Technology, My Friend

Faithful readers of this blog know most of my stories begin with the phrase before the accident or the phrase after the accident.  I’ve tried to be mindful of avoiding this pattern; but, it really was such an incredible turning point.  So I apologize in advance for starting another sentence in such a way.

Before the accident, I can honestly admit I was a disorganized, slightly cluttered, paper piling kind of gal.  There were stacks of magazines and papers with little notes I had written to myself.  I struggled with keeping clutter to a minimum.  After the accident, the clutter really bothered me.  It created an unpleasant noise in my head similar to speaker feedback.  Plus, my method of keeping reminders on various slips of paper didn’t work anymore because I was unable to untangle the chaos created by that method.  What worked before, didn’t work anymore.  Plus I had a million appointments with doctors and rehab therapists and phone conversations with insurance people.  I got mail from insurance companies or health providers almost every day for a year.  My partner helped me create a system using a calendar in the kitchen and a milk crate on the dining room table.  I carried a small spiral notebook and pen in my pocket everyday (though I frequently misplaced these notebooks).  It was still too much to track.

I started researching ways to organize that were simple and would help me cope with the some of the memory and other brain issues I struggled with at that time.   I want to share some of my process, my discoveries and resources.

Android smart phone:  as much as I hate putting all my eggs in one basket, I find it simplest to just continue to Googlefy my life.  It started with Gmail and Google calendar.  When I realized I could carry my calendar in my pocket I succumbed to the idea of paying more for a smartphone.  My phone has been a lifesaver in more ways than I originally thought it would help.  Even now that I struggle far less with brain issues I’ve kept the smart phone for the two features that have helped me the most:  alerts (calendar) and GPS.  The simplicity of going with Google has saved me from having to figure out how to get the various pieces to talk with one another.  I know that is one reason why people love Apple so much.  It’s seamless and now that Apple has the iCloud it is even simpler to manage everything.  I use the following apps regularly:

  • Evernote:  I love Evernote.  I have an ongoing grocery list on there.  I can add things online from work or home or on the fly on my phone.  That list is always with me.  I also clip things while websurfing, organize recipes and various other files and images.  I have a scanner set up to automatically go to Evernote and I keep documents, manuals and receipts on there.  I can snap a picture of a list or business card and send it to Evernote where it is searchable by text.  It’s an amazing product that is free; but, totally worth the pro upgrade.  And it keeps getting better.  It takes awhile to get in the habit of sticking stuff in Evernote; but, once you do it becomes a reliable and easy method of storing and retrieving just about anything.
  • GoodReads:  I joined Good Reads solely to get this app so I could easily keep track of my “to read” list and have it available when I was in a library or bookstore.
  • Google Maps:  This has proven to be invaluable.  I prefer a regular print map.  My visual memory is much better than my ability to remember things I’ve read (like an address) or heard (directions given verbally). But, I have found I rely heavily on GMaps.  Before I head out I Google map my trip and email it to myself.  That way I have it quickly accessible on my phone. Of course, I don’t have to email it beforehand.  I could do it directly on my phone.  I just find it nice to call it up quickly.  I’ve also started using the “My Maps” feature which is also a great way to store maps you use.

Putting all your eggs in one basket is a little scary.  I used to back up my Gmail offline; but, I don’t do that anymore.  I suppose I should and I know there are some easy-ish ways to accomplish this task.  My music which is in Google Music and my pictures which are in Picasa are also backed up on my laptop and an external hard drive.  I should automate this process and there are some cool tools to help with that; but, I haven’t set anything up yet.  I had used a backup service that would automatically backup different folders to the cloud; but, I found them clunky.  That was a couple of years ago and I should try that again.

The other tool I owe a great deal of my sanity to is Last Pass:  Last Pass is a password vault.  It is probably the single thing that has most helped me, especially since returning to the library field.  I feel like a few times a month I’m signing up for things that require passwords.  There are other password vaults out there that are also good.  I just happen to use Last Pass and have been pleased with it.  It is a tool that I find essential.  It works with most browsers and will remember all of your passwords for you.  I have it set up to automatically fill most of my logins, excepting financial or other sensitive sites.  I still have some memory issues and I really don’t want to waste brain energy, which I have to conserve, on keeping track of passwords or where I wrote them down.  Last Pass is easy to use and has vastly improved my Internet safety because I don’t repeat passwords and I let Last Pass generate passwords for me so they are complex and safer.  If I was forced to choose between giving up my smart phone or giving up Last Pass, I’d give up my smart phone without a hesitation.

For me the key to success has been automation and do it once and forget about it.  I set reminders and tasks in calendar.  All my bills are paid automatically and I have reminders set to review my accounts and transfer money into a joint household account.  I’m on top of things with minimal effort.  It has been life changing. There are times I have duplication or when I also use written lists or reminders even though I also have them in Google calendar and/or tasks.  I use a white board that is not attached to a wall.  I prop it up wherever I need it.  I’m still old school enough to sometimes want to write things out when planning a trip or project.

I recently discovered iftt.  This is an awesome web application that helps you automate even further.  I set up a “recipe” so that whenever I star something in Google reader it automatically gets added to my Read it Later account.  You could set it to have all your Instagram photos sent to Dropbox or Evernote or even your blog on WordPress.  There are seemingly a million ways to use this and I’ve just started exploring; but, I suspect I’m going to love it.

There are a ton more applications and tricks.  I have learned the most from reading Lifehacker on a daily basis.  I also read their book which is an excellent overview.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the non-technology based solutions I have devised.

2 thoughts on “Technology, My Friend

  1. Hi Ann,
    When this post showed up in my email inbox I thought you were addressing me directly! Here I was making a (yet another) list for HOW to organize for this online graduate program. The technology has bitten us all hard with glitches or other bad behavior. Just today I feel like finally, hopefully, two weeks after the start of classes, I can focus on the course work instead of downloads,frustrated help desk requests, endless account sign-ins and “set-up”, and a flurry of tiny notes of user name and password….
    I’ve actually considered a smart phone, but can’t yet justify the cost each month given my monthly income. But I have used calendar and notes with my basic phone for years…
    I’m definitely going to check out iftt and Last Pass.

    • Janet

      I can’t recommend having a password wrangler enough…I use LastPass; but, have read good things about other ones like Keepass. I think some folks use their browsers for holding passwords because they don’t realize that this is not a secure method. Anya was surprised when I told her I could figure out her email password. You can’t do that. Ugh. If you hand me your computer, I could tell you in about 8 seconds. I showed her how passwords are stored in Firefox. Using software like LastPass reduces the stress of having to keep track of all this stuff. As a library school student, you will be signing up for stuff a lot, trying them out, etc. Like I said in my post: it’s the single one thing that has significantly helped me…and with the rate we use computers now…it is a major life tool. I wish you the best in school and keep in touch! Ann

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