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Tracking My Mileage Without Losing My Mind

Tracking My Mileage Without Losing My Mind

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    I track where I go — whether I’m traveling by car, train or plane — for several reasons:

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    • I can write off 50.6 cents for every business mile I drive in 2008.
    • I can plan my trips more efficiently if I have a good idea of how often I’m traveling, and where.
    • I can easily backtrack, if need be, even long after the travel.

    But finding a method for tracking travel, especially mileage, that isn’t time consuming, can be difficult. I learned to track mileage from my mother, who, to this day, writes down her mileage and location every time she parks the car on the back of her most recent gas receipt. It gets the job done, but it seems like she has to devote a lot of time to the process, from the actual time spent writing down information to processing it later on.

    When picking a mileage tracking system — or creating your own — there are some very specific factors that you should keep in mind:

    Documentation needs: If you’re expecting to be reimbursed for your mileage by an employer or client, know from the beginning what sort of documentation you’ll need to hand over — will a travel log suffice? will you need gas receipts? will your travel need approval? The same goes for any mileage you intend to claim as a deduction on your taxes. If you’re based in the U.S., unless you get audited, you need only minimal documentation. It’s if you get audited that you’ll need to be able to pull out some paperwork to show that you really do drive extensively for your job. What kind of records, you might ask: Kelly Erb, of taxgirl, says, “The best proof is written records.” The key, Kelly says, is that they have to be contemporary — meaning you tracked your travels as you made them. Electronic tracking is fine as long as you keep up with it in the same way you would keep up a written system. She recommends tracking mileage and the purpose of a trip, as well as keeping receipts for both tolls and gas. Kelly offered up another suggestion as well: “If you use E-Z pass or something similar, you will actually have a printed record of your trips compiled for you.”

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    Other variables: Are you tracking your travels to help make your weekly round of errands more efficient? Or are you comparing your mileage to your spending on gasoline? If you need to track other variables, you’ll have to plan for that fact from the beginning. You may need to include your gas expenses or the number of times in a month that you visit a given location in a month in your tracking system.

    If you’re good about record keeping in general, you may not need to stress too much about tracking miles: say you keep a calendar with pretty precise records of where you are at any given time — business names and addresses. If you don’t detour too often, you can just calculate the distance from one appointment to the next (just plug addresses into either GoogleMaps or Mapquest).

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    But for those of us who would rather keep track of our mileage as we go, several web applications can serve the purpose admirably. Personally, I like Jott. As I reach a location, I can just call up Jott and record a message stating my mileage, my current location and my purpose (which makes things much easier when I need to sort out my business travel from everything else). And because Jott will send my recordings to my email, I can set up filters based on a few words or even run searches for particular locations. The only wrench in my system is the occasional voice recognition issue: I go to plenty of places with apparently unrecognizable names. But I can always go back to Jott and listen to a particular recording again.

    I just drop my Jotts into a spreadsheet — theoretically on a monthly basis, but realistically every few months — with a few formulas set up to figure out not only my total travels, but also my totals within categories. I try to phrase my Jotts in such a way that I can just cut and paste while doing something less than intellectually challenging, like watching television.

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    But I can think of plenty of variations on this theme that depend on how you connect to the internet and which applications you like: you could text messages to a Twitter account, keep files on a PDA or hack your car and a GPS device together so they can keep track of mileage without your interference. The key difference between these techniques and an old-school mileage book (which you can get for free at your local H&R Block office if you don’t like high tech solutions) is that the information is already typed up. With far less effort than handling a stack of receipts, you’ll be able to manipulate your travel information: even the simple task of adding up a total number of miles traveled seems monumental with my mother’s stack of annotated gas receipts. Many people say that the only acceptable method of tracking is using pen and paper, preferably kept in the car. But think how much time adding up those numbers are going to take, while I’m dumping my Jotts into a spreadsheet that will do all the math for me?

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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.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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