Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Smart Personal Finance For The College Grad

By Matt & Jon:

The ladies over at Life Before Noon were kind enough to offer the chance to write a guest post for their blog, and we were happy to oblige. As a blog geared toward graduating college students we thought we'd offer up some financial advice from the perspective of young professionals now a few years removed from college life...
If you guys are anything like us, you suffered through college scrimping and saving, squeezing every last ounce out of every dollar you earned. You’ve eaten more bags of Ramen than Tokugawa Mitsukuni and the promise of ‘free food’ has conditioned a response remiscent of Pavlov's Scotch terrier. After all these years of (forced) discipline you’re going to want to live it up a little once you land that first job....
Drop by Life Before Noon to read more, and thanks for the opportunity to contribute!

Smart Personal Finance for the College Grad

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Use Plaxo To Sync Your Life

By Jon:

Recently I became incredibly frustrated because I'm using multiple computers and a cell phone to stay in sync with my life. However, those devices weren't syncing with each other, leaving me forced to check in on multiple machines and lose productivity. I found a solution with Plaxo.

Signup for a free account and you'll be offered a plethora of feeds and apps to sync with. Plaxo will manage and merge your various and sundry contact lists into one manageable (and easily sync-able) list. Here's a quick list of some of the contact accounts Plaxo works with:

  • Google Apps (Calendar and Gmail)
  • Microsoft Outlook
  • Apple's
  • Yahoo!
  • Mozilla Thunderbird
  • Windows Mail /Windows Live (Hotmail)
  • Windows Mobile
  • LinkedIn
For mail syncing, you'll need to download and launch the Plaxo app, which will live sync your contacts and calendar. This is amazing -- I can literally add a calendar item on my PC, and moments later my Mac alerts me (via Growl) that I've got a new calendar item from Plaxo. It is blazing fast.

When working with contacts, Plaxo is also amazing. I receive a weekly digest from Plaxo which shows me what my contacts have been up to. Often, I'll see a new Plaxo contact in the list, letting me know that one of my friends has joined Plaxo. How cool is that? Gone are the days of inviting a friend to a new app and then waiting to connect with them. Plaxo is smart enough to know that I already know an individual and connect us right away.

As it stands right now, Plaxo has found 160 people I could potentially connect with around various social networking sites. And that's just one more thing Plaxo is amazing at -- syncing with other sites. Here's a list of some of the sites Plaxo connects with:

  • Flickr
  • Twitter
  • Blogger
  • LiveJournal
  • Facebook
  • MySpace
  • Tumblr
  • Xanga
  • Digg
  • Google Reader
  • Last.FM
  • iLike
  • YouTube
  • Vimeo
  • Dozens more

Thanks to Plaxo, I no longer have to chase down what my friends are doing -- Plaxo brings it to me. I can access a friend's Plaxo page and get an overview of all the above networks and their interaction with them. Further than that, Plaxo can deliver that content to me via Growl or other notification apps, however I choose. Oh, and is pretty cool for mobile access, too.

Now I'm constantly connected and synced up wherever I go and whatever I'm doing. I'm able to remember my meeting times, people's birthdays, and more. How has Plaxo helped you?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Quick Tip: Create a Bacn Folder

By Jon:

How many emails do you get in a day? If you're like me, too many (but not as many as in the above photo -- sheesh!!). I've been trying to filter down my emails into something actionable, necessary and important, rather than a cacophony of noise. My most recent and most interesting filter has been to create a Bacn folder.

What is Bacn? Bacn is similar to Spam, except that you the user signed up to receive the messages. This can include social networking messages, blog/messageboard comments, and more. I find myself distracted throughout the day when these messages arrive, and rather than move to my next work-related email, I login to my Facebook to see what strange app I've been invited to partake in.

To remedy this distraction, simply make a new folder in your email app of choice and create a series of rules to route all social network site communication to this folder. It's as easy as that.

As it's been said, Bacn is "email you want but not right now." As is true with most things in life, with these messages out of sight, they're out of mind. I've set a GTD reminder to review my Bacn folder on a regular but infrequent basis; as such, these non-urgent messages can wait and don't stand in my way.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Overview Of Jott

By Matt:

I have referenced Jott before in posts, particularly as an input device in my GTD capture arsenal. It's a handy tool that quickly transcribes voice messages into text, and delivers them to your email or cell phone. Here are the basics:
  • Capture Messages: To capture a message simply call the Jott number from your registered cell phone and record a message just like you would a voicemail. Capturing messages this way is most ideal in specific situations, like when you're driving in the car and writing text messages is not a safe option.
  • Set Reminders: Once your message is captured you can set a reminder for yourself so that a text message reminder will be sent to your cell phone at a later time. You can remind yourself to pick up milk on the way home tomorrow, to return your library book in two weeks, or even to call your mother for her birthday a year from today!
  • Notify Friends: Not only can you send messages to yourself, you can also send the message to any of your contacts you have listed with the Jott service. You can even send messages to groups of contacts, enabling you to remind entire departments, teams, or organizations of important items.  Your contact list can be anyone and everyone (even other apps like Twitter!) so get creative with it.

