Category Archives: Lifehacks

Free Your Mind – Jott

This is a copy of a blog I keep on BigLife.

Part 2 of a 10-part series on spending LESS time administrating your life and more time LIVING it!

The quote “Free your mind” comes from the movie The Matrix, when Morpheus wants Neo to let go of the limitations of his beliefs to see new possibilities.

While this column may not allow you to stop bullets or leap hundreds of yards, I believe it will show you new possibilities that you can attain quickly to spend less time adminstrating and more time living your life.

The Challenge

The title of this entry is quite literal. I used to carry so much junk around in my head: groceries I needed, errands to run, dates to remember, and a bunch of other to-dos. Given that my memory isn’t all that great to begin with, it took a lot of energy, and wasted a bunch of “RAM” that I could be using for more creative endeavors.

So I started using systems: I started keeping a calendar in Outlook, grocery lists and to-do lists on paper. That helped. And there were still way too many things I kept in my head.

Or, worse yet, I’d be driving my 17- to 20-minute commute to work and remember, “oh yeah, gotta get the car serviced… oh yeah, gotta email Beth… Oh yeah, I need milk…” and a thousand other oh-yeahs.

Listen, the RAM comment may seem like hyperbole, but I mean it. Do you know how much creative energy you spend remembering stuff? I’d be willing to bet it weighs you down more than you think.

What do you do with your oh-yeahs, especially when you’re driving? Simply attempt to remember it better—maybe use a mnemonic device? Write it down on one of those pads that’s sunction-cupped to your windshield (yikes!)? Leave yourself a voicemail? Record a voice memo on your cell phone?

The Solution: Jott

I no longer do any of those things. I use a free service called Jott to put the information right where it belongs. This is an ultimate “touch it once” method: no longer will you have to write down or record something so that you later have to transfer it to your schedule, to do list, etc. Jott it and be done!

Jott receives your phone call, converts your words into text, and then sends the words where they need to go. No training of the system is required to recognize your voice. Some examples:

  • Email: Above I remembered I needed to send an email to Beth. I would call her, but I need to make two other calls while I drive, and Beth likes to talk (I do, too; just not right now!) I call Jott via the speed dial on my cell phone (using my Bluetooth headset for safety!), say Beth’s name, confirm, then speak what I want her to read: “Hi Beth. Would you like to meet at Monty’s—M-O-N-T-Y-apostrophe-S—Blue Plate for lunch on Thursday at noon? Let me know. Thanks!” Beth gets an email with these words, and Monty’s will be spelled correctly. If the transcription wasn’t perfect, she can click the link to listen to my original audio message.
  • Email a Group! On the Jott site you upload all of your contacts, or define them on the site. You can then arrange them into as many different groups as you like, each with as many members as you want. When Josh and I went on vacation to Palm Springs in February, I remembered on the way to the airport that I had forgotten to email everyone when I was leaving and returning, which is my custom. I called Jott: “Family members… Yes… Hi all: Josh and I are getting on a plane in an hour for Palm Springs. We’ll be gone until the twenty-sixth. I’ll post some blog entries of the fun stuff while we’re there. Enjoy the snow!” An email was sent to all of my siblings (I’m the youngest of seven) and my parents.
  • Update your schedule: In Part 1 of this series. I talked about keeping a schedule in Google Calendar. Check this out: I call my mechanic to make an appointment for maintenance on Thursday at 8 am. I don’t want to simply remember this, so I call Jott: “Google Calendar… Car maintenance Thursday at 8 am.” That’s it! Jott allows links to more than 20 different online services, including Google Calendar. When I go to look at my calendar, there will be a one-hour appointment Thursday at 8 with “Car maintenance” as the subject. How cool is that!
  • Other Online Services: of the 20+ services to which Jott connects, there are several online to-do lists, including Remember the Milk. So I Jott: “Remember the milk… yes… Buy a gallon of milk.” and it appears on my to-do list.
  • Blog! This one may seem silly, yet it actually works well: I have Jott hooked up to my Blogger account. Officially you can record up to a 30-second Jott, although i’ve gone for up to a minute and not be cut off (yet I have been cut off before). When in Palm Springs I used Jott twice to make blog entries. See the last three entries on the bottom of this page. Once again, Jott puts a link in the blog entry so that readers can hear the initial recording if something is unclear.
  • Remind yourself: I’m going through my day and I want to remember before leaving work to run an errand on my way home. I don’t want to put it in a to-do list, I just want a reminder. Jott to the rescue: “MYSELF… Stop at Home Depot and get more varnish… [do you want a reminder?] Yes [what date?] today [what time?] 4:50 [am or pm?] pm [setting reminder for today at 4:50 pm. Is this correct] Yes… [Jott sent]” Between 4:35 and 4:50, Jott will send a text message to my cell phone with the reminder. It’s like having my own secretary!

