Category Archives: Lifehacks

Baby Technology

It’s interesting to me to discover the technology surrounding babies. For instance, the bottle. it has 5 parts: the body of the bottle, the cover, the nipple–obvious enough. The bottom is not solid, and there is an inner (latex?) diaphragm that is domed up a bit–this doesn’t let anything leak out the bottom, and I imagine with the negative pressure of sucking, allows enough air in so that the milk can come out, yet without coming out too quickly. Nice. Elegant.

Then comes the technology for cleaning the bottle. I intuited the bottle brush immediately–don’t remember eve seeing one and knowing what it is, yet when the glass scrubber didn’t fit inside it was obvious pretty quickly. Does it really need the swivel handle? Perhaps with having to clean bottles for every-three-hour feedings this would save the wrist over time. Hmmm. What’s with the little nubby spongie thingie at the end? Oh–would that be the right shape and size to clean the bottle nipple? Sho’ ’nuff.

Then the making of the formula. Two level, unpacked scoops. Hm. Can’t find the scoop–found it with a fork. Hm. What an odd shape–so long and thin–why is it shaped that way? I’m sure there’s a good reason; I just can’t imagine why. [Making the formula] oh. That’s why–if it weren’t this narrow, most of the formula wouldn’t make it into the bottle. Boy, these folks have had a number of years to figure this stuff out, eh?

It’s All About the Heart

Literally.

Last night I took my third annual CPR refresher. The protocol has gotten even simpler to remember, and the teaching style has been greatly improved to be much more hands-on than the previous more-informational style.
If you haven’t yet gotten your CPR training, I highly encourage you to do so. Keeping someone’s blood moving through their body is absolutely crucial in case of a heart attack. Our blood has enough oxygen for 10 minutes, yet it won’t do any good if it’s not moving. When CPR is rendered, it’s quite possible that there will be no neurological damage due to hypoxia.
We also learned (again) how to help someone who’s choking, whether they be an adult or a 2-month-old.
In the Taking It Lightly weekend I do a lot of “heart work.” I’m very happy that I know how to do this kind of “heart work” as well.
For information on CPR training, visit www.redcross.org.

Dealing with Bacon Part II

In a previous post I discussed bacon–emails that I’ve signed up for, yet aren’t a high priority. I’ve been fine-tuning my bacon-wrangling, and thought I’d share my progress in case others would find it useful.

In that past post I discussed the special Bacon folder I created, and how I created rules in Outlook to look for specific senders and move those emails directly into that folder.
Now I have a much simpler method that doesn’t require my adding email addresses to my Outlook rule every time a new sender shows up in my inbox.
Because I use Gmail, there’s a little trick I can use when signing up for things. With Gmail, it’s possible to create on-the-fly email addresses. Let’s say my email address is fantasticness@gmail.com (which it isn’t). You can create an unlimited number of email addresses by adding + after the username and anything you want, and they will all be delivered to you!
So let’s say I sign up for something, and want the emails they send me to go into my bacon folder. Starting with my fictitious email above, I’d sign up with the email fantasticness+bacon@gmail.com. Then, with the rule I have in Outlook that puts all emails sent to that address in my bacon folder, I’m all set! (Other email providers may have similar services–YMMV.)
I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have only important emails in my inbox!
I also use a number of Outlook rules to intelligently put emails into folders based on project or group. I can see them all using the Unread Mail folder, and when I’m done reading them, they are already filed!
This combination of systems has helped me to automate a great deal of my inbox cleanup, meaning I have time for other things. I can’t recommend these types of automation highly enough.

Breathe

Last week was a bit  hectic. When I discussed it with my friend, Karen, she sent me this, which I think is very cool. Using it really helped me be more relaxed!

Breathe

Breathing in I know I am breathing in

Breathing out I know I am breathing out

Breathing in I see myself as a flower

Breathing out I feel fresh



Breathing in I see myself as still water

Breathing out I reflect things as they are


Breathing in I see myself as a mountain

Breathing out I feel solid



Breathing in I see myself as space

Breathing out I feel free


Thich Nhat Hanh

The Strangest Thing I’ve Done (Naked) In Quite Some Time

[Oh, do you think you know where this is going? I’ll bet you don’t.]

