Category Archives: Productivity

04 Dec

Why I’m loving …. Momentum app

I was tipped off about the Momentum app thanks to the weekly email from Tim Ferris.

It’s works of a very basic principle – guilt.

Install and when you open a new tab in Chrome (presumably to waste time noodling around on Facebook) a full page picture appears asking for your name, email and “What is your main focus for today?”.

Complete these simple requests and each time you open a new tab you will see a full screen version of this.

 

screenshot

Nice huh? it’s a different background and quote each time, but it’s basically reminding you that you have stuff to do. In a pretty font.

Of course you can move onto your original destination but not without a pang in the old guilt-gland.

 


Caroline Beavon is a freelance information and infographics designer and trainer – get in touch for more details

 

 

19 Nov

Hitting walls with a project? Going in circles? Try the Stuck Wheel

There are times in projects when you get completely stuck.

You may find yourself going in circles, with a million reasons why you can’t continue. These could be the fault of the client, overload of tasks, or a general bad feeling about how it’s all progressing.

For example you’re:

waiting for more information from someone else
not enjoying the project
struggling to understand the clients needs
overwhelmed by too many tasks
Every way you turn there is another reason NOT to progress, so nothing gets done.

This happens to me from time to time. I am often working on several projects at a time, and it can be easy to keep heading towards the easier ones than the harder ones. As a freelancer I don’t have a line manager to talk to, so this is one of those times when I need to play both roles.

That’s why I started using a Stuck Wheel.

Some of this stuff may seem really obvious, but it’s helped get me out of a stuck project many times.

 

 

You Will Need

A4 sheet of paper / large notebook

2 pens of different colours

 

Scannable Document 2 on 19 Nov 2015, 14_02_07

Stage 1

Write the name of the project in the centre of an A4 sheet of paper and draw a circle round it.

Then, creating a ‘spider diagram’ (and leaving space between each entry and the edge of the page) write down each of the problems you are facing with the project. All of them. They can be an insignificant or as personal as you like, no one else is going to see this. The idea is to capture all of the BLOCKS you are facing with this project. Think carefully about all the things you need to do, and why you can’t do them right now. Remember: there are no stupid entries here, so if you just hate the project, and don’t want to work on it any more, write it down. Just make sure its not the ONLY thing on your wheel!

Connect each problem to the central circle with a line.

 

Stage 2

Now it’s time to act like a boss for a moment.

Using the other pen, go through each of the problems and write a response to them. for example:

 

BLOCK: waiting for a response from client

ANSWER: email or call client for a response

 

BLOCK: don’t have the software i need

ANSWER: set aside some time to download and install the software

 

This seems pretty obvious, but it’s amazing how often these little easily solved problems can sit and fester, and halt the whole project.

However, when I do the STUCK WHEEL there are always some emotional blocks as well. The answers to these will depend on the particular project but could go as follows:

 

BLOCK: I’m worried XYZ will happen

ANSWER: it might. Plan for XYZ to happen by doing ABC

 

BLOCK: I don’t feel like doing this right now

ANSWER: (if the project is not urgent) – schedule a time to do this in the future, forget about it for now and do something else

ANSWER: (if the project is urgent) -TOUGH! you have a responsibility to your client and your business. JUST GET ON WITH IT

 

Seriously, this is how I talk to myself in my STUCK WHEEL. Sometimes you need someone to kick your arse, and in this instance, it has to be yourself.

 

Scannable Document 3 on 19 Nov 2015, 14_02_07

 

Stage 3

Read back through your answers and transfer any actionable items to your to-do list (in my case a bullet journal).

email client for confirmation on something
schedule a day to work on this another day
download X software

 

 

 

31 May

10 Ways I Stay Productive

As a freelancer it’s very easy to fall into bad habits – working from home, lots of different projects and being my own boss means long days of low productivity, and no clear division between work time and free time.
Since I left my “proper” job in 2009 I’ve been trying a host of ways to get things done – these are the things I’ve learnt work for me.

1. Find Your Work Hours

It’s taken me a while but I’ve found I am super productive early in the morning – irrespective of how tired I am. I had several years working on a radio breakfast show so getting up at the crack-of-dawn doesn’t terrify me, but the point is – find your optimum working hours. I know people who prefer to work in the evening or overnight … whatever works for you, make sure you stick to it

2. Go to Work

One of the perks of working in an office is the division between hometime and work time. I miss the walk to work, those few minutes (in my case) to prepare for the day. Even wearing work clothes changes your mindset.

This is lost when you stumble from bed to sofa in your PJ’s.

Eventually I plan to have a home-office, but for now I have a rented desk not far from where I live. I’ve also found co-working spaces, sneaky corners in coffee shops and other locations really handy.

In short, don’t work jn the room where you live.

3. Reboot in-between tasks

This is something I’ve only recently discovered, and is good for both me and my laptop.

I reboot my computer when I change projects. My jobs tend to be very varied, infographic design one minute, and planning social media training the next – so it’s good to have that mental refresh.

