As I write this we are still distancing due to COVID so the only time The Girl leaves her room is to pick up groceries from the curbside service so I am relieved of that chore currently.]
I could not keep track of what meals we had picked during meal planning so I tried to keep a list in the kitchen. This system quickly went by the wayside. Sometimes the paper would be lost. More often Bixby was in his office and did not want to take 20 steps to the kitchen. Sometimes I had a recipe to share and I would email it, but he has over 11,000 emails in his inbox so he could not find it. I would text it, but then 4 days would go by, and it was lost in the texts I had sent since then. This was not a sustainable system.
So my programmer husband introduced me to Slack. The tool Silicon Valley uses to create a new digital world is what we use to organize our grub. Here are a few features:
- You can access Slack on a website (what I do when I am at work) or download it to your computer (what I do when I am on my laptop at home) or as an app on your phone (what I use when I bully them into meal planning around the dinner table).
- Slack is free and can be used on Mac or PC, Android or iPhone.
- You can chat, drop in links or add photos.
You can see on Thursday, June 25th at 6:20pm I shared a recipe and added a comment that we would use halibut instead of tilapia. Then Friday, June 26th at 12:31pm I reminded my people what the dinner plan was for the next few days. At the bottom where it says, “Message #dinner” is where we type messages to each other. #dinner is the Slack “channel” we have dedicated to food. We also have a channel for Sustainable Sue since Bixby does tech support for me. I do not want to mix up food and tech support.
Here you can see a photo of a less formal recipe posted to Slack. To the right of the screen you can see you can set a reminder to pop up – maybe so you know when to start cooking or as a tickler to remind you what is for dinner. You can see above that on Wednesday, June 24th I still have to remind the chef manually. Perhaps he will learn this reminder trick from this post?!
The third tool sustaining our digital organization is the Our Groceries app. It has benefitted us in several ways with issues we were struggling with.
- Like many people we were forever forgetting to bring the list to the store. Since we never forget our phones, we always have the list.
- Bixby was forever asking me to swing by the store on my way home from work. If I was driving, it was difficult to write down what he needed me to pick up. Now he can just add it to the app.
- I try to get as much out of my brain as possible so I wanted to keep a running grocery list. It was not sustainable for me to have to remember that 3 days ago someone said they needed XYZ product. Especially as the kids got older and they had preferences about toiletries.
- Which leads me to my last major benefit of this app – it helps us teach the kids that groceries do not just magically appear.
How We Use It
All four of us have the app on our phone. No matter if the kids are at their mom’s house or out and about (during non-COVID), I can send a text asking them to add what they what by thus and such time. Then when the deadline comes, I take what is on the app and order groceries online. If they run out of an item, they can add it with specific details as soon as it runs out. No one has to remember they needed it.
This worked so well, we expanded to other lists. Here is the list of our lists.
Bonus points for the Our Groceries app is that Bixby has integrated Our Groceries into the Alexa and Google Home devices we have. [Yes, we have both home assistants. Jesus take the wheel.] This is really helpful if we run out of something while Bixby is cooking. He can ask the home assistant to add it to the app without having to stop what he is doing. We like to keep him focused on a single task at a time (see previous absent minded professor).
What digital clutter pain points do you struggle with? How can the tools covered here help you be more sustainably productive?