SLT 023: Simplicity “Traps” & There’s an App for That!
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Simplicity “Traps” and There’s an App for That!

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Vanessa Topic: There’s an App for That!

I often get asked about how I stay so organized…a natural question I suppose since I am a professional organizer and all.  Well one of the things that keeps me organized is using technology via my iPhone and iPad.

As a matter of fact, I affectionately call my iPhone my “Mini Command Center.”  It’s got everything I need (or think I need) right at my fingertips.  Like Dan has discussed in the past, our iPhones have replaced so many other physical gadgets...a camera, a vehicle GPS system, a Garmin wrist watch, an iPod/MP3 player, and a calculator just to name a few things.

I thought I would discuss some of my favorite apps.  My main purpose it to get you to think about apps that may help you too. You may not pick the ones I discuss and use, but hopefully when you’re wondering if there’s a better way to track or do something you’ll say, ”Well, I bet there’s an app for that” and then go I searching for one.  

Let me first talk about apps that Dan and I both use. Now, he’s already mentioned them back in Episode 21 when he talked about Menu Bar apps on his desktop but I figured I would share with you how I use them on my iphone and ipad.

  • 1 Password:  This is a password management program that does more than store all of your passwords.  You can also store other important information like ID card numbers, membership numbers and credit cards.  It’s also very helpful when you need access to a variety of other important information…like a family member’s social security number, a student id number, bank account and routing information, business EINs, etc.  We even have our bike locks combinations in there!

  • Evernote App:  Yes…I am a fan too.  Maybe not as big of a fan as Dan being that he’s done two back to back Episodes on Evernote in Episode 17 and Episode 18.  On my phone, I use evernote to capture pictures, notes, emails, etc. It’s especially handy at meeting and conferences.  Speaking of conferences…I save all pertinent information (notes) regarding my conferences in a notebook where I can quickly reference it….like flight information, emails, itineraries, conference programs, e-handouts, slide presentations, contacts, etc.

  • Dropbox App:  I’ve been using this one more and more.  Especially since Dan downloads our episode recordings for us to listen to before posting on iTunes. We share our dropbox account and so we also store things like our eBooks, etc.

  • Google App:  I pretty much do everything in Google….GMail, Google Plus, Google Calendar, YouTube, Google Drive, Picasa, and Google Reader (although that’s going away  I’m a huge fan of one-stop shopping and so this app allows me to access all of those programs instead of cluttering up my iPhone screens with separate apps for each of them.

Other apps that I use and love:

  • Biz Expense Tracker: Actually I used to love this one but have been having issues lately. It tracks my mileage, expenses, and time.  Although I was totally in love with this app…we’ve been having issues with syncing and sharing. So…we’re still using it but we’re keeping all of our receipts until we figure out a better app or get better confidence in it.

  • Pandora: Music app where you pick a favorite song or artists and they build channels with similar music around it.  I use it when workout…we also listen to it in the office. Only bummer is the commercials but honestly…they’re so short that I don’t find them a nuisance at all. I’m sure there are other music apps out there but I picked this one and have been happy with it.

  • Nike + Running app:  Running app that tracks all of your runs by distance and time.  It even calculates your fastest and longest runs and keeps a running tally of the total miles you’ve run.  You can set speed or distant alerts and also share your runs on Facebook.  I love that it replaced my big bulky Garmin GPS watch.

  • Google Maps and Mapquest:  Both of these are great map apps but I’m using Google Maps more lately since they’ve made great improvements like voice navigation and syncing with my contacts which is totally sweet because I don’t have to waste time typing in an address.  It also keeps track of previous destinations.

  • Square Credit Card App:   I love this app for my business.  It comes with this little 1 by 1 inch square that plugs into the headphone jack on your mobile device and where you swipe client credit cards. Clients or customers can swipe their card, sign with their finger on the touchscreen and then Square will send you and the client a receipt.  Easy peasy.  There is a nominal fee per transaction (2.75%) but there are no monthly fees. S

  • Grocery Gadget: This is a grocery app that allows you to build several grocery and shopping lists. What’s nice about this is that you can email single lists with others or create a group lists where everyone in the group has instant access and can edit. You can build your lists and take pictures of specific items plus it will do a running tally of your costs, calculate tax and even divide your list into categories or aisles.

  • Dragon Dictation:  With this app you can speak into your mobile device mic and whatever you said will be dictated into a message that you can then edit and either email, text, copy or send to FB or Twitter.

  • Bank Apps:  I’ve got apps for both my personal and business banks. I love that I can check my account status and more importantly….deposit checks or transfer money from home….or wherever the heck I am!!!!

  • Trip It: This is a travel app that works with several travel and booking agencies to gather all of your itineraries (and even those of others who share theirs with you) in one spot and lists them chronologically for you. I like that this app keeps track of multiple trips and will even send you reminders about upcoming trips.

  • Essential Travel Checklist: This is an app that lets you build checklists for different types of travel…I’ve built separate checklists to remind what to pack in my toiletry bag, carry on bag and kids’ overnight bags and for other things like camping, flying, road trips,conferences, meetings, etc.

  • Food Substitutions (by Gormaya) and Epicurious for delicious meal ideas:  Food substitutes is great when you don’t have the right ingredient and don’t feel like going to the store to get it. Epicurious is great for finding delicious meals.