Plus. I’m often dealing with big files and my laptops not a robust as it used to be – so a reboot is a useful way to stop it grinding to a halt!

4. Next Task Approach

This is a trick I leaned during my time working for Think Productive. Don’t make endless to-do lists of tasks that can’t be done because they depend on something else happening first. Ie: No point adding Book Plane Tickets to my todo list, when you haven’t Booked Holiday yet.

I only have tasks I can achieve on my list, and replace them with the next doable task when it’s completed!

5. Keep a separate project list

As well as a todo list, I also have a list of all my current projects, and the stage they’re at. I use a great Ipad app for this, called Sticky Notes. It’s essentially a series of pages with digital post-it notes. I have 2 pages:

Post_it_structure_planning.PNG

Page 1 contains post-its of 4 colours

Each post-it contains my Job Code, job title and the price I’ve quoted for it.

  • PINK – currently working on
  • GREEN – confirmed projects but not currently working on
  • YELLOW – awaiting initial meeting
  • BLUE – random projects I need to decide on

This page helps me manage my workload – I like to have 4 “currently working on” with between 4 and 8 “confirmed but not currently working on”.

Page 2 contains a host of those projects that I’ve been contacted about, but nothing’s come of them yet. I keep them there to chase up when I get a moment, or can refer to if they do spring back in action.

6. Filter and Auto colour emails

Whilst I use Sparrow on my Iphone, I try to do most of the email management on my PC. where I run Postbox. I have 2 main email addresses, with a few random ones too, so it’s a good place to see everything together.

As with most email systems, you can set up filters. Whilst I heavily use filters for social media notifications (and have a regular email reminder to check the folder every few days) the most useful thing helps me deal with those “bacon” emails that come in, ie software updates, service announcements and other content that isn’t spam, but isn’t vitally important right now

I’ve simply built up a filter that turns the text of these emails (in the inbox) pale grey. They’re still there, and I’ll tend to check and delete a few times a day, but they’re in the background when I’m focusing on work.

7. Turn of notifications

I’m a pretty heavy social media user but only recently have decided to turn off all notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Instead, I allow myself to check these accounts whenever I want, so that Social Media and Email Tension doesn’t build up. I’m getting a lot more done and am more relaxed about having long stints of working, knowing I can check them whenever I want.

8. Check email on the hour every hour

I try (although I do fail at this often) to only check my email every hour, on the hour. It’s an easy time to remember, and means I can focus on work for an hour before it comes round again. I have Postbox open at all times, with notifications turned off, and simply switch to that window to see new messages. It takes a second if there’s nothing in there, and with filtering and colouring (as above) it’s easy to see the important emails first.

9. No meeting days – 3 a week

I’ve learnt that I much prefer having a full day to work, without having to dart out for midday meetings. To this end, I try to keep at least 2/3 days a week free from all meetings. On a Sunday night I’ll check the next 2 weeks and add all-day calendar events to the days with no meetings – with the intention of keeping these free.

Similarly, I prefer meetings first thing in the morning or last thing in the day – it means I still get a good few hours to get stuff done!

10. One collection point – Evernote

Evernote

I’ve spoken at length about my love for Evernote. It’s getting better with every update. I use it as my central management system – where I send everything.

As emails come in, I’ll smart-grab sections of text (WIN-A) instead of forwarding emails and archive the email.

I go through my RSS feeds twice a day in the Feedly app – and save a bunch of images and articles into Evernote

I store all my briefsheets (single documents I use to store information about individual projects, including those bits of text from emails)

I also send all my draft images there, and email the client from within Evernote.

Have a free months trial of Evernote Premium here

23 Apr

Moseley Exchange – a new way (for me) to work

moseleyexchange

 

Since I started working for myself, I’ve been on a hunt for that *perfect* place to work.

I tried the various coffee shops around Birmingham (read my findings here) but working in a coffee shop 5 days a week is not financially viable. (In order to stay in a coffee shop guilt-free all day you’d need to buy at least 3 drinks and some food  – totting up a daily spend of around £10.) Plus all that coffee isn’t good for you.

I experimented with a bunch of other locations and blogged about them here

I hunted for a small office/office share in the Jewellery Quarter, but the places were either too expensive  or lacked vital services, like running water or wifi.

So I decided to return to a previous haunt of mine, Moseley Exchange, a co-working space in this leafy-suburb of Birmingham.

I’ve blogged about this place before, where I raised a couple of queries about the etiquette of a shared space.

So far so good.

  • quiet – oh so quiet. I am constantly plugged into Spotify so don’t hear the general office noise, but  conversations/phone calls are kept short and meetings held in the adjoining lounge. 
  • self-conscious productivity – at home I may stick on a TV show whilst I work – but I just wouldn’t do this at Moseley Exchange
  • Journey to work – I’ve always missed the walk to work – it sets the start and the end of the day
  • Set working hours. I’m glad Moseley Exchange isn’t open longer or I’d fall into the same trap as at home – working slowly and for longer periods of time. With an opening time of 9am and closing at anywhere between 6pm and 8pm, it means I can have a solid work session. Plus it’s a really big deal if I have to put my laptop on when I get home
  • Free tea and coffee. requires no explanation

The plan is that when I buy a 2-bed place, I won’t need Moseley Exchange as I’ll convert the second bedroom into an office – but we’ll see how I get on!