It’s not my fault. It’s the cats’ fault. [How about now?] This story requires some background:
Josh moved in at the beginning of August, and brought his (cat) girls, Maggie and Feliz, with him. We followed the proper protocol: lock them in a room for a month, and never let them or Raja (my boy) see each other. They can smell one another under the door, etc. At the same time, we locked Raja in our bedroom to minimize his anxiety with all of the noise going on during renovations.
Starting in September we would let everyone out for an hour or so, then back in the room. We gradually increased the time until finally after about two months, I think, the doors were opened for good.
Obviously if a cat is locked in a room a litter box is required, so Maggie & Feliz had theirs, and Raja had his in the master bedroom. I didn’t really enjoy this–litter in the bed is a result, both carried by his paws as well as our feet from the litter that was perpetually on the bedroom floor (hardwoods–bamboo–I installed it myself). I find litter in the bed quite annoying.
Even after the doors were open, we often shut the doors during construction to keep the cats contained, which reduces their stress. Once the house was on the market at the beginning of the year, we moved Raja’s litter box downstairs to the office. That’s when the trouble began.
Maggie and Feliz would chase Raja through the house. We didn’t realize the dynamic we had set up: Raja is a very timid cat, and Josh’s girls are both much more social and assertive. Raja was spending all of his time on our bed, even after the doors were open, so as to avoid the girls. Thus, they reached a detente that they didn’t publish anywhere: Raja may be in the bedroom (actually, on the bed), and Maggie and Feliz may be everywhere else. When he had his space in the office they deigned to let him have that space as well. So, he can be in the bedroom on the main floor, where we fed him, or in the office where his litter box and water were. Do you see a logistical problem here?
Every time he wanted to go to the bathroom he had to run the gauntlet, as well as when returning to the bedroom. the would literally chase him back to his room (sometimes he wasn’t allowed to go downstairs) and onto the bed, even jumping on the bed to intimidate him, if I may anthropomorphize a bit.
Josh, ever thoughtful as he is, began getting concerned last week that Raja wasn’t getting enough water. So we decided to put a bowl of water in the bedroom.
[Are you wondering what the heck this has to do with my being naked? I’ll get there shortly.]
Josh was right: Raja wasn’t getting enough water. He was drinking lots of water, so it was good we had the water up there. Lots and lots of water. Water, water, water. It occurred to me to possibly be nervous, but Raja has always been so faithful with his litter box that I considered the risk to be quite low.
Until last Thursday.
Last week Monday through Wednesday Josh took Raja down to his office when he (Josh, not Raja) was working. Raja would use the litter box and hang out for a while, sometimes running the gauntlet to get back to home base.
Thursday Josh didn’t go down to his office. I know you see it coming.
As we were getting ready for bed, I walked into the bedroom and saw a LARGE wet stain on the comforter. “Oh, he didn’t pee,” I thought, “he just threw up.” No he didn’t–he peed.
On my bed.
On my down comforter.
I’m quite happy to state that I almost never get frustrated with cats, and never when a ‘misbehavior’ is caused by their stress. I was nowhere near angry with him; indeed, I felt sorry that I had put him in this position. Knowing how faithful he has always been with his littler box, I was quite sure he held it as long as he could, stressed out, and then lost the battle.
I feel like a bit of a bad cat-daddy as a result, but 1) I’ll get over it; and 2) that’s not pertinent to the story.
I soaked up everything I could with paper towels, then we stripped off the duvet and put the comforter in a large trash bag, in the garage where it would stay cool (we left the following morning for the farm–no time to wash it). I washed the duvet in enzymes, which solved that problem completely. However, an industrial washer and dryer are required to wash a down comforter.
[We’re almost there; do you have any guesses yet?]
I intended to leave work by 4 today to get time after work and before a call at 7 tonight to wash and dry it. I checked the instructions of the enzymes and realized I didn’t have enough time: the comforter needs to soak for an hour in the enzymes, then finish the cycle, then wash again, then dry. No small project.
[Here it comes; are you ready?]
There’s no way to start a Laundromat washer, cycle until wet, then turn it off for an hour. First of all, there’s no way to shut one off (that I know of); second, others would need it more than likely, so I couldn’t waste the time. So I made an alternate plan.
I mixed the enzymes, waited a few minutes for them to activate, then put warm water in the tub (between 75 and 110°). I’d soak the comforter there for an hour, squeeze it then go to the laundromat.
Have you ever tried to soak a down comforter in a bathtub? I’ll bet not. Because the better question is: have you ever tried to submerge a down comforter in water? Or a related question: have you ever tried to hold a beach ball under water? It ain’t easy.
If you’re a scout and have received your swimming merit badge, or whatever the analog is for girl scouts, or ever taken a water survival course, you learn that blue jeans (without holes) make nice floatation devices: take them off, tie the ends of the legs together, put them over your head with the knot behind your neck, then holding the waistline below the water, “splash” air under water until it fills with air. The water causes the threads of the fabric to expand, as well as adding water tension to the surface. As long as the pants are kept wet, they hold air pretty well.
Now imagine that same phenomenon with a queen-sized down comforter. (No jokes, please. Oh what the heck: jokes, please.) It’s actually more challenging than a beach ball, because you push down here and it pops up there.
Being a thinking man, I went to the kitchen and got several cooking screens and racks. I thought I could use them to push down on the comforter. It didn’t work–the air kept moving away from where I pushed down.
[ok, you see it coming now, don’t you?]
I decided the only way to soak the entire comforter all the way through was the man-handle the thing. I took off my clothes and got in the tub. Even that didn’t work at first: I’d kneel here and push there with my hands, and the bubbles would simply move. So I hearkened back to my four months in Asia living with a Thermarest and sleeping bag with stuffsack: I started at one end, squeezed all the air out, then rolled it. Kneel on it. Roll, kneel, roll, kneel, until I got all the way through. It got even more challenging at the end, and I finally did it. I then spread out the comforter and agitated it. I looked a bit like Lucille Ball stomping grapes, except that I’m a man, not a woman; I’m stomping on a comforter not grapes, and I’m naked. Other than that, I’m sure we looked a lot alike. I could make more comparisons, but this is a family show.
Then it’s time to get out of the tub. I turn on the water and use the hand-shower to shower off my legs and arms. Then dry and get out.
I mentioned the enzymes: the product is called Odor-Mute, and it works AMAZINGLY well on cat urine: it gets rid of the odor completely and passes the black light test (urine–including human urine–phosphoresces under black light). Curiously, it’s the exact same enzyme that’s in Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer. So not only have I been removing the urine smell from the comforter, I’ve been tenderizing myself. I must be very tender by now. Throw me on the grill.
Well, I have my clothes back on by now, and it’s been almost an hour since I set it to soaking. It’s time to go squeeze the water out, and go to the Laudromat. Hm. I’ll probably have to get naked again.
Wonder whether it will come out all right? Wonder whether I’ll make my phone call at 7? Wonder whether I’ll die of boredom at the Laundromat? or get mugged? or meet an angel or something?
Check back later to find out. This is my cliff-hanger.

