technology

Eleven Things To Do While Windows Updates

“Do you want your computer to update now?” the little notification says on the bottom of your computer screen and you think “Sure, I was just going to go make coffee anyway” and press the update button.

Then you regret your whole life.

Windows updates have turned into unexpectedly long processes; I just did one this morning and it took my computer two hours to update. I am usually good at remembering not to do this during the workday, but what’s a productive person to do while your computer is rendered useless for some indefinite period of time?

  1. Scan checks. Most banks have mobile apps where you can deposit your checks while you sit, wherever you are. Remember to hold onto them for 15 days until they clear and not to shred them right away!
  2. Open mail/pay bills. Whether you do mobile bill pay, pay by check, or some combination, get those business bills up to date.
  3. Go buy stamps… or whatever it is you’re out of. We all run out of stuff and wait a bit to replace it. Get a good list going and head out of the office for a bit to get those “odds and ends” you’ve been meaning to replace for awhile.
  4. Sharpen your pencils and dump your bad pens. Clean out your jar of writing utensils and throw out dead pens, put anything you don’t use anymore aside (in my case it was a bunch of colored pencils from when I was a camp counselor 20+ years ago) and donate it to your favorite kiddo, a day care, and/or a local arts organization. You can do the same for any desk drawer, too.
  5. Scan/deal with business cards. Whether you are an old school Rolodexer or use Evernote, get those cards from pile on your desk/in your bag to someplace useful.
  6. Catch up on your shredding. Maybe you have some checks that have cleared or old bank statements. I always have a pile going on my desk and when it reaches critical mass (or my computer is updating), I go shred.
  7. Scan receipts. However you track expenses, keeping a pile of receipts on your desk or in your wallet can feel chaotic. Scan them and get them into your accounting software (or wherever you keep them) for tax time- you’ll thank yourself later.
  8. Call that person. If you hate phone calls as much as I do, go through your voicemail and delete what is no longer relevant and follow up with people you need to follow up with.
  9. Go for a walk. Sometimes you have to embrace that the universe has given you this unexpected break. Go grab a coffee, check your mail, or get bagels for the office.
  10. Clean out the office fridge (or some other communal area). Get some coworker good karma and tackle something everyone would appreciate, whether it’s the supply closet, the fridge, or other communal area. If you work from home, you’ve got even more stuff you could tackle that everyone should appreciate.
  11. Catch up on offline reading. That trade publication or book your coworker lent you has been sitting there for awhile. Consider this a chance to hit the books and give your eyes a break from screen-reading.

Computers have to be updated every once in awhile, and even our best attempts to coordinate this with non-working hours can go awry. As you can see, this doesn’t mean you have to resort to twiddling your thumbs or stressing out about how much you aren’t accomplishing. There’s always plenty of offline things to catch up on around the office that you’ll thank yourself for later!



Can Your Phone Do That?

**This post contains affiliate links**

In addition to phone cases that do more, there are lots of accessories and attachments available that can transform your phone into any other tool you may need for your business. I couldn’t cover ALL the possible phone accessories/attachments in one blog post, since there are so many (and you can only really use one or two at a time, otherwise you’d have an Inspector Gadget phone). The following phone related gadgets are practical and affordable, plus their application can mean saving money on an extra piece of equipment.

Car Mount. This is helpful for people who travel a lot for work related purposes, but it can also be useful if you need a mount for pretty much any reason. This mount attaches to many different surfaces, so you can set it up on your window, wall, kitchen counter, and pretty much anywhere else. Think about anytime you’ve been using Google Maps on your phone for directions while trying to drive- not exactly a safe situation unless you have an extra arm. There are several different types of mounts available for different prices, but here is a recent list of 17 to get an idea.