07 Feb

The Oldest Intern In Town

20130207-103838.jpgRecently I took the decision to become an intern.

I spotted brand agency Orb were on the hunt for a creative copywriter intern, and thought it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Now, I’m not your run-of-the-mill intern. I’m 37 years old, for starters. I’ve been working as a journalist since 2000 and now specialise in information design and social media/online content.

So, why be an intern? – I hear you ask.

Good question.

Despite my experience in journalism, I have no formal experience in working for a design agency – and as most of my work nowadays is infographic/information design, I thought I’d gain a lot from seeing how the big boys do it.

Specifically, I believe I need to boost my skills in
1. understanding a brief quickly
2. presenting ideas to a client (without spending hours on completed designs in the early stages)
3. monitoring time / pricing structure

I’ll spend one day a week in the Orb studio copywriting – but as it’s a small office, and the whole team are involved in the project process, I can see how work develops every step of the way.

Some of you may think I’m taking the opportunity away from someone younger, who needs a start in this business – I say, I’m starting out in a new industry, my need is as great as theirs.

Some of you may have a major beef with the internship process – that it’s slave labour and exploitation. You may know my thoughts on this. In this case, I’m being paid for my time (a basic wage, but fantastic considering the opportunity).

Has anyone else done an internship later in life? How did it work out?

31 Dec

IPad App Review: Sticky Notes

Ipad app Sticky Notes Post It Notes app icon

 

Sticky Notes on the App Store here

Cost: Free

An app that seems silly and gimmicky – but is actually VERY useful!

Great if you use your iPad as a second screen / organiser

And these post-its won’t fall off your monitor!!

Possible Uses

  1. Daily todo lists – different notes/colours for different groups (ie email, phone calls, errands)
  2. Presentation notes – one for each slide, then email or share on Twitter afterwards
  3. Organisation planning

Organiser_post_its.JPG  Post_it_presentation_notes.PNG  Post_it_structure_planning.PNG

Good Points

  • Easy to use – enough options to make it useful, not not too many that it becomes confusing/messy
  • Choice of colours – good choice of note and font colours, so you can categorise easily
  • Font choices – not as useful as colours, but it’s still nice to use your favourite font for your notes
  • Font size –  changes with a WYSIWYG bar not with a font-size drop down (so you can see how it looks)
  • Scale – good use of 2-finger scaling of each note. Font increases as note does
  • Easy to edit fonts afterwards – changing font changes whole note so easy to edit
  • Email feature – grabs of whole board and individual notes can be shared
  • Twitter share – share individual note or entire board via Twitter

Things to Improve On

  • Can’t sync to another device (so maybe not so useful for shopping lists etc if you’re mobile)
  • Fiddly to delete individual notes – you need to edit note, then click cross then confirm delete
  • No way to clear all notes – if you’re using if for lots of temporary projects, you can’t bulk delete notes
  • Copy Notes – no way to copy notes, which would be useful if you had a template for a particular note

Extras

  • Photos and camera through in app purchase – 69p (incl add photos and save to photos)
  • Unlimited page with upgrade – 69p

 

15 Dec

7 work locations for the home working freelancer

As a stay-at-home freelancer, I’m always looking for different places to work.

It’s a perk of the job that you can take your laptop anywhere, so here are my favourite places to get stuff done

INSIDE THE HOUSE

1. Bed

Good for blogging, social networking and social sharing/bookmarking

This is a surprisingly productive place to work.

[69]. HELLLOO MACCCBOOOK!

  • It’s comfy – so why would you get up an wander off somewhere else?
  • Any attempt to move will result in a cable-duvet tangling scenario
  • it’s relaxed – so perfect for creative ventures
  • You can flip between sitting upright and lying on your front if you need to (yes I know, both terrible terrible postures)
Downsides
  • Terrible for your posture
  • If you’re tired it’s hard to get motivated/not fall asleep
  • Definitely not for Skype chats!!

2. Sofa

Good for email answering, planning, to-do list writing and inbox clearing

Less productive than the bed, as it’s far more tempting to put the telly on, do the washing up etc. However, sitting on the sofa in a bright living room is still a valid place of work

 

  • With a bright airy room, you’re less creative but more switched on to tackling simple but useful tasks
  • there are a variety of positions available
  • similar restrictions to moving as “bed” – cables, comfiness etc
Downsides
  • Not ideal for long working sessions
  • Distractions of household chores/TV

3. Desk

Good for design, report writing

I currently do not have a desk (long story) but I always found it the best place to get the “big project” done.

