How to not miss wishing people on their birthdays and anniversaries

I know what you are thinking – why do I need a system to remind me about birthdays and anniversaries when I have Facebook or LinkedIn doing the job for me.  But, here is the thing. Not everyone is on social media and you may have a bout of abstinence from social media and end up disappointing your friends by not wishing them on their joyful days! So, it pays to have your own failsafe system of reminders on birthdays and anniversaries.

It’s a straight forward affair, but here are few specifics:

  1. Create a new calendar so that you don’t clutter your business calendar with these. All leading Calendar Apps give this feature.
  2. All these events would be day-specific (All Day event).
  3. You would set a recurrence of a year for these events so that you are perpetually taken care of.
  4. Don’t create work for yourself by trying to add all entries in one seating. Keep a ritual of adding an event as an when you know about it. With little investment of time at each instance, you will soon build a sizeable “asset” for yourself.

How to organize your smartphone storage for efficiency and fun – 2

In the first post in this series, we cared about managing pictures and videos on your mobile device. Although storage on our devices is getting bigger but so does the data that we create or receive. So being organized helps to keep storage under control. Lesser data eases everything, like finding things on your phone, the performance of your device, the backup process, and stress on your mind.

In this post, I will talk about text messages.

Businesses still use SMS to provide important notifications and OTPs. Most people tend to retain all these messages forever. Some crafty marketing guys find some legal or illegal way to reach out to you. People helplessly watch those messages piling into their devices.

If you are part of chatty messaging groups, you see 100s of messages on a small trigger (You know this, if you use WhatsApp!)

One of my friends said that he agreed that this is all clutter but he did not find cleaning it worth his time. Point taken! So here is a strategy to keep the clutter away and without creating a new job for you. This is how it works.

  1. Once you open a message
    1. Delete it right away, if it is useless (ex. unwanted marketing messages)
    2. Read it and after reading if you are sure that you don’t need it, delete it (ex. OTP, bank transaction notification, etc.).
    3. Read it and if you think that you might need the message later, STAR the message (most Apps provide this feature)
  2. Sometimes you get many messages from a single source and you could read all and delete them in bulk. That is when the starred messages will be skipped from deleting. (Note: You get a check box asking to delete even starred message, never check that box. That is our safety catch.)
  3. Once you realize that a starred message is no more required, you first UNSTAR it and then delete it as per the usual procedure.

This process does not add any major overhead as you do that while staying in the App and in the context. But it helps you to keep your device clutter-free. (As of writing, in my SMS app, I have just one starred message! That’s all!).

Endnote: In the initial days, take a little extra time to decide before deleting.  You don’t want to get into trouble by deleting something very important.

(featured image: Photo by Roman Pohorecki from Pexels)

Why E-books are good for you?

We all are in the game, where reading is critical for our success. We must organize our reading so that we are both efficient & effective at it. E-books and e-readers are excellent productivity boosters. They have come of age and have a clear edge over printed books. I know that most of us grew up reading printed books, but it pays off to make a switch to e-books. The switch might not be easy but not impossible.
Let’s look at Top 12 benefits of e-books & e-readers. (Although most of the points are written with Amazon Kindle in mind but should apply to other popular e-readers as well).
1. You could get sample pages of all e-books. You can see if you are going to like the book before buying it.
2. You could start reading a book, the next moment you decide to do so and order it.
3. You could read a book on multiple devices (cell phone, e-readers such as Kindle, or a computer) with automatic page sync. It’s not necessary to buy a dedicated E-book reader, like Kindle, if you don’t want to. You not only have a desktop Kindle App, but you could also use an online Kindle Cloud Reader.
4. You carry your all books everywhere – wherever you could carry your cell phone. You do not let the moment of curiosity when you want to refer to a book, pass.
5. You could search for a word in a book, to get to a page of your interest. You could search for authors and titles on your device.
6. You no longer need to guess word meanings, while reading. You can refer dictionary just at a finger touch. You could also refer to Wikipedia for other entities.
7. You can highlight text while reading. You can extract all your highlights in a book into a PDF for future quick revisions.
8. You could share interesting extracts with your friends, in the moment. Also, you couldn’t lend the book to them to lose it forever (typically) 😉
9. You can increase/decrease font size to what suits you.
10. You could save physical storage space although people who live in metros could only appreciate this.
11. E-books are typically cheaper than physical ones.
12. You never lose a book ever.
(featured image: Photo by Perfecto Capucine from Pexels)

How to Convert your Goals to Actions using Mind Maps

We are always striving to attain a few goals, some professional and some personal. The secret behind achieving a seemingly big goal is to start dividing it into doable actions. This old adage exemplifies the spirit – How to eat an elephant; of course one bite at a time. So, now the question is how do I breakdown a goal into doable actions. That is where we need brainstorming — alone or with a team.

The outcome of a brainstorming session is a list of actions and the success of a brainstorming session depends on how creatively we come up with those actions. One of the ways to facilitate this creative thinking and capturing those action ideas is by drawing a mind map, a technique popularized by Tony Buzan. A mind map essentially is a tree structure, at the root of which is your goal and the leaf nodes as your finest doable actions, as worked out during your brainstorming.

