Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category

I’ve been using Remember The Milk (RTM) for a few months now and I’ve used it enough to the point where I can share my experience. I decided to start using RTM (feature tour here)because I felt that I needed some way to remember date-based (or calender) items. Writing stuff down on paper is fine but paper doesn’t remind you when something’s coming up, so I needed some sort of automatic reminder system thingy.

I’m one of those later-adopters, so I finally signed up and got an account. Once you’ve signed in, you’ve got to set up reminders and how and when you’d like to be reminded and that’s all there is to it. I get reminders daily from RTM now and though sometimes it’s a pain in the gluteus maximus, it’s been a sound choice.

RTM works in my favourite browser Opera, so that was a terrific plus for me. There are shortcuts to do most of the tasks, so that’s also something that I like. You can also email yourself tasks, so that’s something that I’ve used from time to time.

Basically, apart from a small glitch in the reminder settings (which had a workaround), I’ve not had any problems in the four or five months that I’ve used the service. I’ve got the free account and I think it’s been great so far. I’ve not used any of the other applications that are out there: I sorta zeroed-in on RTM and I’ve stayed with them.

I’m writing about RTM because it’s the application that I’ve used, but the main point is about using any application that does similar things. I think that if you invest some time entering the reminders initially, the payoff is worth it — it has been in my case. You can put in birthdays, anniversaries, bill and insurance payment dates, computer maintanence reminders (backup, anti-virus, cleaning), and whatever else that you need reminding about — basically anything that you can attach a date to, you can throw into a system like this.

Now, I’m so used to this system that I can’t believe I waited so long to use it. (Shows you that sometimes it’s good to be an early adopter.) Whether it’s RTM or something else, it’s definitely worth a test drive.

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I don’t know why people insist on sharing information using MS-Word documents. I’m not talking about documents where you need to collaborate on or edit or whatever else. No, this is about documents which contain information that is only for viewing.

For example, someone will send you an email with directions to their place, where the directions will be typed into a Word document and sent as an attachment to the email. That’ll need you to download the Word document, open it up in Word (or OpenOffice) and then read the information. Too much work. Here’s a tip: just type the directions in the body of the email and if there’s a map (image) to be attached, attach that to the email instead of pasting it into a Word document.

I’ve got nothing against Word; I’ve used it many times and will continue to use it. It just annoys me that people assume that everyone has Word installed on their computer. No, everyone doesn’t because it costs a bit if you want a licensed copy, not a pirated one.

If the information must be sent in a document form, especially stuff that doesn’t need formatting, plain text is a thing of beauty. Text files can be easily viewed on most operating systems and they’re so light, it’s like fat-free documents or something.

If you need to include formatting and / or graphics or need some sort of copy-protection (rolls eyes), you can use PDF. At least the viewer’s free and you can also print / convert PDFs for free. Also, you tend to find a PDF reader already installed on most computers now. It’s not the best format for the web (see my previous rant) but it’s better than a Word doc.

And, there’s always the option of using HTML (or derivatives thereof) when you’re sharing information on the web.

To sum up, Word is good for a lot of things — sharing information isn’t one of them.

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Why post-its still rule

Why Computers Can’t Kill Post-Its is a really interesting article by Lee Gomes, based on a study by MIT, on why people tend to use the low-tech post-its over other high-tech alternatives.

“…one volunteer subject “would write notes on Post-its and stick them to his cellular phone to transfer into Outlook later rather than enter the data directly into his smart phone, even though the phone supported note synchronization.

When asked why not enter the note digitally in the first place, he responded, ‘Starting in Outlook forces me to make a type assignment, assign a category, set a deadline, and more; that takes too much work!’

The article shows that usability and simplicity has an important role to play in technology. Obviously, there’s only so much you can do with low-tech solutions (post-its, notebooks), and you can do much more with advanced technology, but sometimes the lack of usability or having unnecessary complexity can be a stumbling block to users.

(Here’s the article link again)

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Mark Forster, a productivity expert who I’ve linked to previously on this blog, has created a new system called Autofocus.

I started using the system yesterday and it’s different from the others that I’ve used. It’s been interesting so far but I want to use the system for a few days before writing about it. Also, I’d rather that you draw your own conclusions.

If you are interested in using the system (it only requires a notebook and a pen), then go here to sign up.

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Many of you may already be familiar with this shortcut, so this is for those who aren’t. For websites that end in .com, you can type the name of the website (gmail or yahoo) in the address bar and press Ctrl + Enter, and the browser (works in Opera, Firefox, IE) will complete the address for you.

So, for example, if you wanted to access the CNN website, instead of typing http://www.cnn.com/ (or http://www.cnn.com/), simply type cnn in the address bar and press Ctrl + Enter. The browser will complete the address and take you to the website, in this case http://www.cnn.com/.

The drawback of this method is that you can’t access websites ending with other suffixes like .in, .net, .org*, etc. Still, since many websites end with a .com suffix, this is a handy shortcut to remember. It’ll save you from typing a few extra characters, which is a good thing for your fingers.

*: If you’re using Firefox, however, this How To Geek article will tell you how to automate .net and .org address.

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Use your mobile phone to capture information

If you remember something or get an idea and don’t have a pen and paper handy, use your mobile phone to capture the information. I know many people who use their mobile phone’s reminder feature to remind themselves of things to be done. I use the reminder feature quite often myself. But, I’m not talking about the Reminder feature here.

What I’m talking about is typing your ideas or thoughts as an SMS and then storing the SMS in your (SMS) Draft folder. You could even send yourself an SMS but that would cost you money and it’s probably not necessary. Saving a message as a draft doesn’t cost you anything other than storage space on your mobile phone.

I’ve noted down ideas for blog posts, things to buy, or just captured useful information that I may not have been able to remember later, so it’s a hack I’ve found useful. (I think it was a friend who told me about this hack but I can’t be sure who it was.)

Don’t forget to check your Drafts folder periodically to ensure that you process what you’ve captured and to keep your folders trim. You don’t want to run into storage problems with your SMS folders or make them load slowly.

I’d better check what’s in the Draft folders of my mobile phone now; it has been a while.

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Lifehacker has a nice list of distraction stoppers. Sorry, where was I again? Check out Top 10 Distraction Stoppers to get some ideas on how to focus on the task at hand.

One of the major distractions for me used to be the automatic loading of messenger clients, which I stopped. Of course, I was never a big chat person but even one chat could sometimes be so draining. And, back when I used Outlook Express (and Outlook), I closed the window after checking email, so I wouldn’t feel the need to check email every 30 seconds. Checking email every couple of hours instead of minutes is much less distracting.

This has enabled me to spend my time much more productively–reading blogs and visiting many websites. I have 16 tabs open in Opera as we speak. Ah, the wonders of technology.

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