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How Productivity Habits Reduced the Impact of Theft … Twice

Editor’s note: This guest post was written by Lodewijk van de Broek of the How to Be an Original blog.

In the past two months my laptop has been stolen twice. The first time someone broke into my car and the second time was four weeks later when someone invaded our home. That second time they took the entire bag I take to work, with the laptop, my PDA, some paper files and notebooks.

According to the police the two incidents are most likely not related, since the home invasion appeared to be a quick one. We are only missing some “quick grabs”. But it sure does shake your world!

My family and I learned many lessons from these two events, and my employer too (as they were company laptops). But what struck me in both events was how minor the damage was as far as data loss was concerned, both digital and analog. This was largely due to productivity habits I have adopted in the last year.

No data on laptops
A year ago I wasn’t all that organized at all. I used to clutter my laptop’s desktop with temporary files, and store all kinds of documents on the local hard drive. This is an annoying habit, because there are all kinds of places to search if you happen to look for a specific file.

I changed this to be more productive. I adopted the habit of not having any unique data on my laptop, whenever possible. I moved all document to the company servers (see this equivalent for home users), give or take a file that’s a work in progress, and I mean that literally! And I adopted a habit of keeping it like that.

This habit has saved me a lot of time on a day to day basis. But it saved me massive amounts of work when my laptop got stolen. Imagine the consequences:

Synchronize electronic devices
This may sound stupid, but if you have unique data on your PDA or other electronic device: synchronize or back-up often! I didn’t do this often until several months ago. This was both due to simple laziness and due to technology challenges (two-way synch horror).

I changed this for my (private) appointments and my contacts only months ago. But I had just started using my PDA for my GTD-system when it got stolen. That one was local…so all data was lost. And I can start over again.

Carry only what you need
In quite the same manner as I cluttered my laptop, I also cluttered my workspace. I had many backlogs, and I often took a lot of paper home, so I could work from home. I didn’t need all of it, but I knew that the specific piece of information I needed was somewhere in that pile.

This too has changed in the past year. I set up an archiving system according to the Getting Things Done guidelines and worked my way through my backlogs. Now whenever I wanted to bring stuff home, I would just lift that specific folder from the archive and take it home.

When my bag was stolen, it happened to have no folders in it. Nevertheless this habit saved me a lot of the same troubles as described above, because I probably would’ve had a large pile in there otherwise.

With the new habit I would have known exactly what folders I was missing. It wouldn’t get them back, but at least I would know what I was missing.

Skills are more important than notes
I did carry two notebooks around too. One was with the notes of my training to be a certified NLP Practitioner and one was the Inspiration File with ideas for my blog. They were both on paper only, so they really got lost. Losing the notes only a week before the certification wasn’t convenient (to say the least)!

What I learned from losing both notebooks is that the skills are way more important than the actual books. I didn’t need the notes to be a good NLP Practitioner, and I didn’t need my Inspiration File for inspiration. Losing them affirmed me in my skills, but it was darn inconvenient nevertheless!

Imagine your bag being stolen right now
Adopting productivity habits has brought me more than I had imagined. They save me a bundle of time in day to day life and they saved a lot of time and annoyances in the case of the theft. Twice. In a month.

So if Leo hasn’t convinced you yet on the benefits of productivity habits, add a possible theft to the equation. Just take a look at the bag you carry to work right now. And imagine what the impact would be if it got stolen. The impact might be a lot bigger than you expect!

For more from Lodewijk van de Broek, check out his blog, How to Be an Original, or subscribe to his feed.

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