Square Reader: If you’ve ever needed to accept a card payment from a customer on the go or without a retail setup, the Square Reader lets you swipe from your phone. To get the reader, all you have to do is sign up for a Square account and you’ll get the magstripe reader. Although it costs a little extra, you can purchase a Square Chip Reader for $29 that reads both chip cards and the usual stripe. Either way, the processing fee is 2.75% (which, if you consider the convenience factor is a bit of a fair trade). The reader works online and offline, so you don’t have to deal with the hassle of a bad internet/data connection in order to accept payments.



Keyboard. A useful tool for freelancers/people who may not have the budget to purchase a laptop but need to work on the go. Typing on your phone’s keypad is fine for shorter content, but as someone who has to type a lot of longer content, that tiny keyboard gets old fast. Some keyboards can be connected physically or through Bluetooth. Some of these keyboards range from $30-$130, depending on the brand. A couple features to consider- whether or not it comes with a stand (which I’d recommend if you don’t already have one to keep your phone upright while you type), and whether or not you want it to fold (which may be useful if you pack up and go a lot). We really like the ZAGG keyboard– it’s foldable, wireless, and can connect to your smartphone.

Dongles. Need to connect your phone to a projector? Certain dongles (the funny name for certain cords that connect your phone to another device) can hook you up. This Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter will connect your phone to a projector or any compatible AV device. For Samsung users, this HDMI cable will also do the trick. It’s also a great way to do movie night (not really a business application, but a fun idea nevertheless).

Selfie Stick. Don’t knock it till you try it. Selfie sticks are not the magic wand of narcissistic millennials, they can also have a business application. You can use them to get a better vantage point for a picture, recording live videos, and more. (Additional ideas for using a selfie stick include self defense and feeding your pets). Selfie Sticks may seem like a frivolous phone accessory for your business, but you’d be surprised at how handy they can actually be.

Are there any practical phone accessories you’ve found helpful that got neglected in this post? Let us know! We love hearing about useful tech stuff 🙂



Phone Cases That Do More

**This post contains affiliate links**

Most people with cell phones consider cases a necessary add-on. After all, who wants to be left in the lurch with a shattered screen or malfunctioning phone after it has a little lovetap with the ground? Phone cases are also a way to show off a bit of individuality (since we all have the same 2-3 phones, it’s nice to feel like we’re standing out in some small way). My favorite former case was my iPhone 5’s Otterbox, which finally had to be retired, but if I dropped my phone it would just bounce right back up into my hand (more or less).

Although phone cases are a necessity nowadays, there are a variety of functional cases that can actually benefit your business while protecting your phone.

In1 Case Tool Kit: If you’re like me, you don’t think a whole lot about having a tool kit until that moment strikes when you suddenly need one. The In1 Case not only has a built-in kit with different tools, including ball point pens, a nail file, tweezers, a set of scissors, a Philips screwdriver, a flat-head screwdriver, a bottle opener, and a kick stand. So, you probably aren’t going to be able to do any major renovation projects with this phone case, but you can safely remove a splinter or tidy up your nails before a meeting on-the-go. And, it’s TSA compliant, so you can still travel with it.

Lifeproof: Lifeproof is perfect for anyone who needs something that’s a step up from Otterbox (which I wasn’t even sure was possible until recently). For those working around a lot of water, dirt, or out in the elements in general, this case has you (and your phone) covered. Beyond just being waterproof, this case can remain submerged in 2 meters of water for up to an hour without any damage to your phone. It can handle a drop from 2 meters high, and you can take it on your next ski trip without worrying about snow getting inside. This case is perfect for anyone who is active/adventurous/maybe a tad careless.



Megaverse Anti-Gravity: If you’ve ever tried watching a YouTube tutorial on something that requires both hands while also trying to hold your phone, you’re not alone in this predicament. Instead of trying to grow a third arm, the Megaverse Anti-Gravity case is the perfect solution. This case can stick to just about any surface: “…windows, mirrors, whiteboards, metal, kitchen cabinets, tile, flat car dashboards and more.” You can lift weights or bake while binge-watching your latest show on Netflix and not having to worry about dropping a dumbbell or spilling flour all over your phone. It’s also perfect for hands-free selfies/live-videos. The cases are also slightly more customized, with built-in wallets and bottle-openers (why have a case that can only do one cool thing?)

