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Five Tips For Organizing Your Contacts

When’s your grandmother’s birthday? What’s your neighbor’s cell phone number? What’s your college roommate’s mailing address?

I only know one of these pieces of information by heart and, like most people, I have to rely on my contacts list for the other two.

Unless you’re my mom (who is the most organized person I can think of), you probably don’t have this information as ‘at hand’ as you want to have it. If so, this post is for you.

Tip 1: Determine every place you keep contact information, then pick ‘the one’.

Let me use my case as the example:

  1. I rip corners off envelopes when people send me stuff so I have their mailing address. These are in a pile on my desk (if I got them at work) or my dresser (if I got them at home). They are in the same piles as business cards people give me.
  2. I have all email going into one Gmail interface.
  3. I text people/meet people in real life and put them into my phone contacts.
  4. I use a CRM for work and have people in there who I’ve classified by relationship (business contact, family, etc.) that syncs with my phone and email to track what information/contact has been made and when. (Note: not as creepy as it sounds.)
  5. I have a Rolodex on my desk which, besides being something everyone can laugh at and revealer of my middle aged-ness, has business cards in it and is full.
  6. I rely very heavily on Facebook for birthday reminders and those people not on Facebook, my mom is kind enough to text me about.

Clearly I have some decisions to make but one thing is true: I will never feel organized until everything is in one place, whether it’s a paper system or digital one. I’d love to know, say, my client’s birthdays, but before getting ambitious I have to pull everything into one system. You do, too.

If you decide on paper, it’s time to find a nice address book or Rolodex and start going through your lists in all your digital places.

If you decide on digital, you need to pick one system that is the main system (ex: Gmail) and then merge/import your data from the other systems in. Most programs will let you export to a .csv file (comma separated value, like a text file with commas where lines of a table would be) that can be imported in. Googling something like ‘merge Hotmail contacts into contacts on iPhone’ should give you some options, or hire a nerd to do this once you understand what all the moving pieces are.

Tip 2: Clean duplicates or people who shouldn’t be there.

Once everything is in one system, it’ll be very easy to clean duplicates (since the system will either automatically do it or make it easier to spot because alphabetically, they’ll be right next to each other).

The one thing technology can’t do is delete those people who shouldn’t be there, like ex-boyfriends or deceased relatives (I have other places for both but I don’t need ‘David OKCupid’ to appear every time I look for my colleague Dave’s number). Lost time, people.

Tip 3: Make it work everywhere.

Let’s say you picked Gmail contacts and have cleaned them out. It won’t do much good until you put them on your iPhone too. Or the Mail application on your phone. And anywhere else you need to regularly access them.

Tip 4: Create process when you add a new contact.

Yay, you met a new friend when you went out for drinks. Now what?

Well, ideally you have a system for adding her into your contacts. Yes, maybe it takes an extra two minutes to look up her birthday on Facebook and type in her mailing address as you put her into your Gmail contacts but the first time you need to look up her email address and it’s actually there, you’ll be grateful.

If this sounds tedious to you, you can use a website like Upwork and hire someone who does this periodic data entry/finding for you, then you can email them and say ‘Add so and so to my contacts.’

Tip 5: Periodically clean out.

Just because you met that cool Australian guy at the youth hostel and traveled Rome when you were 20 does not mean he needs to be in your contacts. (Bye, Chris.) By periodically cleaning out people you aren’t planning to stay in touch with you will make your list a lot more manageable. Fun fact: Australian Chris I’m sure continues to exist despite the fact I deleted him the other day.

If you want to remember these people, maybe write a short story about them or make a fun ‘Random People I Once Knew’ Google Doc and stick them there. Your contacts list is a living document and your past, while an important part of you life, shouldn’t exist there.

Having an organized contacts list will make you feel in control of your entire life and who knows, maybe I’ll be texting people to let them know about birthdays one day soon, impressing my friends and family with my organization.

Five Tips For Organizing Your Phone

We just wrote a blog post about a week ago about organizing computer files. You may wonder, if your phone is basically like a pocket computer, why would we treat this differently?

In reality, we use our phones a lot differently than our computers… and we have a few specific tips for your phone in particular:

Tip 1: Find ways to get stuff off it automatically. 

When was the last time you plugged your phone into your computer and backed it up? Oh, never? Yeah, me either.

What you need is an insurance policy for what’s on your phone that should come off your phone very regularly that you want to keep. For me, it’s photos and document scans. Once downloaded, I can delete and know 1) I’ll have more space on my phone and 2) if my phone dies a sudden death, I can still get at everything I need.

