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December 14, 2009

Thinking About a New Bluetooth Headset?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Maura Thomas @ 9:00 am
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Ok, so I claim that I am not much of a “techie,” and compared to many of my friends in Austin, (which feels like the tech capital of the world!) I’m not. But I admit to taking advantage of cool tools, gadgets, and apps that make my life easier (for more on this, read this post and this post).  One gadget I’ve found it difficult to live without is a Bluetooth headset.

Please read the rest of this post at the new home of this blog.  Thanks for visiting!


October 28, 2009

Apple’s Productivity Shortcomings (And How to Get Around Them)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Maura Thomas @ 10:56 am
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So by the title, you might think I’m not a fan of Macs. You’d be wrong. I converted from a PC over two years ago and have been glad every day that I did so. Macs do *almost* everything better, and without the headaches of PCs. And the fact that you can go into an Apple retail store and get all kinds of help, most of it free, just seems to make using a Mac a no-brainer. But notice I did say that Macs do almost everything better. The one thing that is harder using Mac-native tools is personal productivity. And being that this is my profession, that’s a bit of a big deal for me.  Please read the rest of this post at the new home of this blog, here.  Thanks for visiting!


August 30, 2009

Keeping Up with Communication: Convenience vs. Control

Filed under: Uncategorized — Maura Thomas @ 1:41 pm
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How do you keep up with social media?  How do you find the time?  I get asked some version of this question every day, and in fact I deliver trainings on the topic.  The tools you choose to use have a huge impact on how well you can keep up with the flood of communication caused by engaging in social media.

Please read the rest of this post at the new home of this blog.  Thanks for reading!

April 10, 2009

Three Secrets to Personal Productivity

Filed under: Uncategorized — Maura Thomas @ 12:00 pm
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Productivity is such a big subject and there is a lot to learn, with more every day.  One of the things I am working on personally, and answering a lot of questions about, is how to incorporate social media into my life.  One of the biggest fears I hear, about Twitter especially, is “How do I make the time?  How do I incorporate yet ANOTHER communication tool into my life?”  It’s a great question.  What I’m learning is that the answer is the same for Twitter and other social media as it was for email before that (which most everyone is still struggling with) as it was for the internet before that, and for the fax machine before that, and for the telephone before that.  Many productivity experts have their own “big picture” points about managing the details of their lives.  Here are mine…

The first is the most important, although they are all related.  The secret to productivity is control.  That’s why I call my process the Empowered Productivity System.  There are three components to control and if you can master them, managing the details of your life will become much easier and less stressful.  You need to learn to master control over information, control over the technology that information comes in on, and control over your own behavior and focus.  A couple of brief points about each…

If you, like most people I meet, spend your day in reactive mode, instead of in proactive mode, then  information is controlling you, rather than the opposite.  If you have your Facebook and LinkedIn pages, and your TweetDeck or other Twitter stream, open all the time on your desktop, along with your email client open and messages automatically downloading, plus your notification sounds on your iPhone or Blackberry, then you are not controlling your technology, it is controlling you.  Maybe you don’t leave these things open, but you can’t control your urge to check one or all of them every few minutes or less, or you find yourself almost never looking at your to-do list, or maybe you don’t even have your to-do list out of your head (more on this below).  Then you are not controlling your own behavior and focus.  Control is the key.  It might not be easy, but it is simple.

Next tip:  you hear money “gurus” saying this all the time:  pay yourself first.  It applies to your time as much as it does to your money.  Spending your time in reactive mode all day means you are prioritizing everyone else’s questions, requests, information, etc., over your own stuff.  Presumably you have put things on your to-do list, or they are floating around in your brain, because they have some significance, some importance to you.  If you spend little or no time being proactive, checking things off your list…if your list gets longer more often than it gets shorter, then you are not paying yourself first.  Here’s the easiest way to implement this:  when you start work in the morning, resist the urge to go straight to your email.  Go to your to-do list, be proactive and productive for an hour or more, and only then switch to your email messages.  Anything you were going to read at 8am can probably keep until 9:30am.

Last thought, and if you know me, you’ve probably heard me say it many times:  you can only truly manage things when you can see them, and you can only see them when they are out of your head.  Human beings are only capable of holding one conscious, coherent thought in our heads at a time.  Everything else is swirling around in that haze that causes stress.  Our brains our not designed to manage the banal details of our lives.  Our brains are much better at problem solving, big picture, creative-type thinking.  If they worked in such a way that we could reach into our mind, and pluck out the exact piece of information, exactly when we needed it, then perhaps we wouldn’t need calendars, planners, to-do lists, contact managers, etc.  But we DO need these things.  So you should use them, and learn how to use them well.  You need a good set of tools, that work well together, and support you in a logical, meaningful way (check out this post and this post for more on this).  Having these will allow you to free your mind of the details, allowing you to do the things your brain is good at, and this, in turn, will lower your stress levels.

