Over the last few years, I’ve made it quite clear that I’m a huge fan of Dropbox. It’s so simple, so useful, and (for most users) completely free. It’s amazing, and has helped make me a much more productive person. If you’re not familiar with Dropbox, check out this post from a while back that explains how it works.
Dropbox Forms from JotForm
JotForm is a pretty cool site that helps you easily build forms for your site, for things like online registration, contact forms, etc. However, they’ve recently added a new feature called “Dropbox Forms” that is quite slick — you can add a form to your site with an upload field, and anything that users upload will go directly into your Dropbox! For people that have to receive a lot of files from clients, this seems like a great solution. Check out their video below to see why you might want to use this new feature:
The other new thing that was just released is an iPhone app called DropVox. It allows you to record audio with your phone, and the resulting file is uploaded directly into your Dropbox. It’s kind of similar to the reason that I use picplz for most of my mobile photography — having the files uploaded directly to Dropbox saves you time when you’re finished because they’re already waiting for you on your computer!
If you have an iPhone, use Dropbox, and often need to take audio notes, DropVox looks like a pretty cool solution.
Do you use Dropbox? Do you use any cool third-party tools like these to make it better?
As I’ve mentioned a few times before, keeping my inbox at zero is a huge part of my organizational process, and I attribute much of my productivity to it. Having your inbox clean makes it much easier to prioritize new messages so you’re always on top of everything that you’ve got going.
A big part of inbox zero is having systems in place to keep everything. I put my tasks in Nozbe, file attachments in Dropbox, passwords and other notes into Evernote, and I count on auto-resurrection to bring emails back when a response comes in. If you don’t have a great way to deal with every email in your inbox, you’ll never be able to get them all out of there.
The two-minute rule
However, another big piece of the GTD method is the two-minute rule. If you get a new task and it’ll take less than two minutes to do, then do it immediately. If you wait on it, then you’re adding more meta data to the task that will ultimately slow you down. For example:
Adding it to your task list takes a minute to do, as does crossing it off later and prioritizing it in the meantime.
Leaving it in your inbox just gives you one more item to look past as new items come in.
It’s more difficult to have a “mind like water“, since you’ll probably be thinking about it until it’s done, at least subconsciously.
Even better, I’ve found that clients love it! People are amazed when they send me an email with a minor update to their site and it’s done (with a reply back to them) in just a few minutes. I certainly don’t always respond that quickly, especially if I’m in the middle of another project at the time, but I work hard to respond as quickly as possible.
This idea could really lead to another conversation about distractions. The nature of my work requires that I stay on top of client requests during the day as much as possible, leading to many (paid) interruptions. However, for most people, processing email in scheduled “chunks” throughout the day (instead of responding each time a new one comes in) is often a more productive way to handle it.
Not always just two minutes
Another thought is the length of time that you fit this rule into — I often stretch it to the “5 minute rule”, or even a bit longer. If it’s something that needs to get done at some point that day, and it’s a 5-10 minute task, I’ll still usually tackle it right away. If it’s a longer task, or something that isn’t a priority for today, then I’ll add it to the to-do list and worry about it another day.
Regardless of how often you process your email, the two-minute rule is gold. Get it done and move on!
I’ve been searching for a while to find a way to automatically upload photos from my phone to Dropbox, for easy access later. The folks are Dropbox are considering adding that feature to their Android app, but they’ve been “considering” it for a while now and I don’t have much hope.
However, the popular photo-sharing app picplz just added automatic Dropbox uploading to their application and it works great! When you take a photo with their app, you can choose from the following:
Apply an effect to it (black and white, etc).
Post it to your Facebook, Twitter, Posterous, Flickr, Tumblr or Foursquare.
Add it to your Dropbox.
By default, I only have it go to Dropbox, though I push fun photos to Facebook/Twitter from time to time.
What’s great about the Dropbox integration is that it uploads the full high-res untouched version, along with a copy of it with any “effect” you may have chosen.
They have apps for iPhone and Android, so most smartphone users are covered. Feel free to follow me on there to see what kind of photos I post.
I was working with a client recently that declared that they didn’t want to use Google Apps because Gmail is too “weird”. While I agree that it’s a lot different than traditional email systems, and certainly isn’t for everyone, most people agree that it makes life easier. This person wasn’t willing to give it a try simply because it was too different, and (in my opinion) missed out on a lot of time savings.
