Thursday, January 12, 2017

5 Geeky Ways to Help Keep Married Life Organized

Next week, my husband and I will be celebrating the day five years ago that we started approaching life from the perspective of 'us' instead of 'I.'


Sharing your life with a partner involves a lot of adjustment in those first few years, and not just as it relates to how toothpaste tubes should be squeezed or what to do with the toilet seat. Many practical aspects of everyday life become collaborative projects. And here is where technology can help.

We are using the following techniques to help keep our little family organized, maintain appreciation and build a marriage that we are proud of.

1. Keep Track of Milestones & Adventures

I've mentioned recently that I use Evernote to journal. In addition to ramblings about daily life, I have a tag specifically for journal entries about marriage milestones or special occasions, like anniversaries.

Clip from a photo journal of an anniversary trip

A shared Evernote notebook is a good repository for scans of cards, copied and pasted song lyrics, clipped poetry or anything else that feels like 'us.'

I also have a specific hashtag on Instagram that I use for photos representing these kind of occasions, so I can easily view all of them at once.

2. Keep Track of.... All That Other Stuff Too

Occasionally, I find myself filling out paperwork for my husband and I can't remember little details. So we keep track of things like license plates, contact prescriptions, allergies, etc. in a shared Evernote notebook.

A note in Evernote with information that we occasionally need access to

3. Don't Forget the Little Things

Whenever my husband does something adorable or unexpected, I jot it down in private note in Evernote. I take photos of flowers that he picks up, scan little love notes that he leaves on occasion and write down sweet things that he says.

Then, when we are stressed or going through a phase of not communicating as well as usual, I review those little expressions of love. They remind me while things aren't always easy, our relationship is always worth the effort.

Photo + a simple memory
Scan of a note

4. Work Together to Achieve Financial Goals

I don't like to talk about money or my past financial mistakes. It makes me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. But, we've found that having a shared budget makes everything easier and helps me keep my financial anxiety in check.

For the first half of our relationship, we maintained separate bank accounts and paid bills independently. It didn't work well.

We eventually realized that we needed to create a budget, so we created a Google Spreadsheet and itemized our income and monthly, incidental and annual expenses.

We periodically review our budget in this shared spreadsheet and make adjustments as needed.

Once we started using Simple and their awesome Goals functionality, we were able to work toward paying off debt and start sticking to a budget.

Simple recently made shared accounts available in beta and we jumped on board!

5. Stay Organized with a Family Calendar

We maintain a shared "Family" calendar using Google Calendar that we both access with our mobile devices (on both Android and iOS).

Having this as a separate shared calendar associated with my email account means that I can create private events like my daily schedule or personal reminders on my primary calendar. But for anything that involves us both or that my husband should know about, I add it to the Family calendar.

Another shared calendar (that I've named "Finances" for obvious reasons) keeps track of monthly bill due dates and payment plans for unexpected bills like medical expenses following an emergency surgery.

Each monthly bill event has a reminder a few days in advance to help prevent late payments. When I make a payment, I update the event for that month (not the whole series) to include "PAID" in the title and the amount applied to the account. This makes it easy to confirm at a glance that we paid those bills.

Here's how to create a shared Google Calendar.

What about you?

Have you found any specific technology useful in keeping your family organized? Please share in the comments!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

How I Became Geekier in 2016 - 10 Productivity Ideas

It's been nearly a year since my last post. Super lame. I've had lots of ideas of geeky things to share but I just haven't gotten to the point of actually drafting them. I used to be so much more motivated to blog. 😐

But today, I thought I'd share a yearly summary of geeky things I tried and learned this year. The last time I shared a post like this was in 2010. 7 years ago! A lot has changed since then.

I find myself continually refining my methods of personal organization and my use of technology to help me be more efficient with everyday tasks. Read on for more information about these 10 ways that I became geekier in 2016:
  1. Started tracking daily habits
  2. Began rounding up my purchases and investing that money
  3. Joined a gym and began tracking my workouts
  4. Started keeping an easy (almost) daily journal
  5. Organized my Recipe notebook in Evernote with tags
  6. Organized my reading list and collected quotes in Airtable
  7. Began scanning hardcopy journals into Evernote
  8. Began documenting life in 1 second videos every day
  9. Started using Google Reminders more
  10. Tried to figure out how to help my future self accomplish tasks that I struggle with
Note: I use an Android phone and Mac computer, so any apps or software that I reference below are for those operating systems. If you're interested in any of the techniques I've tried, I'm sure you can find apps for whatever OS you are comfortable with.

