Thursday, December 28, 2017

My Geeky Year in Review: 2017 - Apps I Used and Tips I Tried

Year after year, the tools that I use typically change. But the ones that last are usually here to stay.

To start, let's review last year's roundup:

Tool Status Notes
Habit tracking with Loop Still using! I've been tracking tasks that I want to make sure to accomplish each day. There is something so satisfying about tapping those tasks to check them off.
Investing with Acorns Nope, but maybe in the future! I liked this idea a lot but when our budget became tighter this year, I didn't like not knowing when or how much money would be transferred from my bank account. I wish the roundups were immediately withdrawn instead of in a lump sum.
Gym tracking with FitNotes Nope, but maybe in the future! My gym membership lapsed a few months ago. I plan to renew it but family budget constraints have put that on hold.
Daily journaling with IFTTT Still using! While I don't manage to journal every day, I do use this quick method to jot down a sentence or two on a regular basis.
Recipe organization with Evernote Still using! I add new recipes to my Evernote notebook on a weekly basis. To keep up with the tag structure that I implemented last year, I make sure to update any recipes that I've cooked with the 'MADE' tag, and add tags when clipping from the internet.
Track what I've readin Airtable Still using! I haven't done as much reading lately, but when I do, I make sure to update my custom Airtable database with at least basic information about the book.
Scanned my journals into Evernote Completed This was a project that I'd been working on for quite some time and just a month or so ago I finally finished it up! I scanned all of my paper journals from my childhood and teenage years into Evernote using a Doxie scanner. It was labor intensive, but allowed me to get rid of the paper copies without a hint of guilt.
1 Second Everyday videos Still using! While I haven't exactly stuck to taking a video every single day, I'm at least saving multiple videos per week. It's a fun way to look back on highlights (or just daily monotony) from the year.
Google Reminders Still using! Combined with Google Calendar reminders, using the voice recognition to remind myself about future tasks has been pretty effective.

Now, what about 2017?

This year, I didn't add a whole lot of new tools and techniques to my geeky repertoire. Instead, the focus seems to be on LESS. Less social media. Less digital clutter. Less time-wasting.

Below is an overview. I'd love to hear about what you've implemented this year to improve your efficiency or organization (personal or digital). Please share in the comments.

1. Personal messaging with Marco Polo

Marco Polo is an app that lets you basically send video messages back and forth.

It's a lot quicker than recording a video and texting it.

I'm only using it with a handful of close friends and family, but I've noticed that I feel a lot more connected with those people than I had just with social media and texting.

I like that I can send a message when it's convenient for me, and the recipient can watch when it's a good time for them, although sometimes the conversation is back-and-forth in nearly real-time.

These video messages give me the personalized feeling of a video call without being as obtrusive. (My introvert might be showing a bit there.)

2. Google Keep - for saving links and so much more

I've been using Keep for a while now, but in the past year I've altered my usage. I used to switch between Evernote and Keep and hadn't defined when to use which. But here's my current method:
  • Evernote = for things I want to save long term (recipes, journal entries, contact prescriptions, etc)
  • Keep = for things that I want to reference or take action on in the near future, or am not sure I want to save yet (articles, recipes that I want to try before saving to Evernote, coupon codes, blog post ideas, etc)

I want to determine a color coding key, but for now I'm not that organized. I've just started using labels, such as Coupon, Research, and To Purchase. I love that I can add reminders to specific notes too!

I also appreciate that I can edit my notes on any of my devices.

3. Walmart Grocery

Walmart now offers a grocery pickup service. You order your groceries online, schedule a pickup time, drive to a specified parking area, and they load your car.

I know there are other stores that offer this (Target and Fred Meyer are two that I've heard of) but this is the first one I've tried.

Here are two instances that made me especially appreciate this service:
  1. When I was sick and needed some cough medicine, Emergen-C and ingredients for soup. 
  2. When I had a super busy day and was cooking a dinner in the evening - I ordered the ingredients I needed to make several recipes by having the Walmart Grocery site open in one browser window and my recipe in another.

A side benefit is that using this service helps me stick to my budget as I'm not wandering around and buying things that I don't really need.

4. Organized my inbox LESS

I used to be proud of my color-coded and organized email inbox. But lately, I'm more focused on just doing the stuff and less on making it look nice.

I've stopped using most of the labels that I previously organized meticulously. Instead, I just rely on Gmail's search functionality.

So close to Inbox Zero! And note: no labels.

5. Smartsheet for work tasks

Usually my preferred task management tools fade over time, but Smartsheet (for my day-job work tasks) has been going strong for most of the year. I really like the ease of customization, and how easy it is to drag and drop my tasks in card mode to update status.

For personal use, I keep trying to use Trello but I just can't figure out a use-case yet. I likely will someday... because I remember feeling the same way about Evernote back in the day, and now I can't go a day without using it!

6. Workflowy

In a moment of organization desperation, when I couldn't seem to organize my thoughts and upcoming tasks well and needed a tool that didn't have a steep learning curve to get myself over the hump, I started using Workflowy.
Organizing my annual work goals and objectives with Workflowy

It's a really handy tool that helps me to focus on getting ideas down and organizing my thoughts, instead of worrying about how to format the content.

I'm trying this out for my work life and personal life. One particular project that I'm excited about is a novel that I've been attempting to write. I've made limited progress and was feeling overwhelmed, but after using Workflowy to outline the entire story, it's actually starting to feel doable.

Documenting my novel ideas

7. Less social media


I recently tested out deactivating my Facebook account. I only posted a few times in the last year and have noticed that my interactions have become less meaningful over time.