Take Care of the Bacon, Y’All!

I think I got this from Merlin Mann. It works.

You already know what spam is–it’s the stuff you don’t want. Well, there are less-important emails you also received from organizations and other stuff you signed up for, but you don’t really want to read it often. This stuff is called bacon.
Bacon is really annoying in the inbox. I really just want to see email I’m interested in reading in my inbox. So I decided to do something about it. Since I use Outlook, I created a rule that puts emails from certain email addresses into a special folder called “Bacon” (oddly enough). I’ve placed this folder beneath my JunkMail folder. As new bacon arrives in my inbox, I add the new email to the rule I created.
Now when I check email, I see the emails I’m most interested in when looking at my Inbox. I then use the Unread Mail filter (saved to favorites) to quickly review all my Bacon and see if I want to read any of it. Otherwise, I can quickly delete.
I also have emails filing themselves upon arrival, and read them all in the Unread Mail filter. This is especially handy if you can predict the subject line (especially from mailing lists that put a prefix in the subject), or if the email is always from or sent to a specific email address.
This all makes email much more painless!
What other tricks do you use to help with your influx of emails? Please share in the comments!

Zero Inbox

In a previous post I described the trials and tribulations of floods of email and living in that lake for way too long. I also described slashing and burning and emptying my inbox.