Cases that Charge: A lot of freelancers or even just on the move a lot during the workday and don’t have time to sit around plugged into a wall, a phone case that acts as a battery pack may be a good idea for you. Since there are so many different types of phones out there, I’m just linking to the Amazon best seller list (personally I’m an iPhone user but Samsung is represented here as well). Continuing on the “more than one cool thing” idea, some of these cases have kickstands or other features.

Edible Gummy iPhone Case: This was an intriguing find during internet travels that I had to look into. Although I’m not convinced this case provides a lot of protection to your phone, you can still at least gnaw on your phone case if you find yourself trapped somewhere without access to other food. The flavors are pretty intriguing, too, with offerings like Bubble Tea, Fermented Apple, and…Fish Lips? I also really enjoyed the product photo (below).

Having a phone inevitably means having a phone case, but you might be able to find something that can bring something extra to the table for you and/or your business.



Volunteer Organization: Three Ways To Do It Online

ivolunteerastributeI was approached recently by a non-profit about volunteer management. This seems like something you should be able to do online, right? (Or maybe that’s just how I think.)
If we break down the volunteer management process, we can see it comprises a few things. Some of these are mandatory (ex: signing on volunteers), some are extras (ex: letting volunteers self schedule).
Need:
  • volunteer sign up (collecting appropriate information about the volunteer in this process)
  • scheduling/matching volunteers for activities (this could be done by a coordinator or by the volunteers themselves, if activities/schedule was available to them)

Would be Nice:

  • searching for volunteers (allowing organization or individuals to search volunteers, ideally not just online for everyone to see to protect volunteer privacy!)
  • volunteer orientation (what should they know? do they have to sign something? onboarding process communicated or ideally fully enacted online)
  • contacting volunteers (this should be easy and possibly be able to be done as the full volunteer group for large scale communications)
We have a couple approaches to any project, including this one.



Option 1: Handle the absolute needs only with an easy solution people already kind of get.

In the example of a volunteer management, making a Google Form whose responses fed into a spreadsheet that only volunteer matchers could see is not exactly an elegant solution but technically meets the needs. Here’s an example form: https://docs.google.com/a/breakingeveninc.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd3sGh-U_0d2orvk_7zdVEijR2GIhF4VOST96LYUmfIRMgnmg/viewform?hl=en&formkey=dDl6U2RIdDAtak9IN3RwQzlselpFaEE6MA (Of course we can’t see the spreadsheet of responses because we don’t own the form but it exists.)
The pros are that this is dead simple. The cons are it would make the coordinator and anyone else doing volunteer matching/scheduling look through a spreadsheet to find people. Option 1 usually involves manual labor on someone’s part as it’s only a partial tech solution.



Option 2: Code something custom for yourself and be ready to do some planning.

If we were doing this on a Wordpress website for example, we’d probably use a combination Gravity Forms + Custom Searchable Fields. To let multiple people find their own volunteers, we’d have to password protect or otherwise make the search area private.
The closest thing I could find to this (thanks to Matt Baya for it actually) is the http://changingmaine.org/ website where they have a list off different non-profits that is searchable in multiple fields (location, type, etc.). If you modified this to have it list people with tags for different skills it would work something like what you are talking about.

Pros of anything custom is it typically works with what you already have to do exactly what you need it to do. Custom basically equals perfect for you.
Cons would be it would cost. Custom also means time and time means money. If you were going to use something across multiple schools or districts, sharing that cost with them could lower the price (but it also means your perfect solution also has to be theirs, which means more planning/conversations.)



Option 3: Find a third party solution and be ready for trial and error.