 

  • if set up right, a desk is a comfy, “good posture” place to work
  • There is a sense of purpose on a desk, and the hours can fly by
  • You have all your stuff near you – pens, staplers, printer etc.
Downsides
  • Not very creative space (I always have my design books in another room so I can step away from the desk and into a different coach to get some inspiration)

4. Bath

Just kidding

 

OUTSIDE THE HOUSE

4. Coffee Shop

Good for blogging, social networking, link sharing

Find the right coffee shop and it can become a perfect place to work. I blogged about some of the best working coffee shops in Birmingham here

  • Despite being a public space, there are actually fewer distractions than in your own home. No washing up, no television.
  • There is a sense of time limit – no matter no friendly your coffee shop is, they will close eventually.
  • regular breaks as you get up to buy more drink
  • Once you’re set up, you won’t want to move again for a couple of hours

Downsides

  • Noisy – (especially around lunchtime)
  • unreliable wifi can ruin your session
  • Too much caffeine!
  • Potential to eat cake and carb-heavy food all the time!!
  • Expense
  • People you know “popping over” for a chat

 

5. Library

Birmingham Central Library from Centenary Way
Good for non-online writing, research, concentration, data entry

I’ve always had a soft spot for my my local “big” library – the soon to be demolished Central Library in Birmingham, it was my go-to revision spot when I was doing my A Levels.

Yes, there is free wifi but I’ve sometimes had problems logging on and there is a time-limit, and to be honest it’s sometimes nice to get non-online tasks done in this environment

  • Fewer distractions
  • Sense of a place of learning so encourages self to get stuff done
  • Plenty of research material
  • You can’t wander off without packing everything up

downsides

  • Noise. It doesn’t take a lot to be noisy in a library
  • Wonky wifi connection at times
  • A hassle if you need to pop to loo, for a coffee etc

 

6. pub

Good for social networking, links sharing, filing etc

I know people who love working in pubs. To be honest, I’ve always found it an odd location but it can work, especially as so many now have free wifi

  • During the day pubs can be quieter than coffee shops
  • Range of beverage options (depending how the writing is going!)
  • Fewer distractions from friends as they’re all in the coffee shops
  • Downsides (mainly when the pub gets busy)

Downsides

  • Once the pub starts to fill up, you will end up being the pretentious dick in the corner on a laptop
  • The pub may not be happy with you taking up a table
  • The temptation to have a “cheeky lunchtime drink”

 

7. Co-working space

Good for focus-jobs i.e. report writing, blogging, accounts sorting)

I’ve blogged about the pros and cons of coworking spaces here.

I’m still not a mad fan of these, but there are definite pros and cons

  • If everyone else in the room is diligently working, the pressure is on you to do the same
  • Usually a productive space and a big desk for yourself
  • Tea and coffee on tap

Downsides

  • Too quiet – quite a tense atmosphere sometimes
  • Cost (compared to working at home)
  • Politics / etiquette – how to behave, talking, mobile phones etc
Have I missed anywhere?

 

 

 

31 Aug

Wifi jockeying around Birmingham’s coffee shops UPDATED

It was a distinct lack of breakfast in my cupboard that prompted my decision to have a coffee-shop working day.

Co-working and coffee shop working are obvious choices for the stay-at-home freelancer, where the temptation of Jeremy Kyle or a mid-afternoon siesta is too great, but how feasible is it?

And to to push it, Hunter S Thompson style  – could I do it ALL DAY?

A previous breakfast enjoyed at Brewsmiths – pot of tea and artisan bread!

Breakfast – Brewsmiths

The day started at Brewsmiths – located on the edge of the Jewellery Quarter and home to a dizzying food menu. Whether it’s a sausage and bacon platter you’re after, or something a little healthier, there is something here to satisfy.

For me, a mug of tea and 2 slices of  Marmite and toast – keeping it simple. Apology was made for the lack of artisan bread but the 2 slices of white were more than adequate!

There was an initial wobble with the wifi, but after a swift reboot it worked a treat, allowing me to clear a batch of email, reply to tweets and write my to-do list for the day.The vibe was relaxed, despite the comings and goings of the morning customers. The service is always pleasant, and even the pigeon who wandered in looking for crumbs was treated with respect and courtesy whilst being shown the door.

Brewsmiths is a nice location to work in – especially if you can nab one of the plug sockets around the wall. The music is a mind-boggling mix but entertaining none the less, and the general attitude welcomes the wifi jockey!

Mid morning – Home is Where (technically a coffee shop? probably not?)

This is a real gem of Birmingham.
Gloriously decorated and luxurious in both feel and mood – this large cafe and deli was buzzing when I arrived at 9:30am.
Definitely more “breakfast meeting” and “ladies that lunch” than the hardcore laptop-coffee crew, still this is one of my favourite places to work.
Most of the smaller tables were taken, so I set up camp on the large co-working table in the middle of the room. (no plugs nearby … why do coffee shops put co-working tables in the middle of the room?)

