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4 Random Tips to Get More Done with Your PC

4 Random Tips to Get More Done with Your PC

Get More Done with Your PC

    I’ve had several challenges in the last couple weeks, some of which required some creative solutions. Since some of you might find yourself facing the same challenges at some point, I thought I’d share this motley collection of tips with you.

    Jott to Evernote

    If you read Joel’s post, 7 Ways to Use Evernote last month, you already know how useful the new version of Evernote can be. Although it’s still in closed beta (email me if you need an invite; 1st 12 people only! All gone!), Evernote is well on its way to become the premiere note-taking and web-clipping app, synchronizing across your computer, your mobile devices, and the Web.

    But what if you want to add a note when you can’t login and type something up? Maybe you’re dribing, you don’t have web access on your phone, or the thought of keying in a note on your phone’s 10-key keypad fills you with dread.

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    Turns out, you can Jott it.

    Jott is a messaging service with voice recognition – you all the Jott number from your mobile phone, leave a message, and Jott transcribes it to text and forwards it to your desired recipient. I’ve written before about the many ways you can use Jott, but at the time I had some trouble using it’s Jott-to-email functions to interface with other services.

    Well, I tried again last night, and it worked. Here’s what you do:

    1. Login to Evernote’s website, click “Settings”, and copy your Evernote email address.
    2. Login to Jott and click “Add Contacts” on the right-hand side.
    3. In the “Quick Add” screen, put “Evernote” as the First Name (or whatever you’ll want to call your Evernote account – try “Spanky the Elephant” if you feel like it) and paste your Evernote email address under the “Email” column.
    4. Click “Add”.

    Easy. When you call Jott, it will ask “Who do you want to Jott”, you’ll say “Evernote”, recite your message, and it will show up in Evernote a few minutes later.

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    But wait! Jott to Google Docs, too!

    As long as you’re adding contacts in Jott, you might want to add your Google Docs email address as well. Maybe you don’t like Evernote or tend to work a lot out of Google Docs. Or maybe you feel like sending an idea for a project you already have in Google Docs.

    Get your Google Docs email address by logging into Google Docs and clicking “Import”. Scroll down and you’ll see a monster email address in big, bold letters. Again, cut and paste it as a contact in Jott, add a name you’ll remember and Jott is liikely to recognize easily, and you’re good. Now you can send ideas straight into your word processor, wherever you have cellphone service.

    Export Audio from PowerPoint

    Who doesn’t love PowerPoint?

    OK, OK, put your hands down. Anyway, PowerPoint (PPT) has a neat feature where you can record a narration while you click through the slides, and you can save the timings so that PPT will advance from slide to slide automatically.

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    Unfortunately, PPT’s narration is saved in WAV format – uncompressed audio. The 30-minute presentation I recorded recently was 110 MB! If you’ve ever tried to send a 110 MB file to someone, you already see the problem. Can’t be done – and while there are some good services like drop.io for sending large files, it’s still a bit of a pain.

    I didn’t want to email it to anyone, I wanted to upload it to SlideRocket (still in beta; no invites) so I could embed it into a web page.

    So what I needed to do was extract the audio, compress it to MP3, upload it and the new MP3s, and re-embed the audio from within SlideRocket.

    Turns out, getting the audio out was a piece of cake. All you have to do is “Save As” HTML. The slides will be worthless after you do this (unless they’re really basic) but you’ll get a folder of support files, including your narration broken into an individual WAV file for each slide.

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    I used RazorLame, a free front-end to the equally free LAME mp3 encoder, to convert the files to MP3s at 32 kbps – good enough for voice narration – which reduced the overall size to just under 11 MB.

    If I had been planning to email the presentation to someone, I could have simply replaced the existing audio on each slide with the new MP3. Instead, I uploaded everything to SlideRocket and did that on the site. Published to the Web, cut and paste my embed link, and my presentation was successfully embedded in a web page.

    Spellcheck and Word Count Everywhere

    Finally, here’s a neat little application I discovered recently that’s proven to be a big help. Enso Words provides system-wide spellcheck and word count for Windows XP and Vista systems. The program runs in the background and is called up with a simple keystroke combo to spellcheck or count the words in whatever text you have selected on the screen, in any program.

    By default, Enso Words takes over your Caps Lock key; Caps Lock+s will bring up the spellchecker, Caps Lock+w will bring up a word count. On some systems, mine included, Enso doesn’t interact well with the keyboard driver and the Caps Lock function will be activated and can’t be turned off. If this happens to you, just change the default to another key — I use the left-hand Windows key instead of Caps Lock, and that works fine.

    I use Enso Words several times a day, since I use a wide variety of programs to compile blog posts, academic work, ad copy, and other material, and I’d rather have a single interface for all of them. Enso Words is the little sibling of Enso Launcher, a system-wide app launcher that uses the same Caps Lock+shortcut approach to launch files, programs, and webpages. The two programs work well side-by-side; I find that I don’t use Launcher’s features much, so I just have Enso Words installed.

    Got a Random Tip?

    Have you found a handy application or useful way to do something recently? Tell me and the other readers about it in the comments!

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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