Getting Started
As with most of our favorite web-apps Jott is a free service requiring only an email address and cell phone number for registration. Literally takes a couple minutes to sign-up and confirm your information. Jon and I are both Jott users and can vouch that Jott does a great job of protecting your information and you will not be the recipient of unwanted spam (email or phone).

Any current Jott users out there? The basics of Jott are pretty cut and dry, but if you're using the service in a creative or unusual way, it would be fun to hear about it in the comments below!

Monday, May 5, 2008

RSS Feeds: Embrace A Low Information Diet

By Matt:

I glanced at the Trends report in my Google Reader a few days ago: 130 feed subscriptions; 1,121 unread items.

I have no intention to read all of these items, and that does not stress me out.

Every few days I glance through outstanding posts in key categories and review a handful of them. I focus on my friend's blogs, blogs that will help me advance personally / professionally, and key blogs for networking purposes. Everything else... "Mark All As Read".

Just do it and be done with it. You can't try to consume everything. Make decisions on the front end about where your priority sources of consumption come from (your subscriptions), and then within those sources pick and choose what you're going to spend the time to read.

In a high information world it is impossible to consume all of the available knowledge. But if you define your priorities and act deliberately when choosing what to read, you take the stress out of information consumption. Sometimes it is best to admit defeat; embrace a low information diet and never again feel the compulsion to read all of your RSS feeds.

Friday, May 2, 2008

SMS Apps Roundup - Text Messaging 2.0

by Jon:

My cell phone is always on my person.  It's always in my hand, in my pocket, on my desk or in my bag, just a moment away from being in use.  This is a blessing and a curse, mostly because anyone and everyone has easy access to me 24/7.  However, the amazing apps of the internet have slowly been translating themselves to the mobile realm.  

While the "m." world is incredible, there's a number of amazing applications that don't require your phone to have WAP/Web access.  You can access a myriad of valuable tools by sending a simple SMS message.

Let me give you a quick overview of all the apps that reside in my Contacts folder:


While this seems basic, it's important to know that any email address can be easily accessed via text message: just find the @ sign on your phone and off you go!  This will be important for several of the tips listed below.


It's possible to craft a simple blog post using text or photo and upload it to your Blogger account in one text.  Simply visit Blogger's mobile site, to set yours up.  From then on out, just send your posts to and you'll be moblogging.


Visit your account settings on Flickr and access the email section.  You can setup a one-click upload option by creating a unique Flickr email address.  From there, simply add the email address to your Contacts list and any photo you create can be uploaded (and tagged) right from your phone.


Login to your PayPal account and access your Tools menu, then navigate to PayPal Mobile.  Click the "Activate Now" button and add any and all numbers you wish to access PayPal with.  PayPal will call and text you to confirm your number.  Next, add 729725 (PAYPAL) to your contacts list, you can text "BAL" to get your balance, and send payments like so:

  • send 10 to 4085552388
  • 10 4085552388
  • send 10 to

PayPal will call you to confirm and then email your recipient -- done and done.


Got a phone capable of sending MMS (video) messages?  Once you're done creating that pixellated concert shot, you can upload it to YouTube on the go.  Login to your YouTube account and create a mobile profile.  Next, add 98823 (YTUBE) to your contacts list and get ready to rock.


Looking for a house?  If you're out and about and see a "for sale" sign in a yard, simply text the address to 46873 (HOUSE) and wait.  In but a moment, the House database access public records and texts you back details about the house.  This includes square footage, bedrooms/bathrooms, the owner's name, and their buying price (if available).  Easy, convenient and public records -- what's more fun than that?


Qipit is a pretty new site but has some powerful potential.  Create a login and sign in, and after entering your mobile information you have a lot of powerful options.  Not only can you use the web interface to use digital camera photos and text documents, you can take a photo on your phone and upload to the service.  You can photo any kind of document, handwritten notes, or even a whiteboard, and Qipit will convert that text into a searchable PDF.  Just add to your contacts and start digitizing your scribbles.


Everyone's favorite internet powerhouse also has a formidable presence on your phone.  Not only is their whole suite of apps available through WAP access, nearly everything is text-able.  Add your mobile number to your Google account and hit the ground running.  My two favorite Google texts are:

  • Google Calendar - you can add detailed calendar events right from your phone -- just text them to 48368 (GVENT) and you'll get a confirmation back.  You can also setup your calendar to text you reminders before your events.
  • Google Search - you can text GOOGLE (466453) nearly anything and get results.  This includes local weather, sports, movie times, flights, data/facts, and local searches.  If you include a zip code Google will remember your location and include that in your next search.

