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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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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

    More About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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