Fridays mornings in Home is Where is a regular thing for me. I meet fellow freelancer Mark Steadman, share rounds of drinks, catch up and get stuff done.

There are some very special features that make Home a nice choice. The free water on the table is a genius idea, the soundtrack seems to have been lifted directly from the ipod of a 30-something indie kid and the staff range from nicely polite to downright bubbly!

A productive morning was had (I got most of my to-do list cleared) 3 pots of tea drunk, and it was only a VERY irritating trio shouting loudly at the table next to us that prompted us call it a morning.

Lunch – SixEightKafe

And so to seek out some delicious lunch and a visit to the very cute SixEightKafe.

Channelling all the spirit of Amsterdam (no, not THAT spirit), what this small shop lacks in space (expansion news coming soon), it more than makes up for in charm.

Seeing a familiar face in Aaron (ex-Urban Coffee barista), behind the counter and a very friendly manager  I was made both welcome and a toasted mozzarella, tomato and pesto foccacia.

Now this was delicious – no mistake – but this does bring me onto one of my constant disappointments with coffee shops,  the food.

Yes, the eggs benedict on the brunch menu at Urban Coffee JQ is delicious, but most establishments tend to offer sandwiches more focussed on trendy, than taste. A chunky cheese sandwich, or chicken baguette would suit me fine … maybe thats just me (and I know the point of coffee shops is the coffee not the food, so I won’t hold it against any of you!)

This aside, SixEight was a great choice for lunch – the wifi and tea helped me make some serious progress with this very blog post, and once the lunchtime rush had subsided I could have a good old coffee-shop natter with Aaron.

I even got into an impromptu conversation with the chap  at the table next to me – and that hardly ever happens nowadays!

———————————————-

You remember that cool kid at school – the one who had the best haircut, who’s parents would let him drink alcohol and knew all the good bands before anyone else?

And remember how you always thought he’d be a bit of a dickhead, but when you spoke to him you realised his was actually really nice?

Well this brings me to ….

Mid-afternoon Yorks Bakery Cafe

Yorks Bakery Cafe is achingly New York cool with exposed air conditioning, wooden floors, designer furniture and huge windows.

A window bar serves as a perfect people-watching-while-you-should-be-working vantage point, but there are plug sockets scattered all over the place so it’s perfect for the wifi jockey.

It’s deceivingly big too … the current owners have almost doubled the floor space from a past incarnation as Coffee Republic and now behind the counter hosts an area of comfy bucket seats, and a couple of tables.

The vast space means there is not only room for plenty of customers, but you never feel pressurized to give up your lone seat for a larger group (as happens in some other places)

Yorks Bakery is a result of the current trend-shift from coffee to bread. Designer coffee art has given way to artisan baking, and there is a resident baker in situ at Yorks conjuring up an array of recipes.

The only problem with Yorks Bakery Cafe is that I’m not entirely sure what to DO with it.

When I ordered a pot of tea I was directed to a bowl of sugar in the corner of the room. But what do I do with the sugar? Ok, if you have one cup, or a takeout coffee, you can just add the sugar you want  – but I was settling down for a good 3 hour session with a pot of tea. Perplexing.  

There is a table of bread by the window – do I pick up the bread, or do I go to the counter on the opposite wall to ask for it? (update: just spotted bags and tongues – so I’m guessing you help yourself!)

In the mornings there is a toaster there for breakfast – again, is this DIY, like a hotel buffet? Or do I order the toast and does it come over?

And, most importantly, what exactly IS artisan bread?

All these questions aside Yorks Bakery Cafe is definitely my new coffee shop crush – it’s airy, socket laden and a pot of tea here is infinitely cheaper than a one way ticket to the Big Apple.

16 Feb

My adventures with Evernote Hello

In this post I explain how I got on with Evernote Hello  – not for you? Try these other posts on Evernote

Or have a free months trial of Evernote Premium here

 

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Recently Evernote launched a series of new apps  –

  • Evernote Clearly (a plugin for viewing the text from web pages  – great for cluttered sites)
  • Evernote Food (for those fetishists who like taking snaps of meals)
  • Evernote Peek (for learning) and …
  • Evernote Hello (for collecting information to help you remember people you meet)

As a well-documented Evernote bore, I had to give them all a go.

I have no real use for Peek, have used Evernote Clearly and Food once or twice – but I was keen to give Evernote Hello a go.

It’s a great idea. I am useless at remembering names (great a faces, which means I know exactly WHO’s name I’ve forgotten) and am always looking for new tools to beat this affliction.

How it works

Evernote Hello encourages you to formally gather information about a person when you first meet them via an iPhone app.

In a traditional setting, you’d receive someones business card during the conversation, which ends up in your pocket with all the other business cards to gather dust and become a notepad for other more pressing bits of information (train times, phone numbers etc).

This app allows you to gather the Twitter name, email address and telephone number of the person AND, most importantly, a photograph – which will then sit within the app, and within your Evernote account. It also logs where you met them, and allows you to link this contact to notes within Evernote.