Just raising your awareness of these three points will put you on the path to improving your personal productivity.  As always, I’m happy to hear your comments.  And if you’re one of those early adopters who have found a way to work Twitter into your life, please consider following me @mnthomas.  For more on why I think Twitter is useful, read this.

March 29, 2009

Confessions of a (Highly Productive) iPhone Addict

Filed under: Uncategorized — Maura Thomas @ 10:39 am
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(also read the update to this post here.)

I’ve heard people say many times that they don’t want an iPhone or a “CrackBerry” because they don’t want to be that connected.  “People already have too many ways to reach me, I don’t want to have to be available 24/7.”  My response is always the same:  you don’t.  Just because you have a phone, doesn’t mean it has to be on.  Just because it’s on, doesn’t mean to have to answer it if it rings.  The same goes for email on your phone.  In fact, you can have all the advantages of a smartphone without email.  Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, people!  It’s so handy to have all of the other features available, particularly on an iPhone because there are so many.  But the fact remains, YOU can be in control.  In fact, that’s the secret to productivity.  Mastering control over the details of your life (including the technology they come in on) so that they don’t control you.

So let me share some details about the way I use my iPhone in a typical day.  It’s a lot.  But it’s for MY convenience, not other people’s.  Everything mentioned below is done with no other technology besides the iPhone and Apps I’ve loaded, with the exception of my external portable speaker.

I’m often reading something, or listening to something, on my iPhone before I go to bed in the evening, so it’s usually on my nightstand overnight.  However, it’s usually off, unless I’m out of town, at which point I put it in flight mode (no calls in the middle of the night) and then set the alarm to wake me in the morning to my music.  When I wake in the morning, I’ll usually turn it on, check my calendar for the day’s appointments, check the weather (both help me decide what to wear), and then I’ll usually check my Twitter feed on Tweetie.  All of that takes me less than five minutes.  If there is a link to an article from Twitter that I think I might find interesting, Tweetie has a very convenient button that reads, “mail this link.”  I can send it to myself for processing with my email later.

Then my phone comes with me, where I plug it into a portable external speaker so that I can listen to music, an audio book, or a podcast while I shower and dig through my closet to get ready for the day.  It also has the time handy so that I can make sure I’m not running late, and oh yeah, let me call up the map to see how far away that appointment is.

Then it comes in the car with me, where I turn on my bluetooth headset and make a few calls (this is not safe, and I’m trying to wean myself away.  Did you know that talking while driving impairs your ability as much as drinking and driving?!  Scary!).  So then I plug it into my car’s audio system to continue the music, ebook, or podcast, or some mixture of all of them.

I arrive at the meeting where I am the speaker.  I set up the timer on my iPhone to keep me on track (again, flight mode, ensuring no calls or texts come in while I’m speaking).  Any follow-ups from the meeting I jott to myself on the way back to the car.  Someone asks if I’m free next Wednesday; let me consult my calendar.  Next meeting is with a potential client, so I’ll check for their website address from my contacts, and tap to review it from the parking lot before I head in.  After that I head to lunch and while I’m eating I check my voicemail, email, and tweets.  Really I’m just scanning email messages here for my convenience.  And by the way, on my iPhone, my “Fetch” settings for email are set to manual.  So my email only downloads when I instruct it to.  I’ll “process” the important emails later at my computer.  Twitter usually gives me great reading material for while I eat.

So then I head back to my office, and set the iPhone to play some classical music while I work for several hours.  The phone rings and not only do I get a name and number, but also a picture so I can decide if I’m going to answer.  When a text shows up the options are “close” or “reply.”  Since I’m working, one tap on “close” and I’m back to my work, barely interrupted.  Now I’m starting to think about dinner, so I check Grocery iQ to make sure I’ve noted everything I need, and I dash off to the grocery store, where I check them off as I shop.  When I get home, I plug into the external speaker again to listen to an audio book, call up the recipe on Safari, and cook dinner.  After dinner I walk the dog with my husband, snap a picture of the beautiful sunset, email it to a friend and post it on Twitter and Facebook using in Safari.  I’m involved in my neighborhood association so I also snap a picture of a broken sign and email it to the chair of the maintenance committee.  When we get home, we start talking about a movie tomorrow night, so I call up Movies to see what’s playing and maybe buy tickets.

