back to Change

I’ll admit it: I’ve always been the one with 35 browser tabs open. Plus five programs, plus three chat windows.

It’s not because I can magically read dozens of articles at once, or because I’m a mind-bogglingly productive multi-tasker (hint: no one is).

It’s because I don’t want to forget anything. If I close that Atlantic piece, when will I remember to read it again? I could email it to myself, but then it’s lost in the quagmire of Gmail things I email to myself, which are just a tad unorganized at this point. If I close that website, will I remember to go in later and pay that bill or update my account or contact that one writer or whatever? Often, the answer has been “I don’t know,” so I leave it open. And then my computer hates me forever. And so does my brain.

Recently, the good people of the internet have come to my rescue and created some tools that have really changed my ability to prioritize and focus. Here’s a few examples that have helped me cut through the clutter, put things where they need to be, and find them again when I need to.

• Keith Rarick wrote an article about a year ago that forever changed the way I use Gmail. Seriously. Reaching “Inbox Zero for Life” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s still worth a try. (Hint: A huge part of his method depends on using keyboard shortcuts. Here’s a primer from Gmail if you’re not already on board with them.)

• Even with Keith’s tips, I still got a lot of email that I didn’t necessary want to filter out, but wanted to see less of. Enter, which takes all of your subscriptions and either helps you unsubscribe from them, or groups them together in a “rollup,” a digest that’s delivered once a day. Way better than getting listserv missives every 20 seconds.

• There are a lot of really awesome things to read on the internet, but sometimes you don’t have time to prioritize looking at ‘em at the exact moment of discovery. I use Pocket to save them for later and read them when it’s more convenient. It’s got an elegant web interface, a desktop client, and apps for iOS/Android.

• Sometimes it seems as though it’d be a worthwhile investment to hire someone to tap me on the shoulder every five minutes and say “Are you doing what you’re supposed to be doing?” Luckily, there’s an app that has me covered. Focusbar lets you enter a task you want to complete with laser-like attention. Every time you switch apps, a little bar comes up on your desktop to remind you to get back to whatever that thing is.

• Random tasks come up all the time. I use TeuxDeux, a beautifully designed app with a hilariously fake French name (and an iOS app), to keep track of all of them.

What do you think about these suggestions? Have you discovered any tools or tricks that have made a difference in your digital life? Share them in the comments!

Mailande Moran is a musician, writer, and media consultant based in Durham, NC. She is a 2013 graduate of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, where she served as a Fellow for the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship's Impact Investing Initiative and the Center on Leadership and Ethics. In the summer of 2012, she worked with Enterprise Community Loan Fund to analyze and communicate the impact of green affordable housing and transit-oriented development in Colorado. While pursuing her MBA, she consulted with the healthcare NGO Healing Fields in India, the microfinance start-up Seeds in Kenya, and the for-profit maternity hospital LifeSpring in India. Prior to Fuqua, she focused on social entrepreneurship and philanthropy in strategy roles at Echoing Green and the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation. Mailande graduated from Duke University in 2006 with an A.B. in Art History. She is passionate about creating a safer, more equitable world. You can hear her music on Facebook (mailandemusic) and follow her other adventures on Twitter (@mailande). read more about
  • Giselle Jones

    Great tips. I plan to check out Pocket! I have a simple non-digital tip. Only touch an e-mail one time – flag it (set a reminder date), file it in a folder, delete it or respond to it. I also try to ensure that no more than 25 e-mails sit in my inbox.

  • Mailande

    @giselle_jones:disqus Thanks! Yes, Pocket is the best. :) And I love that email rule – I try to follow it, but am definitely not where I need to be. The reminder is much appreciated!

  • Pingback: Need a Diversion? 15 Five-Minute Breaks That Make Life Better – CurvyGirlHealth()