Tips

Keep Personal Errands and Work Projects on Track With the Right Tool

Everyday people have tasks they need to complete.  Be it at work, at home or somewhere in between there are chores, tasks, issues, assignments, to-do’s, … on and on.  There are basically as many ways to track and organize all of these from the always classic Franklin-Covey planner to a well organized spreadsheet to enterprise level project management platforms (and yes, in the end, I believe all of these serve the same purpose).  Most of them have individual pros and cons and it’s up to the user to choose the right one.

Today we’ll talk about solutions for different applications ranging from managing daily errands to project management for medium to large-ish projects.  There is a lot out there, but we’ll focus on the ones I’ve had the best experiences with while trying to keep my life and projects organized over the last decade.

A quick talk about my organizational philosophy…  For a tracking system to work, first and foremost, it has to fit with what you are trying to accomplish.  A 1,000 line project plan and gantt chart aren’t necessary to get your grocery shopping done and your dry cleaning picked up, but a checklist isn’t going to get you through a a significant development project either.  Next most important is that the tools fit the process.  A person without a smartphone is probably not a prime candidate for an online task list and you can’t use MS Project with anything agile project management.  In the end, I like a solution that is just barely powerful enough to support what you need.  This usually helps keep things streamlined and prevents the tool from becoming a crutch (this is obviously a fine line, but is something to always watch out for).

So, without further ado…

The Spreadsheet

The simple spreadsheet is a category unto itself…  The beauty of the spreadsheet is that it can be as simple or complicated as you need/want.  When you think about it, all the other tools you might use are really just pretty front-ends on some really complicated spreadsheets (I may have just oversimplified the concept of a database, but I’m going with it).

For most people just writing down the things they need to get done for the day, a party, or even a research project is an extreme improvement in productivity.  Create a spreadsheet with columns for a task name, task description, priority and due date and you’ve got a powerful little method for keeping track of your tasks.   For example, input the list of chores for the day and rank them as 1s, 2s, or 3s (don’t agonize over it, you can change it later) and set the due date for all the tasks to today.  Now you can use the sort function of your spreadsheet app (I recommend Google Documents) to sort everything into a prioritized list of tasks.  Review your tasks, rework your numbers, sort again and keep crossing things off the list until it’s all done.

Maybe you need something a bit more complicated to keep track of tasks at work?  Add  ‘last action’, comments, and ‘assigned to’ columns and now you’re ready to track yourself and other across a broader range of tasks.  If you want to get fancy learn a little bit about conditional formatting to highlight what is late, who is assigned to what or what is the highest priority.  In no time you have a quick, reasonably powerful, and well organized document you can use for yourself or share with others to keep you and/or your team on track.

I’ve gone as far as using spreadsheets to run small projects with great success.  The point is, the spreadsheet is the most flexible of the options because, small or large, it is what you make it.

Personal Use, Get your errands done or your party planned

RemembertheMilk.com is basically a project management platform for your life.  It offers organizable lists with due dates and priorities in a simple web interface with a great deal of integration and power behind the scenes.  You can setup different lists to group tasks, prioritize the tasks within that group then schedule all manner of updates to be sent to you through e-mail, sms, etc.  There are iPhone and Android apps (where are my WebOS apps!) as well as a number of ways to integrate RTM into your life.  It’s an excellent platform for people serious about using an application to stay organized.  Jump into the the RTM Tour and signup for an account (it takes about 15 seconds) or hope over to Lifehacker’s extensive rundown of the features.

A far less powerful, but still very useful tool is Google Tasks.  Integrated into gMail it offers a simple way to create and manage lists.  For now it’s about as simple as can be and due dates don’t show up on your gCal, but it’s Google and you can expect gTasks to grow like any other Google product.  If you want a quick and simple task list accessible on almost any platform, Google Tasks is a great option.



style=”display:inline-block;width:300px;height:250px”
data-ad-client=”ca-pub-1749189269029341″
data-ad-slot=”1090550518″>

Small to Medium Project, Getting things done with other people

Redmine is my personal favorite for a project where I get to choose the tracking platform.  It’s open source, easy to setup and offers the flexibility necessary to work on many different types of projects.  It’s simple to keep multiple projects going on the same installation of Redmine while limiting access across projects to only those people that need it.  In particular I like the ways that Redmine manages tasks across users and projects in summary views while also allowing for very granular resource and activity tracking.  Checkout Redmines site and demo to get a feel for the application.