With that in mind, I try to make it a point to try new things out that might make my life easier. I’m often playing with new task management systems, and I hate the thought of living without Dropbox or Evernote. Over the last few years, the incremental changes I’ve made to my daily tasks now save me a lot of time every day.
With that in mind, I’m giving 8pen a solid try on my Droid X. 8pen is a crazy new input method (don’t call it a “keyboard”) that completely changes how you enter letters onto your phone. Here’s a quick video showing how it works:
I’ll admit, I’m skeptical. Even having used it a bit, I’m not convinced it’d be any faster than Swype, which I love. That being said, I’m going to keep playing with it for a few days. I tend to type quite a lot on my phone, and if this can make me even just a little bit faster, it’s worth the time to learn it. For example, if it can save me three minutes throughout the course of a day, that’s over 18 hours I’d save every year. Little time savings like that can really add up!
In the past, teen users were often able to text each other without looking at the screen using T9 on older cell phones. That’s no longer possible with most touch screen phones, but (in theory) would be possibly with 8pen.
On smaller screens 8pen becomes even more valuable as normal keyboards become even more smushed.
So what do you think? Do we need to rethink the handheld keyboard? Is 8pen going to change the world? Or is it just a cool idea that’s a bit too complex for most people?
I’ve worked hard for the last few years to be productive while away from the office, but a recent trip to Michigan showed me what I was lacking.
I have three primary computers; a beefy desktop, a solid laptop, and a netbook. My goal is to be able to pick up any of the three machines at any time and have virtually all of my tools available to me. Using web-based services such as Gmail and Nozbe are easy, but the challenge has been with desktop-based software like code-authoring and FTP tools. I’ve just about got it worked out, so here’s what my arsenal looks like today.
The tools I’ve used for a while
Gmail – Love it. Being web-based it’s available on any computer I’m using and has a great interface on my Droid X
Nozbe – For task management. I have dozens of projects in there and it works great. Despite searching for something better, I haven’t found it. Nozbe is still doing a great job. No Android app yet, but their mobile version is good enough.
Evernote – I have it loaded on all three computers (along with their weak Android app), so they’re always in sync with my 500+ notes.
Dropbox – Aside from personal photos and videos, ALL of my files are in there; more than 15,000 of them, taking over 13GB of space. Every file is accessible from any of the three computers and from their Android app.
Tweetdeck / Sobees – I use Sobees on my main computer (more screen real estate to play with) and Tweetdeck on the laptops. On Android I’m currently using Seesmic and I’m quite pleased with it. Since they all pull directly from my Twitter account, they’re automatically in sync.
The new tools
Now, none of that stuff is particularly new to me. I’ve been doing that for a while and it’s worked great. My problem is when a client needs something fixed and I’m on the “wrong” computer. I’ve used Dreamweaver for years (love the way it handles FTP and code coloring) and a variety of FTP clients. The problem is that I’d add FTP info on one machine, but I’d need to add it on the others as well. This wasn’t a big problem since I keep that information handy (mostly in Evernote), but it was a pain.
The problem became worse because WordPress 3.0.1 was released while I was up north this time. I’m responsible for nearly 80 WordPress installations (some are mine, some are friends, some are clients, etc), and the quickest way to update them is to find the “changed files” each time and push them up via FTP. I had all of those sites saved in my FTP software at home, but only a handful on the laptop. Finding and loading the credentials for the others would have taken quite a while. Even then, I still wouldn’t have them on the netbook or in Dreamweaver on either machine.
My solution was a few portable applications. “Portable” applications are designed to run off of a thumbdrive. It’s quite cool; pop the thumbdrive into a computer, and run the application directly from there — no installation necessary. For an IT person that needs to carry around various anti-virus and other tools, it’s gold.
For me, the great part about these apps is that they can be installed within Dropbox and run from there. I loaded FileZilla Portable to handle FTP and I purchased phpDesigner7 Portable to handle code writing/edits. I spent a few hours and loaded the credentials for all of my sites into both programs, and now I’m rolling! Any edits to either program get automatically saved to Dropbox and synced to the other machines.
So far it’s working out great. Not only am I looking forward to my next trip, but it’ll make purchasing a new computer much easier; I simply install/sync Dropbox and Evernote and I’m nearly done!
