Day: March 19, 2008

Simplify Life Series 1: Information. Part A – Take Stock Of The Piles

We stockpile information into islands.

Email, phone, spreadsheets, contact lists more.

We don’t want to stockpile. We just don’t want to throw stuff away in case it is important and reducing our piles takes even more time so we often avoid it. Each pile accumulates over time and becomes a little isolated island of information.

How many unnecessary islands of information do you have in your life? Take stock now with me.

Islands are isolated (and isolating because they waste time)

In business too many islands mean poor information sharing across the team which can lead to bad decisions and loss of revenue or reduced profit. Of course they also waste time because sharing information is harder.

In personal life it just chews up time mainly but it can also lead to bad decisions that cost even more.

My Island Count

This list has peaked at various times over the years as a total of 55, see how you compare.

  • Communication 12
  • Tasks & Calendars 15
  • Numbers 9
  • People 5
  • Images 4
  • Music & Video 7
  • Changes 3

Total: 55

A regular archipelago! And a ridiculous waste of time really when you think about it like that. Here is a little more detail so you can see how the list gets that long quite easily.

Don’t laugh too soon. Most people I have spoken to easily get over the 20 mark!


  • Personal email in MS Outlook or some other mail client like Thunderbird or Lotus notes or Eudora
  • Work email for your day job in MS Exchange or Lotus Notes or some other big proprietary system
  • Mobile phone SMSes
  • Letter box at home and work and for soem of us also at the post office and family/friends after various changes of address
  • Work voice mail, sometimes in email, home phone voice mail
  • Sometimes people have a third email vmail box for personal business ‘on the side’ in addition to their day job. Usually a hobby or a longer term goal or additional part time income.
  • Adhoc messages e.g. notes from school age children, messages from neighbours etc…
  • RSS readers e.g. google reader or the one built into safari

Tasks & Calendars

  • Post it notes on your desk at work and at home on the desk or fridge or both
  • Serious project plans and to do lists in MS Project or one of those great 37signals products or maybe it is trac or even an atlassian product or a remedy or ABT or Saasu activity management product, maybe even broken down by project if you are working on more than one like most of us.
  • Lightly structured to do lists in outlook or in plaxo or in thunderbird or lotus notes or on your phone
  • Home calendar on the wall in the kitchen
  • Mobile phone calendar
  • Work calendar – whole of office (usually in kitchen or online), your team (e.g. sales meetings and appointments), your own work calendar just for things you are responsible for doing
  • A working sheet of paper on your desk or a working notepad or scratch pad
  • A working list of stuff e.g. google sidebar on your PC/Mac at home and work
  • Your good old fashioned diary


  • Tracking personal finance using MS Money
  • Tracking small business finance using MYOB or Saasu or something else
  • Tracking family budgets in a spreadsheet
  • Tracking personal investments in a spreadsheet
  • Tracking or planning a project (e.g. new kitchen, holiday, renovations, childs education) in a spreadsheet
  • Helping out coaching a local sports team with rosters, budget, training, petty cash or more
  • Work budget and actuals systems like saasu or SAS or SAP. sometimes one for the day job and one for the hobby or part-time job on the side.

People – Phone Numbers & Addresses

  • Personal address books in outlook, thunderbird, saasu, or plaxo or more
  • Personal stuff on your mobile phone
  • Work contacts lists in proprietary systems or or SAS or SAP or ACT or goldmine or your accounting system like MYOB or saasu.
  • Sometimes multiple ones because they are embedded in email systems and they are duplicated for real work and part-time hobby work.


  • Offline – Photos in boxes and not developed yet film.
  • Online at home/work – digital photos on the camera on memory sticks in your desk/purse and on your PC and on backup drives on CDS, diskettes and USB drives of various ages.
  • Online online flickr, saasu, istockphoto, picasa and more

Music & Video

  • CDS
  • Tapes/cassettes/VHS
  • DVDS
  • itunes
  • MP3s as per images online and online at home above


  • Undoubtedly sometime during the year one or more of these things will change too so you need to manage the transition and posisbly run a few in parallel before you cut over
  • A new email system at work or a new project management system
  • A new mobile phone impacts web and email and to dos and calendar perhaps.

In our next article we will look at the sources of all this info and then how we can rationalise islands and sources of information by linking them.