Redmine is not a hosted solution and requires installation on a web host.  Anyone that has ever FTP’d a file to a webhost can get this setup in about 10 minutes and any SysAdmin worth his salt should be able to do it in 5 (if yours can’t then I suggest you find a new one).  This done mean there is a little bit of effort upfront to setup the site, but it also means no monthly fees (beyond your hosting) and unlimited accounts.

For a hosted solution ProjectOffice.net offers an excellent feature set at a reasonable per user price.  I always prefer to host my own apps, but not everyone can do that.  Project Office is clean and simple without a lot of overhead or clutter.  In addition to the basic project management features there are some gantt charting abilities and Blackberry integration too.

Conclusion

Both in your personal life and in business the key to the right tool is to choose one that fits what you’re trying to accomplish.  There are literally hundreds of solutions out there and I’ve tried A LOT of them.  I’ve touched on my favorites here, but what works for me might not work for you (heck, what works for me on one project might not work for me on the next) so it’s up to you to try things out and tweak them until they do what you need (which is why I love spreadsheets so much).  The key is that you try different solutions and continuously improve on your methods as you gain experience.

No matter what the venue or goal following the basic best practices of writing things down, assigning tasks and setting due dates will always lead the charge.  Start there and add-on accordingly until you’ve found the limit of what you need to track to be effective.  Follow that method and, at the least, you’ll always end up with an efficient system for your needs.

What is HD Radio?

high_hd_radioHD Radio first hit the market a few years ago.  Most stations are broadcasting HD signals and a reasonable number of people have actually experienced HD Radio in the car or at home (mostly in the car).  Unfortunately there is still a lot of confusion as to what it is and why you should care.

Since HD Radio is here to stay Tech to Live By is here with a rundown of HD Radio tech and how it will benefit you…

First off, the HD doesn’t actually stand for High Definition.  It’s a brand name and an excellent little piece of marketing intended to take advantage of the HDTV boom.

That being said, radio stations use technology from iBiquity Digital Corporation to broadcast a combined digital-analog signal that provides a clearer, higher fidelity sound (described as near-CD quality). In addition to the improved sound quality the HD Radio technology improves on the bandwidth and data capabilities of traditional broadcasts.

By using a compressed digital signal, broadcasters are able to transmit song information (including artist and song name), real-time information (gas prices, traffic updates, etc), and numerous sub-channels.  That’s right, sub-channels (actually called Multicast channels).  With HD Radio your favorite radio station is able to broadcast not only their usual programming but also additional ‘stations’ with independent content.  In effect the user can receive 2-4 times the amount of content from the same broadcaster (including multicast channels and data broadcasts).  Not bad, right?

The HD Radio standard also include the option of iTunes Tagging which allows users to tag songs they hear over the digital broadcast for later reference.  When an iPod is connected to the system the tags can be downloaded and synced with iTunes to facilitate a simple way to preview and purchase the music. Ford is the first automotive OEM to launch this feature in the car.

[Editors Note: It's very annoying that this is tied to iTunes only, but it was probably a great for Apple to secure more business and for brilliant for iBiquity to align themselves with a major player.  When iBiquity was trying to sell this technology into major manufacturers you can bet they threw around the Apple partnership as best they could.]

The general rule for the HD1 (main) broadcast channel is that it matches the non-HD Radio analog broadcast.  The HD2 and HD3 multicast channels vary in how they are used.  For example, some stations are broadcasting previous formats (think easy listening station that went to rock) while other stations are taking the opportunity to broadcast a totally new set of content that new listeners might appreciate.  CBS Radio recently announced their intention to re-broadcast popular stations in other markets (like a major Los Angeles station broadcast on an HD2 channel in New York).  In LA right now KROQ’s HD2 broadcast is ‘KROQ of the 80′s.’

