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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 April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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