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How to Get Things Done with Jott

How to Get Things Done with Jott
How to Use Jott to Get Things Done

I first tried out Jott last year, and was really impressed with what it could do. You call their number, say something into the phone, and it sends it as a text message back to you. And it works — aside from a few odd names and strange words, its transcriptions are pretty much spot on. Apparently they run your voice message through a speech-to-text engine and then run it by a human operator for double-checking.

However they make it work, it’s pretty slick. But I couldn’t figure out much to do with it at the time. I’m not the kind of person who would leave myself voicemail to remind myself to do things — I carry a Palm for that. And a paper notebook. So I let my Jott account gather dust for a while.

In the last few months, though, Jott’s introduced their Jott Links service, which allows you to use Jott to add items to your todo list, send messages to other people, even blog using their service. And it works — so well, in fact, that connection with Jott Links was one of my primary criteria in selecting an online task list manager (I ended up with Toodledo).

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All it takes is a little set-up, first in your Jott account, then on your phone, and you can start Jotting things to any number of online services. Here’s how.

First things first: send yourself a message

The easiest thing to do with Jott is to send yourself a message — useful for reminders and quick collection of random thoughts while on the go.

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  1. Sign up for a Jott account. You’ll enter your phone’s telephone number, which acts as your username — any call from that phone number goes to your account.
  2. Add a speed-dial entry to your phone for Jott. The number is 1 (866) JOTT-123 [1 866-568-8123, for those without standard phone keypads]. I have my Treo set to call Jott whenever I press and hold the “J” key.
  3. Call Jott.
  4. The operator will ask who you want to send a message to. Say “Myself”.
  5. Record your message.
  6. Hang up.
  7. A few minutes later, a text message will arrive with your transcribed message. Goggle at the wonder that is today’s technology.

Send yourself a reminder

You can have Jott send you a text message 15 minutes before an event.

  1. Call Jott.
  2. When the operator asks who you want to send a message to, say “Reminder”.
  3. Jott says “What time?” and you reply with the time.
  4. Jott says “What day” and you give a date, or say “today” or “tomorrow”.
  5. When you hear the beep, record what you want to be reminded of.
  6. Hang up.
  7. 15 minutes before the event, you’ll get a text message with a transcription of your recorded message.
  8. Get somewhere on time, for a change.

Send text messages (SMS) with your voice

  1. Login to your Jott account.
  2. Add contacts under the “Contacts” tab. You can either enter them one at a time, or import them using either Plaxo or by uploading an exported CSV file from Outlook.
  3. Call Jott.
  4. When the operator asks who you want to send a message to, say the name of the person you want to send a message to. Speak clearly!
  5. The operator repeats the name back to you. Since the operator is a computer, she will say it in a funny way. Don’t laugh! Instead, if it’s correct, say “yes”, or say “no” to try again.
  6. Record your message.
  7. Hang up.
  8. A few minutes later, your friend will receive your message, neatly transcribed into standard English. They won’t have any idea what it means, though, since they only read Textish.

Send a text message to a bunch of people at the same time

  1. Log into your Jott account.
  2. Click the “Groups” tab.
  3. Click “New Groups” and walk through the wizard. You’ll now have a group whose name functions exactly as any other contact. When you call Jott, instead of saying the name of a person, you’ll say the name of the whole group, e.g. “Family” or “Friends”.
  4. Call Jott.
  5. Record your message as usual.
  6. A few minutes later, everyone in the group will receive the message at the same time. They’ll look at each other in awe, wondering how you typed so fast!

Organize your messages to yourself

If you send a lot of messages to yourself, you might want to create folders to organize them all.

  1. Log into your Jott account.
  2. On the main page (“My Jotts”), click “New Folder”.
  3. Name your folder.
  4. When you call in, instead of saying “myself”, say the name of the folder you want to send a message to.

So, for example, maybe you want to keep track of your expenses. While you’re out and about, call Jott every time you spend money, and send the amount and the nature of the purchase to your “expenses” folder. That seems like a good idea.

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Jott Links: Send messages to other services

This is where Jott gets really cool. You can use Jott to have spoken messages transcribed and sent to a bunch of online services. At the moment, you can use Jott with any of these services:

Search with Jott

  • Amazon: Look up items and prices. Sends an email with results, no text message.
  • Zillow: Get housing price estimates.
  • Recommendr: Product reviews and recommendations.
  • mosio: Jott a question and it’s answered by real people.
  • Gumiyo: Online classifieds.
  • Trapster: Share speed traps you come across, or find out if there are any in your area.

Blog with Jott

  • Blogger
  • WordPress.com: Works with WordPress.com hosted blogs only; not available for your own WordPress blogs (yet?)
  • TypePad: Also only for hosted blogs.
  • LiveJournal
  • tumblr
  • twitter
  • jaiku
  • Yahoo Groups: Not exactly blogging, but this doesn’t fit anywhere else.

Get Things Done with Jott

  • Schedule events: You can send events to Google Calendar and 30Boxes.
  • Add tasks to your todo list: Send tasks to Remember the Milk, vitalist, or Toodledo.
  • Keep track of expenses: Record your purchases with expensr.
  • Send yourself reminders: Tell Sandy what you need to be reminded of.

You have to activate each of these separately, which usually amounts to going to the “Jott Links” tab in your account and selecting the service you want to add, which sends you to the service’s website where you have to confirm your request. That’s about it.

Check the “send response” box, and Jott will send you a confirmation message saying it’s added whatever you sent to the service you sent it to, which is nice. You can send about 1000 characters, which is about 200 words or a page of written text, to most services, which should be plenty.

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Use the syntax you would normally use. To send a task to Toodledo, for instance, I just say “Check on mom’s cats on Tuesday”. It doesn’t add the date, but that’s ok. To send a reminder to Sandy, be sure to use “Remind me” or “Remember”, like this: “Remind me to check on mom’s cats on Tuesday at 3:00 pm.”

What should work but apparently doesn’t

You know how you can send emails to Google Docs or Zoho Documents and they’re converted into word processor documents? For some reason, can’t get Jotts emailed to those services to come up as documents. You’d think it would work, but it doesn’t. And I’m not sure if it’s because of something Jott does weird with emails, or (more likely) the incredibly spotty nature of Google Docs’ and Zoho’s email parsing, which doesn’t work on half the emails I send anyway.

Be more productive with Jott

If you find yourself away from home or your office a lot, or if you’re just more comfortable dictating than typing, getting familiar with Jott can be a real help in getting stuff done. I doubt if I could have moved to an online todo list if I didn’t know I could enter tasks from anywhere using my mobile phone. With more and more services adding Jott Links, it may be only a matter of time before your favorite service is Jott-enabled (I’m talking to you, Adobe Buzzword!) and there are already plenty of services to use with Jott if you aren’t already tied to a service.

If you’ve dreamed of a future where you talk to your computer and it does stuff, it seems like your dreams are starting to come true. You can’t do everything with Jott just yet, but there are a surprising number of things you can do. And best of all, it works. Really well.

Got any Jott hacks to share with us? Let us know in the comments — especially if you’ve gotten the whole “Jott to document editor” thing worked out.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

More About Self-Learning

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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