For now, the services are free, but there are companies out there working on ways to make features subscription or per-use based.  All you need to get  in on the goodness is upgrade to an HD Radio capable receiver (and there are plenty of them available for most applications).

The car companies are leading the charge with integrating these devices and they are pretty readily available now.

If you have any questions about HD Radio drop me a comment and I’ll do my best!

GPS Trackers for Tracking Whatever You Want

9540703cv3a

I  came across two standouts for portable GPS based tracking.  The, Xact Trax and Insignia Little Buddy, both offer a way to track your kids, car, wife, friends, dogs?, etc with similiar features and pricing.

The basic feature set of these devices allows you to place a GPS device on something mobile (car, kids backpack, etc) and view the location of that device through a website.  Depending on your pricing plan ($15 monthly unlimited or $.99 per use) you can track the device continuously or on an ad-hoc basis (i.e. My kid is late getting home, where is he right now).

If that’s not big brother enough for you, these devices offer geo-fencing (you can be notified when the device leaves a certain pre-defined area…like school grounds) and speed notifications (you can be notified if whatever you’ve attached the device to is speeding).  Notifications may be through e-mail or text.  All my examples have been of parents tracking their kids (which is the obvious one), but there are many less intrusive uses (like GPS tagging a car or motorcycle for theft recovery).

If you are using this to track a kid (or god forbid significant other) you still have no guarantee that the device will stay with that person (not sure how many times I lost my backpack as a kid).  Also remember that these devices are subject to the same limitations as other wireless and GPS devices (i.e. if you’re not in a coverage area or otherwise can’t get a signal the device will not work).

The Insignia product is a super simple GPS device powered by USB.  The Xact device offers things like a panic button and on-device medical history database in case of emergency.

All in all, these products are probably very effective if you need some element of their feature set.  Both pricing models are excellent depending on your needs.  If you do use something like this drop us a comment.  We’re curious what you use it for.

Tech to Live By’s Favorite Sites

If you like technology and/or cool stuff in general then you’ll want to add some of these sites to your regular reading list:

Engadget.com + Gizmodo.com – Listed in the same bullet because they are almost the same site.  Top notch content from around the technology world.

Lifehacker.com – Part of the Gizmodo family and focused on tips and tricks to make life easier.  Like TechtoLiveBy but not as focused on technology.

PreCentral.net – The leading site for info about Palm and the WebOS

AndroidandMe.com – The most useful resource for information about the latest and greatest around the Android OS.

WiredMag.com – Because everybody interested in technology with a splash of pop-culture should read Wired.

Joystiq.com – For the gamer in you.

inTELEMATICStoday.com – Focused on automotive telematics (internet in the car – for lack of a more simple explanation) this site may not be for the general consumer, but it has tons of great information about the automotive electronics industry (and I can’t ignore my sister site!).

What are your favorite tech sites to read?

Kill Yourself Online (How to remove your online presence)

Recently I’ve heard a growing grumble about people’s over exposure through social networking sites (particularly in the wake of Facebook’s privacy policy changes).

Lifehacker (via Quick Online Tips) has found a solution.  The Web2.0 Suicide Machine will go through and not only kill your online profiles and accounts but will also remove what it can from the servers of the respective service (no wonder FB has blocked this app for now).

Are you so fed up with social networking, cloud computing and the online existence that you’re ready to commit suicide?  Let me know how it turns out!!

via [lifehacker]

5 Awesome Android Apps

Makeuseof.com has put together a quick list of 5 super awesome apps for the Android OS.

These 5 apps are things that most users would benefit from right away… So if you’ve got an Android based phone then you should check this out.