There you have it -- a full phone and what's sure to be several hours of profile building on all your favorite sites.  Let us know your favorite SMS app and how you're using these!  Check back during the month of May for more tech posts and more posts on using your cell phone like a true geek.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Taking Steps Back to Backup Your Work

By Jon:

Backups.  The digital age has never been more redundant than on that particular subject.  Our computing lifestyles are so heavily reliant on our data, and as such I'm more than a little paranoid about it.

This walkthrough explains my home computing setup, which is altogether separate from my corporate life.  At work, everything we use is archived and saved on our network, meaning none of my data actually resides on my local hard drive.  With my personal life and side-work, I have to be more cautious.

With my new MacBook purchase, I'm more nervous than ever about leaving my data floating on one highly portable machine.  At the same time, all my backup devices and methods are fallible and I just plain don't trust them.  I have multiple copies of important items and lots of automation has helped me cut back on time spent getting everything synced.  Let me run down what I use and how I do it.

Backing Up

I have 2 Firewire hard drives, a stack of DVDs, an online archive, and two thumb drives, all of which are setup solely to house important and needed data -- just in case.

I have a work drive where my current projects reside.  Once finished with those projects, I burn a DVD (labeled and catalogued via Excel, of course) and move the project to a NAS network drive.  Once I know I don't need the data anymore, I wipe it from the NAS drive but always keep that DVD back up just in case.  This lets me shift responsibility off me and onto someone else involved in the project, but have the NAS and DVD just in case there's a problem in the near or distant future.

DVDs aren't perfect though, and can go bad over time -- that's why it's important to ensure someone else is dealing with the archival before wiping the NAS drive.


That's it for project data.  For personal data and my documents, I use thumb drives and a lovely little site called Mozy.  Mozy allows 2gb of free storage online, and even allows you to schedule backups nightly.  

Using Energy Saver in System Preferences, I'm able to wake my computer at 2:45am each night and run the Mozy backup.  This is great because my Mac also likes to run system processes and the like during the night, so it's awake for that as well.

I also keep two thumb drives on hand (one permanently installed in a USB hub and one portable) which I backup to every night.  I made my own app via Automator to select my Documents folder and copy onto each drive, ensuring the data exists in multiple locations.  

I found a neat little iCal trick to automate the Backup app I created.  An iCal event can fire an "alarm," intended to remind you about an upcoming calendar event.  This alarm can be a sound, dock bounce, or -- the key -- opening a file.  I set my iCal to run the Backup app at 3am every morning (during my Energy Saver window).  This works perfectly and ensures that my thumb drives always have up-to-date data on them.

Time Machine

With the MacBook's new Leopard OS, I'm able to use the Time Machine functionality.  As I mentioned, I have an NAS Networked external hard drive, which allows wireless connectivity to the drive anywhere in my home network.  I use this drive as my Time Machine drive, which gives me the freedom to never have to plug it in, but to always have it running in the background.

All in all, I'm totally obsessive about backing up my data, and given how stable my computer is, I should never need to use any of these backups - knock on wood.  Feel free to tear my system apart in the comments or add to it.  Also if you know a good shrink, let me know -- I've clearly got some control issues.

The Corporate Hack Presents Tech May!

Hey there Corporate Hackers,

Starting today, we're going to be bringing you a wide array of topics, tips and apps every day in May!  This month in technology is an exploration of our favorite GTD apps, mobile apps, productivity/corporate apps and many, many more, plus general tricks and tools to help you be a better geek.

We look forward to hearing how you GTD with technology, and hope you enjoy Tech May!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Quick Tip: Share Ideas With Colleagues With

By Matt:

This great tip was inspired by reader Florian Hollender in response to our recent post "A New Twist On".

Today we have two quick and easy ways to share articles, blog posts, and ideas with your co-workers by saving web-pages with

METHOD 1: Use the 'Links For You' tool built into Save the target webpage with the tag for:USER, where USER is the profile name of your co-worker. These saved pages will now appear in your co-worker's 'Links For You' page listed on their profile.

METHOD 2: The other option is to save pages with a very specific tag name (that you wouldn't use for anything else). For instance, if you work in Strategic Marketing, tag these items as "strategicmarketing". Next, instruct your colleauges to subscribe to the RSS feed of items tagged as "strategicmarketing" on your profile. This is easily done by directing them to this link:
  • USER is your unique profile name for, and TAGNAME is the specific tag that you defined for your department.
Send us your additional tips on how you're using to increase productivity - we'd love to hear how you're using this great tool!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How To Stay Productive During A Frantic Week

By Matt:

Last week was a nightmare. A major industry convention, multiple account meetings, numerous hours out of the office, and the overarching expectation to keep things rolling business-as-usual made life pretty insane for the last seven days. I write this post, not so much as a "How-To" based on experience, but as therapy to help myself manage a week like the last better in the future.

