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The Gaps in the Standard Address Book

The Gaps in the Standard Address Book
Rolodex card

    When I was a kid, my dad would give me little tasks around his office to keep me out of trouble. My favorite was gluing business cards to Rolodex cards and carefully arranging them. Kept me out of trouble for hours at a go, because my father not only had plenty of contacts but also hated organizing his Rolodex himself.

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    Dear old Dad’s tried plenty of contact management systems in the intervening years from scanning business cards to handwritten notes in his daily planner. Low-tech or high-tech, none seem to work as well for him as that old Rolodex.

    The two key complaints are always space and flexibility. Most software programs have little more than fields for a name, a few phone numbers and an address — if you’re lucky, you can add a website. Daily planners may not even have room for those details. There are no options, beyond a simple notes section for the details that might help you make a sale down the road or cheer up a friend.

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    One of the reasons that adding new contacts to Dad’s Rolodex was a time-consuming task was the need to transcribe all sorts of information off of the back of business cards before I was let loose with my glue stick. I learned to type by adding extra phone numbers, side businesses and a host of other details to the back of Rolodex cards: Dad notes these things down right after conversations so that he can remember all sorts of things about his new contacts. But those other systems he’s tried just don’t offer the flexibility necessary.

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    I have similar issues with many of the address books and contact managements systems I’ve tried. At this point, I use Gmail — not because I consider Gmail’s address book any sort of killer app for contact management, but because I use Gmail for all of my email, and the address book happens to be there. In its favor, I can access my contacts just about anywhere I can get an internet connection, but there are plenty of features I’d love to see added.

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    The Seven Improvements I’d Love to Have Made to My Address Book

    1. Searchability. Sure, you can search most contact management systems for names, or even employers. But I want to be able to type in a keyword, like ‘accountant’ and see a list of all the accountants I happen to know. Tagging would also suffice for my needs, but either way, I want to be able to find contacts based on information beyond a name.
    2. Easy customization. Gmail offers me the option of adding my own fields to my address book, and that’s nice. I’d like it, though, if I could add a few fields to the whole thing, rather than having to add it to each entry. For instance, I keep track of blogs as well as company websites, and it’s a bit of a hassle to add that entry to just about every contact I have.
    3. List management. Lists are another area where Gmail is giving it the old college try, but the fact that I have so many contacts makes the list management process unwieldy at best. Honestly, I’m not too sure about how to make it easier to handle, but Google’s got some brilliant minds — can you help us out, guys?
    4. Simple syncing. Every time I try to sync my cell phone and my address book, I wind up with tons of information that just isn’t useful. This is one context that I don’t need email address, extra notes or fax lines to make it into my ‘new’ address book.
    5. Automatic adding. Gmail’s habit of adding every email address that I send mail to from my account is amazingly useful. While Google is keeping track of all my personal data, though, why can’t they add all of the contact information that they have on my friends on Facebook directly to my Gmail address book? (I’d appreciate all those other social networking sites, too!) Easy importing of hard copy information — business cards, scribbled notes, etc. — would be great, as well.
    6. Updating systems. As it is, I have to go through my address book entry by entry to check if an email address or phone number is good. If the whole system is computerized, though, there should be a simple way to check all of the email addresses in one go. I’d like a simple report saying that a certain set of contacts has defunct information so that I only need to bother a few people. I’d also like a quick and easy way to delete all addresses from a given domain, such as the inevitable pile of Craigslist addresses that accumulate in my contact book solely because of responses I send to job listings.
    7. Personalized updates. This is pure wishful thinking, I know, but the fact that Gmail displays the last several email exchanges you’ve had with a particular contact got me thinking: why can’t the last couple of updates to a person’s blog or other updates about the person pop up as well? Alright, I admit I’m unlikely to get this one, but if I’m making a wish list of abilities for a contact management system, I think I’m allowed to list a couple never-gonna-gets.

    So, what capabilities are missing from your address book? What ability would turn your contact management system into the perfect tool?

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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