If you’re serious about getting something substantial done in 2012, you probably do a lot of planning, dreaming and strategizing around this time of year. In my own planning for the New Year, one of my focus areas is to leverage technology to reduce wasted time and time spent on lower-priority tasks. Here are some fruits of my research and thinking:
Try Shoeboxed.com. This service lets you snail-mail receipts and business cards to a central location, and they scan them to the cloud for you. At the $29.95 / month level they provide prepaid mailing envelopes, and will process 150 documents a month. The idea is to streamline expense report paperwork and data entry of new contacts. I’ve started to play with this, and so far my experience is that their internal error-checking is just “okay.” In reality you still have to go through, check for accuracy, and do some of your own data entry. I uploaded a few business cards just to try it out, and there was a bunch of data I still had to input manually. But, since they provide an image of the original receipt or the business card online, as well as their read of it, it’s pretty easy to go through and make corrections or add data. All in all it’s probably still a time-saver. I think it would also provide a nice platform to use in conjunction with a virtual assistant, who could do the error correcting.
Use the Voice Recorder on your Smart Phone. Last year I started using the voice recorder function on my smart phone as a way of taking notes when I was on the move. This has worked extremely well. Most of us carry our phones everywhere, so it’s a quick way to capture ideas. My wife and I used this very successfully when we went hiking or on long walks where we planned while we walked. When we came up with decisions or good ideas, I’d record them on my phone voice recorder. The only catch is that you have to remember to type up your voice notes. This year I’m planning to add a hand-held digital voice recorder to my briefcase. I’d like to be able to record ideas when I’m driving, and don’t want to risk using my cell phone for that.
Use David Allen’s System for Managing Email. You can learn about it in David’s excellent book, Getting Things Done. In a nutshell, you create three email folders labeled @Action, @Maybe–Someday, and @Waiting For. (The @ is to make sure these three folders show up at the top of your list of folders.) As you receive emails, try to deal immediately with anything that will only require 2 minutes or less of your time. For all emails that you read but don’t deal with immediately, sort them into the 3 folders. @Action gets things that definitely require you to take some action (including the time to provide a thoughtful response). @Maybe–Someday gets things that you might want or need to act on, but maybe not. And @Waiting For is where you keep track of things that other people have committed to. The idea is to block out a few days and clear out your email inbox completely. Then, begin using the system and never leave anything in your inbox at the end of the day. On a regular basis, go through your @ folders.
I’ve been using this system for a few months, and it’s incredibly helpful. It brings a great deal of clarity to which emails require what sort of attention. It also reduces some of the stress associated with having 15,000 emails in your inbox, and not really knowing for sure whether you’ve handled everything. My own additional tip—use the two minute rule as a challenge. Trying to deal with each email in less than two minutes makes you more efficient. Just don’t overdo this and pay too little attention to critical emails.
Consider Getting a Mac. I’ve been shopping for a new laptop, and although I’ve been a devout PC user for many years, I’ve decided to make the change. I don’t own a Mac yet, but I’m headed that way. My decision is mostly from a productivity standpoint. What finally threw me over the edge was something a salesman said at the Apple store: since the machine, the operating system, and the software are all supported by the same company, you don’t get the runaround when something goes wrong. It’s one-stop problem resolution for everything. Bottom line—I think I’ll spend less time dealing with computer problems over the next several years with a Mac. My Mac-using friends, family and colleagues seem to agree.
I’d love to hear your favorite ways of leveraging technology to get more of the important things done!