The idea with a third party solution is that someone else has already solved your problem and will sell you the solution to yours. Everything I’ve found related to volunteer management is software trying to do lots of other things (donor relations! events calendars! etc.) That said, I did just find this: http://theschoolvolunteer.com/take-tour/ and there may be more like it. (Of course, they aren’t saying pricing here but digging around online it says $0.16/user not sure if that means per volunteer or per month or what. It does have good reviews though.)

In many cases, we can transform the phrase ‘third party solution’ into ‘awkward sales call to find out how much it really costs and what it really does’. You may have to try a few things before you find a third party solution that works for your project.

I’ll stand by what I said and I could take this three option approach to almost any tech problem. You either go basic so you can deploy something quickly and at least partially fix a problem; do something custom and have lots of talks about feelings; or find something that already exists and is ‘good enough’. Depending on your timeframe, budget, and internal politics, the right approach may become apparent to you.

We’ll see what they decide about volunteer management but it’s nice to know they (and you!) have some options on that front.



Facebook’s Attempt at Mind-Reading

Social media has always been a platform for self-expression, and has even evolved into a way for people to stay in touch and get updates on current events. Facebook in particular has some interesting methods of encouraging users to share their experiences, beyond the “What’s on your mind?” prompt for status updates.

In the past year or so, it seems like Facebook has been upping the ante in terms of getting people to share how they feel about things-current events, politics, sports, even seasonal changes.



Sometimes, it seems as if Facebook is reading our minds…These are a few of the things that I’ve noticed in the past few months that Facebook has offered to anticipate what we want to share:

Temporary Profile Pictures and Overlays

Last summer, Facebook started introducing temporary profile pictures as a way to let people show support for a cause, be it political or showing support for a sports team. When you make a temporary profile picture, you have options for how long you want to have it set for (a day, a week, a month), and then it will automatically switch back to whatever you had before. Last November, Facebook created a French flag overlay to show support for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Facebook prompts users to show their support by creating a temporary profile picture. In these circumstances, a temporary profile picture is meant to extend support and solidarity no matter where you are in the world.

Good Morning/Afternoon/Seasonal Changes

A couple weeks ago marked the first day of fall, and you may have noticed a “happy first day of fall” message at the top of your Facebook newsfeed. A couple months ago, I was on my phone and noticed a “Good Morning, Kassandra” message with a sun beside it (in the same top-of-newsfeed position). This isn’t an every day occurrence for me, and I haven’t figured out what the pattern is (or if there even is one), and one day there was a “Good Afternoon” curve ball. These messages don’t even have a “share with the public” option, so I can only imagine that they’re just to create a positive user experience.

Let People Know that You’re ______. 

Another feature that borders on creepy is the “Let people know you’re watching” option during a sporting event (only on mobile). The scores will automatically appear if you’ve liked a team’s official Facebook page. Facebook has since added a new “Sports” section that you can access to get updates from any team without having to “like” a ton of Pages. This area of Facebook is called Sports Stadium, which came out this past January. In addition to sharing a status update, you can “hang out” with other Facebook friends who are watching the game, too, and talk about it within the app.

sports

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Another example of a narrowed “let people know what you’re doing,” Facebook started sharing a “Register to Vote” campaign. When you click on it, you get taken to a printable page for voter registration along with instructions. And, because it’s Facebook, you could share with others that you’d registered.

Safety Check

Similar to “Let people know you’re watching,” Facebook has a “Safety Check” feature. If you are in an area that’s in crisis (natural disaster or otherwise), Facebook picks up on this if your location services are on, and will ask you if you are safe. Fortunately, I live in a pretty low-crisis area, so I’ve never seen this in action, until last week when one of my friends used the tool to let people know she was safe in North Carolina. For those of you who watched our Facebook Live video last week, we talked a bit about this Safety Check feature there, too.

fbsafetycheck

These are just a few ways Facebook is attempting to anticipate what people care about and changing the way we interact with each other online. Can’t wait to see what’s next, Facebook!