So far so good.

But …

(and this is the entire crux of the app) … I must admit to being far too polite to ask to take someone’s photograph, on first meeting. It just is not in my nature to do that. Asking for their Twitter name, or email address is one thing – a photograph? …  a step too far.

Is this just a British thing? Are other nationalities more easy going about this?

It is interesting to see this issue raised on the Evernote forum (post here)

Starting to Use It

There have been multiple opportunities for me to use to use this app  – the recent News:Rewired journalism conference the major one.

However, I am no point felt it was the right time, during a conversation, to whip out my phone and take a strangers picture (and it would have been even more creepy to take a picture of them on the sly)

This week I began teaching  a new class (MA Social Media) at Birmingham City University as a visiting tutor. I will be working with them for several weeks so it was a great chance to test this app out. As a small group of tech-friendly people – I hoped they would be open to me gathering their information at the start of the class so I could begin to learn names, as well as pick up twitter and email account details.

The phone gives you several ways to add information, You can pass them your phone (often easier than trying to spell complex twitter names and risk mistakes), you can do it yourself or link the contact with one already in your address book.

As I passed my phone around the (small) class, the general concern that I was going to put the images online (probably thanks to  culture of endless tagging on Facebook).  This was not the case – it was simply for my records.

Interestingly, we realized that if an email address is added by the contact, they receive a message from Evernote Hello, with MY details – very useful for automatically exchanging contacts.

Thoughts

This app is  – in theory – a great idea. However, whipping my iPhone out asking to take someones picture is just not going to happen.

Instead, I am going to start using it to gather contacts in the normal way. So, at the end of a conversation, when I would normally ask for the persons email or Twitter details – I will let them manually add into Evernote Hello. There is a photograph button clearly visible, and I am hoping people will be intrigued by the app and volunteer to take  picture themselves.

And that is just polite enough for me.

05 Feb

Using Evernote for Email > tried, tested and failed


 Caroline Beavon is a freelance information and infographics designer – get in touch for more details

linkedin


[toc]

I wondered – could I use Evernote to manage my emails?

(this post requires a basic working knowledge of Evernote – have a free months trial of Evernote Premium here)

It is no secret that I am an Evernote fangirl. I love the fact I can send pretty much everything I find online, into one huge vat of stuff.

Recently I decided to take this one step further and use Evernote to read and process all of my emails.

The Method

  • Use the FORWARDING feature in Gmail to send all emails to Evernote
  • Tell Gmail to keep the email, but mark as read (this means I can still access the messages via Gmail if I need to, but they won’t show as unread in my inbox on my phone)
  • Within Evernote, you can SHARE notes, so simply paste the email address into the SHARE facility, and reply to email.

The Positives:

  • EASE – Evernote is far less clunky via desktop than Gmail
  • IT WORKED – I had been having problems using Gmail through Thunderbird and other desktop email apps, but Evernote worked
  • TIME – I was forwarding so many emails, it seemed to make sense to forward them all, and delete the ones I didn’t want.
  • ATTACHMENTS –  You can merge notes so send several attachments to one person (easier than adding attachments via normal email)
  • INTEGRATION – Sending my emails into Evernote immediately puts them in the mix with my documents, PDFs, articles etc  – where they can be easily searched and grouped.
  • TAGGING –  being able to integrate your email with other information I had stored, documents etc meant I could group project information together, and tag items that required action.

The Negatives (and why it eventually failed as a process for me)

  • SPACE: I use Evernote premium (which allows you 1GB of uploads per month) and for normal usage, this is perfect. Unfortunately, this month I have found receiving a much higher volume of emails (due to several projects and the subsequent discussions). I have already used a quarter of my upload quota and I’m only a few days into my month.
  • REPLYING: when you receive an email in Evernote, it shows the SENDERS email address, which means you simply need to copy this and paste it into the SHARE box. Simple. Unfortunately, as Evernote is not an email system,  it does not show when the email has been CC’d, so they would miss out on any replies. In the end I was having to use my old system for replying to group emails
  • UNRELIABILITY: Several times emails have simply not arrived.
  • SPAM – Some of the emails were ending up in spam, and some users were not spotting this – so the email was not received.
  • CLUTTER – Again, as Evernote is not an email system, it does not have an UNREAD facility so I was often missing emails in my inbox, as it was in amongst the posts, tweets etc that I was sending.

The Solution

If you have any suggestions of how I could overcome the above problems, I would love to hear from you, but for now, this is my solution:

  • Download the new version of Thunderbird which seems to be coping with Gmail right now. (I am also trying a free trial of Postbox, although this is £30 if I want to use it beyond a month)
  • Forward emails into Evernote that require action (I could potentially use IFTTT.com to autoforward anything I tag with TODO in Gmail, but I have found IFTTT.com strips too much formatting from an email rendering them often unusable)
  • Forward emails into Evernote that need archiving – articles, information etc.