Every time you Jott, Jott sends you an email to confirm the Jott. This gives you an opportunity to confirm the transcription, and the email even contains a confidence level of the transcription (high, medium or low). If it got something wrong (and it does sometimes; it’s not perfect), you can then correct it if necessary by sending another email, etc. And I almost never need to do this.
I’ve covered the highlights of Jott, and there’s more. Go to www.jott.com to learn more and sign up for your free account. Oh yeah, free? Yes, they are officially in Beta. I’m guessing at some point there will be a fee, and for now, I’m lovin’ it for free.

Once you use Jott, email me and I’ll send you my trick for Jotting in loud places like restaurants with 95% accuracy!

Your Next Steps

  • Learn more about Jott and how it works.
  • Go to http://www.jott.com/ and sign up for a free account.
  • 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: find that one email from that one guy about that one thing…

Quit Slaving Away—Master Some New Technology!

This is a copy of a blog I keep on BigLife.

Part 1 of at least a 10-part series on spending LESS time administrating your life and more time LIVING it!

After listening to Victory’s interview of Melissa this morning, I was inspired to do some blogging in here to share some of the tools I’ve used to turbo-charge my own life.

You know, to be honest, I haven’t been doing coaching in the strict sense of the word in several years, although I do lots of informal coaching of folks. And I’ll tell you why I do it: with anyone I have in my life personally or professionally of any significance, I want them to share some of the systems I use so that I/we don’t have to muck around on mundane tasks, and can instead get on with spending time together! Since I’m a geek who enjoys camping out on the leading edge of software products, I can sometimes push right past people’s comfort zones with technology. I’ve since learned to tone it down and get more buy in. Anyway–enough about me; you are likely more interested in the technology.

Are you the Master of the Slave?

Right now I have at least 10 ideas of things you may or may not use already, but I’d be willing to bet you don’t use most of these things! How would you like to turbo-charge your life in these areas?

  • Do you waste time scheduling with the people close to you, or do the back and forth of setting meetings with clients or associates?
  • Would you like greater mastery of all of the valuable information that you are flooded with on a daily basis? Do you ever waste time looking for that one email from that one guy about that one thing?
  • Do you have a great EASY way to organize and clean up pictures?
  • Are you a blog master? Have you dabbled? Do you not know what I’m talking about?
  • Do you have a lot of documentation (fancy word for information, procedures or instructions) that you’d like to keep organized for your own use and perhaps share with others?
  • Would you like to have a greater number of quick, easy, “soft” connections with people, that allow you to know what’s up in their lives without spending a lot of time?
  • How much time to you spend on the administration of your life when you’d rather be spending it on living your life!

How about we work together to minimize some of that could-be-better-spent time, eh?

Stop spending time scheduling—Use Google Calendar!

I’m sure you already have a calendar of some kind, be it paper or Outlook or something else, and your first response to my suggestion to add yet another makes your stomach hurt.

It’ll be ok—stay tuned.