1. Started tracking daily habits

I'm working on living a more balanced life and to help remind me of my daily goals, as well as track how successful I am at sticking to good habits, I began using an app called Loop.

Loop lets me create widgets on my phone that I can tap when I've completed the goal for the day. I can also specify how often I want to set the goal for myself (which affects analytics for tracking my success), such as exercising 3 times per week, working on showing 'personal interest' (which for me means showing interest in other people's lives, like sending someone a card or striking up a conversation with a stranger) and speaking my husband's love language every day.

Habit widgets on my home screen

I can also check them off in the app

2. Began rounding up my purchases and investing that money

I've always been really intimidated by investing. This year I discovered the Acorns app that rounds up your purchases to the next dollar and invests that money for you. You can choose the level of risk for your portfolio (I chose the most conservative one). In just a few months, I've invested about $60. That's a pretty small amount, but it's a start.

Acorns costs $1 per month, but allows you to invest or withdraw your money at any time at no charge. If you're interested in giving it a try, here's my referral link (we both get $5 if you start using it!).

If you don't want to invest your spare change but still want to automatically save it, check out Qapital. It lets you create rules for saving, like 'save $1 every time I make a purchase at Starbucks' or use the roundup method like Acorns uses. It also works with IFTTT (super cool!), so you could create a rule like 'save $1 every day it rains'. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, that rule could yield a nice little savings account over the course of the year. 😊  There are no monthly or annual fees. Qapital doesn't work with my bank yet but I'm going to check for updates later.

3. Joined a gym and began tracking my workouts

After years of being terrified (not exaggerating!) of joining a gym, I finally got over my fears this summer. I found a great deal on Groupon for a month membership at a local gym, which included two personal training sessions. The training sessions were critical in getting over my fears; I was intimidated by all the machines and my personal trainer gave me the support and guidance to try them. After that month trial, we went ahead and paid for an annual membership. Since joining, I've lost around 16lbs and am really happy with increases in my strength and endurance.

To help me keep track of progress and create workout routines, I'm using FitNotes. I like that I can set goals, track my personal records and organize my workouts so I'm not aimless.

Another perk of joining the gym is that the company I work for offers a fitness rewards program through Incentfit. I get a financial reward for gym visits and exercise, up to $20 per month! This ends up paying for my gym membership. 👍

Side note: I wouldn't have had the guts to join the gym without my husband. Working out together has become a really rewarding (albeit challenging) bonding experience.

4. Started keeping an easy (almost) daily journal

One of my goals for the year was to journal more often. To make that less intimidating, I set up a IFTTT applet that runs when I tap a button on my homescreen and appends a sentence or two with a timestamp to a single note in Evernote that I've entitled "[BLURB JOURNAL] 2016". For the year, I saved 115 entries with that handy little button. I like this method, so I've updated my applet for 2017.

Side note: Here's the method I used to set up my journal applet, although a few things have changed with IFTTT's apps since then. Now everything is rolled into a single app rather than a separate Note and Do app.

5. Organized my Recipe notebook in Evernote with tags

For the past few years, I've been saving recipes in an Evernote notebook. I had accumulated several thousand, either from scanning printed recipes, browsing the web or jotting down notes from meals made by family members.

But, I struggled with how to organize the notebook effectively. There were a lot of recipes that I saved and then forgot about.

So, I went through the whole lot of them and deleted any that I knew I'd probably never make. I created nested tags for the categories I wanted to use, like appetizers, desserts, dinners, etc. Then I tagged anything I had made (and liked) with a 'MADE' tag. That way, I can search specifically for slow cooker recipes that I've made, for example.

Some of my recipe tags in Evernote, nested under a main Recipe tag for easy organization

Filtering through and tagging the recipes took some time. But, I've already noticed that it is a lot easier to find what I'm looking for. In the past I relied on keyword searches, but often I don't know exactly what I want to make... I'm just seeking inspiration for a yummy breakfast or an easy meal that I can cook in the pressure cooker. Utilizing the tags has helped me to try new recipes and in doing so I've added to my repertoire of family favorites.