In addition, Facebook's reminders of what I posted in years prior often stirred up negative memories: the loss of a dear friend, a former relationship that didn't end well, things I shared when I was stressed. I'm not sure if I'll delete my account entirely; there are still some good memories there. But I don't see it adding a lot of value to my life at this point.


I still like to explore Pinterest when I'm looking for something specific, but it's amazing how much of a time-drain it can be when I find myself just 'browsing'.

For me, Pinterest isn't the best way to organize ideas because there isn't a secondary level of filtering/sorting. eg: If I want to separate recipes I've made from those I want to try, without transferring pins from board to board. I prefer Evernote for that. I add recipes to a Recipes notebook and then add labels like 'Made' and 'Breakfast'.

I also don't like the fact that I can't verify that the source of a pin is valid. For example, I might find a recipe pin that looks wonderful but the underlying blog that originally hosted the content is now private. That's disappointing. When I find a recipe (or other content) that I want to save, I clip it to Evernote for safekeeping.

As I've realized that saving things on Pinterest doesn't work for me long-term, I've gradually migrated the majority of my pins (after verifying valid urls) to Evernote where I can more easily organize them.

8. Started mind-mapping some long-term goals with Coggle

I've never quite understood how to apply the idea behind mind mapping in a practical way. I liked looking at other people's mind maps but just couldn't figure out how to utilize them myself.

I'm still figuring this out, but I started using Coggle to create a collaborative 'Our Future' map with my husband to document some long term goals and life plans.

That's it!

I really wanted to make it to 10, but maybe the fact that I'm not adding a plethora of new tools means I'm better utilizing the ones I already have. Maybe.

What did you implement this year to stay organized or improve your personal productivity?

Note: This post is not sponsored by any of the companies/tools that I've mentioned here. These tools may or may not work for you. I'm just sharing what I've found useful personally.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Blog Cleanup - Archiving Historical Posts

I received a notification recently that my domain is going to expire in the near future. I don't want to lose the domain but whenever I renew, I find myself questioning the reason behind maintaining it.

As I mentioned in my last post, I haven't quite figured out what the future of this blog will be. But, in the meantime, I've decided to do some cleaning up. I'm modifying the layout and clearing out some historical posts that aren't applicable anymore.

If you maintain a blog, have you archived your past posts? or do you leave them for posterity?

I'd love to hear your tips and suggestions. Please leave a comment below.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Creating a Graphical Comparison Without Graphics

Long time, no posts. I'm trying to figure out where this blog fits in and whether or not I can (or want to) continue updating it on a regular basis. For right now, I'm just posting when the urge strikes... which obviously isn't often. Thanks for bearing with me.


Yesterday, I was working on a slidedeck that included a comparison of several different technical solutions. At the end, I wanted to convey a visual summary of the risks and benefits of each option.

Five minutes before I was to present the slides, I was frantically googling to find the perfect icons to use. I wanted some sort of red/yellow/green lights or gauges, some way to show high/medium/low risk or represent level of effort.

I couldn't find anything that I liked (and didn't have to pay for). I realized with just a minute or two to spare that I didn't need anything fancy for what I wanted to communicate. I could use simple colored bars in a table on the slide. 

I had started off with text (low, medium, high) and changed the color of the text to correspond to a rating. Then I added highlighting and adjusted some spacing so they'd all be the same width (which is why the text looks a bit funny). 

The resulting chart effectively conveyed my message. 

Just a little reminder that sometimes simple is best.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Research Project: Getting Feedback on Internal Support

A large chunk of my job involves providing support for co-workers - answering questions, modifying data for them, researching ways to boost efficiency, etc.

I've been curious about quantifying how I'm doing with keeping my coworkers happy. At the end of the year, I'd like to be able to say something like "I provided support to ## people with a satisfaction rating of 95%."

Is this actually valuable? I don't know. I find that as an internal support person, I would like more than a '## task completed' rating when it comes to my own personal evaluation of how I did during the past year. (Side note: I am not part of an IT department. This kind of tracking is something that I'm only curious about for my personal use. I'm sure it would be a lot more obviously beneficial for IT or a larger team.)

I started doing some research into methods of tracking 'customer satisfaction'.


  • Unobtrusive
  • Easy to add to my email signature
  • User friendly (goal: 1 click and done)

Here are a few of the options I found:

  • Spridz
    • 7 day free trial, one pricing plan with unlimited usage ($499/year)
    • Nifty analytics / charts and graphics
    • Integrates with help desk apps (like Zendesk)
    • From what I can tell, it seems like you use a link that then sends the recipient to a 'feedback page' where they can vote. This doesn't work with my ideal of one-click solution.
  • Customer Thermometer
    • Base plan is $29/month for 50 'credits' (one response = one credit)
    • Nifty analytics / charts and graphs
    • Lots of rating icons to choose from (custom supported too)
    • Supports creating email polls and timed notifications/reminders - I imagine this would be handy for people doing a lot of external customer support.
    • Customizable landing page based on the rating - This is a neat idea for businesses!
  • Hively
    • Free plan for up to 3 users (with some limitations), after that it's $15/month
    • Nifty analytics / charts and graphs
    • Can customize the appearance of the 'smileys'

Based on the screencaptures on their website, I prefer the interface of Spridz. But, I think it would be more valuable for a team scenario rather than an individual user.

The only option that I found that had a free 1-user plan was Hively.

I'm currently testing it out, but I'm not even sure if this method is the right one or if this kind of information will be useful to me in the future. I'm just curious.

To keep it subtle but still noticeable, I changed it from an image-based line to text.

(Hively text voting links at the bottom of my email signature)

What about you? Have you found another way to gather feedback in an unobtrusive way? Or do you feel that trying to track satisfaction when it comes to internal customer support for a single person is pointless? Leave a comment, let me know.