Here are three basic (though I won't say easy) steps on setting yourself up for success during a busy work-week:
  • Preparation: If a busy week is on the horizon make a preemptive strike before things start to get hairy. Look at next weeks to-do items. Can you work a little harder the week before and knock out some important activities early? Can you whittle down your overall list by tackling items you were planning to do next week? Take care of some big chunks now, and reap the benefit of a less hectic schedule in the week to come.
  • Weekly Review: GTD methodology requires a weekly review of your entire to-do list. Never is this more important than the Friday before your week-of-insanity begins. Get extremely critical. Analyze everything that has a due-date set in the midst of your busy week, and if possible move it to the following week. Clear your schedule so you can instead focus on the important activities of the week. If there is an item on your to-do list that must be done next week, place it in your Priority List (below).
  • Create A 'Priority List': This is a temporary capture bucket of the most important items that must be done during your busy week. As items come up that absolutely must get done during the busy week, place them in the priority list. This segregates them from the other normal to-do items that you have and isolates your thinking... in other words, only work out of your Priority List, not your regular to-do list. During your busy week you should only be thinking about A) Your conference, account meetings, business trip, etc and B) Items in your Priority List. This is built in filtering - leave everything else until next week.
If I'm honest, I was mediocre at following my own advice last week. My major foul ups? Lack of preparation and a poor weekly review the Friday before. I overheard someone say recently that "Productivity is 60% planning and only 40% execution". Not a bad mindset to work under, and based on previous experiences where I actually have done a thorough weekly review, the results in the week to come astonish even myself.

How do you manage those crazy weeks? Do you have any productivity tips we can all learn from on how to handle life outside the norm?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Decipher US Interstate Signs

By Matt:

In 1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower championed the institution of the Interstate Highway System, citing the German Autobahn as inspiration, and the logistical necessity to move ground troops quickly in the event of a national emergency. Today the 46,800 mile network of highways collectively comprises the largest road network in the world.

But as you're driving across America, have you ever wondered to yourself what the road signs - the numbered highway markers - actually mean? Believe it or not, roads are not assigned some random highway number for kicks, but are instead part of a vast numeric system that can actually help you navigate yourself across the country. Fancy, huh?

  • Primary Interstate highways are assigned a one or two-digit route number less than 100. Highway numbers that are divisible by 5 are considered to be major arteries of the system, carrying traffic great distances across the country like I-80 or I-35.
  • Highways assigned an even number run East to West, starting with I-10 through the Southern states increasing to I-90 through the Northern states.
  • Highways assigned an odd number run North to South, starting with I-5 which runs along the West Coast increasing to I-95 which runs along the East Coast.
  • Spurs are offshoots from the main highway which often terminate in an urban area. They are generally assigned a three digit route number with the first digit being ODD to indicate it as a spur, such as I-394 in Minneapolis. Be careful with spurs, because they'll often abruptly drop you off in the middle of downtown.
  • Loops are auxiliary routes which often by-pass an urban area and connect with the main highway at a later point. They are assigned a three digit route number with the first digit being EVEN to indicate it as a loop, such as I-680 in Omaha. Loops are often helpful in navigating around busy rush-hour traffic in an urban area.
I admit that I'm a nerd for even knowing this stuff, but as I've demonstrated before, I have an obsession with having a bearing on where I am at all times. However, when I'm traveling, this basic understanding of the Interstate numbering system comes in handy in keeping me on the right path and on time for my next meeting.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hack Your Desk Phone With A Relevant Voicemail Greeting

By Matt:

Last month Jon offered some tips regarding how he uses his desk phone at work (or better, how he doesn't use it). Personally, I don't care to leave the "Send Calls" button on permanently and opt instead to decide on a case by case basis whether or not the call needs to be answered, but I'll let you review his post and decide for yourself.

Today, however, I want to tell you how I recently improved my office phone voicemail greeting that I implemented to cut down on voicemails and increase efficiency by redirecting traffic to my email. This is my new greeting...
Hi this is Matt. The best way to reach me is by email at If you have an urgent need you can call my cell phone at ###-####. If you would like to leave a voicemail here, you may do so after the tone.
On the surface this doesn't sound too earth shattering, so let's break it down:
  • First, I tell people that the best way to reach me is by email. This communicates the most appropriate way to garner my attention and solicit a quick response. Why email? Text based emails are easy to process and give colleagues the opportunity to outline their issues and needs, going into as much or as little detail as necessary. A voicemail on the other hand is a crapshoot - you never know what you'll get, and more often than not it ends up as a rambling six minute message that goes into excruciating detail, which you then have to listen to four times because the caller talks too fast, or mumbles, or is drowned out by the sound of an electric bandsaw from the construction next door.
  • Next I explain that if they have an urgent need they can call my cell phone. This sounds like I'm simply inviting more phone calls, but I'm not. This is really a redirect - the phrase urgent need forces the caller to make a value judgement: "Is my need urgent?" I wager that most people will consider their needs important, but not urgent, and therefore will not call my cell but send an email instead. This option is comforting to the caller though; they aren't merely left to send a faceless email but instead have my mobile number at their disposal which in effect makes me appear even more available if a situation does arise.
  • Finally, I offer the opportunity to leave a voicemail at my desk phone. Sometimes people just want to leave a message, and while this isn't ideal for me, my desk phone is ultimately my responsibility. I give this as the last option for a couple reasons, which leaves the caller with two impressions: 1) That this is not the best method to reach me, and 2) By leaving a message the caller must concede that what he has to convey is really not that important, and that to escalate his need he should (you guessed it) send me an email.
To be clear, this is not some lame attempt to avoid interaction with people. I do some of my best work by walking around the office talking to people, but if I'm in the midst of plowing through critical tasks I do everyone a disservice in taking time to field random phone calls. Also, as a person who is susceptible to a high degree of meetings, this method minimizes the instances where I come back to the desk with a boat load of time-waster voicemails.

