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4 Random Tips to Get More Done with Your PC

4 Random Tips to Get More Done with Your PC

Get More Done with Your PC

    I’ve had several challenges in the last couple weeks, some of which required some creative solutions. Since some of you might find yourself facing the same challenges at some point, I thought I’d share this motley collection of tips with you.

    Jott to Evernote

    If you read Joel’s post, 7 Ways to Use Evernote last month, you already know how useful the new version of Evernote can be. Although it’s still in closed beta (email me if you need an invite; 1st 12 people only! All gone!), Evernote is well on its way to become the premiere note-taking and web-clipping app, synchronizing across your computer, your mobile devices, and the Web.

    But what if you want to add a note when you can’t login and type something up? Maybe you’re dribing, you don’t have web access on your phone, or the thought of keying in a note on your phone’s 10-key keypad fills you with dread.

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    Turns out, you can Jott it.

    Jott is a messaging service with voice recognition – you all the Jott number from your mobile phone, leave a message, and Jott transcribes it to text and forwards it to your desired recipient. I’ve written before about the many ways you can use Jott, but at the time I had some trouble using it’s Jott-to-email functions to interface with other services.

    Well, I tried again last night, and it worked. Here’s what you do:

    1. Login to Evernote’s website, click “Settings”, and copy your Evernote email address.
    2. Login to Jott and click “Add Contacts” on the right-hand side.
    3. In the “Quick Add” screen, put “Evernote” as the First Name (or whatever you’ll want to call your Evernote account – try “Spanky the Elephant” if you feel like it) and paste your Evernote email address under the “Email” column.
    4. Click “Add”.

    Easy. When you call Jott, it will ask “Who do you want to Jott”, you’ll say “Evernote”, recite your message, and it will show up in Evernote a few minutes later.

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    But wait! Jott to Google Docs, too!

    As long as you’re adding contacts in Jott, you might want to add your Google Docs email address as well. Maybe you don’t like Evernote or tend to work a lot out of Google Docs. Or maybe you feel like sending an idea for a project you already have in Google Docs.

    Get your Google Docs email address by logging into Google Docs and clicking “Import”. Scroll down and you’ll see a monster email address in big, bold letters. Again, cut and paste it as a contact in Jott, add a name you’ll remember and Jott is liikely to recognize easily, and you’re good. Now you can send ideas straight into your word processor, wherever you have cellphone service.

    Export Audio from PowerPoint

    Who doesn’t love PowerPoint?

    OK, OK, put your hands down. Anyway, PowerPoint (PPT) has a neat feature where you can record a narration while you click through the slides, and you can save the timings so that PPT will advance from slide to slide automatically.

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    Unfortunately, PPT’s narration is saved in WAV format – uncompressed audio. The 30-minute presentation I recorded recently was 110 MB! If you’ve ever tried to send a 110 MB file to someone, you already see the problem. Can’t be done – and while there are some good services like drop.io for sending large files, it’s still a bit of a pain.

    I didn’t want to email it to anyone, I wanted to upload it to SlideRocket (still in beta; no invites) so I could embed it into a web page.

    So what I needed to do was extract the audio, compress it to MP3, upload it and the new MP3s, and re-embed the audio from within SlideRocket.

    Turns out, getting the audio out was a piece of cake. All you have to do is “Save As” HTML. The slides will be worthless after you do this (unless they’re really basic) but you’ll get a folder of support files, including your narration broken into an individual WAV file for each slide.

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    I used RazorLame, a free front-end to the equally free LAME mp3 encoder, to convert the files to MP3s at 32 kbps – good enough for voice narration – which reduced the overall size to just under 11 MB.

    If I had been planning to email the presentation to someone, I could have simply replaced the existing audio on each slide with the new MP3. Instead, I uploaded everything to SlideRocket and did that on the site. Published to the Web, cut and paste my embed link, and my presentation was successfully embedded in a web page.

    Spellcheck and Word Count Everywhere

    Finally, here’s a neat little application I discovered recently that’s proven to be a big help. Enso Words provides system-wide spellcheck and word count for Windows XP and Vista systems. The program runs in the background and is called up with a simple keystroke combo to spellcheck or count the words in whatever text you have selected on the screen, in any program.

    By default, Enso Words takes over your Caps Lock key; Caps Lock+s will bring up the spellchecker, Caps Lock+w will bring up a word count. On some systems, mine included, Enso doesn’t interact well with the keyboard driver and the Caps Lock function will be activated and can’t be turned off. If this happens to you, just change the default to another key — I use the left-hand Windows key instead of Caps Lock, and that works fine.

    I use Enso Words several times a day, since I use a wide variety of programs to compile blog posts, academic work, ad copy, and other material, and I’d rather have a single interface for all of them. Enso Words is the little sibling of Enso Launcher, a system-wide app launcher that uses the same Caps Lock+shortcut approach to launch files, programs, and webpages. The two programs work well side-by-side; I find that I don’t use Launcher’s features much, so I just have Enso Words installed.

    Got a Random Tip?

    Have you found a handy application or useful way to do something recently? Tell me and the other readers about it in the comments!

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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