6. Organized my reading list and collected quotes in Airtable

I discovered Airtable this year (thanks Antonio!), and I'm a huge fan. It's a tool that allows you to create easily navigable relational databases. It's like Microsoft Access married Google Sheets and they had a super smart and handy baby. 😃

I had been keeping track of books I've read or want to read in a Google Sheet. For most books that I read, I had been typing quotes into a note in Evernote, but that was rather tedious. So, I started using the Kindle app for digital books I check out from the library, which saves any highlighted quotes and makes them accessible from my Amazon account (here's where I access mine:

My book list and saved quotes resided in two separate locations. To unite them, I created an Airtable database where I can view filtered or grouped lists like 'books I would recommend', 'series I've liked', etc. I've also pasted quotes from my Kindle highlights and associated them with each book. This level of personal organization makes me feel at peace. I can extract a list of my favorite authors or figure out which series I haven't finished yet (whenever I find a new series I like, I input every book and then mark off them off as I read them), so I'll never be at a loss for what to read next.

Gallery view of some of my favorite reads - I added a field for the cover and drag an image into it for visual organization

List view, grouped by Series

Quotes that I've copied and pasted from my Kindle highlights

When I come across a word I don't know while reading, I highlight it in a different color in the Kindle app and add it to a list of vocabulary words in my database.

Airtable supports viewing tables in several ways - I use the list (like a spreadsheet) and gallery most.

PS - I occasionally post quotes from my favorite reads here.

7. Began scanning hardcopy journals into Evernote

I've been journaling since my pre-teen years and have accumulated quote a few bound notebooks. In an effort to reduce clutter, I'm trying to digitize as much as possible and those notebooks have been one of my latest scanning endeavors.

The notebooks aren't standard in size or format, and I wrote on both sides of the pages. So, I've had to cut them apart in order to scan with our Doxie portable scanner. After scanning, I use the Doxie app to clip journal entries together and then import them into Evernote. Some of my journals include several years' worth of entries. I'm still figuring out how I want to organize these, but for now I'm grouping them into a single note in Evernote. Eventually I may split them by date.

The process is slow, but I'm just focusing on one journal at a time and scanning whenever I have extra time. I'm excited to be able to destroy the paper copies.

8. Began documenting life in 1 second videos every day

On the day that I turned 31 this year, I started using the 1 Second Everyday app to save a video snippet every day (or almost every day. I manage to remember about 75% of the time).

When my 31st year is over, I'll use the app to compile my daily videos. It's a fun way to look back on memories.

9. Started using Google Reminders more

I've been using Google Tasks for some time but I was never quite satisfied with the fact that I couldn't get reminders or view them on my calendar on my phone. But Google Reminders have fixed all that. Plus, they sync between my devices and all the Google apps that I use - like Inbox, Keep, Calendar and Now (on my phone).

When I want to remind myself to send someone a card next week or start the oven at 4pm or make a salad to bring to a party, I use whatever device I'm on to add the reminder. Most often, I use Google Now's voice recognition and just say "Okay Google.... remind me to make a salad for the party on Saturday at 1pm'. I get an alert on my phone at the appropriate time and can snooze the reminder for another time or day if needed.

10. Tried to figure out how to help my future self accomplish tasks that I struggle with

Sometimes I find myself struggling to accomplish a specific task, like submitting an expense report for work or paying a specific bill. Lately, I've been trying to ask myself "Why am I struggling with this? What would make it easier?" Sometimes the answer is that I can't easily recall how to complete the task, like the steps to enter that expense report. Other times, the information I need to complete the task isn't easily accessible, like the website or account number for paying the bill.

Identifying these scenarios and figuring out how to best help my future self with them is an ongoing project.

But here are a few examples of the solutions I've implemented:

  • Problem: I can't remember how to prepare an expense report
    Solution: I created a note in Evernote with screen captures and a link to the website I need to use for expense reports
  • Problem: I forget where to go to pay this bill and I don't always have the account number handy
    Solution: In the Google Calendar event that reminds me to pay the bill, I added a link to the website and the account number in the Description area

What's next for 2017?

I never get tired of learning more about personal organization and productivity. I'm excited to continue with some of the habits I've established this year and work toward being even more organized in 2017.

Do you have any personal productivity tips that you've found successful? Have you improved your digital organization in the past year? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Note: I have not been compensated or prompted to use or post about any of the apps or tools I've mentioned in this post. I just like to share what has worked for me!