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You see this thing here? Once upon a time this was your CRM, Phonebook, Task manager, Note keeper, Project manager, Diary, Wallet, Card holder, bug smasher, whatever. It was called, without any humility, a Personal Organizer. Life was simpler then….sigh
While there are many who still swear by it, much of humanity has moved on. Every function I’ve listed above now has a dedicated and hopefully better digital tool that’s taken over. Most of them, except the bug smasher, live on your smartphone or laptop or both. A lot of us have organically gathered these set of tools. Our current stack of tools could be a result of weeding or cycling through apps and platforms as they run out of functionality.
Why review the Tech Stack?
When you don’t take a step back and look at the tools that organise your life, they become a hindrance to your workflow. People end up
– Duplicating the info they collect,
– Maintain partial data across legacy apps they’ve moved on from, or
– Have inputs that are not supported by tools or process, letting them slip through cracks and becoming their blindspot.
This is why we need a consciously curated tech stack which supports our unique workflows. Curating your tech stack allows you to:
– Match your tools to your workflows
– Avoid duplication of tools
– Make sure no inputs are left behind and prompts you to plug the gap with the right tool
This post is my attempt at inspiring you to work on your personal tech stack by showing you how mine works. Feel free to steal, copy or modify it to suit your needs
Visualising my Tech Stack
Organising your personal tech stack is is like organising your filing cabinet or your kitchen, it sounds like one task but it’s actually several. There are a variety of inputs that come through our lives and many containers they go through before they get archived or sent as output.
This means that we need to devise a system to visualise and categorise the ecosystem of tools that we manage. I have a simple system to do this. My information universe is organised into:
1. Inputs: Sources from which I get information
2. Action: Things I do with that information
3. Tools: Apps, platforms or tools I use to perform those actions
Here’s a look at how my ecosystem is organised
Needless to say, while the categories of “Input”, “Action” and “Tool” may be universal, the individual elements would differ. The next step is to define the workflow
Once I have the players defined, its time to design the playbook. How do these elements come together in handling my day to day scenarios? What does it mean when I check my email, attend a meeting or watch a movie? Thats when the trio of Input, Action and Tools come together to carry each workflow through its lifecycle.
Each source/input gets acted on by a set of tools at one stage then gets handed over to another set of tools to have other actions performed on them. That is a workflow. A workflow is completed if the input’s lifecycle is concluded through execution or archival. That would be considered an output. An output can become a future source/input. Here’s what that looks like visually
Confused? Don’t be.
We’ll look at a few examples from my personal use case to clear things out.
My personal use cases largely fall into 3 buckets:
1. Action Items
Here’s how my tech stack serves my workflow in each use case
These typically range from simple to-dos to multi stage projects with many players. Inputs come from Emails, Messages, Meetings, Conversations etc. So how do I process it?
Put plainly, Emails and Events get processed through Gmail and G Cal respectively. Simple Email -> Reply actions are closed within the same platform/tool. If they fall into Tasks/To-dos they get passed on to Apple Reminders. If they’re complex Projects or Database items (for me personally) such as movies I watch, books I read, wishlist items etc. they’re sent to ClickUp for processing, execution and archival.
As a creator and entrepreneur I devour a lot of information and test my material within my network. Farming ideas out of this deluge is an essential part of growing as a person and a professional. This is an area where I needed to regularly refine my workflow and may always remain a work in progress. But here’s what it looks like right now.
Take this blog post itself as an example.
- The idea has been simmering for sometime now. I read articles by Tiago (and others), had conversations with friends and watched a bunch of social media material on this subject.
- These were parked in my Instapaper and Youtube accounts till I was ready to combine them with my own ideas. Highlights and quotes from this material mix with my own thoughts and notes within Apple Notes.
- When I am ready to visualise this growing swarm of notes, I turn to Miro and/or Notability.
- The Visualisations combine with my notes to become an article in Obsidian
- Depending on the subject and the assessed readiness of the article it either stays within Obsidian and gets archived there or is published to this blog you’re reading it on
Of course ideas aren’t unique to my workflow. So I’d urge you to look at this workflow closely and adjust seasonings to taste.
It’s one of the simpler categories, but an often ignored one. There are a lot of things that are direct-to-archive items for me. Bills/Receipts, Travel Tickets, Tax returns, Warranties, you get the picture. How about Family photos from that last event? Someone’s going to ask for it to make a 40th birthday collage. They may not be useful when you get them, but they would need to be at an arms length when you need to retrieve them.
A lot of this comes through email, and for most people, email is where it remains. But when it comes to searching through attachments…let’s not go there. Let’s just say I found enough reasons to have a dedicated tool to categorise and park direct-to-archive items. Here’s my process.
OneNote and Google Photos FTW! All documents and records go into my tried and tested OneNote structure I’ve been using for more than a decade. Might put out an article about that structure in the future. But I digress.
Google photos eats up all my mobile photography and takes the work out of categorisation with its excellent machine learning tools. It helped me retrieve all the photos of trains I’d taken when I needed it for a project. But for hi-res photos taken on my mirrorless, I fall upon the comprehensive tagging system and easy folder management provided by ACDsee. It is also one of the last image tools that hasn’t jumped on the subscription bandwagon…yet.
Bringing it all together
Is this a comprehensive coverage of my entire ecosystem? Nope, but it’s quite close. This article covers over 80% of my daily workflows. There’s other stuff that requires automations, excel sheets, cloud storage and often a notepad and pen as well. But the more important question is, now that you’ve come this far in the article, how do you use this information? Take the same journey I did.
Audit your personal tech stack
- Categorise your own ecosystem using the “Input”, “Action”, “Tool” framework
- Design your workflows. How do you process your to-dos? Your ideas and records?
- Note gaps in your tool set
- Copy the tools I use for the same or research alternatives that suit you better
- Review your tech stack periodically. I follow an annual audit. I check if my toolset has any redundant apps or if there’s a gap my inputs are falling into and plug it with the right tool
This ecosystem of tools and workflows becomes part of your Life OS and you should explore the tool set with maximum integrations amongst them. Also keep in mind the device ecosystem you’re tied to. As is evident, I’m currently planted in the Apple ecosystem. This ensures that my Reminders and Notes app follow me on my phone, tablet, laptop and watch.
There are other mature ecosystems such as the Microsoft and Google that you may be tied to that would influence the tool selection.
Once you’ve made the decision to be mindful of your tech stack you’ve already taken the step to creating your own networked source of truth.
Disclosure: This article may contain affiliate links. Which means that, at no cost to you, I get a small commission if you choose to buy through my links. Please go through my Disclaimer notes for more info