Use Your Mobile Phone to say Organized On the Go

Like my geek ancestors before me, I am deeply devoted to my Moleskine notebook. I keep one in my backpack or in my back pocket at all times, with a range of suitable pens that make writing a joy (I’m a fan of the fine-tipped pigment pens favored by illustrators). For quick notes and thinking time, there’s nothing better.

But I’m also a big fan of doing things efficiently, which means not handling anything — a note, an address, a reminder — more than once. A lot of the thoughts I need to capture on the go won’t end up staying in my notebook forever — they need to be transferred, eventually, to the computer where I’ll actually be using them.

Over the last couple of years, a number of new services have emerged that make the cell phone a particularly useful part of my productivity toolkit when I’m away from home. Most of these services take advantage of the phone’s mobile messaging service — the ability to send short text messages, with or without attached images. Increasingly, it is possible to send information, ideas, and even documents directly to the services and programs I use to stay organized.

Which means I don’t have to copy that appointment I jotted into my notebook into my calendar when I get home. And I don’t have to madly scribble notes from a whiteboard, only to type them up again when I get home. And I don’t have to remind myself to copy the reminders from my Moleskine into my todo list!

10 Ways to Stay Organized with SMS/MMS

  1. Send tasks to your todo list. Many online task managers accept tasks via SMS, usually indirectly (using an intermediate service to “translate”, although Gubb allows tasks to be added directly). For example, I use Twitter to send tasks to my Toodledo list, using a special format: d toodledo [Task] #[Due date] *[Folder]. (E.g. “d toodledo Write a post for Lifehack #5/27 *Lifehack”)
  2. Add events to your calendar. Google Calendar allows you to add events via tet message using it’s “natural language” entry method. So you send a text to “GVENT” (48368) saying “Meet Andy at Joe’s Cafe tomorrow at 2:30pm” and Google parses it out and puts it into your calendar. 30 Boxes is also supposed to do this, but I don’t use it enough to be familiar with how. (If you know, tell us how in the comments!)
  3. Check your calendar. Using the same “GVENT” number, you can get a summary of your next appointment, your schedule for the day, or tomorrow’s schedule from your Google Calendar, no matter where you are. To get your next event, text “next” to “GVENT”; to get your schedule for the day, text “day”; for tomorrow’s schedule, text “nday”. A text message will be returned with the information you requested.
  4. Track your expenses. Everyone knows the key to good budgeting is keeping track of what you spend. This is easier said than done, though, and it’s not helped by the fact that expense tracking is pretty boring. Enter Xpenser, a web-based expense tracker that allows you to submit expenses on the fly via text message. Send the amount, a short description, a keyword for the type of expense, and you’re done. (Note: Users outside of the US and Canada can’t do this directly, but can use Twitter as an intermediary.)
  5. Track how you use your time. If you bill by the hour, or if you just recognize that as with money budgeting, time budgeting needs good record-keeping, you can keep track of your time away from the office with text messaging, too. Harvest is an online time  tracking service that allows time records to be sent via SMS, using Twitter. You just send a (private) direct message using the following format: d harvest t duration notes. Check out Harvest’s instructions for more details. Incidentally, if Xpensr doesn’t turn you on, Harvest also does expense tracking.
  6. Keep a food diary. Whether you’re trying to lose a few pounds or just want to eat a healthier diet, a food diary can be a useful tool. Tweet What You Eat uses Twitter to track your food intake: eat, tweet, move on with your life.
  7. Track gas usage and mileage. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but gasoline prices are up a bit this year. Tracking your mileage is a good way to identify problems that are making your car run less efficiently. Two new services allow you to record mileage at the pump: My Milemarker and FuelFrog both let you use Twitter to send reports from the pump. For FuelFrog, send an “@” message to @fuelfrog with the miles driven, price, and gallons (in either Imperial or metric); for My Milemarker, you send a direct message like this: “D mymm [miles] [gallons] [price]“.
  8. Scan documents and whiteboards. Two services — ScanR and Qipit — will take photos sent via MMS from your phone, clean them up, and send you nicely formatted PDF documents. If your phone’s camera is high enough resolution (over 2 megapixels), ScanR will even run OCR (optical character recognition) to pull out the text!
  9. Get directions. Feeling lost? Send the address of your start point and destination to “GOOGLE” (466453) and Google will send you directions! Note: You may receive more than one text message in return, depending on the length of your trip.
  10. Send email. That you can send text messages to email addresses is often forgotten. Just replace the phone number with an email address. There are a lot of services that don’t take text messages but will accept emails. How about sending article ideas to your Google Docs account? Sending notes and even pictures to Evernote? Sending an address to yourself to cut-and-paste into your contact manager? Or telling your cell-phone-phobic mom that you love her (awwww…)?

These are just a few ways to get and stay more organized using text messages. As more and more companies realize the power of text and media messaging, we can expect to see even more creative uses for our mobile phones — all without opening a browser.

One word of caution, though: As you discover more things you can do with mobile messaging, you are likely to find yourself sending more and more messages each day. Make sure you have either an unlimited plan or a plan with a very large number of free messages — even at 5-cents a piece, text message charges can add up fast, and some providers charge 10, 20, 25 cents and more per message.

Do you have any mobile messaging tricks of your own? Share them with Lifehack’s readers in the comments!

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