Take charge of your phone and don't let the blinking red light rule your life. By filtering incoming calls with a relevant voicemail greeting you empower both yourself and your colleagues to get more done.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Transfer To-Do Items Right Away

By Matt:

One sure fire method to ensure you completely fail at GTD is this: After capturing action items, procrastinate on transferring them to your master to-do list.

How many times have you sat in a meeting and written down a whole mess of tasks, but then you get back to your desk and have misplaced that piece of paper you had captured everything on? Before long, you'll forget everything and that's about when you start dropping balls right and left.

Habitual Transfer
Productivity is about consistency and the diligence to manage yourself the same way, day after day. This means you need to create some good habits for yourself, one of which is the diligent transfer of action items to your master to-do list.

You probably record action items using any number of capture devices - a Moleskine journal, a text document on your computer, or a message sent from your phone using Jott. But ultimately, these items need to end up on your master to-do list. And so the crux of this entire post is to encourage this all important habit:
Transfer your action items to your master to-do list as soon as possible.
What this means is, when you get back to your desk from that meeting, avoid the temptation to check your email first - you'll get distracted. Don't start making phone calls, and don't continue working on the sales analysis document. Spend just three minutes transferring your new action items, and save yourself countless hours of lost productivity in the long run.

It sounds simple in theory, but it's a tough discipline to train yourself on - it is for me anyway. Test yourself this week. Can you spend a couple minutes adding items to your to-do list every time you sit down at your desk? Let us know how it goes starting today!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Quick Tip: Swap Windows In .0013 Seconds

By Matt:

This will likely be remedial for the more seasoned, but for the benefit of the rest we wanted to share this most important of all keyboard shortcuts.

To quickly alternate between open windows on your desktop - like from Outlook to Firefox, or Firefox to Word - train your fingers on this sequence:
Alt + Tab
In Windows this will alternate you between the window you're currently viewing and the last window you had open. I use this all day long, especially when I'm writing emails and need to reference data on an open Excel page or website. Note that holding down the Alt button while pressing Tab repeatedly will allow you to browse through all open programs.

Likewise, Mac users have a similar shortcut they can use to access the most recently viewed window:
Command + Tab
Hope this speeds up your day, or at the very least gives you a quick way to navigate away from your Facebook profile when the need arises.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Paper is Useless in 2008's Office

By Jon:

10 AM, Tuesday morning. Your weekly staff meeting has just begun. Everyone's gathered around a conference table with their own little camps set up; you've got cups of coffee, bottles of water, huge notebooks, pens and pencils, pads of paper, and document after document, strewn all over the table.

As your team lumbers through the agenda, the table becomes more chaotic and cluttered; a sales report is passed around, a new marketing campaign is presented and suddenly the table's drowning in 8 1/2" by 11"s.

After the meeting, you return to your note-filled desk and write down a couple sticky notes and slap them on your phone. You file the documents from the meeting in a hanging file rack on your desk which bulges from the weight of a month's worth of documents.

After following up on your phone notes, you spend thirty minutes updating the documents in your three-ring binder, just in case you need any updated data or decks. In your next meeting you spread all this info around the conference table, confusing those around you but allowing yourself easy access to anything you need at one glance.

...this is TOTALLY ridiculous behavior. I'd only accept this if a company held a "topless" meeting policy, forbidding laptops and Blackberry's from being used during meetings.

Come to think of it, I don't accept that. That's a horrible policy.

Laptops and Blackberry are not the problem; behavior is the problem. If people could effectively multi-task and use their laptop to bring insightful information to the meeting, then so be it. If they can't, stop holding meetings.

But, I digress. Paper is the issue here at the moment. Every action I outlined above could be replaced more efficiently and more effectively by removing paper from the equation. Your task list and notes can be incredibly streamlined by using a digital source on a laptop.

I've been using digital notes or a Moleskine and not printing anything for about the last six months. I have three little paper holders attached to my wall that let me store anything I may need in the near future (invoices, expense reports, etc) and then they're scanned and shredded as soon as I'm done with them. That's it. Nothing else, not even files or storage.

Just take your laptop with you throughout the day and insist upon being emailed all meeting documents and agendas before the meeting. Your life will become more simple, believe me.

