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Mastering the high-tech tools that help us

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"When you see the demands we put on computers these days and how much they can process, you begin to understand just how much we're being hit by all the time," adds Mr. Spearman.

Laptops, cellphones, and an array of other powerful hand-helds put humans in the teeth of a high-tech maelstrom. This requires humans to become more sophisticated in their daily strategies if they are going to "master their digital environment," says David Allen, the author and productivity guru.

A groundswell of solutions to combat human thrashing has been under way, from individuals embracing digital-free days to broader adoption of the highly sophisticated, now-iconic "Getting Things Done," a work-life management system created by Mr. Allen in 2001 and now commonly known as GTD.

GTD encourages users to organize vast amounts of personal information, then get it stored and off their minds except when they deal with it directly. The idea is that this frees them to be more productive. It organizes tasks by context and urgency, rather than by time and day as old-fashioned systems have done.

Self-described "GTD-ers" can be found all over the Internet, many of them "recovering geeks" who are now using their specialized skills – GTD has a software component – to help people fight the digital onslaught.

At lifehacker.com, senior editor (and GTD-er) Adam Pash blogs and advises the digitally downtrodden.

"We aren't antitechnology," says Mr. Pash, "but we see the need to manage the tools that technology has given us."

His website offers a wealth of tips and tricks: software that blocks the user from accessing designated websites during a workday (anything from your favorite shopping site to social networks such as Facebook or MySpace); newly created stripped-down software such as "WriteRoom," a word processor that offers few distractions; and specialized downloads to automate routine activities such as backing up information on your hard drive.

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