I already mentioned how I use it before I go to sleep at night.  All of these uses have one thing in common:  they enable conveniences for me, not others.  I manage all the features so that I am in control of my time, and I don’t let distractions interrupt me when I’m busy.  I would suggest that there are two important things to consider when pondering a phone upgrade:  how many conveniences will it add to your life, and do you have the discipline to control it, rather than letting it control you?  This same logic, in case you were wondering, can also be applied to many of the other ways to communicate like instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.  Learn the benefits that are available in participating, and then learn how to incorporate them into your life so that you are in control.

Thanks for reading!  You may also be interested in the update of this post.)

March 26, 2009

(Part 2) Are Your Productivity Tools Complicating Your Life?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Maura Thomas @ 9:00 am
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(There have been new developments since I wrote this.  Read the update to this post here.

Ok, so yesterday I discussed my personal productivity beliefs, and the tools I used before I switched to Mac.  A couple of years ago, I became a convert, drank the Kool-Aid, and now I use a Mac and an iPhone.  I have to say that personal productivity with Apple tools is not as good as using Outlook and a Windows Mobile device.  But really, everything else is better on a Mac, so that fact did not convince me to go back.  And I’ve found ways to work around the shortcomings.  (Note to Apple Computer, Inc. programmers:  I would LOVE to help you solve these problems!)

For a while I used Entourage, which is basically Outlook for Mac.  And actually Entourage is better than Outlook, mainly because it has the very powerful “Project Center.”  However, I was warned that it was unstable, and not easy to back up, and I found this to be true.  It crashes, and it takes forever to get back up and running, even if you’ve backed up.  That was a deal-breaker for me.  So I switched to the Mac-native tools, which are part of the operating system:  AppleMail, iCal, and Address Book.  I don’t think it’s quite as convenient, because of the whole “everything in one place thing.”  So now I have to use at least three, and even these aren’t comprehensive enough, so they need some help.  The first problem is that creating a task from an email is very clunky and not easy.  So I’ve added on a program called MailTags.  Well worth the $29.95 download cost and solves that problem.

Next problem:  I think the ability to color-code my calendar, and categorize my to-do list, is essential, and iCal requires a little bit of overkill.  You can’t just add a tag or color to a calendar event, or just select a category for your to-do’s.  But I’ve found a workaround for this as well and it works fine.   I created a main calendar for calendar events, with sub-calendars for every calendar category I wanted.  Then I created another main calendar for Tasks, and created sub-calendars for all my Task categories.

iCal categories

iCal categories

As I mentioned, it’s more complicated than it needs to be, but until iCal gets better at event and to-do list categorization, it’s necessary for me.

Notes are another problem.  They aren’t very user friendly in Mail, but it leads me to the BIGGEST frustration for me with Apple tools:  neither To-do’s nor Notes sync to your iPhone.  What’s the matter with those Apple programmers?!  Upon searching the web to see if there was a way to do this that I just couldn’t figure out, all I found was people complaining that it couldn’t be done.

There are many, many workarounds for Tasks but for me they are all lacking in one way or another, plus I’d prefer not to have to use YET ANOTHER program.  But here’s what I’ve discovered:  when I am away from my computer, I don’t need my tasks.  If I’m away from my office/computer, it’s because I’m at a meeting, speaking, delivering training, etc., so there is no reason to be consulting my task list.  Before you jump to a web-based program for task management because you can’t sync with your iPhone, consider whether you really need your tasks on your iPhone or not.  If you absolutely have to have that feature, there’s Remember the Milk, Vitalist, Toodledo, and Todoist, among others.

It IS vital for me, however, to be able to sync my Notes and have them with me.  I use Notes for all kinds of lists and reference information, so I need them often.  Since there is no easy way to use Notes in the Mac-native suite, nor do they sync with an iPhone, I was forced to include yet another program into my personal productivity arsenal.  I chose Evernote.  It has a desktop application and an iPhone application, and it’s very powerful in that I can take text notes, video notes, audio notes, web clippings, etc.  And they sync, via the web, where I can view them on my iPhone.  But the one thing I don’t like is that they don’t reside locally on my iPhone.  I can only access them when I have an internet connection on my phone and that’s not always convenient.  So while it’s not a perfect solution, it’s one I can live with for now.

Using Mac native tools for productivity now has one big advantage for those who need to share things with others:  you can publish to the web via MobileMe and share calendars, contacts, and view your emails online.  This also allows you to keep them synced with another computer.  Still doesn’t include notes and tasks, however, but most people don’t need to share those things.

So there’s my rant about Apple and productivity.  If you have comments, suggestions, or questions, I’d love to hear them.  You can also follow me on Twitter @mnthomas, where I post useful productivity information.

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