How to Take Tech Inventory

I can tell you what I do, then you can see whether there are practical tips that would be applicable to your use cases.

I keep a running list in my head of all the gadgets and their accessories floating around the house. What it looks sort of like at the moment:

The list goes on to include our televisions and the like, but it’s the computers I’m wary of. It is easy to end up with too many devices and to use these devices too much of the time simply because they are readily accessible. Then, either you shelve some and never get around to “recycle” them, or you hand down your older tech to younger members of the family so that eventually everyone has at least one of everything.

Either of those scenarios are unacceptable in my household. We are serious about rotating the stock of everything in our home to reduce clutter and hone the simplicity of our lives.

For example, I can argue that I don’t need a computer except to work. I get along fantastically wielding an iPad and iPhone when I’m off the clock. My workflows demand the Mac for graphic design and writing. There are just too many compromises required to get work done on portables.

Hence, I stopped keeping a computer around for personal use in 2011.

The Past and Present

2012 seems like such a long time ago now, but at that time, my iPhone was mainly a music player and phone/text messager. I used many apps for a variety of reasons, but the iPhone 4 didn’t outperform a Mac. But, wow, things changed since then.

The iMac (late 2009 model) sitting on the desk in the corner of our family room is under-used. It has become our media library, where we let the children play games online, at like ABCmouse.com. The rest of the time, our iMac houses our music, photos, videos, and i-device backups. A powerful Mac Mini would suffice, if there were one that handled a large number of files without fail. We probably have two more good years from our iMac, but even now it seems incredibly slow compared to our MacBooks with SSDs, what with its elderly internal hard drive.

My MacBook is "docked" because most of the time it stays on the desk. A larger external monitor is my preferred way to work.

What’s not very surprising, here in the fall of 2014, is that our iPhones get the most use outside of our professional lives. Only three years ago, we would be on our MacBooks in the evening outside of work. The Mac was still a great place to check email, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Hulu. And now, the iPhone is just as good. Because it is the computer that’s always with us, it gets to handle most of our interests. My wife routinely uses hers to purchase air tickets and create a multitude of appointments and calendar events. I, on the other hand, like my phone for music, podcasts, Twitter, journaling, photos, video capture, to-do lists, email triage, and even a substantial amount of reading.

When is enough too much?

So, when do you know you have too many devices? And how much time on tech throughout the week is too much? These are the tough questions. These days, you can easily spend eight hours a day on the Mac at the desk or in the coffee shop. And then you can be on the iPhone every other waking moment you aren’t driving.

It varies for each of us, but it is good to know just how much time we spend on the devices. A few years ago, I was easily using a gadget for one thing or another about 10 hours a day — whether that was my Mac, washing machine, or car depended on the day or the week. Now, It is about 11 hours that I find myself using a machine, or more specifically an Apple device.

As we use devices continually, I often examine what do we need and how should be use our time.

A much greater concern in my mind is what we use our tech tools for. We hardly play games. We work or socialize with family and friends via our Macs and iPhones, mainly. Are we happy in how we use our tech? So far, I’m not concerned about an imbalance or unhealthy lifestyle. Even though we are using the devices for more time than we are sleeping every 24 hours, I appreciate the value added to our work, relaxation, and quality time.

I ask these questions when taking stock:

  • Am I happy with how we use our time on the devices? Is it helpful to our lives?
  • How do our devices work? What are practical considerations? Are we using them efficiently?
  • How do I feel I should be using my time? Am I using my time on my devices wisely? Is there something better that I, as an individual, should be doing?
  • Why be on the computer or handheld? What are our motivations and desires? Are they healthy ones to foster?
  • What do others in our lives think about the use of our tech? Does someone in our family feel neglected because we are serving the machine rather than each other?

After working through these considerations, I then do what I want and think is good for us. There isn’t a hard-set rule, like ‘No more than 9 hours with tech each day for us, and no more than 1 hour for the kids’. I think such arbitrary rules mean well, but they get in the way of what’s efficient and practical. While cutting out time wasted on Facebook, limiting the time spent with a tool also impedes your ability to make good use of your resources.

We use our devices like we live in one of those Apple television commercials. I wouldn’t exercise without my iPhone. I wouldn’t read without my iPad. My close friends wouldn’t chat with me if I didn’t have Messages.app. The best means to document our children growing up is with the cameras on our iPhones. It’s what you do with what you’ve got that pays off.

We don’t question the usefulness of two cars. We are a two-car family. Someday, when the kids are grown up, we will probably be a three or even four car family. That’s what is practical in so many life situations. If that’s what it takes to live fulfilling lives, so be it. And on the flip side, at this stage we don’t need a car and a van, sports car for the weekends, and a four-wheeler (to makes ourselves feel special). What’s beneficial for us is two no-nonsense cars (my Hyundai Elantra and my wife’s Saturn Sky) to get around town.

As long as any of our devices are satisfying, we will keep them around. As our needs change, we will recycle or eliminate devices in our lineup.

Ask yourself how many machines are right in your use case. What’s practical, and are you getting your money’s worth? Time is your limited resource, so it doesn’t matter what you do with your device if your using the time to do what you think and feel is beneficial.

Just remember, good is the enemy of great. On a deeper level, think about the best use of your time and devices; don’t ever settle for what’s easy. Look at what will be meaningful to your family and career.

Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.