  • Shazam – Identify music just by recording a snippet.  A feature that has existed overseas for many years that has only recently made it to the US.  You’ll never wonder what the name of that song is again.  Now if they only had this for people (oh wait, thats facial recognition).
  • Ringdroid – Lets you use your on device music to create a ringtone.  Includes the ability to clip your music right on the device itself.
  • Key Ring Rewards Cards – For those of you obsessed with club cards.  Just input your club numbers and get generated bar codes for each store you’re a member of.
  • Dolphin Browser – Multitouch browser support and tabbed browsing.  What are you waiting for? This is the browser you should be using.
  • PDANet Free – This is a personal favorite.  I’ve had some version of this app since 3 generations of Palm Treos ago and it’s always been the most useful app around.  Create an internet connection for your laptop anywhere you get 3g service.  Use at your own risk only because I have no idea how your carrier will react (personally I’ve never had a problem).

Clickthrough to the article for more details and links to the apps.

via [makeuseof]

National Hangover Day: Hangover Cure Round-Up

It’s no secret that tonight is one of the biggest drinking nights of the year.  Which, of course, means January 1st is one of the biggest hangover days of the year.  In a bit of obvious yet genius marketing the creators (or marketeers) of ‘The Hangover’ are calling for January 1st to be National Hangover Day.

In anticipation of National Hangover Day Tech to Live By brings to you a round-up of hangover cures to enjoy while watching The Hangover.



style=”display:inline-block;width:300px;height:250px”
data-ad-client=”ca-pub-1749189269029341″
data-ad-slot=”1090550518″>

I can already tell you exactly what my personal hangover relief will be…  Gatorade, the spiciest bloody marys I can make (Whiskey Willy’s Xtreme is the best mix ever) and a ‘Who is dumb enough to stay in this 50 degree pool the longest’ contest Polar Bear Plunge. Yup, that should wake me up just fine.

Have fun, be safe, and Merry New Year to all!!!

Mammoth Mountain Mobile!

large_MammothBikiniRun0801I love Mammoth Mountain.  I can’t really describe how much I love it because it’d come across as weird, but really it’s not…I swear.

Anyway, in recent years Mammoth has managed to upgrade their connectivity and I can get a reasonable cell signal around much of the mountain (at least Sprint is sometimes useful for something).  Usually I’m texting friends trying to figure out where our next drink break will be, but recently I found Mammoth has launched a Mammoth Mobile Site.

It’s a streamlined version of the full site and you have access to everything useful (i.e. snow reports, lift status, trail maps, web cams, and more).  If you’ll be up in Mammoth this season this site will come in handy at some point.  Keep it around.

Have fun ya’ll. Ride safe!

ReKindleIT Brings Web Articles to your Kindle

rekindleitThis application seems like a no brainer for Kindle owners, especially ones that read online articles as much as I do.

ReKindleIT makes it quick and easy to send a webpage from your computer or iPhone to your Kindle.  So, before you ,get on a long flight, or just for your daily reading, you can send yourself articles from most sites (TechtoLiveBy.com, for example) and be on your merry way.

Articles can be delivered directly to the Kindle through Amazon’s Wispernet for $.15/MB or by email through Amazons free conversion service (but that requires you to connect the Kindle to the computer to download them).

Happy reading!

via {makeuseof}

6 Very Cool Uses for Google Spreadsheets

google-spreadsheets-formIn case you don’t know, Google Spreadsheets  is basically an online version of Microsoft’s Excel.  It’s got most of the basic functionality and a few of the advanced features with the added benefit of being hosted online and accessible to/editable by multiple users at the same time. If you need super hardcore analysis features, Excel is still your best option (though I’ve been known to start a document online then export to Excel at the end for the one feature I needed).

I’ve used Google Spreadsheets for everything from making to do lists and managing projects to collecting information from friends.  Today I’m going to talk about a handful of features that can be used in fairly powerful ways (some of these features are things you could also do with Excel and some are not) to make you and your business more efficient.

List View

List view is a very simple, clean and fast way to interact with a spreadsheet.  It keeps the formatting of the spreadsheet and functions more as a static page with filters and basic add, edit and delete functionality.  This makes for a nice way to present a table to end users while the administrator of the spreadsheet can use the standard view for easier/quicker updating and changes.