If you record lots of voice memos or edit lots of iMoives or have other kinds of stuff you do often, it may be worth figuring out how to get it off your phone easily and (ideally) automatically. (PS if your texts have some sentimental value like mine do, get those off for sure. No judgement here.)

Tip 2: If you don’t know what the app is for, delete it.

Your iTunes App account (or Google Play account I’m sure) saves records of what you download so worst case scenario, you can download it again later if you decide you need it after all.

I have a similar rule for songs on my iTunes: if I play the first ten seconds and a) I don’t know what it is or b) really like it, off it goes.

It seems silly but every time you scroll by that app and wonder what it is, that’s another ten seconds of your life wasted. A lot of apps mean a lot of periodically wasted ten seconds, which adds up.

Tip 3: Turn off notifications you don’t need.

Nothing makes me feel overwhelmed more than looking down at my phone and seeing all the red notification dots (let alone the numbers inside them).

Usually when you install an app, the notifications come turned on. But do I really need to know my friend Shane just saved $1 use the Ibotta app? Nope. Take the time and turn off notifications that annoy you (which you can do in your phone settings and/or the app settings).

Tip 4: Organize your contacts (with a better system than what came with your phone).

If you are like me and have lots of duplicate contacts, finding a system to manage them (even paying a few bucks for a good app) is going to save you time and headaches.

I know, your phone came with a contacts management system… but your Windows computer came with Internet Explorer and did that stop you from using another (better) browser? No way. Organizing your contacts means when you are ready to throw a party or simply do your part in the calling tree, the task takes less time and all that saved up time you can do something way more fun with.

Tip 5: Regularly look at your ‘storage’ and ways you can cut down on it.

Just like anything, running your phone with some storage space to spare is going to make it run better. If I can keep 4-5G free on my phone, that not only makes sure my phone runs better but that I don’t run out of storage as I’m trying to film, say, my niece’s concert. How many times have you had to quickly delete stuff off your device only to miss a moment?

My culprits for heavy storage usage are music (currently 21G), Messages (6 G) and Podcasts (5G) so it makes the most sense to start deleting there in my case.

By keeping your phone clean, you can use it more effectively, like a tool in your business and life, versus some junk drawer you have to dig through. 

Four Steps for Organizing Passwords

How long does it take for you to find a password for something? Do you have passwords written down on sticky notes or on a random piece of paper in a desk? The problem with this system is that it isn’t very secure, and it probably takes awhile for you to find the password you need. Or, you just get so frustrated with looking for it that you’re constantly requesting new passwords. Either way, you could probably benefit from some password organization. (Also, if you have one password for everything…that’s not a great idea either, for security reasons).

Here are 4 steps for getting your passwords organized:

Step 1: How are you organizing?

The first step with organizing is figuring out how you’re going to organize things. Are you a more of a digital person or do you want to keep things on paper? The number of passwords you manage (i.e. just your own personal passwords or, like us, hundreds and hundreds) may also be a deciding factor. It doesn’t make sense for us to write down all the passwords we manage on index cards when you consider the time it takes to 1) haul out the index cards, 2) find the client password for the thing we’re getting into (website, Twitter, etc), and 3) enter in the password- add that time up even just over the period of a single day, and that’s a lot of inefficiently used time. Not to mention if you lose the stack and have no copies of it, you are totally up the creek.

Whatever you decide to do, remember that any new system takes a little practice getting used to. Choose either digital or written as your general method and move onto step 2.

Step 2: Choose a Secure System

Choose a secure system. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Google Docs and spreadsheets are not a secure password management system. Neither are sticky notes stuck to your computer screen. Sure, these things are probably easier than typing in a master password to something like KeePass or Lastpass, but setting up something that is more secure is more

Paper system: If you don’t trust your passwords in an electronic system, you can always use a paper system (sorry, but still no sticky notes). Lifehack recommends using index cards in a small box, or something like an address book to keep your passwords organized (ex: A is for Amazon). Unfortunately, unless you have this paper system locked away somewhere, it is still vulnerable to anyone who might stumble upon it. Consider how it will be stored when you aren’t using it.

Electronic Systems: Many of these systems offer a free option (great for personal password organization) and paid versions (if you manage a lot of passwords). A few things that these programs have in common: a master password for accessing your collection of passwords, browser extensions, extra security in the form of two-factor authentication, and accessibility across devices (most will not automatically sync for security reasons).

A few popular options for electronic systems include: LastPass, KeePass, 1Password (offers a 30 day trial period but costs money for individuals, families, and teams), and Sticky Password (which also has biometrics so you can login using a fingerprint). My advice is to figure out what things are important to you (cloud backup? accessibility on all devices?) and do a little research for the best possible match. Note: nothing will be perfect unless you build it yourself so just pick something and learn what you can about it.