If you don't have a laptop, beg your boss and IT for one. Trust me, it's worth it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

How To Capture Your Life

By Matt:

Let's break down the idea of GTD capture. In the 'Getting Things Done' philosophy of productivity, Capture is the term applied to the gathering and recording of action items. If you want to become more efficient, not only at work but at life as well, you need to define and perfect a method of capture. This post will help you do just that:

GTD helps you get things out of mind and on a physical to-do list so that you don't have to remember every single thing that needs to get done by the end of the week. Specific methods of doing this are going to vary from person to person, so before defining your plan, consider how you live your life. Check out these questions...
  • Do you spend a significant amount of your day in front of a computer?
  • Are you mobile with a laptop or blackberry?
  • Do you spend all day in meetings?
  • Are you a road warrior, spending a large amount of your time in the car?
  • Are you attached at the hip to your cell phone?
Continue to consider these questions as you review the methods of capture outlined below, evaluating how each might practically fit into your daily lifestyle.

  • GTD / To-Do List Application: Web and desktop based applications abound for GTDers looking to organize their productive lifestyles in a digital world. Popular programs include Remember The Milk, Thinking Rock, and our personal favorite, Todoist.
  • Text Document: The best GTD methods are generally surprising simple, such as using a basic text editor like Notepad to list to-do items. Check out our post on TXT docs to get started.
  • Google Notebook: Similar to the simple Text Document concept, catalog your lists online with Google's Notebook app. Lifehacker offers an overview of using gNotebook for capture purposes.
  • Email: For most office workers email is the most common arrival point for action items, and they are generally sent to you by other people, but don't overlook the capability to send yourself an email if that's an easy way to notify yourself of a to-do item. Email should only be an entry point... DO NOT use it as your master to-do list
  • Text Message: If you're quick with a cell phone, hammering out a quick text message is a great way to send yourself to-do items on the go. Did you know you can text message directly to email? I send my to-do item text messages directly to my personal Gmail address.
  • PDA / Blackberry: Both tools great for when you're on the go, and again you might opt to send items as an email to yourself.
  • Jott: This fantastic online application enables you to record a message for yourself which is automatically transcribed to text and then sent to your personal email. I prefer this method of capture when I'm driving in the car and shouldn't be using my hands to write text messages.
  • Moleskine Journal: There is something simple, elegant, classy and entirely functional about a Moleskine journal. I use mine for handwritten meeting notes and also tab off a section to capture to-do items. Personally, I prefer Moleskine's Large Squared Notebook - the grid lines are great for keeping straight columns and sketching quick charts. In reality, any simple bound, ruled notebook will suffice in lieu of a Moleskine.
  • Hipster PDA: The Hipster PDA was introduced by Merlin Mann a few years ago and quickly spread like wildfire through GTD culture. It's basically a bunch of 3"x5" notecards binder clipped together with notes written on them - that's it - check out the original article on 43 Folders.
You need to develop an arsenal of capture methods that will work for you and your daily lifestyle. If you're a mobile person, always on the go, you'll probably opt for some of the more mobile devices. If you're constantly in front of a computer the digital methods are likely most efficient for you. If your company has rules against electronic devices in meetings, you're going to need an analog method of capture. Personally, I utilize a hybrid of email, text messaging and Jott's transcription service, as well as a Moleskine journal, and all action items from these methods ultimately end up in my master to-do list on Todoist.

Two simple rules when it comes to application:
  1. Keep It Simple - Capture needs to be ubiquitous, meaning it happens continuously regardless of where you are. You will be best equipped to do that by keeping your arsenal small and uncomplicated, utilizing only a few simple methods.
  2. Focus On Capture, Not Organization - Methods of capture are only for gathering action items, not for organizing and refining them. Organization happens on your master to-do list which needs to be kept separate from your methods of capture.
The beautiful thing about GTD is that it is completely customizable for your situation, lifestyle, and needs. Experiment with different capture methods and determine what works best for you. Don't ever let your methods become a point of distraction - they should focus on streamlined efficiency allowing you to quickly and consistently gather action items while allowing your brain to focus on the knowledge demanding situations that your job undoubtedly requires.

Do you use other methods of capture that weren't listed here? Let us know about them in the comments below!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Laptop Freedom

By Matt:

Yesterday was a glorious day. After four years (!!) of pestering and begging, I was finally given a laptop at work.

For as much as I am a proponent of leave-your-work-at-work, and unplugging your weekends and not becoming all consumed by the job you are only paid to do from 9-5, the laptop can actually be an incredibly freeing thing. I can't tell you how many hours I have spent transcribing notes that could have been typed. I can't tell you how many meetings I've been in where I haven't been able to provide that critical piece of data at the critical time. Or how many catastrophes could have been avoided were I able to log into the network from home. Those days are over.

A desktop computer keeps you anchored at work as well. I live in windowless cube-ville, and I can't begin to describe how drained I feel between the hours of 1-3PM, fighting off the post-lunch crash and suffering under fluorescent lighting. We have a couple conference rooms with windows around the office, not to mention an outdoor courtyard with picnic tables... I fully intend to spend significant time working from these locales in days ahead.

For me, this is a personal post of celebration... here we are in 2008 and I have finally entered the unwired world. But we can't leave this topic without providing a little how-to, therefore, keep your eyes open for a post from Jon in the days to come. For you desktop-bound folks that still remain, he has some excellent tips on how to acquire a laptop using reason and logic. Good stuff that you'll want to check out - to make sure you don't miss it, click here to subscribe to The Corporate Hack!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Clean Your Desktop

By Matt:

I'll often glance over at a colleague's laptop during a meeting and see a desktop that is cluttered to the max with folders, files, icons, and various shortcuts. A typical desktop can fit up to 10 icons vertically and 15 horizontally... that's 150 icons on the desktop! It's hard to make out that pretty picture of the tropical beach you have as your desktop wallpaper when you have that many icons taking up space!

If you're this person who, for reasons I'm sure seem logical, keeps 150 icons on your desktop, I want to suggest the following desktop overhaul.

Many people use their desktop as their launching point, and for good reason - it's convenient and centrally located. But this efficiency is completely lost when you store too many items there. It becomes impossible to quickly navigate to the files and folders you want because you spend so much time manually sifting through the clutter. Here's how to increase your efficiency by removing up to 95% of your desktop icons:

Create A Current Files Folder
Navigate to your My Documents folder (or similar location) and create a folder simply called 'Current Files'. Next make a shortcut to this folder and place it on your desktop - yes, this is one icon that you actually get to keep.

Next do some serious housecleaning. Move every document, spreadsheet, picture, and video file currently sitting on your desktop into the newly created 'Current Files' folder. Anything that is an actual file, or a folder containing multiple filesm must go... don't worry about organization, you can take care of that later. At this point all that should remain on your desktop are your icons for My Computer, My Documents, Recycle Bin, and shortcut icons.

Cut Your Shortcuts
Now I want you to take a critical look at your desktop shortcuts. Shortcut icons include any quick-link that points to a file, a folder, a network drive, an application, or an online destination. I will venture to guess that most of these shortcuts do not get used during any given week, but there will likely be a couple key shortcuts that get used multiple times a day.

As you did for your files, create another folder in My Documents for 'Shortcuts', and again create a desktop shortcut for this folder. Next, move any shortcut that gets used less than five times per week into this new folder. If any of your shortcuts are outdated and never get used delete them. If you have shortcuts that point to a website, I suggest you move these to your internet browser - create a bookmark for them, or better yet, use a social bookmarking tool like

You should move all application shortcuts - shortcuts that launch a program - to this folder. The exception to this rule are application shortcuts that are used multiple times per day; drag these key icons into your Taskbar to automatically create quick-launch buttons.

In terms of shortcuts, all that should remain on your desktop are high traffic shortcuts that point to critical and often-used files, folders, or network drives.

The key to a clean desktop is that it becomes an efficient workplace - a launching zone from which you do your work. Consider these tips for keeping your desktop in prime working condition:
  • Save new files and downloads that you'll be working on to your 'Current Files' folder to keep the desktop clean.
  • Make use of the ability to filter in your 'Current Files' folder and sort by name, date, and file type... remember that you wouldn't be able to do this on your desktop.
  • If you find that a certain shortcut icon is not getting traffic, remove it from the equation by demoting it to the 'Shortcuts' folder. Likewise, if you are having to dig through your 'Shortcuts' folder multiples times per day to find a specific icon, elevate it to your desktop.
  • Periodically archive files in your 'Current Files' folder as they become dated and obsolete by moving them to an appropriate folder elsewhere on your hard-drive.

And Just For The Record
I have a nice 17" widescreen laptop as my personal computer, and as such can fit as many as 209 icons on my desktop. However, using the steps above I keep this whittled down to just five icons, and as a result maintain my sanity. Plus for all you tweakers, a clean desktop uses less RAM than one covered with icons.

In addition to My Computer, My Documents, and Recycle Bin, I also keep a 'Current Files' folder and a shortcut to a folder for 'The Corporate Hack' on my desktop. This method, partnered with Google Desktop as a hard-drive search tool, are all I need to keep every file I might desire at my fingertips.

To be clear - you cannot remove unwanted desktop icons by sticking your Macbook in the dishwasher. We want to hear additional tips you have have on making your computer desktop an efficient workplace - leave a comment below! Good luck with the cleaning!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Quick Tip: Fluorescent Lighting Is Terrible

By Jon:

I don't know about you, but I seem to have been getting a lot of horrible headaches lately. I took a step back a few weeks ago and tried to identify their cause. I didn't get them on the weekends and they weren't tied to caffeine use, so I was able to narrow it down to my workweek. I took a look around my workstation and realized one simple fact:

I had fluorescent lights beaming down on me from all sides.

Our whole office uses fluorescents because they're cheaper and last longer. Even my desk lamp was a FL! I emailed our facilities team and asked them if there was any way to kill the lights above my head. A short email and 24 hours later and two massive lights above me were turned off. That was weeks ago and I've felt better since day one.

Sometimes all it takes is a simple email and your facilities/maintenance team can do a lot for you. Since then, I've gotten a wireless mouse, a wireless ergonomic keyboard, a new lamp and I'm working on having a section of my cubicle desk removed to increase the size of my available office space. The sky's pretty much the limit, considering all this is available elsewhere in our building and it's not costing anything to our bottom line. Send some emails and see what you can get out of it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Create A Powerful Resume With A Profile Statement

By Jon:

It's time once again to dust off that old resume, check it over and make sure it's all updated. Don't get antsy, nobody's going anywhere -- it's just good to have that thing updated just in case. I mean, you never know what could happen.

Fire Your Objective Statement
When you're crafting your resume, think of your prospective employer. How would they feel about seeing the following as the key point of your resume?

OBJECTIVE: To obtain a position of employment in the field of applied actuarial economics.
Other than thinking, 'wow, what a nerd,' they'd probably be skimming over that statement and moving on to other sections of your resume. Do you really want to waste that valuable top level real estate on something so bland?

I mean, you did give them a resume for an open position right? There's no mystery here. You don't need an objective statement as a form of consent. A good cover letter should have made your honorable intentions more than clear. Let your resume do it's job -- selling you as a good candidate.

Introducing The Profile Statement
I'd much prefer a great Profile Statement sitting at the helm of my resume, giving the all-important elevator pitch right after my contact info. In a worst case scenario, if the employer doesn't read anything other than my Profile, they know who I am in a nutshell and how to get in touch with me. Perfect, right?

Here are some things to think about when building a profile statement:
  • Abilities: Are you smart? Are you fast? Are you skilled?
  • Experiences: Team player? Deadlines? What have you done?
  • Goals: Why should we care about you?
  • The High Points: What's the key things from each major section of your resume?
With these guidelines you should have a nice set of keywords that can be used to describe you. Let's try putting them together into something cohesive. I'd recommend a short paragraph that's easy to follow but loaded with good terminology about yourself.

Let's use a different example than our actuary friend above; I have no idea about calculus or insurance. How about, well, my profile statement?
PROFILE: Works well in challenging, fast-paced, high-stress and deadline-oriented environments individually or as part of a team. Proficient in project management and digital technology as well as operational supply chains; also heavily experienced with customer and employee relationships as well as technical support. Knowledgeable in creating detailed reports, documents and presentations. Focused on consistent quality work and a desire to simplify and innovate the daily operations of corporate culture and the industries of music and technology.
In four sentences I've boiled down my whole career and goals into a quick morsel of info. Now, as always, your mileage may vary, but from my experiences, interviewers tend to really enjoy this profile (tip: don't steal mine verbatim unless you're all those things too).

A well crafted Profile Statement is much easier for interviewers to swallow than an entire resume, and it opens up the interview to lots of detailed questions right out of the gate. I can use the profile as my jumping off point and reference specific areas in the resume to back up my explanations.

Best of luck getting your resume formatted just right, but remember, the resume always takes a backseat to actually being fun to talk to, being good at your job, and knowing people to get you in the door.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Use Summarize To Get To The Point

By Jon:

DISCLAIMER: This is a function for Apple users only. I know, I know, I use a PC at work too, but this is so cool I had to share it with you.

Have you ever received an email or been passed along an article that you're encouraged to read, only to find that it's 16 paragraphs of solid text? Rather than spend twenty minutes digging through this text, a hidden but incredibly valuable tool can help you get right to business.

The app is called Summarize, and it's normally located in the Services menu of any Apple app you may have. It's also located in the Services folder of your Library for quick access. Personally, I use it in conjunction with Quicksilver, so I'll be sure to explain that incredible app in a future post.

Here's what you do:

Select a block of text in an email, a website, or a document, then access the Summarize function. It'll pop up this display (I've selected a recent post of ours as an example):

As you can see, I've got the slider set to 100% and the whole article is displayed. Let's drag the slider down to, say, 4 sentences.

As you can see, it's pulled out 4 unique and important pieces of info from this post; this gives us a general idea of what the post is about and what it's explaining. Turns out Apple uses an algorithm to deduce how often this sentence is referenced (or how unique it is) and how important it is to the overall structure of the piece. Fancy.

Now let's drill it down to just one sentence:

A-ha! This is a one sentence summary of what the post is going to be about -- unconventional directions.

This might seem a little confusing at first, so I'll toggle over to paragraphs for a little more clarity:

Interesting. The article is teaching me how to find directions based upon the sun. The summary also includes the caveat paragraph, good if I don't live in the Northern hemisphere.

This is just an example, but I've seen this get used to great result with company emails, presentations and other corporate memos. If I just don't have time to read something, I'll fire this up and get to the heart of it immediately.