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I Need a User Manual for My Life!

I Need a User Manual for My Life!
A User Manual for My Life

I was doing something routine a couple of days ago — paying some first of the month bills online — and I got stuck. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember the name of one of the people I send payments to. All the information is saved in my bank account’s settings, but I have to enter the name of the recipient, exactly as it appears in my records, to bring everything else up.

That’s when it hit me:

I need a user manual for my life!

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I have a password manager, personal information manger, Treo, online todo list, reminder system, Moleskine notebook — but nowhere had I written down the step-by-step instructions for making this payment. Nor, I realized, did I have a record of most of the tasks I do routinely. Instead, I remember the first step (visit a website, call someone, open a program. etc.) and rely on the cues presented. If I can’t remember how to do something, I work at it until I figure it out.

How much time do you think I’ve wasted trying to remember simple stuff, like the steps it takes to process photos I’ve taken to print them out, or how to pay my quarterly tax payments, or how to accept new contributors to the Lifehack.org pool and get them up to speed?

What I should have, I realized, is a single place where these processes, from the crucial to the mundane, were recorded. There are a few good reasons to have something like this:

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  1. To save time: Like I said, I probably waste a couple extra minutes on just about every routine task I perform. While on a day-to-day basis, I probably wouldn’t need to check my "user manual", it would be nice to have a single reference I could turn to when I got confused.
  2. For inspiration: Writing a task down, step by step, can help identify wasted efforts and shoddy processes. Maybe there’s a better way to do task x? Also, for tasks I’m likely to procrastinate on, I’d have a tool to keep me from letting myself get distracted until all the steps were done.
  3. For troubleshooting: How many times have you done something "the way you always" do and not gotten the expected result. Having a guide to turn to would help make sure I was walking through all the necessary steps and help me see what I’d missed the first time around.
  4. For training: If I ever hired someone to take over part of my work, I’d already have step-by-step tutorials for them to follow.
  5. In case something happens to me: If I were injured or even (goodness forbid) killed, how would my family pick up the pieces? I’m the family tech guy — it would be impossible for my loved ones to figure out the assortment of online tools, software, and hardware I use to manage my business and other projects.

What would be in it?

What would I put in my user manual? Quite a few things come to mind, including:

  • The tools, both online and off, I use to accept, process, and make payments.
  • Banking processes — how I pay bills and receive payments
  • Bookkeeping tools — How I keep track of my accounts
  • How I add clients and advertisers into my system
  • How I log into, create and manage posts, manage ads and affiliates, and promote all the websites I run or am otherwise involved with
    • Google Adwords and Adsense processes — how I identify keywords, how I set up campaigns, how I add new ads to my sites
    • How I produce a podcast — my local and online workflows for recording, uploading, and distributing my podcasts
  • A network diagram of some sort showing all my contacts and their specific relation to me and my work.
  • Various checklists for things like packing for a business trip and readying the car for winter.
  • What else? Any other process that I might have to repeat, especially if it’s on a semi-regular or less frequent basis.
    • Renewing my car registration
    • Reactivating my health insurance (I teach as a contract employee so I have to reactivate it every time I renew my contract)
    • Putting a new syllabus or online course together
    • Writing an academic paper
    • And so on…

    What would it look like?

    Since part of the usefulness of a personal user manual would be the ability to share it with other people, especially if I were incapacitated in some way, using any fancy software tool or online application seems out of the question. The best bet would be to keep a single file in a standard word-processing format (Word .doc, .rtf) on my computer, and an up-to-date hard copy printed out in a binder.

    Finding information in a paper copy might be a hassle, though — a clear table of contents seems essential, and a clear organizing schema. Pages — at least within a section — should follow templates, with the same kinds of information in the same place on each page. I’m torn between two organizational schemas, though: should it be organized by topic (e.g. paying bills, writing articles, organizing courses, etc.) or by regularity (things I do every day, things I do weekly, things I do monthly, quarterly, annually, etc.)?

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    Maybe both, actually — the point is to be as perfectly useful to someone else as to myself, and who knows how much direction I might be able to give or what conditions it might need to be used under?

    Putting it together

    I hear you out there, thinking "That sounds like an awful lot of work!" And it does. What I’m thinking, though, is that once a template is created, adding new pages would be pretty easy. And rather than sitting down and figuring everything out, it might be more fruitful to keep the file open and document processes as you perform them in the course of your regular schedule. It might take a few extra minutes per task for a couple of days, but by the end of a week, you’d have most of the tasks you do most often fully documented. Add the monthlies at the end of the month, and add the less regular stuff as it occurs to you, or when you can set aside an hour or two to think about it.