 

 


 Caroline Beavon is a freelance information and infographics designer – get in touch for more details

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17 Nov

Become Master of your Email Inbox

Is your email inbox bursting at the seams? Overrun with nonsense,? Drowning in newsletters?
Here are a few easy tips to get your wayward email inbox whipped into shape.
The idea here is to reduce the number of emails in your inbox, so the important ones aren’t forgotten about.
Before you clear out your inbox (we’ll do that later), LOOK at the emails in there – they should fall into one of four categories:

EASY TO DEAL WITH EMAILS 

Deal with them … right now. Sounds silly, but the rush you’ll get by just getting it down will be worth it
Alternatively, if you’d prefer and have the facility – convert the email to a task

UNWANTED EMAILS:

  • Unsubscribe from them. There should be an unsubscribe option at the bottom. It seems like a hassle now, but think – how many of these emails do you delete every week? Trust me – it’s worth it.
  • If you are receiving unwanted emails from individuals simply ask to stop receiving them. A polite email explaining why (i.e. your job role has changed, your interests have changed, or you get the information from other sources etc.) should do the job. This also applies to chain email that at some point applied to you, but don’t now.
  • You could also set up a filter to delete unwanted mailouts before they even enter your inbox BUT be warned: in the future you may want to resubscribe to this service, so you will need to remove the filter if so. Also, the more specific you cna be with your filter, the less chance of other emails being caught.

“NEED LATER” EMAILS

These re messages you don’t need to see now, but will need later.
The answer here is to FILTER. If you use a free-mail service, like GMail or Hotmail, or Outlook, make use of the filtering / archiving process which skips the inbox and moves the emails directly into a folder.
Examples:
  • newsletters from fashion stores / vouchers etc. can be hidden away until your next shopping trip
  • work documents that I will need for a future task but don’t need reviewing now
  • job alerts – I file these away, and set myself a calendar reminder to check that folder every couple of days so I don’t miss anything important

PESKY EMAILS (aka All the rest …) 

 

These emails will annoy the hell out of you, and make you feel bad about yourself until you can deal with them. Often these depend on other people/situations. My solution is to remove it from your inbox but set up a reminder to deal with it, when you know you’ll be able to.
In order to do this – think – what’s stopping you from answering it immediately?
  • You need to consider your response  / it’s not urgent and you’re busy right now – Sometimes you’re just not in the mood, right? Sometimes it’s just not a priority.  Sometimes that difficult email needs an extra cup of coffee / lunchbreak or an entire day before you feel up to dealing with it. First, be honest – are you just procrastinating, or does this really need some thought? If so, allocate yourself a time of the day/week to deal with emails like this. End of the day perhaps? Start of the day – before things get to hectic? Set yourself a timed reminder, or a morning todo list, archive the email and forget about it until then.
  • Are you waiting for a specific date? – either archive and set yourself an calendar reminder, or  – if it’s an email that needs sending – does your email system have a DELAY email function? (you could also give ifttt.com a go – this allows you to schedule emails to a specific person through your Google Calendar – very geeky and very clever). There are other email schedulers available  – these seem to allow a small number of free emails (eg 10 a month) but for larger amounts you will need to pay.
  • Are you waiting for an email from someone else? – if so, archive the email currently in your inbox – the email from them will remind you to deal with this
  • Do you need to have a phone call/conversation/meeting with someone else first?  – do you know when this will be? If so, you could either set yourself a calendar reminder for the date you will find out the information, or a reminder for the deadline when it has to be dealt with.

A few more things you can do …

  • Turn off social network notifications – if you are on Twitter / Facebook all day anyway (or have an app on your smartphone) do you really need an email alert as well?  If you’re like me you are signed up to a lot of accounts, so the notifications are endless!!  Also think – what’s the point of getting a Facebook alert if you’re at work and can’t do anything about it? Turn them off, save yourself the frustration!
  • Preview setting on mobile email readers – I miss important emails because I review them on my mobile, but can’t deal with them. Now I use the “PREVIEW 5 lines” function (IPhone) so I can get an idea of what the email is about, without having to open it (which marks it as read). It will then remain in your inbox unread, until you get to office/home etc.
  • Similarly, review your the “mark as read” setting on your desktop email – change this from “mark as read as soon as open” to something that means you have really processed with it. It means emails will stay as unread until dealt with.
  • Reduce the time you spend receiving emails. This takes self-control and is definitely not suited to every role. Decide how often you will check your email (2/3 times a day) and set an autoresponder (out of office reply) explaining this fact. Also spell out WHEN you will be replying to the email, if one is required. This will cut down on email “ping pong” – when an email turns into an entire conversation as senders will be a LOT more concise and it won’t turn into a conversation.
  • Mailing Lists – consider changing the settings of these. Do you really need to receive ever update of an email list – or would a daily / weekly email be enough?

