It happens to everyone. You have a home computer and it works fine, but then you upgrade to WiFi, so you’re not really using the direct ports anymore. The WiFi needs to be extended so you add an extender, and to make things easier you end up adding another router, too. You also get a new phone, so that’s on your network, but so is the old phone. One little change at a time eventually creates a large pile of things that no longer make sense together. It’s working fine, but not optimally. Usually we don’t really care.

The “problem,” which is just the natural way things happen, is that we rarely build a system from the ground up, so we’re always adding to or replacing a piece rather than designing a system that will get you what you need with the fewest possible pieces. It would make no sense to spend thousands when this one part will bridge some gap and get you through to the next project until you’ve built a world of work-arounds.

Simple facts—the fewer pieces, the easier it is to maintain. There are only so many things that can go wrong, so it’s easy to keep an eye on it. Everything has a life span, too, so if you built this thousand piece system over time, something is scheduled to die on you next week and you don’t even know which part it is.

Sometimes it does make sense. Sometimes you need to unplug it all and figure out exactly what you need—just what you need and nothing more—and then build that. Clear away the clutter, both physically and procedurally, because it’s easier to use when everything makes sense.

I don’t have a defined workflow for my day because I don’t need one. My projects don’t go to another person and they don’t take up a lot of space. I’m usually working with text, so I don’t need much. But all things start like that—small—and grow with time. You can add a step or two and remember it without writing it down, but before you know it someone will say, “I thought you had that.”

Next time you’re in the office, take a quick tour of your tech. It should look clean, and even if you don’t really know what you’re looking at, you should be able to see pretty clearly that this thing is plugged into this thing which plugs into the wall. If you have stacks of equipment covered in patch wires, or you have a new something sitting on top of the old broken something it replaced, your inefficiency may be costing you more than you know, from added stress on the technology you actually need, to lost time searching for files in multiple places. And you’d be surprised—often the system can be redesigned using things you already have, and adding a switch or something equally simple may be all you need to tie it together efficiently, without the clutter.

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