    Sound crazy? Maybe it is crazy. And yet I can’t help but think that so many of the organizations I’ve worked for — universities, foundations, museums, the military, corporations — have shelves full of such documentation, from Standard Operating Procedures for various tasks to training manuals to grant-writing templates. If you want to make sure that a certain standard is reached every time you do something, you need to figure out and document that standard.

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    I may never open my personal user manual once it’s finished — but it will be nice to know I could. It will be nice to know that if I’m ever hospitalized, my partner can make sure that the people that need to know, know, and that at least the minimal requirements of my business could be taken care of. It will be nice to know that tasks I do very rarely are documented somewhere, so I don’t procrastinate by putting a "figure out how to do x" entry onto my todo list — and then procrastinate that task since I don’t remember how to find out how to find out!

    What about you? What kind of information would you put into your personal user manual?  

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    Last Updated on August 6, 2020

    35 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated)

    35 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated)

    Over the years here at Lifehack, we’ve discussed plenty of apps that you can use to improve your overall productivity.

    There are certain ones that many of our contributors and editors (past and present) have adopted over the long-term — there are always the stalwarts that stick around. But there are also new apps that crop up every day, adding more and more depth to the app category.

    Some of the apps are incredibly plain and simple, while others are more robust and offer more features than you can shake a stick at. And everyone has the one they prefer.

    It’s been our job (and still is our job) to keep abreast of all of the productivity-type apps out there. As a result — and as a bit of a refresher — we’ve put together a list of 35 best productivity apps for iPhone (all categorized based on their functions) to provide you with an all-in-one resource for you.

    For Getting Things Done

    1. OmniFocus

    This app is, while pricey, considered to be one of the (if not the) most robust and full-featured productivity apps on the market.

    Download it here.

      2. Forest

      Train yourself to put your phone down and stay focused on the task at hand by playing with this planting game. It’s fun and will help you achieve more.

      Download it here.

        3. Things

        Another robust choice, this app is a favorite amongst “productivityists”.[1]

        Download it here.

           

           

          4. Any.Do

          A beautiful-looking app that is both easy on the eyes and your wallet.

          Download it here.

            5. PocketLife Calendar

            This calendar app is specifically designed to be stylish and super easy-to-use. You can organize your life easily with different modern features.

            Download it here.

              6. Asana

              We’ve covered Asana here at Lifehack

              , and it is being actively developed by a strong team committed to making collaborative task management a more efficient and effective experience.

              Download it here.

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                7. ToDoist

                This app keeps track of everything – from simple errands to your most important projects – so you can get it all done and enjoy more peace of mind along the way.

                Download it here.

                   

                   

                  8. Calendars 5

                  This calendar app focuses on events that help you to keep track of upcoming events and tasks easily. It has everything you need to organize, track, and complete your to-dos.

                  Download it here.

                    9. Clear – Tasks, Reminders & To-Do Lists

                    A fun and innovative list-making app that relies on swiping and pinching to make things happen. Clear created a lot of buzz when it launched, and might be the perfect to-do list gateway app for many.

                    Download it here.

                      10. Due

                      A robust reminders app that lets you store and maintain reminders of all types. It’s replaced Reminders for me when it comes to the basics, and it’s worth a look if you want to keep the mundane stuff out of your head and cluttering your mind.

                      Download it here.

                        11. Checkmark 2

                        I use this app

                        for location-based reminders (such as groceries I need to get or single items I need to pick up from various locations). Checkmark is simple to use and valuable addition to my productivity arsenal.

                        Download it here.

                          12. TeuxDeux

                          Created by Tina Roth Eisenberg and Fictive Kin — TeuxDeux is simple and incredibly stellar in terms of design. If you like lists (including the popular “Someday Bucket”) and want to associate dates with tasks, then TeuxDeux will be right up your alley.

                          Download it here.

                             

                             

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                            13. Nirvana

                            For the GTD enthusiasts, there’s Nirvana. Straight from the source: “Nirvana frees your mind to focus on actually getting things done. If you’ve had enough of generic to-do lists, it’s time for Nirvana.”

                            Download it here.

                              14. Priorities

                              An elegant-looking task management app that has received decent reviews,[2] this could be the one for you if you’re not a fan of OmniFocus or Things — especially if you need (or want) to share tasks with others.

                              Download it here.

                                For Building Habits

                                15. Productive

                                With this app, you can plan your habits with an easy-to-use interface, schedule habits for any time of the day, set smart reminders for each time of the day, and stay on track with useful feedback. This app is perfect for anyone who wants to build a habit that sticks.