After that entry I was minimally successful at keeping my inbox empty. And I still had one very bad habit: if something arrived in my inbox that needed to be done but couldn’t happen right away, I left it there until I did it. When would I ever learn?
Well, the answer to that is August 22, 2008. I don’t remember where I got the link, and I found this page with a video by Merlin Mann talking about his Zero Inbox philosophy. None of the concepts were rocket science: there are 5 actions you can take on incoming emails:
  • Delete
  • Delegate
  • Respond
  • Defer
  • Do
Delete: I wasn’t deleting enough. Does everything really require a response? No. Delete.
Delegate: I’m a very compliant person. I’m very quick to take on too many responsibilities and say yes. I’m working on this (no, I didn’t buy any magazines for candles to the kid who came to my door yesterday, and I thanked him for offering). So for me, delegation starts with saying, NO I WILL NOT DO THIS–at least internally. Then ASK someone else to do it. I’ve been working on this one over the years and am getting better and better at it.
Respond: This one is not a challenge–I’m pretty quick to respond to people.
Defer: This one I was doing all wrong. I was deferring by letting it sit in my inbox. NO NO NO! I’ll get back to this in a second.
Do: I probably do too much of this. Just take the action now. Touch it once. The problem is that I can so easily get distracted by doing requests that come in that are of low importance or urgency, when there’s other more important and urgent things to do. So don’t do too much doing.
In Mann’s words, the most important thing to do when having an over-full inbox is to “simply stop sucking.” I love this! He suggested creating a DMZ folder (Google DMZ if you don’t know it) and putting all inbox contents there. Deal with that as you go, but don’t leave it in the inbox. Start fresh with the inbox and stop letting them pile up. This works! I stopped sucking immediately, and it felt great.
Getting back to the deferring, the inbox is NOT a successful way to defer. I now spend a bit more energy identifying the things I really want to do and saying no to those that I don’t or won’t. I then defer by putting the item in my calendar on the date I will do it.
If I take an action on an email by sending an inquiry, thus needing to wait for a response before more action, I flag the email as a task to complete, and put it in a new folder I created called “Waiting.”
If something is just kind of there–not really significant but I don’t want to lose it–I’ll flag it and add a reminder date, and stick it in the DMZ folder. Maybe not the best strategy, and at least it’s out of my inbox.
None of these concepts are new or earth-shattering–indeed, I learned most of these concepts from Patricia Clason years ago when I took her time management course. It simply took a decision to be really conscious and disciplined about it. Both of these ingredients are crucial to keeping an empty inbox, which for me means having a much more relaxed and orderly life. I continue to whittle down on the DMZ folder, and will one day perhaps delete it altogether (hopefully it will be empty. ;o}).
I’m practicing the same discipline on my desktop: nothing remains on it for more than a day. The receipts I put on from Home Depot last night I entered into Quicken this morning and filed, except for the return I have to make, so that is going out to be rubber-banded on the item and put into my trunk on the next visit.
I find as I follow these practices life is a lot more enjoyable. While I have experienced many long periods of having a buried desk and a flooded inbox, I know very viscerally that these things drain my energy and put me in a funk. Having clear space helps me feel like I can breathe.
How’s your breathing?

Information Overload to Overlord

Part 4 of a 10-part series on spending LESS time administrating your life and more time LIVING it!

The Challenge

There is more information generated in the U.S. in one day than any of us could digest in our lifetimes. And sometimes that’s what our inbox feels like. I’ve experienced that myself. I felt inundated by good or even great tips, hints, techniques, learnings, that I couldn’t keep up. I also got information from other sources: the web, pictures on my cell phone, etc. Note to mention my own ideas!

How do you organize all those different kinds of information? I tried Word documents, wiki pages, etc., and none of it was satisfactory. And then I tripped on the answer.

The Solution—Evernote

Evernote is amazing. It’s a program you install on your computer (Windows, Mac, iPhone, etc.) where you can put just about anything, and then organize it.

Get an email with a great marketing idea? Highlight the pertinent paragraph and click the “Add to Evernote” button. It will become an entry in your Evernote notebook (of which you can have several) that contains the header information of the email and the paragraph you just highlighted. You can then add tags of your own design (marketing, great idea, etc.). You can even click a link that will open the original email!

Same thing on the web: I’ve been doing home renovations and was having a challenge with the trim in one of the bedrooms. I found a GREAT online tutorial for installing trim. I highlighted the whole thing—pictures and all—and copied it into Evernote. It was saved perfectly, as well as a link to the web page where I found it.

Now comes the really valuable (ok, and fun) part: click into the search box and start typing. As you type, Evernote highlights words in every entry that match what you’re typing as you type it, and filters out any entries that don’t have that word! Thus, if you have 3,000 entries and only one with the word “didgeridoo,” probably by the time you type “didg” you’ll be looking at that one lone note. Evernote has indexed all of the information in your entries. Excellent!

Oh, but wait, cuz there’s something even cooler: I was shopping for doors for the closet in said bedroom. I took pictures with my cell phone of the signs with the prices. I came home and pasted them into Evernote. That picture has words in it, right? Evernote reads the text in pictures and indexes them, too! So, if I took six pictures of signs, I can just type the word “door” and it will filter down to include those entries. Or “pine,” etc.

If that weren’t enough, you can sync your notebook to your mobile device and have access to it there as well! As well as adding entries on your phone (pictures, words), and sync it back to your computer. You can also make notebooks public and sync them to the web. Then you can share them with friends or colleagues. You can do the same type of search on the web of entering words and filtering those entries that have them.