Step 3: Data Entry

For us, entering client passwords into KeePass initially took awhile. As with any new system, setup tends to be the most tedious/boring part, but it’s an important part of the process that you will thank yourself for later. Whether you’re entering 5 passwords or 500, this is one of those tasks that you can set yourself up watching a favorite t.v. show or movie and crank out some work. In other words, find your own way to embrace the initial data entry involved. It can be fun if you let it.

Step 4: Save/Back Up

If you use an electronic system like one mentioned above, make sure you are saving and backing up databases as you go if you’re entering new passwords on a regular basis. Having a password protected backup file of the database somewhere is also a good idea in case you accidentally delete something you actually need.

If you are using paper, you’ll want/need some way to duplicate your file on occasion. Paper backups are needed just like digital ones so a photocopier or a scanning app on your phone could be your best friend for this task.

Keeping your passwords organized is important- even Martha Stewart has written about the matter. It will save you so much time to have it all in one place, plus you can use the data entry time to get caught up on your favorite television shows.

You can also read more about our journey in getting our passwords organized in a secure fashion using KeePass here: BEC Story #2: The Password Problem

 

Five Tips For Organizing Email

Sometimes, I think the universe assigns me these blog topics on purpose.

I run two businesses, have a few personal projects, and some social correspondence which means I check about ten different email addresses from one interface.

This can get a little overwhelming.

A few weeks ago, one of my friends helped me move everything into a Google Apps account which meant that suddenly, the kind of band-aid system I had in place became apparent because EVERYTHING was getting dumped into my inbox at once.

Tip 1: Make a generic Gmail for some purposes (you can have it forward to a spot in your real email that’s not your inbox).

One thing I’ve learned is lots of people have been spoofing my domain, sending email and pretending to be affiliated with Breaking Even.

One way to stop that (and to give your email a lot more street cred in the process) is to tell your domain which services you use to send email (ex: Mailchimp) and exclude all others. (This is kind of a technical thing but if you live and die by email like we do, worth getting it set up by a pro. Let us know if you need help; we know people who do this.)

But if like me you made accounts that send auto-updates (ex: automated backups in Wordpress) with your usual email, then you are out of luck. I had to move these to a generic Gmail.

Switching things like this and online shopping accounts, etc. to a generic Gmail can filter the non-work (i.e. non-productive) stuff to another area before it even hits your work email.

Tip 2: Use Unroll.me or similar service to batch your marketing emails.

Unroll.me is a free service that connects to your email and pulls in any marketing emails. From the interface, you can select which ones go to your inbox, which ones get ‘bundled’ for a once a day delivery/processing, and which ones you want to unsubscribe from.

With over 1800 email subscriptions (many of which I swear I didn’t even sign up for), this has been a huge timesaver for me. And if you run a local business or non-profit, you can tell people about this and make sure your emails get in your customers’ inboxes (if they want them to anyway).

Tip 3: Use filters.

The easiest way to organize something is to organize how (and if) it comes into your life. With filters, I can have things from certain clients go into certain areas of my email, meaning I can batch tasks. Much more efficient than dealing with a mass pile of email looking for one particular thing.

Filters may seem like a technical thing to set up but most of the work is just deciding how you want to get information. Here’s how to create filters in Gmail and other popular services.

Tip 4: Templates are your friend.

If you’re like us, there are certain kinds of emails you get all the time:

  • I want to be a member but I’m not sure. (for Anchorspace)
  • What are your rates?
  • I don’t know anything about X service. What do you do?

I have a Google Doc called ‘Email Templates So I Don’t Have To Rewrite Them All the Effin Time’. I never remember exactly what it’s called but I can always find it via the word ‘effin’ in search. (Whatever works for you.) Taking the time to thoughtfully write these once and use them over and over will save valuable brain time. Part of my template says ‘INSERT PLEASANTRY HERE’ which allows me to add a personal touch before clicking send.

Tip 5: Find your most soul sucking email task and see if you can automate it.

Is it sticking reservations into a Google Calendar? Scheduling meetings? Sending out weekly Google Analytics reports to the team? All these things can be made automatic.

For me, my email used to be a place of some excitement… and as it turned to more dread, I realized why. It was because I was spending an average of 7 emails to schedule a one hour meeting.

Then I got Evie and she schedules things for me, and it’s lovely. Point is, since I got rid of the thing I dreaded most in my email, it has become a lot funner of a place once again.

The thing you hate the most about your email may be something you can have automatically happen. Give it a shot.

