Get In Touch With Your Inner Geek

I love technology that works and fulfills the promise of either higher efficiency in terms of productivity, or saved time, or both. I’ve just finished reading the book Less Doing = More Living by Ari Meisel. It is one of those books that has re-awakened the dormant geek in me that has lain fallow for several months. As a result, I have subscribed to several web services in order to adopt some of the principles of efficiency and automation espoused by Meisel.

Here are some of the ones I’m currently using in no particular order.

I will probably write more about these over the next few months as I either adopt and use them or abandon and jettison them.

Unroll.me at http://www.unroll.me is a great service that will search your email account for all ”subscriptions” and then give you the option of unsubscribing all at once or one at a time from the ones you no longer wish to receive, or if you’re like me, ones you cannot remember ever signing up for to begin with. On first run, it found an amazing 240 subscriptions in my account! I unsubscribed from 160 of them! That will equal real time saved on a daily and weekly basis not having to deal with unwanted emails, even if just to delete them.

Box is a very robust service with a free plan that allows storage and access of up to 10GB of all kinds of data. There are several other paid plans allowing more storage and more administrative control. Use Box to upload a folder full of photos and then send a link to anyone you wish to be able to view them in a very cool format that even allows downloading if you enable that feature. It is most commonly used for group or team collaboration on projects that require multiple documents or document types. An admin can assign levels of access to the files in a project folder and each team member can contribute and collaborate on the project files without those files having to be stored on one of the team member’s local, personal devices. There is a web-based service and also apps for your mobile devices. There are even dedicated applications to use while working with files hosted on Box. For PC users, this means the full suite of Microsoft Office apps. Find out more and set up your account at http://www.box.com

Followup.cc is a web service that allows you defer reading or acting on received emails by employing follow-up triggers that will basically send the email back to you at a specified time or interval. For an email you want to read or act on tomorrow, you just forward the email to: 1day@followup.cc and send it. The original email will arrive 24 hours later. It can be used for a group or team to improve collaborative efforts. I plan to use it in lieu of ”flagging” so many emails for later reading. I have a ”Smart Mailbox” that collects all my flagged emails and I have gotten into a habit of flagging and archiving emails that I want to read at some time in the future, then never making time to actually revisit them to read and process. Followup.cc is a paid service with a modest monthly subscription fee of around $10 for 250 reminders. Check it out at http://www.followup.cc.

Pocket is both a web service and iOS/Android app that acts like a storage ”pocket” for anything from emails to videos, websites to images. I think it will be a nice tool for saving items that I want to explore further when I am in a web-browsing mood and serendipitously stumble upon something I want to spend more time reading or exploring. I have installed the Safari extension on my MacBook Pro and a bookmarklet on my iOS devices. It also integrates with Evernote and Dropbox so that anything I save to Pocket also gets saved as its own note in both of those apps. The difference between Pocket and Evernote is the difference between the pocket of my jeans and the change dish near my desk. I carry the change in my pocket just long enough to either spend it or stash it in the dish. Evernote is where I stash stuff I want to keep longer term. Pocket is a short-term place to put stuff to check out later. You can learn more at http://www.getpocket.com.

Feedly is a great RSS reader. It can be customized for the categories and subject matter that is particularly interesting to you. Using IFTTT (which you can read about below) Anything I tag for reading later saves automatically to Pocket, and anything I mark as a ”favorite” saves to Evernote. Create your own account on the web at cloud.feedly.com. There are also iOS and Android apps for Feedly.

