We’ve Come A Long Way Since Space Invaders: Putting Technology To Work For You

2015-03-05 23.55.53At the risk of dating myself, back in the 70’s, space invaders, pong and breakout were loads of fun. But, new technology wasn’t particularly useful. In the 80’s, I was enjoying my cutting edge IBM “word processor”, amazed white out was no longer required to erase mistakes. By 1990, carbon paper was a thing of the past and desktop computers had become the norm. Still, personal and professional lives were dictated mainly by libraries, landlines, payphones and snail mail. Before long, beepers emerged for “important” people and by the time cell phones arrived, I couldn’t imagine any reason to ever have or need one.

Like most people, one day I succumbed, somehow believing I now needed a cell phone. It was some time before that phone became “smart” and even when it did, I wasn’t. I hadn’t a clue of its capabilities and how, if embraced, the ways in which it would forever change lives. Sure, there are still naysayers and old dogs who maintain they can’t learn new tricks. But, those who use cell phones strictly for calls are dwindling, as more and more people discover how technology can work for them, making their lives easier, more efficient and fun.

I’m no techy, so it’s a good thing apps and software have become rather intuitive. With some fooling around, even nudniks like me can generally figure them out. The ways in which technology has drastically changed the way we conduct our lives is nothing short of miraculous. As for me, it wasn’t long ago that I was still toting my date book everywhere. There was so much scribbled and crammed in there, I could no longer read my own writing and felt stressed just looking at it. If I needed to know when an event occurred or would occur, I had to flip through illegible pages, often not even finding what I was looking for. Each year, I took part in my annual ritual of re-taping my list of core contacts into the back of my new date book. Invariably, there would be numbers I needed and didn’t have, requiring me to, gasp, call information. Each year, valuable time was wasted on the obnoxious chore of re-writing birthdays, annual and other repetitive events in the new calendar, to insure they wouldn’t be forgotten.

A bit anal and without a great memory, I relied on handwritten to do lists and there were many! Lots of time was spent writing, crossing off and rewriting lists. Pen and paper were stored in my car and stashed all over the house, so I could write things down wherever and whenever they occurred to me. While trying to sleep, I became rather adept at fumbling in the dark for my pen and paper, to record seemingly urgent thoughts. Like Seinfeld, I couldn’t always read the notes in the morning, but that’s another story. Passwords were another a problem. There were so many, I couldn’t remember them all and never had them with me when I needed them. My documents too, were all stuck on one computer. Who ever heard of a cloud? Researching required a trip to the library, banking, a trip to the bank. While traveling, we struggled with maps we could barely see and couldn’t refold properly, even after a lifetime of using them. When we got where we were going, we relied on some unknown person at the desk to provide our wake up call, oh my.

If you are so inclined, those issues can be a thing of the past. Albeit, fooling around with your latest gadget can eat up too much precious time if you let it and technology can be infuriating when it doesn’t work correctly. However, most of the time, with some parameters and a little self-control, it can streamline so many tasks and provide some fun and enlightenment, to boot. Now, I do not profess to be an expert in software and apps. No doubt, there are tons of great choices in a world where the catch phrase has become “there’s an app for that”. That said, here’s a list of my personal favorites and how they make my life easier and more efficient. Learning something new and creating new habits does take some work, but the time spent will ultimately save you time and stress. Once learned, you may wonder how you ever did without.

Calendar: I use week cal. It’s a snap to add, edit and delete events. Not only can you search events to see when they occurred or will occur, but the notes included with your events are also searchable. The calendar can be shared with other family members. Imagine, now the noncalendar bearing spouse can make a social plan and put it in the shared calendar. I’ve taken it a step further (there’s the anal again) and color coded events. Tennis is green, work is burgundy, kids’ school vacations are red, fun is yellow, travel is aqua, doctors’ appointments are brown, etc. Always feels good to look ahead at a week or a month and see some yellow, green or aqua dots. With the ability to have events repeat automatically at the frequency I choose, I no longer need to re-write birthdays or other annual events in a calendar every year. Reminder alarms can easily be set to go off prior to the events you choose. For ex., every Tuesday at 8pm, I am reminded to take recyclables to the curb. I may not always choose to listen, but at least I didn’t forget . The best thing is, with my calendar on the cloud, I no longer have to worry about EVER losing it.