When I was first getting serious with my boyfriend Josh, we were having one helluva time finding time to spend together because we’re both pretty busy people. I’d always used Outlook and he’d always used Yahoo! for his calendar. Well, I’d just begun playing with Google Calendar, and I had a great idea.

You see, Google allows you to create multiple calendars for yourself, and SHARE them with others! And you select the access you want others to have: see only free/busy information, see full schedule, make changes to your schedule, manage sharing of your schedule. See my public calendar (new window).

Considering what I mentioned above about pushing people too hard with technology, I suggested we try it. It was a smashing success from Minute 1. Here’s a typical screenshot of a week in my calendar:

(I’ve” shrunk the image to protect privacy.)

The gold is my personal schedule. Blue is Josh’s. Brown is time scheduled for ME, sleep and work. Me, sleep and work—are you kidding? Nope. If you don’t schedule EVERYTHING then visually it seems like you have a lot of free time that you don’t actually have, because you have to sleep! I also schedule two ME! nights each week, which are nights that I DO NOT allow myself to work. I can do laundry or read a book or see Josh, but it’s time I invest on me. I hope I don’t have to say how valuable that is here… I can also move them around in the week as much as I want, but they have to stay on that week!

Josh and I simply check out our shared calendar when getting an invite from friends, send the other an appointment, and when accepted, accept the friend’s invite! Or we plan the time we will spend together, etc. It’s been a real godsend.

The green in the upper right marks Memorial Day Weekend. Now look at the list at the left, which is of calendars that I keep with other organizations. I can’t tell you HOW USEFUL this is! Others who are involved in the same organization can have these listed on their calendars, and life gets a whole lot easier!

You can also send invitations for any event, and if you use Gmail, all of your contacts are already available (you can also import them).

I keep calendars for: a monthly dinner group of friends, instructors at the Center for Creative Learning, the public calendar for the Center, the Detroit instructing calendar, my half-marathon training schedule (big success!), a public calendar (where others can see my important travel, etc.), and a monthly video group I like to attend.

Don’t want to give up your calendar? You don’t have to!

Google has a program that will automatically synch many calendars directly with the Google Calendar: either your calendar or Google’s can “win”, or it will synch both ways. Problem solved!
Don’t feel like there’s a need to keep as many calendars as me—if you keep just one and use some of the techniques I’ve mentioned, you’re way ahead of the game!

Your Next Steps

In each of these columns I will give you some suggested action. If you don’t take action on new information soon after learning it, it’s as good as gone.

  • Read about Getting Started with Google Calendar
  • Do you use Google Calendar? Please leave a comment below on a great trick you have, or just share how you enjoy it!
  • Have you tried it and gotten stuck? Leave a question below and I’ll answer it in an up-coming entry.
  • Do you have a technology tip that would be good for this blog? Please share it below or email me directly.

Great Run! and Google Earth

I stayed up a bit late last night playing with Google Earth. It really blows my mind the level of detail that they have all over the world, not to mention when the program “flies” you from one place on Earth to another–I actually felt a bit of vertigo!

I was looking at places where I was in Nepal, even finding a route that very much matched Mary’s and mine when when we trekked the Annapurna range in 1990. I uploaded a few images, including some pictures I took at Pearl Harbor when visiting the USS Arizona Memorial Museum. And I was very naughty to stay up as long as I did.

View Interactive Map on MapMyRun.comAfter six hours of sleep I got up and futzed some on the computer, waiting to digest breakfast some so I could go on my run. And what a great run it was! I was a bit intimidated thinking of running 7 miles, but also knew I could do it, even if I had to take my time. Take a peek at the route I ran, if you’re interested. My average speed was 5.83 mph (that’s a 10:16 mile–I think in mph…). Not bad for a longer run! Now I’m even more confident that I can run the 13.1 miles well.

Josh is busy today, so it’s a great opportunity to get lots of stuff done. I’m very behind in laundry, kitchen, and other housework, and I have to work on some other projects and presentations as well before the Varsity Band concert tonight.

