Just in Time vs Just in Case

Have you ever changed jobs and been forced to delete all your saved emails and bookmarks from your computer?  Was it a relief to get down to a handful of messages?  Did you ever feel that going to a new position, a new adventure, a new place helped you focus and leave your baggage behind?

This may be overly-dramatic, but I just had that experience when my computer was infected with numerous viruses (for the umpteenth time recently) and I lost my bookmarks and all the messages in my email folders.  I panicked.  I swooned.  I said questionable things under my breath.  And then I took a deep breath and realized that I really hadn’t lost anything.  In fact, the “loss” of all that stuff gave me a fresh start.

In January, I read a great blog by Oleg Mokhov titled “How to Use the Web without Losing Your Mind and Time.” Granted, I put the five main points on a sticky note to remind me that I didn’t need to bookmark every article and every website I came across that I thought was interesting.   As some of these points became more habitual, I replaced the note with another sticky simply with point #3: “If you don’t need it at the moment, don’t bother reading or bookmarking…”

It was when I looked at this sticky note on my board that I realized losing all my bookmarked sites was a blessing in disguise.  Previously, every time I tried to find something that I remembered was there, I couldn’t put my cursor on it.  As I write this blog, I am finding Mokhov’s blogpost more easily in an online search that I did previously in my nested folders of bookmarks.  Hmmm…

The same holds true with non-digital detritus.

We all know that we should clean our physical files, get rid of clothes we don’t wear for a year and donate material possessions that we aren’t using.  The problem is that we form an emotional attachment to physical things.  And we even form an emotional attachment to digital things.  It’s our safety net.  In case we ever need to write a blog about a subject, send something to our clients or boss, pull up the information in advance of a meeting–we have the subject covered in one of our bookmarks.

What we fail to realize (pointing the finger directly at myself!) is that things change.  What was “fact” yesterday becomes history tomorrow. We are saving old information that is easier to look up when we need it. Technology is moving so rapidly that with a few clicks (or swipes of a trackpad) we can find the latest and greatest, without clogging up our computers, our minds and our file cabinets with flotsam and jetsam from the past.

This was brought even more clearly to me this weekend as I sorted through historical family slides (another anachronistic technology) and I realized that I would have to start culling slides if I were ever to get through an estimated 3-4,000 images.  As I opened a box of my grandfather’s slides, there was a smeared note (written with a fountain pen) that stated: “Exposure too dark. Throw out.”  These slides that should have been thrown in the trash 50+ years ago have criss-crossed the country several times, held sway over both my grandfather and father to hold onto them, and now sat in my lap ready for their fate.  They are now finally in the trash.

Today, when knowing facts is less important than being able to find information, we really don’t need all those old pieces of communication or websites filled with great ideas for the future.  “Au contraire” you say?

Try an experiment: throw away everything in one digital folder that you think you might not need and keep track of how long it is before you go looking for the information.  Feel that breath of fresh air sweeping over you?




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