How do you manage software/data across multiple computers?
I have a number of friends who are unemployed, and I’m often sharing various suggestions with them. I thought it’d be useful to them (and others) to summarize those ideas in one place.
However, I’m not going to show you how to find job openings. You can use LinkedIn, Monster, HotJobs, Craigslist or any number of other services. I’m simply going to show you some things that might increase your chances of landing an interview once you’ve found a job that you want to chase. After that, you’re on your own!
Studies show that 50-80% of employers use LinkedIn at some point in the hiring process. Here are some specific things that you should look at:
Profile: At the very least, make sure you have an account with a completed profile (photo, work history, etc).
Status Updates: It’s important to post regular status updates so you can show employers what you’re interested in. For example, some of my recent updates show my family life, social media news, information about the iPad, Twitter usability and things of that nature.
Use the second level: If you find an opening at a company you like, search for that company on LinkedIn. If you have a decent sized network, there’s a good chance that someone in your “Second Level” works there. For example, none of my connections work at Home Depot. However, by searching for “Home Depot” I find that I have over 100 second level connections. I can find the one that’s closest to the position I’m interested in, then find out who our common connection is, as seen on the right. By doing this, I can have Roger connect me to Jim, and now I’m talking to someone inside the organization before I even earn an interview!
Recommendations: LinkedIn has a very cool “recommendations” system. Ask some of your previous employers/employees/clients to write recommendations for you, which will help to enhance your profile. Be sure to return the favor for them.
Control Your Search Results
I don’t have exact numbers, but we all know that many potential employers are going to Google you. What will they find? If you can take control of your search results, you can determine exactly what they’ll find.
The one catch is that you need to have a fairly unique name. If your name is Jim Smith, it’s going to be difficult to dominate the search results for that phrase. For many of us, though, you can easily take control. Use my name for example (Mickey Mellen). I have complete control over the first five results for my name, and solid control over 9 of the 10.
How is that done? The simple way is to have active profiles on a variety of different social networking sites. If you have active accounts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, those should rise to the top rather quickly. How do you keep them active? Read the next section to find out…
I dicussed Ping.fm a few months ago, and the information there is still relevant. Use it to post to a variety of services, and those services will slowly rise higher in the search results for your name. This gives you a great way to have control over a large chunk of the vanity searches for your name, and will show potential employers the kinds of things that you’re interested in (keeping up with industry news, etc).
Once you have things set up, using Ping.fm at least a few times a week; maybe even a few times each day.
Create a custom URL on Facebook
Just a quick tip here — go to facebook.com/username and choose a short address for your profile. This will help your Facebook profile rank slightly higher for your name, and give you an address you can use on your business card, resume, or anywhere that you think is applicable.
In my case, I changed from a horrible address like “facebook.com/profile.php?id=123456789″ to simply “facebook.com/mickmel“.
Use the same profile picture everywhere
As you get more involved in these various services, it helps if you can brand yourself a little bit. By using the same photo on every site, people are more likely to recognize you. Once I found a picture I was happy with, I spent a few minutes and created a variety of sizes of it. Some of them include:
584×876 — Tall image, simply resized to a decent size
584×584 — Square version
133×200 — Smaller version of the tall image
90×90 — Small and square
75×75 — Smaller and square
I put those in my Dropbox folder, so I always have them with me. Whenever I register on a new site, I can grab the size/aspect that works best for that site and keep rolling.
Don’t be stupid
This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyhow. Once you control all of the top listings for your name, don’t do anything stupid on your account. Don’t bad-mouth anyone, post inappropriate photos, etc. The level of sharing is up to you (some people share personal items, others don’t mention their family), but keep it clean and respectful.
Get a better email address
When I was reviewing applications for my job at Mt. Bethel, I couldn’t help but take notice of their email address. If someone submitted a resume with an @aol.com address, I started to feel a bit worse about them. It didn’t affect who we ultimately chose to bring in, but it gave them kind of a bad first impression.
Lifehacker had an article a while back on this kind of topic. While it likely won’t make or break you, every little thing you do can help. Personally, I’d recommend either Gmail or a self-branded address (firstname.lastname@example.org), but there are a lot of good options out there.
