5 Great Blogs for Personal Productivity

It might surprise you how many results you get if you plug “productivity blog” into any search engine. Or maybe it wouldn’t surprise you since — if you’re reading this, it’s clearly an area of interest for you so why wouldn’t it be of interest to lots of other folks as well?

To help you wade through all the productivity blogs out there, we’ve put together this list of five blogs that we think are worth checking out, and why we think they are noteworthy:

  1. Dumb Little Man: Started in 2006 by a then-non-professional blogger, this site has grown nicely and now has a handful of regular writers (and a large number of non-regular guest authors) who post tips designed to save you money and increase your productivity. Its articles are also helpfully organized using categories such as Lifehacks, Personal Development, Technology, etc.
  2. GTD Times: If you’re a GTD fan, then this is the site for you. It is the official site of David Allen, creator of the Getting Things Done methodology. It offers reviews of GTD tools and GTD-enabling technology, as well as “tips, tricks and strategies” to help people use GTD to lead happier, healthier, and more successful lives. Or, if you’re unfamiliar with GTD, then this is the authoritative place to go to get a good introduction to it.
  3. Parent Hacks: Geared toward families and parents of kids of all ages, this blog provides helpful tips for improving family life. Because the hacks come from parents, it’s the perfect form of crowdsourcing solutions for the sometimes-unique problems that people face in their household as they raise their kids.
  4. SimpleProductivityBlog: Although this blog’s author – LJ Earnest – has a “real” day job, she is prolific and very diligent about posting new entries regularly to keep her blog fresh. In fact, judging from her content, you might wonder when she has time to sleep, let alone have a day job, husband, and a child. We like the organization of her site and the content on it, spanning the main headings of Productivity, Simplification, Balance, Life Design, Organization, and Clutter.
  5. Work Awesome: Unlike the other productivity blogs in this list, Work Awesome is geared toward helping people be more effective at their job or anything that they are passionate about. Consistent with their mission, they have categories for their content including Office Life, Management, and Work Life Balance.

Do you have a favorite productivity blog that you visit regularly? If so, let us know — we’d like to check them out if we haven’t already!

5 Tips To Getting Organized And Staying That Way

When it comes to all of the information in your life, what is the best way to get organized? And once you achieve your new year’s resolution to get organized, what is the best way to stay that way? Everyone is different, of course, and one size does not fit all. But here are some tips that most folks should find helpful in achieving those goals.

According to a paper by the Alliance Academy, 83% of Americans want to be more organized. When we were younger, being organized wasn’t as important, or nearly as difficult. Maybe it wasn’t as important because it wasn’t cool, not as much depended on it, or  we were just more carefree. It probably wasn’t as difficult because we had a much smaller circle of acquaintances, there was much less going on in our life, or everything just moved more slowly before things like the internet and wireless handheld devices came along.

Whatever the reasons, it seems increasingly harder to do now. Here are five things you can do to deal with the information overload in your life:

  1. Determine what kind of information you have the most trouble keeping up withMaybe you find it almost impossible to remember when you have a dentist appointment. Or perhaps you keep forgetting that your father-in-law’s first name is Bob. Or maybe all of these are true and you think it may just be hopeless. Knowing the scope of the issue and the type of information involved is the first step in being able to identify the best way to organize it.
  2. Decide what type of organizational tool fits you bestOnce you know what kind of information you need to organize, you have a better chance of choosing the right tool that will work for you. If you are a techie and you always have a gadget with you, then a mobile phone, tablet computer, or PDA may suit you best. If you’re a luddite, then you’ll probably want to stick with something like a Moleskin notebook or other paper-based solution.
  3. Put your information into your organizational toolMost people have a tendency to want to keep track of “everything”. But you’re probably better off culling out the stuff you’re never going to use so you can get down to something more manageable and less overwhelming. Once you have identified what’s really important, think about the best way to organize all of it, and then put it into your tool in a way that makes sense to you.
  4. Get into the habit of using your organizational tool by establishing a routineThe more you use your organizational tool of choice, the more useful information it will contain. The more useful information it contains, the more you will want to use it. See how nicely that works?  The best way to ensure that you are capturing useful information is to establish a routine for putting information into it. When you meet someone new, put their contact information into your organizational tool right away. When you are scheduling an appointment, consult your tool to see when you’re available and immediately record your appointment.
  5. Periodically refine your processEvery once in a while, it pays to evaluate how well this whole model is working for you. You might start out using a paper-based system but, after having gotten an iPhone for your birthday, become much more comfortable with technology and more productive using it. Or, you may have changed jobs from one that involved working with lots of different people and required maintaining a bunch of contacts to one that is less people-oriented and requires keeping track of tasks and projects.

Those tips may not help get your junk drawer sorted out, but hopefully they will help you get your information in order.

iCloud Sync Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How do I know when iCloud has gotten into a state where it is having trouble keeping my devices in sync?