NOW ITS TIME TO BE RUTHLESS

Go through your emails and decide – are they:
  • dealt with – then delete
  • contain important information – archive or remove info (ie contact details) and delete
  • pending – process as above … archive and setting dated/timed calender reminders
Also – depending on your workflow, I would say bulk archiving emails before a certain date is a good move. Think about it, they’ve probably been resolved now anyway.

NEED MORE ROOM?

All of this archiving can put a strain on your email account size – even giant accounts like Gmail have a limit, and corporate accounts are very limiting when it comes to how much you can archive Consider an archiving / filing service like Evernote / Springpad (useful list here).
These are cloud based and will store your files, emails etc. so you can retrieve them from in different ways (i.e. computer, smart phone, tablet etc.).
I use Evernote, and as it comes with an email address, I now forward a lot of emails to this automatically, and also manually when they arrive. (using Gmail filters) but there are others available (both free and paid for) – find the one that suits you the best!
08 Nov

6 Tips for Using Evernote

Here are 6 ways I use the productivity tool, Evernote

Feel free to add yours in the comments below

Or have a free months trial of Evernote Premium here

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Evernote is the equivalent to an external hard drive, on the cloud – so you can archive important / interesting information – read more here (http://www.evernote.com/)

There are hundreds of different ways you can use Evernote – here are my top 6 tips:

1. A DESKTOP FOLDER

In Evernote open Tools > Import Folders

Here you can specify ANY folder, and files within that folder will be automatically imported into Evernote

I decided to create a folder called “For Evernote”. This sits in my Documents folder, but by creating a shortcut on your desktop, you now have a place where you can drag files for quick importing.

I also specified this folder as a FAVOURITE so it is easy to find when I am saving a file from another program.

I had been hoping to specify a Dropbox folder as an import folder, but this is not possible – hence, Tip #2

2. GOODSYNC

Goodsync – a very useful desktop tool anyway for backing up files/moving etc, but great for syncing Dropbox with Evernote.

I wanted to use this to automatically backup my portfolio as I develop it, but it could be used for anything (images, documents etc).

Point Goodsync at the source file, and again at your Evernote desktop shortcut, and viola! (you can also alter the settings  – so you can have a 2 way sync (not useful here), backup or move (ie delete file from source location)

I have also used this to move a host of images from my IPhone and IPad (before I upgraded to IOS5) to Evernote.

By installing the Dropbox App I uploaded ALL my images to my Dropbox > Evernote folder, and they are  – one by one – moved (and then deleted) from Dropbox to Evernote Import (by Goodsync) then moved (and deleted form source) into Evernote automatically. (I currently use this to move my IPad screen captures into Evernote)

3. SYNC ICLOUD to EVERNOTE

(Disclaimer: I’m not entirely sure HOW I’ve achieved this. I set up a LOT of different syncing techniques and I’m now unable to find out which one works .. but I think this is it – but apologies if it doesn’t work for you)

ICloud is Apple’s latest product to sync items on all of your kit – Ipad, IPhone, Mac etc.

I used Goodsync (above) to link your C:UserssonyPicturesPhoto StreamUploads folder to my Evernote import folder (as set up above)

Now this only works when my laptop is on, but that works for me: Goodsync moves all the images that appear in my photostream into Evernote

This is useful for keeping track of snaps I take, but ALSO, more importantly for me, screen captures I take on my Iphone (and soon IPad)

4. IFTTT.com

Ifttt is a very useful website (a little clunky in places) but  great tool for moving pretty much any online content, to somewhere else.

  • I currently have it sorting certain GMmail messages. Pro: You can specify the Evernote folder in which the item will be moved Con: 1. Sometimes it cuts off the body of the text 2. It does not delete the original message. For some emails now I have reverted to Gmail Filters – see next tip)
  • I have it moving anything I post to my Tumblr images account (http://www.carolinebeavon.tumblr.com) as an image into Evernote
  • Articles I “star” in Google Reader are now moved to Evernote – this does not copy the body, just the title so this is not perfect for reading but useful to a degree
  • Messages I “favourite” on Twitter are sent to Evenote
  • Anything I send to Instapaper (I have a magazine reader on my Ipad that does not have an Evernote link) i import to Evernote.

5. GMAIL FILTERS

> using a filter to forward / move certain emails into Evernote

As stated above – the con of this system is that you cannot specify which Evernote folder the email goes into but it is a trustworthy system.

  • Find your Evernote email address – within Evernote
  • Set up a filter to forward and keep (or forward and delete) emails into Evernote
  • When you log into Evernote you will have to deal with them in your default folder

6. GOOGLE CHROME EVERNOTE PLUGIN

Such a useful tool and I’m sure IE and Firefox have a similar thing.

It’s a button that sits in your toolbar, that lets you grab  webpage and send it to Evernote – allowing you to grab bits of pages, entire pages or URL’s of the page you are looking at. You can also specify the destination folder AND add tags as you go.

Now, what are you tips for using Evernote?

 Caroline Beavon is a freelance information and infographics designer – get in touch for more details

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All content (c) Caroline Beavon 2020