organizing

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.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

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. 

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

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

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

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)

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.