  • Measures Lite (Neuwert Media): converts measurements like volume, mass,length, temperature, speed, time, power, energy, fuel consumption, time, angles, torque, force, acceleration, pressure, area…I mean…who needs to think or use their brains anymore?!!!!

  • Handy Level (iHandy): It converts your phone into a level.  This has actually come in handy…go figure…at home and with my clients.


Dan’s Topic: Simplicity “Traps”

Well if you’re listening to the show then no doubt you’re interested in simplifying your life a bit. I’m a bit biased, but in my personal opinion, simplifying your life is the one thing you can really do that will have a complete positive ripple effect throughout your entire life.

A life of simplicity gives you the margin you need to focus on areas of your life that are in line with your life plan. For instance, and I’ll just hit this very broadly here, excuses we have for not taking action on things often fall back to excuses such as “I don’t have time” or “I don’t have money” or “I don’t have room” or “I don’t know how”, etc. Sometimes the excuses take an even more insidious form…”if I had this”, “if I won the lottery”, “if someone gave me this or did that…”.

Well as you simplify your life, the foundation of those excuses begins to erode. Eventually, those excuses become absolutely baseless.  And throughout the initial phases of simplifying your life, you’re susceptible to traps. Kinda like Indiana Jones on all his adventures.

Today I want to talk about some traps that you might encounter as you search for the holy grail of simplicity. And for today’s show I’m going to just focus on two very common traps that have probably snared every single one of us at some point, but for some reason we keep stepping into them.

Ok, so here’s the first one…and it has two parts. If possible, avoid “unitaskers.

If you haven’t heard that term before, unitaskers are those gadgets that only do one single task or function.

Erin Doland on her blog Unclutterer even has “Unitasker Wednesday” where she features some crazy unitaskers that companies sell and worse yet, people actually buy!  A great example is the iPotty I saw at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas in January…I talked about that back in Episode 11 ( This is a little potty chair trainer where the kid can play on the iPad while they’re trying to go to the bathroom. I almost died when I read the very first review on the screen. Here’s the link: iPotty review

Now, no doubt this wasn’t a serious review…but it goes to show you that since some people will buy anything, companies will make anything. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

If you happen to be a foodie, you’ve probably seen TONS of these! We’re inundated with kitchen unitaskers and entire so-called high-end stores are shrines to cooking unitaskers. You have an endless supply of things such as apple corers, strawberry stem pullers, salad shooters, tomato slicers, the stainless steel avocado pit removers.

That’s not to say that all unitaskers are bad or you need to eliminate all unitaskers to simplify your life. There are some things that need a specialized tool, and if you use it all the time, then by all means you should keep them. For instance, our Breville Juicer does one thing only and one thing well…quickly makes fresh juice from vegetables and fruits.  I’m sure you have examples of unitaskers that work great for you and really do simplify things.

In line with unitaskers I’d like to talk about Apps, too:

While apps don’t take up any “physical space”, single purpose apps that don’t play well or integrate with other apps can add complexity to your workflows. That’s one reason I like this program called Evernote and other programs like it so much. They play well with each other. You can get your info into them and out. They’re mutually supportive.

So, just like other unitaskers, you may have a few stand alone apps that are just the absolute best tools to do the job. But in most instances, try to look for apps that integrate well with more than one dimension of your workflow and you’ll be able to streamline your digital space just like you simplify your physical space.

The next thing I want to address is what I call the “productivity paradox.

Now, I know this is going to sound a bit heretical to some of you, especially coming from me, but I often caution people about getting wrapped up in “productivity” programs. I’ve found that much of the time, people get so involved in setting up and managing their productivity system that they don’t actually get anything done! Yes, their to dos, and tasks may well be organized, but in my experience programs like Getting Things Done, or GTD as most refer to it as, can become attention sucks that keep you from actually getting things done! Many of these “systems” lead you to being really good at juggling a bunch of things that you shouldn’t have taken on to begin with or should eliminate from your life.

So my first suggestion would be to focus on eliminating things that aren’t important to effectively executing your Life Plan. A good place to start is Vanessa’s Power of Saying No segment back in Episode 9. So, taking a hard look at what things are really important will save you a lot of time trying to juggle all your tasks in a system to try to fit them all in. It’s a lot like organizing…the key to simplicity is editing first and organizing the important things that are left. Same goes for your time and productivity efforts.

To truly simplify, do you really want to:

– “Do more in less time”? What are you going to do with the time you supposedly “saved”

– Are you going to do more busywork or tasks that aren’t related to your life plan?

Some “systems” such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done can be keep you busier organizing to dos than actually getting things done! Interestingly enough, GTD focuses on doing tasks now versus doing things that are in line with your life plan. I much prefer the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey since it is end-state focused rather than David Allan’s “now focused” system. I also like Leo Babauta’s Zen to Done system.

So the bottom line on this is that, like anything, there are traps along the way. And just because you side-stepped the quicksand once doesn’t mean you’re not going to encounter it again. That’s why there were so many sequels to the Indiana Jones movies…because life, and simplicity, are a series of adventures. You may have avoided the bottomless pit at the Temple of the Craft Room, but just around the corner is the home office with the piles of files. And while you should avoid multitasking activities as much as possible, seek out multitasking tools.

Thing Segment

  • Vanessa’s Thing: Siclovia and Being Able to Park Her Car In Our Garage
  • Dan’s Thing: My 4 Year and 20 Minute OODA Loop


Getting Things Done

7 Habits Of Highly Effective People

Zen To Done

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