Posted: 28 Apr 2013 01:00 PM PDT
I have a very busy life. I have three kids, each of which are in different activities. I have three different community committee responsibilties, which means multiple meetings a month and other activities related to each one. I have writing responsibilities that involve two articles a day for The Simple Dollar, an ongoing effort to write a novel, and multiple other freelance opportunities. I have an ongoing social calendar that involves spending time with quite a few friends and family. I have a home that requires maintenance and upkeep. On top of all that, I try to maintain at least some free time for myself to exercise, read, and enjoy other personally fulfilling activities, and I also try to set aside daily time to meditate and keep my mind clear.
The only way I can keep all of this balanced is through careful organization. I use a series of tools to make this work, most of them electronic (though not all). I keep desktop versions of these applications on every computer I work on and a mobile version of these apps on my phone. In addition to what's listed below, I keep a pocket journal with me virtually all of the time, along with a pen.
Without these five free computer programs, I would find my day-to-day life very difficult to manage. I find these five tools to be absolutely essential. I've mentioned each of these in the past, but I felt it was worthwhile to update how I use each of these in my current day-to-day life.
A quick note: although all of these are free, some exist on a "freemium" model. That means that there are some extra features that are unlocked if you're willing to pay some small amount. I am a paid supporter of all of the below tools that offer a "premium" version because I'm a big supporter of supporting what you use.
I use Evernote almost constantly, perhaps dozens of times a day. I am constantly jotting down random ideas on notes in Evernote, then dealing with them later.
There are so many little uses I find for Evernote.
I'll be on a walk, have an idea, and just flip open my phone, launch Evernote, create a new note, and voice-to-text the note (where I speak and it turns into text) – I can do all of that without even stopping my pace or the podcast I'm usually listening to.
If I'm driving somewhere and I have an idea I want to work out in my head, I'll start it, turn on the voice-to-text, and just ramble my ideas while I'm driving to wherever my destination is.
I'll write down notes and sketches in my pocket notebook, take a picture of the page, and send it to Evernote and it'll turn my handwriting (I take notes in blocky letters) into text I can search or use elsewhere and embed the drawings. I do the same with recipes I see in magazines and on and on and on.
If I'm brainstorming, I can just list lots of ideas in Evernote virtually wherever I am and then sort through them later. If it's a mix of drawings and text, I'll do them on paper and take a picture and deal with it later.
Evernote is the tool I use to dump disorganized information from my head into some place where it can be stored for later. It's flexible enough that I can dump my ideas in almost any format and I'll easily be able to get it into Evernote.
But what do I do with that disorganized information?
Remember the Milk
Much of that disorganized information winds up in Remember the Milk in the form of lists. RtM forces me to take a lot of those rather chaotic notes and put them into a structure where I can actually do something useful.
Let's say I have an idea for a project I want to work on. I rambled on for twenty minutes about it while driving somewhere and all of that was saved in a note – but it's chaotic. I then sit down with Remember the Milk and start piecing through that rambling, honing the ideas down into a useful project plan with a checklist of things to do with due dates and so on. That list goes into Remember the Milk.
I have a recipe that I want to make. I just add the ingredients to my ongoing grocery list in Remember the Milk and then use that grocery list when I'm actually at the store.
When I'm actually going through all of the stuff I need to do during the day, I'm usually looking at Remember the Milk to see what needs to be done next. I keep my daily to-do list in there and I generate a fresh one each evening.
I'm constantly finding great articles online that I want to read but that I recognize I don't have time to read at the moment. I'd need to set aside fifteen minutes or thirty minutes of uninterrupted time to really focus on that article to get value out of it.
Well, my web browser has a simple tool on it. I just click that special little Pocket button and the thing I want to read is saved for later. Whenever I'm at another computer or even on my phone, I can instantly retrieve any of those documents I've saved. I'll even save and retrieve emails this way.
Pocket breaks the articles down into text, meaning there's not much data usage for the program and it's easy to read them on a little screen.
If I'm sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office or waiting for a meeting to start or something like that, I'm often reading an article in Pocket. It's far more convenient than carrying a newspaper or a magazine around with me.
If there's something I need to remember that has a date assigned to it, it goes into Google Calendar.
