There is time enough for everything in the course of the day if you do but one thing at once. But there is not time enough in a year if you do two things at a time.

Lord Chesterfield

5 Tools That Will Save You From Email

Picking the wrong tool can create more work than it solves

This is a hammer. It pounds nails. It’s very good at it.

Once upon a time I tried driving a screw into drywall with a hammer. I had the hammer close by, I didn’t want to go track down a screwdriver, so I ignored the threads and treated the screw like it was a nail. It went in surprisingly smoothly, all things considered. I was well-pleased that my laziness had paid off.

…for about five seconds. Then I discovered that the screw came back out even easier than it went in. I didn’t even need the hammer for that. In the end, my laziness just created more work. I had to track down a screwdriver and some drywall anchors (after learning what drywall anchors are) and finish the job the way I should have started it in the first place.

Email is a tool. It does some things well. If you misuse it, you’re going to cause more work for yourself.

Here are five tools you should be using instead of seeing every situation as a problem email can solve.

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Survey a Large Field, Cultivate a Small One

5 Principles of Personal Growth in Agrarian Wisdom

There is an old saying, “Survey a large field, cultivate a small one.” Like many aphorisms, we don’t know who originally said it, nor the specific context. That’s also part of its strength.

Rules can be applied only in a very specific, narrow context. Principles, on the other hand, have broad application. It’s the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law—when you understand the spirit, you can usually apply the letter pretty accurately, and with less memorization. It just takes judgement.

I don’t work on a farm. You probably don’t, either. But there are principles in this saying that we can apply in our daily lives. It’s just as relevant to us as it was our agrarian forefathers.

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How to Create Insanely Strong Answers to Security Questions

When you don’t have to remember the answer, guessability goes to zero.

Back in college, my roommate and I both wanted to be able to make changes to the account with the utility company, so we made up answers to their challenge questions that we would both know.

There was a problem, though. Because none of the answers were derived from actual facts, it could be an interesting exercise at times to walk through the mind palace to remember the answer we had used. When it came time to disconnect the phone, I spent close to an hour with them, verifying that I was who I claimed to be, because I couldn’t confirm my mother’s maiden name. Once I had established myself, we reset the code word to a known value (her real maiden name) to replace the made-up one (“Bondi”, the color of my roommate’s first-generation iMac).

Security questions are even more common today. Web sites want an automated way to let you—and only you—get back into your account if you forget your password. Since it’s an automated system, you not only need to remember the answer but often exactly how you typed it. Did you use capital letters? Punctuation? Which security question did you even pick?

Fortunately, password managers can remember more than just your password. You can use 1Password to also track your security questions. For bonus points, you can even make up insanely strong answers that no one is going to guess.

Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / Christian Delbert

When You Should Ignore the Big Frog on Your Plate

Your most important thing today might not be the most important thing right now.

Whatever approach you take to personal productivity, there is one common theme: identifying your most important tasks and working through them, methodically, until you’re done.

Ivy Lee coached Charles Schwab’s executives on this principle. Stephen R. Covey taught us to identify our A1 task and start there. Brian Tracy wrote about starting your day by eating the big frog on your plate.

Focusing on your most important task can be your key to having a productive day. It can also completely ruin your day. There are at least seven times you should ignore the big frog sitting at the top of your task list.

Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / Mat Hayward

How long should you keep documents before shredding them?

The more important they are, the longer you’ll track them.

A single issue of the Wall Street Journal contains more information than the average 17th-century person was exposed to in their entire lifetime. We are exposed to more information in an hour than our grandparents were all month. There’s a lot of information coming at us, and it’s not slowing down any time soon.

Much of that information comes to us on paper. We can’t keep it all—curating that collection would be a full-time job and require an extraordinary filing system. We can’t get rid of it all and go completely paperless, either.

How long should you keep a document? Can you scan it, or do you need the original? Well, it depends.

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