Wunderlist: Gone are the days of writing and rewriting sloppy to do lists. With Wunderlist, create custom list categories. Mine are today, work, errands, calls, at home, pending, projects and next projects. I love the cute ding sound and satisfaction I feel when an item is completed, checked off and poof, it’s gone. Notes and reminders can also be included with your tasks. The best part is your lists are always with you, so you never stress trying to remember what needs to get done.

Evernote: This cloud based storage solution can store just about ANYTHING. You can create custom folders (called notebooks) and in those notebooks, you store the notes you create. Notes can contain any combination of items such as your typed notes or audio recordings, photos, pdf or word documents and web clippings. Not only are the titles for your notes searchable, but so is the content within. Notes or entire notebooks can be shared with whomever you choose, even if the recipient isn’t an evernote user. As an organizer, I encounter many clients who are drowning in paper. With just about anything at your finger tips, the need for printing paper can virtually disappear with the u se of evernote. Less to print and file, saves time. I even find myself taking pictures of papers and storing them in evernote, so I can discard the paper. The uses for Evernote, both personally and professionally, are as endless as your imagination.

Password: There are any number of password apps, accessible across your devices, that securely store your passwords. Just don’t forget the password that gets you into your password app! It’s probably a good idea to have a hard copy of your password list in a secure place at home, so if something should happen to you, your loved ones can access your information.

Waze / Navigation: Phone navigation is awesome. Where my truck navigation has failed, phone navigation has come to the rescue. Waze, has taken this one step further, allowing you to outsmart traffic, by providing routes around traffic, as reported by the growing number of Waze users, who are already where you are doing. Very cool!

Contacts: I don’t know what I ever did before all my contacts were stored on my phone, with notes to remind me of whatever I want. With the tap of a button, I can share my contact info with anyone I like. I can’t remember the last time I opened my phone book.

Expedia: If you are a bargain hunter like me, you’ll want to know you are getting the best airfare. Maybe you want to check multiple dates of travel, airports and destinations or compare layovers and nonstop flights, to find the best rate. This would take hours on the phone with a frustrated agent who thinks you are out of your mind the old way. Now searching is a snap.

Alarm Clock: Recently, I stopped using my bedside alarm clock, in favor of my phone’s alarm clock app and I haven’t looked back. It’s so much better! It stores all the times I’ve entered and with the touch of one button, it’s all set. It works even when your phone is on vibrate. No more trying to set your old alarm clock, passing the desired time and having to scroll through 12 hours all over again. And now, I can have a pleasant ringtone, rather than the oppressive clock alarm sound or radio static.

Online Banking: Not sure what I was waiting for, but OMG, depositing checks and transferring funds between bank accounts without having to GO to the bank, is liberating!

White Noise: No more schlepping my Hammacher Schlemmer sound machine and an extension cord, to drown out unwanted noise when travelling. Also, white noise is so much more than just white noise. With abundant choices, like sprinklers, streams, light rain, heavy rain, the beach and many more, it’s delightful to muffle your kids fighting, your spouse snoring or the offender may be.

Zite / Staying informed: With the app for my newspaper and serius radio, I can stay on top of what’s going on wherever I may be. Zite allows you to pick and choose the type of news you want and then is custom tailored to your taste.

Kindle: This app obviates the need for a kindle. Forget going to the library. Get your books online and read them on your PC, tablet or phone.

Dictation: The best class I took in High School was typing. I’m pretty fast, but still, I can’t type as fast as I can talk. I have come to love the time saved from dictating email and texts on my phone. It’s like having a personal assistant wherever I go.

Pandora: Though not a time saver per se, music helps sustain motivation to complete mindless mundane tasks. Pandora is free. No longer will you feel the need to download all the songs I like. Instead, simply create stations, inputting an artist you like. Pandora then plays that artist’s music along with similar music, introducing you to new music to love.

Don’t forget to have fun: With no end to your productivity, don’t forget to reward yourself periodically. Your fun may be on your gadget, such as social media, reading, UTube, games, etc. Or maybe your reward is a cup of coffee, closing your eyes, stretching, walking or making a call. Whatever it is, enjoy, but set a time limit and stick to it. Building in frequent rewards keeps you motivated and mentally fresh when you tackle your next task.

Your comments are welcome. I’d love to hear about apps and software you love and why. If you found this post useful, consider sharing it.
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