I keep track of all of the usual things with it, like birthdays and anniversaries and doctor's appointments. Where it really stands out for me, though, is when I use it for things like irregular home maintenance tasks (like when to change the air filter) or car maintenance tasks (like when to air up tires or wash the car).
I also find a great deal of value of using it for milestones. Whenever I plan a project, I try to hit dated milestones along the way. For example, if I'm drafting a book, I try to have a first draft done on day X, a revised draft done on day Y, and edits done on day Z. I'll record those three dates on my calendar so I can see them coming.
This calendar is easy to retrieve everywhere. If I need a printed version, I can easily print off single day calendar pages (for that matter, I can find excellent views to print of all of the things above).
If I have anything that I want to share between computers and I'm not concerned about privacy (meaning I don't use things like this for sensitive personal data), I just use Dropbox. In fact, Dropbox integrates so smoothly onto my computers and phone that I scarcely realize I'm using it.
I just save a document of virtually any kind on Dropbox and I can pull it up from anywhere – any other computer and on my mobile device. I keep family photos on there, ongoing writing projects on there, and all kinds of other things.
As I said, the only things I don't keep on Dropbox are documents that are highly sensitive – I keep my own backups of those documents at home for security reasons.
These five tools play a tremendous role in keeping my life organized. Without them – and my handy pocket journal – I would be very hard pressed to make everything work. The best part? All of these tools are free.
Posted: 28 Apr 2013 07:00 AM PDT
A close friend of mine recently introduced me to Live Below the Line, a charity that challenges people to live on a food budget of $1.50 a day for five days. Live Below the Line is run by the World Food Program and actually starts tomorrow (though you could, of course, do the challenge yourself any time).
$1.50 a day. That's not very much money at all.
In researching how on earth to pull off that kind of challenge, my attention focused on nutritionally balanced foods (or close to it) that are dirt cheap.
My meal plan for this challenge involves brown rice, dried beans, whatever greens are incredibly cheap at the store, eggs, and salt and pepper for seasoning.
At the store, for example, I can get a dozen eggs for $1.49 right now, a bag of dried mixed beans for $1.49, a bag of 14 ounces of greens for $0.77 (on sale), and a one-pound box of pasta for $1.25. I can buy a giant bag (fifteen pounds) of brown rice for $17, too – it might be cheating a bit there to count a pound of brown rice as being about $1.15, but I'll go with it since that's what people would do who were trying to stretch that food budget for more than five days. I'd count just two pounds of it.
So, if I bought one pound of brown rice for $1.15, two bags of greens for $1.54, a dozen eggs for $1.49, and a bag of dried beans for $1.49, I've spent $5.67 of my $7.50 allotment right there. Add in a second pound of brown rice and I'm at $6.82. I'd probably add enough fruit on top of that to get me to $7.50.
It is a huge challenge to eat on $1.50 a day. That food, spread over five days, results in a pretty low caloric intake, but a survivable one.
Of course, the response to this would be that eating on $1.50 a day isn't really a relevant concern in our lives. We don't have to eat on $1.50 a day, so why do it?
The big reason, of course, is that it provides a quick and stiff education on the challenges of global hunger. Many people in our world live on that small amount as their monthly food budget.
Another reason – and one I find really compelling – is that extreme challenges teach you a lot of things about yourself.
A strong personal challenge can show you angles on a situation that you've never seen before. They can make you try things you never would have considered before. Sometimes, they can lead you to a better way of doing things in your life outside of that challenge.
Another, somewhat less extreme example: my wife and I often do what I call "money-free weekends." We go through an entire weekend without spending an extra dime. We eat purely out of our pantry and whatever extras we have on hand and we find community activities to engage in. We used to make a big deal out of these weekends, but today, we just do them naturally because they're filled with stuff we like to do anyway. The lessons from "money-free weekends" just bled into our daily lives. (Want to try this and need some ideas? Here are 100 things to do during a money-free weekend.)
Take on a challenge in your life. Take on one that seems ludicrously hard and unnecessary. Throw yourself into it and go as deep as you can.
Sure, you might eventually fail, but the lessons you learn from pushing yourself in a new way and the lessons you learn from failure can bring about lasting changes in your life.
The post "Live Below the Line" and the Value of Extreme Challenges appeared first on The Simple Dollar.