Email is here to say; it’s part of all our lives and by helping get it under control, we can feel more organized about a lot of our digital lives.

More Resources:

5 Tips To Achieve Inbox Zero

Send emails later (or reminders) in Gmail with Boomerang

27 Prewritten Templates For Your Toughest Work Emails

Email Game (because we all need a little incentive)

5 Tips for Organizing Files (on Your Computer)

This may come as a surprise, but in my college years, my laptop was drastically more organized than it is now. Perhaps because I had more incentive to be organized back then- assignments for classes, thesis, job and other post-college material, plus any random photos I wanted to save (the ‘cloud’ didn’t exist back then, after all) took up space on my desktop, so if I didn’t have some sort of organization, I’d drive myself crazy. These days, that same laptop is primarily used for random personal stuff and I’m not nearly as diligent about keeping it organized (especially since I’m not spending as much time on it as I was in college).

The good news is, at work I’m much more organized. It helps that a lot of what I work on has to get accessed by other people- I’d rather have people coming over to my house when it’s clean rather than a sloppy mess, after all. Wherever you lie on the spectrum of organization on your computer, here are 5 tips for getting rid of a cluttered desktop and files with long, weird names.

Choose a Destination. Where do you primarily want to save your stuff? Some options include directly on your desktop, in a place like Dropbox or Google Drive, a USB, etc. Choosing one location and sticking to it also helps with being able to relocate something later on. Of course, some combination of these things works as well, i.e. all photos are saved in Dropbox while your collection of satirical essays lives in a folder on your desktop. Consistency is key.

The exception to saving to multiple places is creating backups- always a good idea. Remember not to save your backup in the same place you saved the original (because that kind of defeats the purpose).

Folders and Sub-Folders. Making a folder is easy, and so is dumping documents and other materials into that folder. But if you have a really vague folder, like “Photos,” it can still be maddening to try to find anything in there. That’s where sub-folders come in handy. On my personal computer, for instance, I have a vague folder called “Bates.” Can you imagine what a mess it would be if I just put everything from my years at Bates into that folder and called it a day? Instead, when you open that folder, you see 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and Thesis (anyone who went to Bates knows that Thesis deserves its own folder).

Your folders and sub-folders are up to you: how your brain works and what type of material you are working with.You can even have a folder named “Voltron 5000” that has your child’s school pictures, as long as you’re easily able to find what you need.

File Names. Another tip for file organization is appropriately naming your documents and files. When it comes to finding a file, it doesn’t help if you have several “untitled” documents or downloads that are a 15-character series of random letters and numbers. It’s just as important to be thoughtful about how you’re naming files as how you’re storing them, from an organizational standpoint.  https://www.howtogeek.com/howto/15677/zen-and-the-art-of-file-and-folder-organization/

Clean Out Downloads Folder. If you’re cranking out work and are in the zone, chances are you’re probably saving things where it’s easiest (Desktop and/or Downloads). My recommendation, before your desktop is suddenly drowning in files, is to schedule a time at least once a week to organize these files. Move them out of Downloads to a permanent location (and no, your desktop doesn’t count). This could be a matter of putting it in the appropriate folder or moving it to the trash.

Share the System. If you’re working in a system like Dropbox and have multiple people with their hands in the pot, adding and updating files, it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page with the system, otherwise things will get messy. Have one or two people decide on “The System” (if you try to get everyone involved there can be a lot of back and forth) with other people giving feedback will ensure you’re thinking of organization in a complete way.

Once the system is decided, post places where it is easy to see: the company’s Google Drive, a private employee-only part of the website, etc. so people can easily refer to it.

Additional Resources:

Dropbox Tips for Organizing Files 

Google Drive Tips on Organizing Files

4 Things You Can Do to Create a Perfectly Organized Google Drive

Zen and the Art of File and Folder Organization

If you’re anything like us, your computer is like your toolbox for getting things done. Cleaning it out will reward you in increased productivity, decreased headaches, and (ideally) a faster running computer.

Taking Note: Organizing and Using Your Ideas

 Legal pad with pen on wood background

If you struggle with the ‘why’ of notetaking, I get it.

Don’t we all have enough to do? Won’t we remember something if it’s really that important?

Deep down, we know the answer to these questions… otherwise there wouldn’t be new tools coming out every day to help us with these seemingly simple concepts.

Sometimes things like notetaking, project management, and other ‘get informed’ or ‘get other people informed’ ideas seem like a time sink but trust me, it is worth taking some extra steps. (And if you’re still asking ‘What’s my motivation?’, this blog post is a good place to start.)