An Historic, Monumental Occasion

On February 7, 1995, I bought my first computer. I totally forgot, until I checked Quicken to find the date, that I got a loan from my boss to get it, which I paid off for over a year. And isn’t it interesting that 12 years after that day I met Josh? Anyway…

Probably the next day (for some reason my emails only go back to 1998) I got my first email. Oh the joy! Oh the wonder! Oh the fabulous possibilities! I couldn’t GET enough email! Please, oh please send me email! Let me learn about this strange new world!

A few months after this I received an email from my friend Chester, completely out of the blue. I had no idea he even had a computer. Chester had been living in Bay Area of California, and I hadn’t heard from him very much. It was a wonderful way to reconnect with him.

I forget exactly how many computers I’ve owned, although that’s a bit confusing. Judging from Quicken, I updated my motherboard in 1998 (January – would that have been for Windows 98?), and I think that was the first OS I installed from CD (oh the speed! Oh the convenience! This is AMAZING!). It then appears I built a computer in 2001 – I’m guessing with my friend Matt’s help. And in 2006 I built the computer I’m using at this moment, again with Matt’s suggestions for hardware.

I’ve learned a lot about computers all this time, to the point that I build my own machines and do all the maintenance a slightly-above-average geek can do.

And during all this time, the emails have been coming in. And coming in. And coming in…

It reminds me of my first “real” job, which is the job I still have today at Qualtim, which I’ve had for 17 years (does anyone DO that anymore?). After a few months, it was just my boss, Kirk, and me. And we took over administration of WTCA, then called the Wood Truss Council of America, but now called WTCA – Representing the Structural Building Components Industry (why do I still need to look that up after two years?). When we first took over, I turned from proto-geek to full geek: I created a timesheet and invoicing program in Excel so that they didn’t have to be done by hand any longer. I taught myself about relational databases and built my first one to run the association. It handled company and individual information, membership data, orders, shipping, and much more. I first created it in Lotus Approach (oh the days…), and then re-created it in Microsoft Access. The timesheet/invoicing program was then re-created in Access, with a bit of help from my friend Brad. The data was then ported to SQL Server. Today that program is called “Main,” and is the backbone of our organization.

When I was 23 and first creating these systems, I was high as a kite. I was learning a lot, and to have all that responsibility for a nation-wide association was quite a kick! I built the data and procedural foundations for what is today a multi-million dollar organization!

However, as time went on, the shine fell off the apple a bit: I soon realized that along with that joy and prestige (?) came a lot of responsibility. And that responsibility got heavier, and heavier… and heavier. I learned that the lack of documenting was going to lead to serious issues: first, I have a horrible memory, and while I can figure out code pretty quickly, it still wastes time. The larger danger, however, is that if I were “hit by a bus” (a phrase we have used consistently over the years), others would have a really difficult time figuring out some of the–shall we say–“elegant” solutions I’d created. I felt like Ebinezer Scrooge’s cohort Bob Marley, who dragged the chains behind him after death – that’s what Main felt like at times. Even today, when we have three programmers on staff, I’m still the only one who takes forays into Main to make updates, etc. Others have gone in over time, and none of them are with us any longer.

Let’s get back to the topic at hand: email. During all of those database adventures, the emails continued to pile in. There were long stretches of time that I didn’t delete email from my inbox, to the point of having thousands of emails. Because I was becoming an instructor with the Center for Creative Learning, I found it necessary to get more organized, so I cleaned out the inbox, leaving only those tasks that needed to be done, responded to, etc. And I flagged emails that were of greater urgency: red being most, then yellow then orange, purple is for info only, and green is for whatever else.