IFTTTIf This Then That – is another cool web service that utilizes ”channels” to trigger actions. For instance, when I tag an article in Feedly to read later, it sends that article to Pocket and to Evernote. I am using 15 or 16 ”recipes” like this. I will spend more time with this service to create my own custom recipes. I want to create one that will recognize all emails from Apple iTunes and forward and file them in the appropriate folder in my Evernote account. You can look for recipes that will work for you at https://ifttt.com

Penultimate is an app by the developers of Evernote that will allow for writing, drawing, sketching, and doodling on an iPad. Every ”note” created in a Penultimate notebook gets synced to Evernote. I ordered a bluetooth enable stylus specifically designed to work with Penultimate. Unfortunately, when the stylus arrived I attempted to use it with no joy at all. My handwriting is remarkably poor. I have not written in cursive since high school, choosing instead to print, usually in all caps. The stylus doesn’t exactly make ”marks” where I touch it to the screen, but rather, somewhere very close by. It also doesn’t stop marking when I lift it off the screen, but if still in near proximity, it will continue to mark almost like an etch-a-sketch would. Printing, rather than cursive script, requires much more “touch and lift” technique. The JotScript stylus made my normal chicken scratch look like chicken sh*t! Frustrating! Oh well. You may have better handwriting, more patience, and therefore better success with both this app and the tool mentioned. I really wanted this to work for me. If you want to give Penultimate a try, it can be downloaded for free at the iTunes App Store.

Back on a positive note,  HelloFax is terrific, inexpensive, paid subscription service that allows both sending and receiving paperless faxes as PDF documents via a web-interface and email. I had previously been using Free Fax which has worked just fine for sending invoices to my customers by fax, but it does not offer receive capability, and the faxes look cheap and clunky. HelloFax has several cool features:

1 – Although the entire service is web based, you are assigned and actual telephone number. This way, it looks like the faxes are coming from and being sent to an honest to God fax machine.

2- It also integrates with Evernote. Every fax that is either sent or received gets filed in its own notebook as an individual, searchable, tagged note in Evernote. It also integrates with Dropbox where all faxes are stored in separate folders. Very cool! The faxes look great too! They also offer a service called HelloSign for signing documents and receiving signed documents from others. I plan to check it out soon. You can get a free HelloFax account at:https://www.hellofax.com?ref=32cdc1ed&s=F. Using this link will get both you and I five free pages in the first month of service.

FileThis, found at http://www.filethis.com is another very handy web service that will automatically pull statements from any account you specify and file those statements to their own categories and folders in Evernote or Dropbox. The ”forever free” version allows connection for up to 5 accounts and will poll those accounts monthly to download and file statements. There are several paid plans allowing connection of more accounts and more frequent downloading and filing. I love the idea that my statements for AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Piedmont Natural Gas and a couple of credit cards get automatically pulled and filed for me without me having to look them up, download them, or print them. Very cool.

I have written assuming that you already use either Evernote, or Dropbox, or both, to store files like documents (everything from receipts to tax returns), photos, and music and then synchronize and access those files across all your devices. If not, you owe it to yourself to check out what they can do for you

Point your browser to http://evernote.com , for Evernote, which uses the phrase “Remember Everything” as it’s raison d’être. I use this app everyday on my MacBook, my iPhone, and my iPad. It is one of the coolest, most useful apps I’ve found. One of the things that differentiates it from Dropbox is how conveniently you can search for anything that you’ve filed there. The contents of each “note” in Evernote is searchable, even hand written ones that have been created in Penultimate. The use of descriptive tags makes this process even easier and allows you to search for all the related notes that you’ve filed.

Dropbox is equally as useful and can be found at: https://www.dropbox.com. It is an online storage service that synchronizes files and folders from your computer and all your mobile devices. It is astonishingly simple in concept, but is unlimited in execution. I use it to store items that I may need to access from anywhere on any device. It is not as easy to search as Evernote, but I use it for larger, more “static” files for which it is perfect. It provides some redundant backup security too, since anything stored there is “offsite” and immune to theft, fire, loss, or accident.

I hope some of these services and apps will be helpful to you. Ari Meisel’s philosophy is that you shouldn’t spend time on things that can be automated and/or done by someone else cheap enough to allow you to focus on those things that can only be done by you. I agree. Some of these apps and services allow me to offload stuff out of my mind into a secure place that lets me get back to dealing with life at hand. Some of them just give me more time to chill in the real, er, non-digital world…

If you are using an app or service I haven’t mentioned that provides real value to your life, please add a comment to let me know. I love trying out apps and services that come already endorsed. Thanks!