                                Download it here.

                                  16. Habitica: Gamified Taskmanager

                                  You can complete tasks and build habits in a more fun way with this app. Input your Habits, your Daily goals, and your To-Do list, and then create a custom avatar. Check off tasks to level up your avatar and unlock features such as armor, pets, skills, and even quests.

                                  Download it here.

                                    17. Streaks

                                    This app follows the model of the popular “don’t break the chain method” in that you use the app to track how you are donig in the pursuit of your goal. Great for goal-setting — and an easy and elegant interface to boot.

                                    Download it here.

                                      18. Remember The Milk

                                      Another popular to-do list app, Remember The Milk has a huge following. It has plenty to offer, including the ability to share tasks with others.

                                      Download it here.

                                        19. Day One Journal

                                        When it comes to journaling, nothing really beats Day One. Its latest update added a slew of features that will make you want to start making journaling a habit.

                                        Download it here.

                                          For Files Organization

                                          20. Evernote

                                          Touted as the world’s most widely-used productivity app, Evernote is an be used simply as a notetaking app or can be customized to be your GTD app of choice — among other things.

                                          Download it here.

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                                            21. Pocket

                                            You can save an article, video, or link you want to read or watch later to Pocket from anywhere including your computer, Safari, email, and your favorite apps like Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard, and Feedly.

                                            Download it here.

                                              22. Sync.Me

                                              This app identifies unknown phone calls, warns you from annoying spam calls, and adds a caller picture to your contacts from Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

                                              Download it here.

                                                23. Droplr

                                                One of the most popular file-sharing apps out there today. Straight from the source: “Stay productive on the go. Droplr for iPhone keeps you in sync and makes sharing on the iPhone natural.”

                                                Download it here.

                                                  24. Dropbox

                                                  Before iCloud, there was Dropbox. And there still is Dropbox, which is still widely used by both Mac and PC users all over the globe. It’s like having a flash drive on your iPhone. A must-have.

                                                  Download it here.

                                                     

                                                    For Working Smarter

                                                    25. Captio

                                                    A simple capture tool. Straight from the developers: “It’s simple. Open Captio and start typing. When you’re done, hit Send. The note is immediately delivered to your email inbox.”

                                                    Download it here.

                                                      26. Drafts

                                                      A tremendous capture tool that allows for simple capture, followed by sending items to various applications such as OmniFocus, Things, and more.

                                                      Download it here.

                                                        27. NoteShelf 2

                                                        This is a perfect note-taking app for you. You can take beautiful handwritten notes, type, annotate PDFs, record audio & create lists. You can organize them into categories or groups.

                                                        Download it here.

                                                          28. Doodle

                                                          This app links directly with the Doodle service, which is one that allows you to plan and organize meetings far more efficiently and effectively. Lifehack contributor Steve Dotto has written about Doodle more in-depth here.

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                                                          Download it here.

                                                            29. TextExpander (Legacy)

                                                            I have saved countless hours of time with TextExpander, and despite its inability to be as robust on iOS as it is on the Mac, it is still a worthy app to have in your arsenal.

                                                            Download it here.

                                                              30. Launch Center Pro

                                                              A quick launcher for the iPhone that doesn’t just launch an app…with some of them it can do much more. This app saves you time by launching complex actions in a single tap.

                                                              Download it here.

                                                                31. GoodReader

                                                                This may seem to be an odd one to make this list, but here are plenty of reasons why it is here with this article.

                                                                Download it here.

                                                                  32. LogMeIn

                                                                  Want to be able to control your Mac from wherever you are? Then get this app.

                                                                  Download it here.

                                                                    For Improving Security

                                                                    33. 1Password

                                                                    There is simply no better password manager out there. I’ve even put together a 1Password Emergency Kit worth looking at here.

                                                                    Download it here.

                                                                      34. LastPass Password Manager

                                                                      You can store passwords and logins, create online shopping profiles, generate strong passwords, track personal information in photo and audio notes.

                                                                      All you have to do is remember your LastPass master password, and LastPass auto-fills web browser and app logins for you.

                                                                      Download it here.

                                                                        35. Truecaller

                                                                        Identify and block spammers, search for unknown numbers, and call friends easily with this app. With a community-based spam list from over 250 million users, you’ll need this app.

                                                                        Download it here.

                                                                          There are plenty of other options out there (and we’ve heard from readers in the past as to what they enjoyed using), but these 40 are among the best.

                                                                          Featured photo credit: William Hook via unsplash.com

                                                                          Reference

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