And my inbox began feeling heavier, and heavier… and heavier. In the early ’90s I used to be BORED, not having enough to fill my time! Oh how I’ve yearned for those days, or at least a short visit of that feeling (that feeling was one of my three goals on vacation, along with eating and sleeping). In the past 10 years, life has felt more full than I like, at times being really stressful. I worked for 9 years at 3/4 time, taking most Wednesdays off. Then when I bought my house in 2004 I figured I’d better work full time to “support the house” – stupidest thing I ever did. The next three years were miserable, and I went back to 3/4 time last year. Although by then I had Josh in my life, so any vacuum I created was more than filled.

And all along, my inbox has been a focal point. A metaphor for my too-full life. An anchor. At times an enemy. I had a vision of a free and easy life, where I’d get up on a warm Spring morning with a smile on my face, have a Zen breakfast on the back patio (please pronounce “PAH tio” or “PAH chio” if you like), do some reading, BREEEEATHING all the way. And I’d be able to do that because my inbox (hear low cellos from a horror music score here) would be empty. I MUST EMPTY MY INBOX! But how? There are too many things to do! TOO TOO MUCH!

Well, sometimes adequate pressure is required to bring about change. Last December I was stressed out and had an epiphany: I cannot process all of the educational emails that come in as a result of my instructing work. I still had emails that I had to finish reading from 1998! I set up a system for the instructors to save that information for reference when needed, and get it the heck outta my inbox! At that point I got it down to eight emails, and was on top of the world. And immediately thereafter it began growing again. My decided limit at that point was a screen-full of emails. I soon surpassed that mark.

The pressure built again until the end of last month, when I added more decisions to my earlier epiphany: I cannot say ‘yes’ to as many things as I was. I love to please people (I’m actually quite compliant in personality), yet doing so gets me into trouble, i.e., not having a life. So I sent an email to the Instructor body of CCL informing them that I was going to focus my efforts on areas where my value is greatest, and leave some things for others to do. And I have been: when an eBook was being created, I only gave it a quick read-through, and didn’t do a SINGLE edit, which, with my desire to have things “Just so,” was a huge success in and of itself. Others were surprised by this (lack of) behavior on my part, which meant the success was serious.

This brings me (now us, since you’ve been reading this long [you still there? really? not bored yet?]) to last week, where I (trumpet fanfare) REMOVED THE LAST EMAIL FROM MY INBOX.

Have you ever had one of those moments where something monumental happens, and you don’t fully appreciate it until later? An unpleasant example I had that was comparable was cutting the end off of my fingernail with some of the quick a few weeks ago: I realized immediately what happened, but then sat and looked at it to really assess how bad it was (it wasn’t that bad – not a mark on me today). Or walking across the stage to graduate, or many other life-changing events. Does it sounds silly to compare these things to an inbox? If it does, I haven’t adequately communicated the significance of the feeling.

I’d lived for so long with my inbox having “something for me to do” – say 13 years? – that I was literally disoriented. It felt for a moment like I was looking at my Junk Folder, which I always empty immediately. There was nothing there to do. I imagine it felt something like having a dog die who was always peeing on the carpet, barking at the neighbors, chewing up shoes, and being generally unlikeable. Yet when he died, there was an empty place.

Well, this is where that analogy ends, because emails still come in, unlike the dog that won’t be coming back to life any time soon. It takes resolve and focus to keep my inbox empty, and I’ve got the systems in place to do it: things get passed off to others, scheduled, or filed with a reminder now. And it feels REALLY GOOD.

This morning felt really good, in fact. I got up with a smile on my face (petting Raja for a while is good for that), made my simple bed, walked across the bamboo flooring to open the blinds, then put on my robe and made some 10-grain cereal. I’ve responded to a few emails or scheduled things, and deleted or filed them. All. ALL of them. There’s nothing in my inbox right now. How does it feel?

As always, your comments, even if just “I was here!” are welcome.

Jott

This is a very interesting post. I’m creating it by talking into my cell phone I’m using a new service called jott–that’s http://www.jott.com/. It allow you to simply talk into your cell phone and it will send an e-mail, update your Google calendar, start a blog entry, and several other really valuable functions. Give it a try–I think you might like it! listen

Powered by Jott, edited by me…