How else could you use Evernote? How about ideas for blog entries, marketing ideas, capturing whiteboards of meetings on your phone, having all of your ‘ideas’ available to you, both at home and at work, going paperless by taking pictures of all of those scraps and notes on your desk, organizing recipes, research, tracking books you want, gifts to by, and on and on.

And organizing them all with tags. Takes my breath away!

Evernote is officially in Beta, so you’ll need to “register” to try it. Don’t worry—it’s free.

Your Next Steps

  • Learn more about Evernote.
  • Go to Register to test Evernote Beta and get a response in a day or so.
  • Have questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll answer them in a future blog entry
  • Have other technology that makes your life easier? Please leave me a comment—I’d love to learn more tips and tricks, and may share it here in the future!

Next issue: schedule meetings with multiple people looking at multiple possible meeting dates and times…

Flipped

Given: I have a great memory for some things: language, syntax, numbers.

Given: I have a horrible memory for some things: anything related to history such as dates, times, places; what I had for lunch yesterday; where I put my keys; etc.

Therefore: I like systems. A lot.

When I was a kid I’d misplace things and get really frustrated a lot. I discovered that if I did things in consistent ways, I wouldn’t lose my stuff. Further, if I took steps so that I couldn’t help but use the system, I’d be much better off.

Here’s an example: if I need to remember to take something to work, leave it on the counter, under my keys (of course, I always leave my keys on the counter).

Another: Since I have a flexible work schedule, I set all work reminders to the previous workday (24 hours during the week, the previous Friday if on Monday), so that I will remember to be in to work for a morning meeting.

Well, here’s another system I have: when I’m done with, say, a jar of vitamins in the bathroom, I turn it upside down and put it on the shelf in front of me. This is my signal to get more.

Well, imagine my surprise the other night when, in low light, I find that my toothpaste (Mentadent–it has its own little stand) is upside-down! How odd… And later I see the kleenex on the toilet is upside-down. How odd… [Warning: I’m kinda slow.] Sunday morning I hear an odd noise in the bathroom, and see my little piggy bank is upside down; Josh says he’s playing with it. That morning while getting ready, I realize that EVERYTHING on my bathroom counter that doesn’t have an impossibly high center of gravity when turned upside-down is flipped! Yes, Josh has been surreptitiously flipping everything in my bathroom. I laughed and laughed–first at his thinking to do that, second at how long it took me to clue in. And I’m thinking about the time I’ll be at his house alone, and will flip everything in his fridge, kitchen cabinets, bathrooms, etc…

Josh doesn’t “waste time” on the internet, so he’ll never read this. So please don’t tell him.

Find it Now – Google Desktop

Part 3 of a 10-part series on spending LESS time administrating your life and more time LIVING it!

The Challenge

I’m sure you’ve had this experience just like I have: I got an email… about that thing… from that guy… where is it? Is it in the marketing folder? Nope. Events? Nope. Where IS it?

It can be very frustrating to not be able to find things on the computer: an email, a link to a website, a document. Have you ever thought, “When I look for something on the internet, I use Google. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could do that on my own computer?”

Guess what: You can.

The Solution: Google Desktop

What Google search does on the web, Google Desktop does on your computer: it goes through all the files on your computer (you can customize the directories) and emails on your system, as well as pages you view on the internet, and indexes them.

The next time you want to find something, you hit ctrl-ctrl, and a “Quick Search Box” appears in the middle of your screen. Type the words you’re looking for, and as you type a dropdown list dynamically updates with each new word you type. Hit the button, and a browser window opens and shows you the results of the search, just look Google for the web.

An example of the Quick Search Box (click on it for a larger view).

You can also refine the search: emails only, graphics, documents, and within each of these, even finer granularity. For emails, all those TO me, FROM me, or to or from any of the individuals who are listed with any of the emails that match your search.


An example of results in the browser (click on it for a larger view).

There is even more to Google Desktop, including Google Gadgets and Sidebar. I don’t use these much, although others might find them enjoyable.

I do have one warning: If you have a HUGE amount of emails and documents (and I mean huge: I have 700 MB of emails), Google Desktop may slow down computer performance. So, YMMV (your mileage may vary) and proceed at your own risk.

That said, I’ve never had problems with Google Desktop. Google makes great products—easy to install, intuitive to use. And yes, it’s available for Mac and Linux.

I no longer worry about not being able to find things, as long as I can remember a fairly unique combination of words contained in the document, email or web page. This is a great way to turbo-boost your tech life!

Your Next Steps

Next issue: A truly amazing way to organize specific information on your computer, even words in graphic images, to quickly find it, then share it on the web with others!