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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 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.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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