Step 1: Use a consistent capture method, consistently.

Kassie talked about several ways to digitally capture ideas in a blog post earlier this month but the tool is secondary to what you need to do with it, which is consistently capture information.

Like me, you may feel overwhelmed at thinking about using Evernote versus Google Docs but the point is to just pick something and start using it. If it is the completely wrong thing, you can switch to something else, I promise!

Use the same tool, the same way, every time. Or else suddenly, when you realize you need that link, you won’t be able to remember if you saved it on Facebook, tweeted it, got it in an email, or any of the 10,000 other ways you may have thought to save a link. (Not that I’ve ever done THAT, of course.) I try to think not what’s easiest for Present Day Nicole but what will be easier for Future Nicole? Same tool every time. Your future self thanks you.

Now I thought I could get away with using my notebook for everything but, let’s face it, you don’t want to painstakingly write out snippets from articles. So if you are old school like me, have your old school way and your electronic way. Trust me, two ways is enough ways. 

Making yourself not have to classify/deal with something right away means you’re more likely to do this step. So capture away!

Step 2: Once captured, classify.

This may feel like an extra step, but it’s not. Once you’ve captured the information it is time to put it somewhere where you can easily reference it. Here are some ideas of what we use to manage different kinds of information (you know, once we get it on our list).

Note: Schedule 30 minutes a week to do this step. You don’t have to do it at the same time you do step 1! It might not even take that long but make a date with yourself so it gets done consistently.

Articles: I take the article links I’ve saved and put them into Pocket. I can read them on my phone from anywhere at my own convenience (who doesn’t have that friend that is consistently late showing up to dinner?), I can read them on my computer, and I can even search them. So while it may feel stupid to copy the link into Evernote and then end up putting it in Pocket later, it does give me that extra step to ask ‘Am I really going to read this?’ Which is good for me to ask as an extra filtering step. Articles I won’t read? Delete. Too much information is… too much information.

pocketapp

Ideas: Sometimes I think ‘Someone should start a Downeast Maine matchmaking service’ or that my friend said a really funny thing I want to remember. These ideas are sort of loose and remain so in my note taking tools, with each their own document. More on this in the next section but since these have no obvious home, they can just live where they live… for now. If you’re not sure where to start with ideas, read our blog post about the notetaking/idea connection. 

Events: If it’s something I should go to (or I just don’t want to forget National Bring Your Dog To Work Day again next year), I put it right in my agenda book. (Yup I have a paper agenda book. It works for me.)

There are plenty of calendar apps online (mobile and desktop) that will keep you on track, too. It's a matter of personal preference.

There are plenty of calendar apps online (mobile and desktop) that will keep you on track, too. It’s a matter of personal preference.

To-Dos: If an item is a to-do, it goes into Asana. I can assign a date to it, I can make notes about it, I can even assign it to someone else.

Files/AV: For files, I use Dropbox. 2 G for free is pretty generous but for me, paying $100 a year for 300 G is worth it. I can get to anything from anywhere as needed… and I don’t feel bad saving videos of some courses I’ve taken for future reference.


Now these things may NOT work for you.
For example, if you want to be able to access videos in such a way you can make a playlist, Youtube or Vimeo may be more right for your video storage.

I can’t do the work of thinking of what you like for you. But some questions to ask yourself as you think of distributing the information you capture in each of these areas:

  1. Do I need it accessible on my phone? My computer? Both?
  2. Do I want it to be private, public, or some hybrid of that?
  3. Do I like using this? (Trust me, if the interface weirds you out or you just don’t ‘get’ it, the best thing in the world won’t work for you.
sort

Sorting: it’s not always a glamorous job, but it’s an important one.

Step 3: Once classified, reassess.

Great so you have your ideas in a place where you can find them.

And this is where most people stop.

Sure, some stuff just needs to be cataloged, like your payroll files. But some things need to be used/acted on.

Set aside a time quarterly (1-2 hours) to look at your notes. Ask yourself:

a) What is still relevant? What can I get rid of?
b) If I acted on something, how did it go? Are there next steps?

Option A just lets you keep the ideas pile from getting gigantically unmanageable. Option B lets you move forward on some of your better ideas and do a bit of ‘gratitude’ work.

If you continue on with these three steps, your ideas won’t be in a giant, unmanageble pile anymore. You’ll be happy to have ideas because you’ll know what to do with them.

As you come up with your own methods/ideas that work for you, please share them with us!

Additional ‘Notes’ resources:

Notetaking: The Follow Through

Four Noteworthy Apps (For Taking Notes)

Take Note: Tips on Having (And Keeping) Your Ideas

 

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