Black Friday is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to an entire season devoted to holiday shopping and festivities. Even "The Most Organized Man in the World" (so-called by Men's Health Magazine) former Google chief information officer, Douglas Merrill says it's easy to feel stressed-out and disorganized.
"One of the things I'm focused on right now is the incredible stress levels around the holidays," said Merrill in an interview with WalletPop, "there's so much to do and I often forget things, so I've been working on finding ways to manage my own stress ... I want to be more relaxed around the holidays so I can enjoy my family."
"I think the most important thing is that you don't get organized for the sake of getting organized, that's kind of a myth," said Merrill, "you get organized to the extent that it lowers your stress, and there's some really simple things you can do."
You know, if the guy who used to be in charge of information at Google admits he struggles to stay organized (and even forgets things!), maybe there's hope for us all? As a PhD.D in psychology, Dr. Merrill reports we should all stop beating ourselves up.
"Your short-term memory can only hold onto about five to nine things max at one time," he explains, "So, organize your life to minimize brain strain and get stuff out of your head as quickly as possible." Just don't forget where you put it.
That's where a few of Merrill's' favorite gadgets and online applications come in. Author of Getting Organized in The Google Era, How to Get Stuff Out of Your Head, Find it When You Need it and Get it Done Right, Merrill preaches the gospel of high-tech tools and says most of them are surprisingly affordable. Not surprisingly, he approves of a lot of Google-run gadgets.
Which piece of electronic equipment provides the most bang for your buck? "I really would recommend that people go get a smart phone. There are expensive ones, but there are also some pretty cheap ones and lots of great Android devices for not very much money ... being able to carry a full-fledged computer around in your pocket is really a big win."
However, in the same way Dorothy's shoes didn't return her to Kansas until she clicked them together, the smart phone won't magically organize our lives unless we use it.
The trick to making your phone earn its keep is finding the right apps. Think: Google calendar (free), online-to do lists, consolidating email accounts and social media notifications using NutshellMail, and alleviating traveling stress with apps like Tripit or the Automobile Association of America's Triptik.
"Google calendar is actually no different from a paper calendar," said Merrill, "you just block out appointments, but the cool thing is that because it's online you can share individual appointments with other people." Jot down the date and time for the kid's school play, hit save, and send it to the family fan base. Voila! You're not only organized, you're helping others do the same.
Merrill notes that by keeping your schedule on a "cloud" calendar, one that exists on the Web (envision it floating out there peacefully above your head), you will be able to access the information from any device when you need it. As opposed to the paper one that hangs on the fridge.
Online to-do lists hold the same appeal. Technology blog, My Life Scoop, recently weighed in on the 5 Best Online To-Do Lists. It named Remember the Milk ($25/year for pro subscription); Ta-Da List (free), Todoist (free), Teuxdeux (free), and the new beta app, Google Docs & Spreadsheets (free).
Merrill uses Apple's Things application ($49.95) to manage his to-do's into "dones," on his iPhone and Mac.
"Instead of writing yellow stickies everywhere I just go into Things and I create a to-do list on my computer ... it's super flexible to have with you and it's really easy when you walk by a store and think, I want to buy that for a friend. Instead of trying to remember it, I open up Things, write down where I saw it, who it's for, hit save and then I can forget it. I don't need to worry about remembering it."
"Get stuff out of your head," says Merrill, "Use tools to help you remember things and cut yourself some slack. What you're trying to do is ... find a way to work within your brain's limitations to make yourself more effective."
Of course, if your phone dies while you're waiting in the pre-dawn line on Black Friday, it will not reduce brain stress at all. For this, Merrill enthuses about his favorite gadget of late, the Duracell myGrid. "It's about the size of a mousepad, and it charges your phone wirelessly. You just drop your phone on this device and when you pick it up it's charged ... you can charge four [phones] at once." No cords or strings attached.
"It's been great for me," said Merrill. (Spoiler alert here) "I like it so much I'm giving it as a present to my family and friends." Okay, gang, act surprised.
Douglas Merrill, 'World's Most Organized Man,' Reveals Simple Tips for Stress-Free Holidays