A few other tools
If you’re a Twitter user, the folks at TweetDeck have a new product out called JobDeck. It’s essentially TweetDeck with TwitterJobSearch tied into it. Nothing fancy, but could be of value.
If you need help with your resume, CeeVee could be helpful. There are a lot of online resume sites, but this one seems to have some good stuff going. If you prefer a different one, please let us know in the comments.
Any other advice for those that are job-hunting? Share your tips in the comments.
If you’re like most people, you have files on your computer everywhere. Programs, spreadsheets, documents, presentations, logos, ebooks, pdfs, and a variety of other stuff. Even if you have it well-organized, you probably have two big problems:
You can’t access it away from home. Right now, you try to remember to put the important files on your thumb drive, but often forget.
It’s not backed up very well. I used to keep a copy of my files on an external hard drive as a backup. Sometimes…
There are two tools I’m going to show you today that will help solve both of those problems very easily. Google Docs and DropBox.
:: Google Docs
Google Docs is Google’s online version of Microsoft Office. All of your files live on their servers, and you edit them through the web. The programs aren’t quite as complex as the Microsoft versions (for better or worse), but they offer some huge advantages:
Access them from any web-connected computer.
They’re always backed up by Google
You can share documents with friends/family/co-workers so they can view/edit them.
You can share documents publicly if you want to show them to a wider audience.
They’re fully compatible with Office documents. Upload from Office, or save the files in Office format to send to your less-connected friends.
To go with that, though, there are a few disadvantages:
No internet = no files. They offer “offline” access to your files, but it’s something you need to set up ahead of time and you need to do it on every computer where you use docs. Of course, most of us have our computers connected 24/7, so offline access isn’t a big problem very often.
Lose your account, lose your files. In the event your account gets hacked or otherwise terminated, your files go with it. With this in mind, I keep my Google password really long and complex, and I’m very careful about where I use it.
All in all, Google Docs is a great answer for your basic documents. I keep the majority of mine in there, and it’s very handy. I can work on them from my desktop, but have all of them at my fingertips when I’m on my laptop. Or my network. Or my wife’s computer. Or anywhere else.
DropBox is one of the most innovative tools I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s dead simple. When you install the program, it creates a folder called “My DropBox” in your documents folder (similar on the Mac). Anything you put in there gets synced to their servers, and then over to any other computer where you have Dropbox installed. In my case, I have it installed on my desktop, my laptop and my netbook. If someone sends me a file that I need to keep, I simply toss it in Dropbox so I’ll have easy access to it. Once it’s in there, I can access it from any of my computers, my iPhone, or the Dropbox website.
Here’s a short video that explains it better than I can:
The neat thing about this is that it actually copies the files to your computer. Even if you don’t have internet access for a little while, the files physically live on every machine so you have direct access to them. If you make a change, the updated file is sent as soon as your internet connection comes back. The one downside to this is that it consumes space on every computer to hold the files. In my case, I have about 6GB worth of stuff in Dropbox, so that folder is taking up 6GB of space on all of my computers. 6 gigs isn’t much anymore, but I wouldn’t be able to store my wife’s 40GB of photos in there — I’ll talk about options for those tomorrow.
They also have a killer sharing feature. You can set a folder to be shared by others, and it’ll appear in their Dropbox. I name my shared folders things like “Mickey and Steve shared” so I can be clear about what goes in there. If Steve adds a file to that folder, it syncs to all of his computers and all of mine.
You can also check out this post I wrote a few months back on how I integrate Dropbox with GTD.
I purchased a new desktop yesterday. My old computer was better than three years old and starting to show it. The new one is quite a powerful little beast — Intel Quad Core i7, 8 GB ECC3 RAM, terabyte hard drive — and I got a great deal on it. Tossed in a second video card and it’s running all three monitors quite nicely.
As it was going through it’s initial start-up, I made a list of the software I’d need to load. So much of my life is in the cloud (Gmail, Google Calendar, Nozbe, etc) that it was fairly easy, but it was still a pretty sizable list. Here’s what I loaded:
Firefox — Much better browser than Internet Explorer
Google Chrome — This is actually my primary browser, though I use Firefox a good bit too.
Ultramon — If you have more than one monitor on your system, this tool stretches your taskbar across all three, then only show icons for the programs open on that particular screen. It’s superb.