4 things I started using this year

By Alexandra Golaszewska

1. You know how scheduling a meeting can take forever? All that back-and-forth to find a time? This year I discovered Schedule Once.

It hooks up with my Google calendar to show my availability, and to put things on my calendar once they’ve been scheduled. Within Schedule Once, I can set some rules — meetings can only be scheduled during certain hours, I need at least a day’s notice, etc.

When someone asks for a meeting or call with me, I send my link. The person then suggests several times. I can accept one, or I have the option to ask for for something else. 

2. SpiderOak is automatic backup software that runs in the background, and is rated very well when it comes to privacy. Even Edward Snowden recommends it. This saved me a couple of months ago when a botched system software installation forced me to reformat my entire hard drive. 

3. Morris Levin of Elysian Fields told me about Dashlane. You set up an account, and you can share logins to websites without sharing the actual password. It makes housekeeping a lot easier — you don’t have 20 usernames and passwords floating around in email — and it also allows you to give someone temporary access, which you can easily revoke.

4. I’ve been using Evernote for years to organize notes by topic, but I just realized how fantastic it is for helping me to get rid of paper documents. If you have a stack of paper and an iPhone, you can hold the phone as you flip through the stack of paper. It will capture an image for each page, and you can save it all in one document with a name that will make it easy for you to find later. 

How to un-send a Gmail message you regret

By Alexandra Golaszewska

Everyone has done this: you hit Send on an email and immediately wish you hadn't. Google has a fix for that. Undo Send has been available via Google Labs for a while, but now it's part of every user's Gmail options. Here's how to set it up:

  • In your main Mail window, go to the gear on the upper right.
  • Click it and go down to Settings.
  • Scroll down and click Enable Undo Send.
  • Set your cancellation period; you can have up to 30 seconds.

A day of digital silence

By Alexandra Golaszewska

This year, I observed the National Day of Unplugging. It's a secular event with its roots in the religious tradition of a day of rest. In our hyper-connected world, we get so anxious when we forget our phones or temporarily lose Internet access; we feel like we need to be on and available 24 hours every day. A day of unplugging by choice can give us space to think and relax and get outside without constantly checking a device.

"Unplugging" is open to interpretation. The organizers created a 10-point manifesto, but this doesn't have to be all-or-nothing. For some, it might mean that the phone is OK but internet is not. For others, it might mean not using anything powered by electricity.

I chose to get rid of phone and internet. On the designated Friday night, I shut off my phone and put my iPad into airplane mode. I allowed myself books on the iPad, but nothing else.

Overall, it felt really good. An unplugged day made me realize how much time I usually spend online reading and researching and checking messages and tweeting. I had space, in a way that I don't on a normal day. I felt relaxed… mostly. I did have a few moments of panic that there was some emergency happening and I didn't know about it. There were a couple of minor inconveniences: I was running late on my way to meet some people on Friday night, and a friend was a little late meeting me for a hike on Saturday morning, and I couldn't use my phone. Neither was a big deal. I was meeting 3 people at a bar on Friday night, so it wasn't like someone was waiting for me to order dinner. On Saturday, I was in a beautiful park and my dog and I just enjoyed our surroundings until my friend arrived.

Some positive effects that happened in a big way in the days that followed:

  • Increased productivity. Forcing a break from unnecessary internet use made me a lot more particular about how I spend my time online.
  • Decreased tolerance to email clutter. When email is allowed to pile up, you really notice how much you get that you don't need. I've since done a lot of unsubscribing.
  • More ideas. Better ideas. If you're into meditation, you know that quieting your mind makes space for new things to come in. Unplugging does this too.

Some tips, if you want to give it a try:

  • Tell a few people what you're doing. You don't have to announce it to everyone you know, but just make sure that a few friends or family members know. That way, if there really is an emergency, they know that they need to find you in person or contact a neighbor. It's easier to relax if you know that someone will track you down if necessary.
  • Make your plans ahead of time. A solitary day of unplugging spent at home could be really therapeutic, but that isn't what I was looking for this time. I made my plans with friends ahead of time, and they knew that I wasn't available to change them by phone. No problem.
  • Enjoy it.

I don't think I'm ready to do this every week. Maybe someday. For now, I'm going to try making this a monthly practice on the first Friday sundown to Saturday sundown of every month.

One of the ideas that came out of this: an expansion of my marketing skills to the realm of online dating. I've spent years helping clients look their best online in the business world, and I've also helped friends fix up their online dating profiles (one met her husband after I worked my magic). I've combined the two into a new service at ProfileCoach.net.  

A few of my favorite things (for staying organized & productive).

The new year is upon us, which means a lot of y'all are making lists of resolutions and goals. Many of us resolve to finally get organized and productive, and that's what this one's all about.I'm an Apple girl. I've had an iPhone for a few years, an iPad since the summer, and I've never had a non-Mac computer. So that's my bias, but most (if not all) of these will work on other platforms too.

Evernote. A note-taking application that works on almost every computer, smartphone and mobile device out there. When you install it, you create an account, so you can sync across multiple devices. There are both free and paid versions. (So far, I haven't needed to upgrade from free.)

Dropbox. Easy-peasy data storage and file transfer. You can also have shared folders that can be accessed by you as well as other people. If you sign up using this link, we'll both get extra free space.

Freshbooks (affiliate link). An unfortunate number of freelancers do their invoices in Microsoft Word. Quickbooks is good for those who need it, but we don't all need the bells and whistles and inventory and whatnot. Freshbooks is clean, simple, web-based invoicing and expense tracking. You can use it for free (forever!) for up to 3 clients; the next level up is $19.99/month for up to 25 clients, and there are 2 options above that. It has made invoicing so freaking easy for me, and my accountant loves the reports it generates.

Teux Deux. I've probably tried every to-do list out there, and this is the one I love. I always think I'm going to like categories and priorities and all that, but when I use overly-complicated systems I always headed back to pen & paper, until I discovered Teux Deux. The web browser version is beautiful, both on a computer and on an iPad. There's an iPhone app too. You can see the whole week at a time, and there's a separate section for "Someday" — the tasks you need to do eventually.

Do you have any favorites? Tell me in the comments!