FreeMind is a computer App that helps to draw mind maps digitally. Although a mind map can be drawn with a pen and paper, a digital tool will always be a better choice with obvious benefits:

  1. As you brainstorm, you frequently change the order of nodes, introduce a new higher-level node, or group some nodes together. All this works very well in a digital tool like FreeMind. You could move around nodes simply by drag and drop.
  2. Sometimes, you may have the slightly longer text and to keep your diagram compact you may want to make it a multi-line text.
  3. You may fold other nodes around when you are focusing on one node. A simple click allows you to fold all the child nodes into a parent node.
  4. You could save a mind map in a file with .mm extension. A mind map can be exported as a picture to share with others who do not have FreeMind App or into an Open Office Writer document (.odt extension) to view in a text form but in a hierarchy.
  5. You could always search for some text in your mind map.
  6. You might find it useful to embed hyperlinks to web pages or documents on your computer, in your mind map nodes.

FreeMind is user-friendly, powerful, free of cost, and runs on Microsoft Windows, Linux, and macOS. This is where you download it. There is also a Mobile app for you to view mind maps on mobile phones. Try it out!

One of the lessons from David J. Schwartz’s classic book, The Magic of Thinking Big is “Action cures fear”. Fears are part of life, but the way to deal with them is to find actions to cure them. Mind maps should be your preferred tool to discover the actions that could cure your fear?

Stay Current with Google Alerts

We like to stay current on various topics of our interest by keeping a tab on web sources. Google Alerts is a free tool that could help us with it. Google Alerts, in its own words, “monitors the web for interesting new content”. Don’t worry if someone tells you that Google Alerts is meant only for marketers.

Let’s say, I want to know about Machine Learning content, as soon as someone publishes it. I would configure an alert for Machine Learning. Google will then start sending me emails regularly with links to Machine learning, from the latest content from news, blogs, websites, Google books, etc.

It is very easy to configure. You need to provide the search words with the usual Google search syntax.  You could additionally provide, language, region, quantity (How many), and frequency (How often) options, although the best strategy is to leave the default settings. As you make these settings Google Alerts generates a preview dynamically. If you think the results are too few, you may like to set “how many” to “All Results”. You could create as many alerts as you want. Read more about creating alerts here.

A life hack to process a long-winding email with alerts is to do it in two steps. The first step will be to simply skim through all the links and identify the content which might be worth “reading later” and “save” them to Instapaper. The second step will be to read them in Instapaper when you have the suitable time & energy level to do so. Of course, don’t forget to bookmark the good ones into your browser for future reference. A side benefit is to come to know about informative websites, related to our topics of interest to follow them up systematically.

There should be no dearth of creativity in creating your alerts. It is equivalent to doing your favorite search every day, automatically for you. You could create alerts for topics, companies, authors, thinkers, or even your own name.


How to NOT miss reading good content

Imagine this. You look at your mobile and you see bunch of notifications. You start with, let’s say, LinkedIn notifications. You start moving through them quickly only to stop at a post that has a link which opens a long article which looks interesting. But, you had setout to just clear the notification and now you can not sit down and read those ten pages and get back to notifications. Anyway, the easiest way out is to promise yourself that you would revisit it later. Well we invariably get leisure time to read, but do not remember what all was to be read. We end up missing good content. It’s easy to imagine value of reading a good article or loss of missing reading a good one.

The same thing happens with all those contents we keep getting regularly through emails from friends & colleagues, newsletters and other social media. Also, once you start reading an article, because of its inherent nature, every content on the web is full of hyperlinks to some other content.  Sure enough, it becomes overwhelming to remember to cover that cross referenced content.

Well, here comes the role of “Read Later” Apps that help you to manage your reading content. There are two popular Apps – Instapaper & Pocket. Both are almost equal in features, but I happened to continue using Instapaper. This is how you work with Instapaper.

You install Instapaper on all your mobile devices, that you use to read. Now once you are on a webpage and want to read it later, you simply “SHARE” it to Instapaper. On computers, you install Instapaper Chrome extension and click on Instapaper extension icon on Chrome address bar to save an article for reading later. No matter, what device you save an article on, it gets available on all the others too as long as you use same account everywhere.

Once you get a longer time window to read, you open Instapaper App on mobile or visit the Instapaper home page in Chrome browser on computer and read all the articles that have been collected from all of your devices together. Instapaper has its own reader which is quiet reader friendly as it gets rid of several distracting banners around and inside the article and changes it to a linear reading experience. But just in case you want the same “colorful” experience while reading, you could open the same article in browser through Instapaper, as well. After reading an article you could decide to either delete it from Instapaper to clear the clutter or retain it for some time or  bookmark it in your browser for future reference.

Some of the social Media Apps also have their own readers so they may load the article inside the App and not browser, in such a case you may first choose to open the article in Chrome and then save to Instapaper.

This habit not only organizes your reading better but also makes you productive as now you have split your work into two tasks. 1. Scan your inputs and save articles for reading later 2. Reading all that you have saved. You could you use several small time slots to keep clearing your inputs and just one long time slot, when you have less distractions, to read.

(featured image: Photo by Sam Lion from Pexels)

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