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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 September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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