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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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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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