You can read a bit more about this feature here.

Use Live Google Search Results in your Spreadsheet

The GoogleLookup function has got to be one of the most under discussed but potentially powerful features in all of the Google arsenal. Using a simple 2 argument function call in a cell will return data from a Google search.  For example, let’s say you need to get the distance from the Sun of all the planets into a spreadsheet.  You could quickly search this information and type it into a spreadsheet OR you could use the GoogleLookup Function. All you would need to do is type the planet names into columnA and in columnB type ‘=googlelookup(“A1″,”distance from sun”)’.  Bada-bing Bada-boom you’ve got your data.  For anyone that uses spreadsheets a lot or had to do lots of data lookup there are an almost infinite number of uses for this feature.  It is worth noting that you can use the function GoogleFinance in basically the same way to get live stock prices into your spreadsheet quickly.

I’ve only recently stumbled across this feature, but you can sure bet I’ll be looking out for a good ways to put it to use.

For now, you can read more about these functions here and here.

Surveys and Forms

If you’ve ever needed to collect data from a group of people be it administering a survey or collecting t-shirt orders for your kickball team then these features are for you!  Using a Google Spreadsheet as the back-end you can create a custom form with custom fields including drop-downs, radio buttons, calendar pop-ups, and more.  All you have to do is share the form with anyone you need answers from (or just make it public for the whole world) and sit back.  You can even go as far as requiring login and having the users information automatically captured (along with date and time).  All of the data will show-up nicely in your spreadsheet ready to be analyzed, downloaded, edited, etc

You can read a bit more about this feature here.

What can you do with all this newly collected information?  More on that coming up!



style=”display:inline-block;width:300px;height:250px”
data-ad-client=”ca-pub-1749189269029341″
data-ad-slot=”1090550518″>

Visualizations

The Google Visualizations API allows developers to create gadgets and visualizations using Google Spreadsheets as the data source. Basically Google has made it easy for people to create ways to display data.  There are obvious options like gantt charts and pie charts but there are also much cooler options like the geographic heatmap and the piles of money.  The visualizations are basically Google Gadgets and can be embedded in your spreadsheet or directly in a web page or Google Site.

Google already has a substantial library of visualizations, but you can also create your own.

I’m thinking that when combined with the GoogleLookup Function and embedded somewhere useful the visualization API could be used to create some powerful and meaningful dashboard and tracking widgets.

Embed Spreadsheets and Charts Almost Anywhere

Pretty much all of the Google Apps provide you with code to embed that app (or some piece of it’s functionality) almost anywhere you can post HTML.  This is useful when you want to create a form (as described above) because you can use the same form on a website as in an e-mail.   Calendars can be created under your account but embedded in your blog.  Of particular interest is the ability to embed a spreadsheet (including list view) anywhere you might need it allowing you to create a simple to manage and update (and potentially dynamically updated) table or chart that you can place anywhere.

Like I said, all the Google Apps have ways you can embed elements in your website or blog, but for more thoughts on ways you can use this feature check out this list of 20 ideas for embedding a Google Spreadsheet.

Create a Simple Store!

Seriously… Through a combination of Google Checkout, the Google Checkout Store Gadget and the Google Spreadsheets API you can create a simple online store that supports all the basics including inventory updates, product sizes, and, most importantly, secure credit card transactions.

You can read about the specifics of the implementation here, but the fact is that now anyone with a basic website can sell through their site.  This lowers the barrier to entry for a ‘mom and pop’ online retailer to the point of having something up and running in under an hour.  I’m sure there are other simple solutions for setting up a store, but I’ve never seen one that requires as little effort, but still provides as useful a feature set.

I hold this as one of the best examples of Google’s ability to combine seemingly simple features to create something that is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Well folks, that’s all I got for today.  6 features that range from super basic to setting up an online store, but are all backed by Google Spreadsheets.

If you have any examples of how you’re using these or other features please post them in the comments.  I’m very interested in how other people are putting Google Apps to work.