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

Do you know someone who always has an idea for something? When you talk to them, it seems like their mind is going a mile a minute, while you have maybe half an idea a day, wondering how this person can be “on” all the time. I’m generally cyclic, going through periodic idea spells and no-idea spells, which seems to be the norm. In the no-idea spells, I tend to notice the idea people more, and find myself wondering how they do what they do. As it turns out, it’s partially a gift, and partially a practice.

You might have heard of James Altucher’s “10 Ideas a Day” exercise. It’s similar to a gratitude journal, where you sit down every morning and write down ten ideas, if not more. The theory is the “idea muscle” is one that can atrophy, like any other muscle, when it’s not used. Although the explanation felt a bit aggressive for my taste, I’m all for becoming an idea person. Ten ideas a day, how hard can that be? (I tried it this morning, and similar to this article explaining the experience, I “started sweating” around number 4).

Altucher’s idea exercise is great for carving out some time to get your brain moving, but realistically, our brains aren’t going to limit idea-generation to this small piece of the day. Whenever I have a brilliant idea for something, it arrives at a super inconvenient time, and I fall into the trap of “Oh, I’ll totally remember this later- it’s so amazing, how could I forget it?” But…then I do.



Those of us who have been burned by this experience enough times will find ways to avoid this happening again. Others might be blessed with being idea machines, so the loss of one idea doesn’t feel as tragic. Here are some of the best tips I’ve had for jotting down these ideas (with and without technology):

  1. ALWAYS write it down. Whatever your idea is, make sure you get it out of your head to a more tangible place (paper, phone, etc). I’d say 87% of the time, unless I write it down, I only remember having an awesome idea, but not the idea itself. It’s pretty frustrating. To avoid this, there are a few things you can do, depending on your personal preferences. If you are a pen and paper person, one idea is to always keep a notepad close by. If you’re more of a phone person, there are all kinds of apps you can use to keep track of ideas. If you just want to jot down the idea and nothing else, the Notes app that comes with most phones is an easy way to jot things down and have them saved for later. But, if you want to get into some high-end note taking, apps like Papyrus, Evernote, and more let you dictate, add pictures, and share your notes with others. And, most of them are free!
  2. Be Consistent. One of my issues is being super inconsistent about where I put them. Then, when I need to find something again, I’m scrambling around because “it could be in one of six places.” Whatever time you might have saved writing down your idea gets lost trying to track it down again. This article recommends not only keeping your notes in a consistent place, but separating them by types for a higher level of efficiency. This might mean having an app on your phone totally dedicated to business related notes/ideas, while jotting down notes for a screenplay in a notebook you carry around. No matter what system you choose, the key is to be consistent across the board.
  3. Make sure it’s decipherable. Not your handwriting, although it’s a good first step. Sometimes, if we’re in a huge rush, we jot down a few words and carry on our way. Later, when we revisit them, it looks like complete gibberish. Losing an idea this way is arguably more heartbreaking, because you’ve actually put some effort into saving the idea. Avoiding this type of heartbreak involves finding the line between writing too much and too little. Allow yourself the time to write down as much as you think you’ll need to jog your memory.
It really only has to make sense to you...

It really only has to make sense to you…

4. Revisit. Don’t leave your ideas to sit around collecting dust. At the end of the week/month/whatever interval you choose, go back and look over what you’ve written down. More on organizing notes will come in a later blog post, but in revisiting your notes you’re sorting out ideas you might actually want to take action on at some point later on. After all, what’s the point of writing all these ideas down if you aren’t going to see one or two of them through?

Whether you consider yourself an idea person or not, writing down your ideas when you have them, be consistent and clear, and go back and look them over every now and then. What are some ways that you’ve found to get notes from in your head onto paper?

This month’s theme is all about notes, stay tuned for future posts throughout the month!



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