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Use Your Mobile Phone to Stay Organized On the Go

Use Your Mobile Phone to Stay Organized On the Go

Use Your Mobile Phone to say Organized On the Go

    Like my geek ancestors before me, I am deeply devoted to my Moleskine notebook. I keep one in my backpack or in my back pocket at all times, with a range of suitable pens that make writing a joy (I’m a fan of the fine-tipped pigment pens favored by illustrators). For quick notes and thinking time, there’s nothing better.

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    But I’m also a big fan of doing things efficiently, which means not handling anything — a note, an address, a reminder — more than once. A lot of the thoughts I need to capture on the go won’t end up staying in my notebook forever — they need to be transferred, eventually, to the computer where I’ll actually be using them.

    Over the last couple of years, a number of new services have emerged that make the cell phone a particularly useful part of my productivity toolkit when I’m away from home. Most of these services take advantage of the phone’s mobile messaging service — the ability to send short text messages, with or without attached images. Increasingly, it is possible to send information, ideas, and even documents directly to the services and programs I use to stay organized.

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    Which means I don’t have to copy that appointment I jotted into my notebook into my calendar when I get home. And I don’t have to madly scribble notes from a whiteboard, only to type them up again when I get home. And I don’t have to remind myself to copy the reminders from my Moleskine into my todo list!

    10 Ways to Stay Organized with SMS/MMS

    1. Send tasks to your todo list. Many online task managers accept tasks via SMS, usually indirectly (using an intermediate service to “translate”, although Gubb allows tasks to be added directly). For example, I use Twitter to send tasks to my Toodledo list, using a special format: d toodledo [Task] #[Due date] *[Folder]. (E.g. “d toodledo Write a post for Lifehack #5/27 *Lifehack”)
    2. Add events to your calendar. Google Calendar allows you to add events via tet message using it’s “natural language” entry method. So you send a text to “GVENT” (48368) saying “Meet Andy at Joe’s Cafe tomorrow at 2:30pm” and Google parses it out and puts it into your calendar. 30 Boxes is also supposed to do this, but I don’t use it enough to be familiar with how. (If you know, tell us how in the comments!)
    3. Check your calendar. Using the same “GVENT” number, you can get a summary of your next appointment, your schedule for the day, or tomorrow’s schedule from your Google Calendar, no matter where you are. To get your next event, text “next” to “GVENT”; to get your schedule for the day, text “day”; for tomorrow’s schedule, text “nday”. A text message will be returned with the information you requested.
    4. Track your expenses. Everyone knows the key to good budgeting is keeping track of what you spend. This is easier said than done, though, and it’s not helped by the fact that expense tracking is pretty boring. Enter Xpenser, a web-based expense tracker that allows you to submit expenses on the fly via text message. Send the amount, a short description, a keyword for the type of expense, and you’re done. (Note: Users outside of the US and Canada can’t do this directly, but can use Twitter as an intermediary.)
    5. Track how you use your time. If you bill by the hour, or if you just recognize that as with money budgeting, time budgeting needs good record-keeping, you can keep track of your time away from the office with text messaging, too. Harvest is an online time  tracking service that allows time records to be sent via SMS, using Twitter. You just send a (private) direct message using the following format: d harvest t duration notes. Check out Harvest’s instructions for more details. Incidentally, if Xpensr doesn’t turn you on, Harvest also does expense tracking.
    6. Keep a food diary. Whether you’re trying to lose a few pounds or just want to eat a healthier diet, a food diary can be a useful tool. Tweet What You Eat uses Twitter to track your food intake: eat, tweet, move on with your life.
    7. Track gas usage and mileage. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but gasoline prices are up a bit this year. Tracking your mileage is a good way to identify problems that are making your car run less efficiently. Two new services allow you to record mileage at the pump: My Milemarker and FuelFrog both let you use Twitter to send reports from the pump. For FuelFrog, send an “@” message to @fuelfrog with the miles driven, price, and gallons (in either Imperial or metric); for My Milemarker, you send a direct message like this: “D mymm [miles] [gallons] [price]”.
    8. Scan documents and whiteboards. Two services — ScanR and Qipit — will take photos sent via MMS from your phone, clean them up, and send you nicely formatted PDF documents. If your phone’s camera is high enough resolution (over 2 megapixels), ScanR will even run OCR (optical character recognition) to pull out the text!
    9. Get directions. Feeling lost? Send the address of your start point and destination to “GOOGLE” (466453) and Google will send you directions! Note: You may receive more than one text message in return, depending on the length of your trip.
    10. Send email. That you can send text messages to email addresses is often forgotten. Just replace the phone number with an email address. There are a lot of services that don’t take text messages but will accept emails. How about sending article ideas to your Google Docs account? Sending notes and even pictures to Evernote? Sending an address to yourself to cut-and-paste into your contact manager? Or telling your cell-phone-phobic mom that you love her (awwww…)?

    These are just a few ways to get and stay more organized using text messages. As more and more companies realize the power of text and media messaging, we can expect to see even more creative uses for our mobile phones — all without opening a browser.

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    One word of caution, though: As you discover more things you can do with mobile messaging, you are likely to find yourself sending more and more messages each day. Make sure you have either an unlimited plan or a plan with a very large number of free messages — even at 5-cents a piece, text message charges can add up fast, and some providers charge 10, 20, 25 cents and more per message.

    Do you have any mobile messaging tricks of your own? Share them with Lifehack’s readers in the comments!

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    More by this author

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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