A. There are a couple of signs that indicate that iCloud is no longer correctly processing all data changes. These include:

    • A change made recently on one device has shown up on another device, but a change made before that has not
    • One or more of the views in the product is missing some icons and/or displays the word “NULL”. One example of that can be seen here:
iCloud Sync issue example

Q. Does iCloud Sync work when LifeTopix is not active?

A. First we should clarify what “active” means. Suppose you are using LifeTopix on your device. During that time, LifeTopix is running in the foreground and is considered “active”. On most iOS 5 devices, if you then switch to another app, LifeTopix will go into the “background” rather than exit completely. When LifeTopix is in the background, it is not considered “active”. Only the app you see currently running on your device is considered “active”.

LifeTopix can only receive and process sync updates from iCloud while LifeTopix is active.  This means that only once you make LifeTopix active by running it on your device will it begin to receive and process updates from iCloud.

Q. If I disable iCloud Sync, will the LifeTopix data that resided on my device before I enabled iCloud Sync be restored?

A. No. If you disable iCloud Sync, LifeTopix will contain whatever data it was able to most recently retrieve from you iCloud account. Therefore, it is critical that you perform an online backup of your LifeTopix data via LifeTopix Settings before you enable iCloud Sync.

Q. I see a red “iCloud Unavailable” in the iCloud Sync cell of LifeTopix Settings, but I have enabled iCloud in the device Settings. Why is iCloud unavailable?

A. You would see this situation if your device’s Settings > iCloud > Documents & Data value is set to “Off”. Set this to “On”. If LifeTopix is running in the background on your device, you will have to kill LifeTopix and re-start it before you retry the iCloud Sync operation in LifeTopix.

10 things to do to get ready for 2012

This time of the year, it’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the season. Last minute shopping to finish out your gift list and getting ready for the holidays take almost all your energy and attention. But this is the best time to make sure that you take care of several important chores before the big crystal ball drops and the calendar switches from 2011 to 2012.

To help you make sure nothing falls through the cracks, we’ve put together the following end of year checklist to make sure you are prepared for the new year:

  1. Make charitable contributions: you may be able to deduct charitable contributions from your taxes for this year if you itemize. Make a rough estimate of your income and other deuctions for the year so you will know if your charitable deductions will be phased out because you earn too much. The 2010 publication from the IRS about charitable contributions can be found here.
  2. Take advantage of your health insurance deductible: many health insurance “plan years” are on a calendar basis. If yours is and you have already met your deductible, then you will want to go ahead and make the appointments with your healthcare providers you have been putting off. If you haven’t already met your deductible, then you may want to schedule those for after the new year so that they can apply to next year’s deductible. Of course, you should never put off anything other than routine doctor’s visits – don’t sacrifice your health for the sake of an insurance deductible!
  3. Complete your FSA spending: Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA’s) are “use it or lose it”. Therefore, you don’t want to end the year with unspent money in that account. If your health insurance plan year is on a calendar basis, then so is your FSA. If that’s the case, then add up all the receipts that qualify for reimbursement under your FSA. If you have not yet met your FSA total, then make purchases of the items you need that are eligible for reimbursement through your FSA (the list from the IRS for 2010 can be found here.)
  4. Update your will: Hardly anyone likes to think about dying, but it’s wise to prepare for that day by having an up-to-date will in place. If you don’t have a will, draw one up. If you do have one, review it to see if your life situation has changed in such a way that requires you to update your it. In it, make sure you name an executor and, if you have children, designate trustees and guardians.
  5. Plan taxes: In addition to the charitable contribution planning described in step 1, perform other tax planning. If you itemize and your deductions are not phased out because you earn too much, you may be able to deduct things like your property taxes which often are due by January 31. If that’s the case for you, then you can decide whether you’re better off making those payments before the end of the year so you can deduct them on your 2011 taxes, or after the first of the year so you can deduct them on your 2012 taxes.
  6. Asset review: Go through all your valuable assets and make sure your documentation for them is up-to-date. The kind of information you should keep for your assets includes purchase receipts, model and serial numbers, and photos or videos of the assets.
  7. Insurance update: as you buy things, or are given them as gifts, it’s easy to foget to add them to your insurance policies. It’s also hard to remember to periodically review your insurance policies to make sure you have adequate coverage for all the things you own. Once you’ve done the review described in step 6, you should go through all your insurance policies to review your coverage.
  8. Health planning: get a jumpstart on your new year’s resolutions by evaluating your current health and setting goals for 2012 for yourself. Think about any changes that have happened in the last year to you or your relatives so you can update your health history and inform your doctor. For example, if a blood relative was recently diagnosed with diabetes, you now have an increased risk factor for diabetes, and you should make a note to inform your doctor about that.
  9. Physical: the old addage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is definitely worth remembering — schedule your annual physical.
  10. Household chores: so that you can easily change your a/c and heater air filter every month, it’s helpful to go ahead and buy 12 of them so that you have them ready and available. That increases the likelihood that you’ll actually do it. If you have a battery-operated smoke detector, check its batteries.

How I am Getting Things Done with LifeTopix

When I first heard about Gettings Things Done® (a.k.a., GTD® — the organizational method devised by David Allen), I knew it was something in which I would be interested. I have a lot going on in my life so I’m always on the lookout for anything that can help me be more efficient and effective.

Not to detract from the multiple books David Allen has written about GTD, but the key concepts about GTD can really be boiled down to control and perspective — “control” meaning gaining the upper hand over all the really important information in your life, and “perspective” meaning looking at that information in a way that lets you focus on the right set of priorities.

One key part of GTD is that it must be easy to capture, monitor and access all the information about the things that you need to get done. That can be accomplished with just about any kind of tool, including the paper-based implementation of GTD that the folks over at the David Allen Company describe for those luddites who crave organizational enhancement. Making it easy to record, monitor, and view all your information is precisely what LifeTopix is all about, so I was especially interested in how I would be able to use it to implement GTD. Here’s how:

For the “control” part of the methodology, GTD advises that as you come up with ideas, you should quickly capture them, deferring planning and classification to a later time. This allows you to get those ideas out of your head so your mind remains “uncluttered” and you can be more effective at the task at hand. Of course, I have always referred to this as “I need to jot this down before I forget”.  🙂 The LifeTopix Quick Inbox is perfect for this.

This week, I had three things that I thought of that I wanted to do at some point. Rather than get distracted from what I was doing at the time I thought of them, I captured them all in the LifeTopix Quick Inbox.

  • We’re expecting a baby in a couple months, so I created a Quick Inbox item titled “Get nursery ready”. I didn’t set an Act By date to begin with, but I know we need to get that done sooner rather than later, so I set the When to Soon.
  • Doing my taxes is always quite involved. I created a Quick Inbox item titled “2011 taxes” so I could plan a project for that and all the tasks associated with it. I wanted to get started on defining that project well in advance of the April 15th filing deadline, so I set the Act By date to March 15, 2012, and set the When to Someday.
  • We need to get a new TV, but I always like to research electronics purchases before we make them, so I created a Quick Inbox item titled “Research new TVs”. I didn’t set an Act By date to begin with, and that is not an urgent item, so I set the When to Someday.

This is what my Quick Inbox looked like after all that:

My GTD Quick Inbox

Later, I went through my Quick Inbox items and specified more information.

  • I converted the “Get nursery ready” item to a project with a start date of December 15, 2011, and created tasks within that project for painting the room and getting everything set up. Then I added shopping items to that project for the paint supplies, bassinet, and other items we still need. Finally, I set the category to “Baby” to help with the perspective part of the GTD methodology I would be doing.
  • I converted the “2011 taxes” item to a project with a start date of February 1, 2012, and an end date of March 30, 2012. I added tasks to that for gathering my documents, purchasing my tax software, and completing my tax return. I set the category to “Finances”.
  • I converted the “Research new TVs” item to a task with a due date of February 4, 2012 so we would have it by the Super Bowl. I set the category to Media > Equipment Upgrade.

LifeTopix makes it very easy for me to see the items I should be working on now via the What’s Next view. I have mine set to show me items for the next 7 days, so this is what it looks like after I went through my Quick Inbox:

What's Next - GTD

LifeTopix does a great job of letting me implement a GTD methodology. I have control because I am able to capture all my todo items easily so nothing falls through the cracks, and the touchpoints between all the topics is perfect for allowing me to leverage related information without having to re-enter it multiple times. I have multiple perspectives because while I often need to view things from a time view (what I need to do now, what I need to do tomorrow, what I should do if I find myself with some spare time, etc.), I also like to view them from a category view (what baby-related activities I have scheduled, what finance items I have to work on, what items can I work on while I’m at the office, etc.).

LifeTopix and GTD — two great things that go great together!

The power of location awareness from your device

Some people long for the good old days. They fondly remember the time when air travel didn’t involve long lines at security, or back when they didn’t have to lock their front doors. Those are the kinds of folks who read Beloit College’s annual mindset list every year and focus on that sinking feeling it creates when they think about what it says about their own advancing age. How can it be that HDTV came along before the kids entering college this year! were even born?

Others look on the bright side, and the positive opportunities that come with the passage of time. The constant march of technological innovation, relentless as it is, generally enhances productivity and, therefore, means more free time to enjoy life.

The availability of location awareness from your handheld device is a perfect example. It wasn’t that long ago that if we wanted to go to a restaurant or store we had never been to before, we had to plan ahead and fuss around with a cumbersome paper map. If the map was out of date, or we lost the directions along the way, or we ran into an unexpected detour, we ended up wasting time.

Online maps represented a great leap forward – they proved to be more useful as they ensured that they were more up-to-date than the old paper maps.

Today, our handheld devices can access those maps wirelessly. Even better, they know where we are. Now we can type an address into our handheld device and in a few seconds it will give us turn-by-turn directions from where we are now to wherever we want to go. So cool.

LifeTopix is also super cool, because it leverages this technology in a really useful way. When you enter into LifeTopix the things that are location-based — tasks, shopping items, events, trips, etc. — you can use the Near Me feature of LifeTopix to show you, automatically, those things that are in your vicinity. This is one of those really powerful capabilities that you will quickly end up wondering “how did I ever lived without this!?”

These three videos show you how easy it is to use the location services features of LifeTopix on your device: