technology

should you use a fitness tracking app on your phone?

If you're trying to accomplish something specific, such as losing weight, gaining strength, or running a marathon, it's important to keep track of your progress.

There are scores of smartphone apps available to help you keep track. The question is: should you use one, and which one should you use?

I love tracking data, and I love technology. But these apps are only useful if they make your life better or easier.

I've been using RunKeeper to track my running for almost 5 years now. It works for me because I like having my phone with me when I run (just in case I need it), so I don't have to do anything extra except push the start button, and RunKeeper does the rest.

I've tried using LoseIt! and My Fitness Pal as food journals, but I've found myself spending too much time trying to log my foods. Since I spend most of my working day in front of a computer, it's just faster and easier to look things up online rather than on my phone.

The key is to do what works for you. Smart phone app, computer spreadsheet, pencil and paper - it doesn't matter.

Have a plan, keep track of how you're doing against that plan, and adjust as necessary. It's that simple.

- Chris Butterworth

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Evernote with Skitch for Windows is here!

Evernote with Skitch for Windows is here!

Skitch for Windows is here - you need to download this free program-app right now. (and if you don't have Evernote, you should download that, too.)

You all know how much I love Evernote (it's the first program I open on any device I'm using.) But the lack of Skitch for Windows has been killing me. Ever since Evernote acquired Skitch back in August 2011, I've been waiting, a little envious of my Mac-using friends.

Yes, I've had Skitch integration with Evernote on my Android for a long time, and I've used it occasionally, but annotating an image on a 3.5" screen just isn't the same when you're sitting in front of dual full-sized monitors.

What is Skitch?

Here's a quick "what you should do next" tutorial I created using Evernote with Skitch and about 5 minutes...







That's it - simple as anything. You can now capture what's on your screen, and mark it up to show the important parts, quickly and easily. One more tool in your productivity toolbox.

I bet there are some uses for health and fitness, too.

-Chris Butterworth

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Samsung tv commercial takes aim at Apple

Samsung tv commercial takes aim at Apple


This is off topic, but I wanted to share..

Have you seen the new Samsung commercial? 




I LOVE this commercial.

I have 4 complaints / frustrations about Apple (below), and this commercial hits squarely on two of them:

1.) Proprietary and Restrictive - Apple keeps just about everything "in house", making it difficult or impossible to use their products and/or share (your own) data files with your non-apple machines and devices.

2.) Marketing - I've always hated the marketing tactic where a person/company touts a specific feature to get attention, as if they're the only one who has that feature, when in fact that feature is commonplace. It may work, because the public doesn't always know the whole story, but it plays on people's ignorance, which I find demeaning and annoying.
  • I see Realtors do this routinely: "I can get you a list of foreclosure properties in your area!" Yeah, so what - any Realtor in the area can get the same list.
  • Apple has amassed a huge cult following by using this principle, when in fact the overwhelming majority of their "awesome new features" have been found in other products already.
3.) Price - Apple computers are generally 2-3 times more expensive for the same amount of computing power.

4.) Apple Fan Boys - Similar to #2 above. People who have their heads so far up Apple's .. (** ahem **) that they can't see things for what they really are annoy me. Even more annoying is how loud these guys can be.

And to show I'm open minded, I have 3 praises about Apple:

1.) Customer Service. Apple wins - enough said.

2.) iPhone Camera Shutter Lag - It's the fastest phone-camera I've ever seen; it simply works great. When we're out and about, and want to take a quick picture of the kids, we use my wife's iPhone instead of my Droid Incredible. Full disclosure:
  • Getting the pictures from my wife's phone to my computer's hard drive, where I process, share, store, and backup all of our pictures, is a pain in the butt.
  • Her iPhone is 2 months old; my Droid is 2 years old. I would expect this to be an unfair comparison. We'll have to see if things change when I upgrade my phone this fall..

3.) Special Needs Apps - This may be more about the app-development community than the company itself, but it doesn't matter. My son, who has autism and is non-verbal, can do amazing things with his iPad by using apps which aren't available (and don't have a substitute) on the Android tablets.

Bottom Line

Personally, I'm not an Apple guy, and I loved seeing Samsung throw this in Apple's face.

I have a couple techie-programmer-blogger-type friends who use Apple exclusively. I have other techie-programmer-blogger-type friends who wouldn't touch Apple if you paid them to. And yet these guys all produce top quality content and can do just about anything with a computer. I don't think either one is "better" - you just have a preference or a need for one over the other. (I prefer Windows computers and Android devices.)

My household of 4 is currently home to 6 Apple products, 4 Windows computers, and 2 Android devices. (original iPod, iPod Mini, iPod shuffle, iPod touch, iPhone 4s, iPad 2; ancient desktop computer, old laptop, new laptop, netbook; Droid Incredible phone, Samsung Galaxy 5 Player)

Back to regular programming soon..

-Chris Butterworth

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About page updated

About page updated


Fitness Gazette is a little over three months old, and I can't believe how fast my About page got out-dated. I've really enjoyed writing for this site so far, and I've learned more than I could have imagined, but my path is heading in a different direction than I thought it would a few months ago..

So, I updated the About page and I'm going to keep walking along this path. I hope you'll walk along with me. And if you have any feedback, on the About page or anything else, I'd love to hear it.

-Chris Butterworth

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using Evernote as a fitness journal - part 2

using Evernote as a fitness journal - part 2


Last week I wrote about using Evernote as a fitness journal in its most simple form - a digital spiral ring notebook.

Remember Everything with Evernote

This basic format is a great way to get started, and for a lot of people it's all they'll ever need. You write down what you did for each workout, and how you felt, and you're done. Then, whenever you're in the mood for some motivation - or when you want to see a specific workout you did - you just scroll backwards through the notes. Easy peasy - no setup, planning, or forethought required. Done and done.

* Food and Fitness Journal together - you can make notes about your meals (and snacks) in the same digital journal. Now you'll have all your information in one place for easy review!

Like I said - this digital spiral ring notebook will be sufficient for a lot of people. But some of you will want more: more details, more searching and filtering capabilities, more ways to analyze and trend your data. If you're in this camp, I've got good news for you - this is where Evernote excels.

Evernote's Structure - Notes, Notebooks, Notebook Stacks, and Tags

When you start learning about Evernote, you'll see these key parts in the way Evernote is set up:

Notes - these are your individual notes where you'll jot down your information. Think of them like a sheet of paper. (an infinitely long sheet which can have text, pictures, scans, and audio on it, but a sheet of paper nonetheless.)

Notebooks - these are your file folders. In a paper world, you put all your sheets of paper (notes) about a particular topic into a file so they stay together and you can find them later. You might have files for vacation, your cell phone plan, and redecorating the house. For the purpose of your fitness journal, you only need one notebook.

Notebook Stacks - these are the drawers in your file cabinet. You might have one drawer for home stuff, one for the kids' stuff, and one for your office stuff. Inside each drawer are all the file folders about that similar topic. In Evernote, you might have notebooks for your San Diego, San Francisco, and New York vacations, which could all be grouped together into a Notebook Stack called Vacations.

Tags - tags are a unique feature which makes Evernote more powerful than a paper system. Imagine if you put a yellow sticky note on all the receipts in your various files. The cell phone receipt from Verizon gets a yellow sticky. The hotel receipt from San Diego gets a yellow sticky. And the new tile from Home Depot gets a yellow sticky. Now imagine you could somehow look at everything that has a yellow sticky, at the same time.. That's what tags let you do - any note, any notebook.  And each note can have multiple tags (yellow sticky for receipt, blue sticky for being important, and pink sticky to show you can shred it next year.)

Your Evernote fitness journal will focus heavily on tags. (at least the way I envision it - but you might be the kind of person who doesn't like others telling them what to do. :)

At the same time, you want the whole process to be fast and easy, right? After all, if it takes you 5 minutes to note that you ate an almond, it's probably not something you're going to use.

Putting it all together

Each time you do or eat something, you'll make a quick note. (you can even do this on your phone in about 5 seconds!)

food journal

Breakfast in the morning:
  • click New Note
  • type "Breakfast 8/17/12"
  • type "Raisin bran w/ skim milk and hard boiled egg - approx 300 cal"
  • add tags: Food, Breakfast, Cereal, Egg
  • click Save
  • *bonus - using your phone you could even snap a photo of your meal, which would be part of the note.


Workout later that day:
  • click New Note
  • type "Workout 8/17/12"
  • type "Fit-20 routine - 3 pull-ups, 6 push-ups, 9 sit-ups, 9 squats - 13 rounds in 18 minutes. Felt great for 5 sets, then it got hard. had to take a break before the last 2 sets.
  • add tags: Workout, CrossFit, Pull-ups, Push-ups, Sit-ups, Squats
  • click Save

And so on throughout the day.

You might have 7 or 8 notes by the end of the day. 50 notes by the end of the week. That's ok - you have an infinite amount of space in your digital journal.

The more information you have in your fitness journal, the more the power of Evernote becomes more evident.

Let's see what Evernote can do..

Imagine you're a week or two into your new routine, and you want to look for some trends..

Click on the tag for Breakfast, and immediately all your breakfast notes come up. You can scroll through and see what you've been eating in the morning - hmmm, looks like you're doing great here.

Next you click on the tag for Snacks and scroll through the 32 notes. Wait, 32 snack notes in 14 days - uh oh. Now you start to see where some of those extra calories are coming from..

From a workout perspective, you can click the tag for Pull-ups, and see all your workouts that have contained this exercise. Well look at that - you could barely do 3 on your first day, but yesterday you did 3 sets of 4.. Not bad!

Sample List of Tags

If I was starting an Evernote Food and Fitness Journal today, here are the basic tags I would start with:

Types of Meals:
  • Breakfast
  • Snacks
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
  • Dessert

Types of Food:
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Bread
  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Potatoes (I might give French Fries its own tag - is that a bad sign?)
  • Vegetables (you can add tags for specific veggies)
  • Fruit (you can add tags for specific fruits)
  • Trail Mix (you could use Nuts and Fruit instead.)
  • This is a decent list to start with; I would then add new tags for additional foods as they come up in my diet.

Types of Workouts:
  • Cross-Fit (or Fit-20)
  • KettlelBell
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Hiking
  • Versaclimber
  • Shadow Boxing

Workout Exercises:
  • Short Runs (for me, this would be running 1/4 mile or less as part of a cross-fit workout)
  • 100-Ups
  • Miles (this would be a longer run, 3-4 miles)
  • Pull-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Sit-ups
  • Burpees
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Mountain Jumpers
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • DB Swings
  • DB Renegade Rows
  • DB Thrusters
  • Inverted Rows
  • Sprints
  • Etc - add a tag for each individual exercise you do.

Obviously, you'll want to modify this list to include the food and exercises you're eating/doing.

Coming Soon

In future articles we'll talk about additional tips and tools for counting calories and spotting trends within your journal.

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Getting started and have questions? Using Evernote and want to add something? Anything else I've missed? Please let me know.

Happy journaling.

-Chris Butterworth

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using Evernote as a fitness journal - part 1


using Evernote as a fitness journal - part 1


Part 1 - the Digital Spiral Ring Notebook: the simplest, fastest way of keeping a record of your workouts, what you ate, and how you felt.



Evernote is one of those rare, cream of the crop applications that is so useful - easy to use and ultra powerful - it's become the centerpiece of my digital life, and I've written about it more than a few times along the way.

What is Evernote (the super-short version)

Evernote is a free application you can use on just about any device - computer, tablet, and phone - which acts as your second brain. Jot down quick notes, take pictures, screen clips, articles from the web, scanned files - anything you want to remember goes into a notebook, which is instantly saved and sync'd to all your other devices, making it available to you whenever and wherever you need it.

Your notes are fully searchable, and can be sorted, tagged, and organized in whatever manner suits your fancy.


Check out the Evernote website for more information.

Method 1 - the digital spiral ring notebook

Remember way back when, about 10 years ago, when you took notes in a spiral ring notebook? It was so easy back then - you carried a notebook around in your backpack or briefcase, and it took about 2 seconds to make a note. Then, when you wanted to look up something you had written down, you simply flipped through the pages until you found the right note.


Maybe you had a different notebook for each subject in school, or for each project at the office. Or maybe you used a chronological order, lumping everything into the same notebook by date, and keeping your old notebooks on a shelf in case you had to look something up from an earlier time..

Evernote can act just like your spiral ring notebooks!



One Notebook - chronological style

Using a notebook like a journal couldn't be any easier. In fact, once you sign up for your free Evernote account, you're ready to go. Click the "New Note" button and start typing.

You could create a new note for each day, and simply type in your notes from that day.
  • Raisin Bran and toast for breakfast
  • Half a grapefruit for snack
  • Salad w/ grilled chicken for lunch
  • 20 minute walk after lunch
  • 5 pretzels in afternoon
  • Fit-20 Workout after work
  • slice of pizza, 3 wings, and large salad for dinner
  • *Bonus - it's not required, but it is very easy to add pictures to notes, which means you could take a picture of each meal & post it before you ate it..

Use today's date as the title of the note, and you're done. Evernote automatically saves as you type, so you can't accidentally forget to save your work.

Many people get overwhelmed when they start thinking about keeping track of stuff.
  • I'm not a computer-type; I don't know how to build a tracking sheet.
  • Do I need a spreadsheet with lots of categories?
  • How do I know what categories I'm going to need?
  • Am I typing too much, or not enough?
  • I don't have time to make a tracking worksheet.
  • I used one before, but there wasn't enough space to write everything in.
  • etc., etc., etc.

This simple method will work wonders for the vast majority of people. It's free-form, so you can write as much, or as little, as you want. You can write in specific calories counts, or just list the foods. You can write in how many of each set you did for your workout, and you can write a quick sentence or two about how you felt.

There are 3 primary reasons for keeping a journal:
  1. Motivation - From an eating standpoint, it feels good to look at your day's work (or even the last few days) and see how well you've been eating. This gives you a positive vibe about your next weigh-in, and an added incentive to not mess up today! From a workout standpoint, you can easily see how many reps you did last time, or how fast you went, and know that today you want to beat that number. Over time you can look back and see how much stronger and faster you've gotten, and gain motivation by knowing you're doing well and heading in the right direction.
  2. Accountability & Self-Realization - Writing down everything you eat forces you to pay attention to what you're eating. Suddenly those M&Ms from Suzy's candy jar count, and you realize how often you stop to "only have a couple." Many people find the desire to have a good journal day outweighs their desire to eat a few small snacks.
  3. Correcting Errors - If you're not having the success you expected, you can go back through your journal day by day to see why. Did you get all your workouts in? Were your meals a moderate size? Did you have any extra snacks? This is where you'll see those few M&Ms and pretzels repeated throughout the day, every day, and realize you've been eating 300 calories per day that you weren't counting against yourself. Boom - problem found, now you can fix it!
All 3 of these are addressed with a simple, spiral ring style notebook in Evernote.

Pull the Details Later

You can always go back later and pull details out of your notebook. Maybe you want to see a graph of your weight, or see a chart showing your calorie count by day, or how many times per week you've worked out. That's easy - all the data is in your notebook. Once you know what you want to see, you can take a few minutes to scroll through it and input the data you're looking for into a spreadsheet, then make that amazing chart with a downward-sloping weight line!

But at the beginning, on day one, you probably don't know what information you're going to want to chart..

For a quick, easy, available-everywhere journal that's more than enough to get you started on your road to health and fitness, Evernote is hard to beat.

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Have a specific question or need help getting set up? Leave a comment and I'll be happy to help!

Have a suggestion for anyone new to Evernote? I'd love to hear it!

(ps - I have no affiliation with Evernote, paid or otherwise - it's just such a good product that I'd recommend it profusely and without hesitation!)

-Chris Butterworth

update - please also see "Using Evernote as a Fitness Journal, part 2"

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Fit-20 RSS feed glitch

Fit-20 RSS feed glitch


hint - "glitch" is just a fancy way of saying I goofed up.

I just wanted to send out a quick note with my apologies for the glitch on the rss feed for the Fit-20 workouts to be sent to you via email. I released this series of workouts back on May 25th (introduction post here), with new workouts beginning on May 30th.

During that last week in May I built out the rss feed, set up the auto-email function, and tested that it was working properly. Then I simply forgot to checkmark the "on" box. My bad, no excuses..

For those of you who have signed up and wondered when you would start receiving the emails - you have my sincere apology, and my promise that you'll be receiving Fit-20 workouts in your inbox soon, very soon.

In the meantime, here is a link to all the Fit-20 workouts I've published so far.


-Chris Butterworth

Evernote - goldilocks uses notebooks AND tags!

Evernote - goldilocks uses notebooks AND tags!


Do you get confused in Evernote about whether to use notebooks or tags? I've found using both notebooks *and* tags gives me the best of both worlds. Here's why:

Background

I signed up for Evernote in the fall of 2009, and began using it heavily in 2010.  I currently have about 3,600 notes in my Evernote account, spread across various areas of my life: day job, hobbies, blogging, family files (cars, medical, insurance, etc.), kids' stuff, and more. And I've gone through a few iterations of how to organize my notes/thoughts over the years.

Notebooks

I started out using Evernote as if it's a digital version of a paper filing system, where each note can be filed into one, and only one, place. This works great, until it doesn't.

Notebooks
Benefits Drawbacks
Mirrors paper filing system; each note has a place Can only nest one level deep
Easy to move notes from one notebook to another Must be consistent in where to file different "types" of notes (ie: does auto insurance get filed under auto, or insurance?)
Can group notebooks from similar subjects together into "notebook stacks" No keyboard shortcut to move/select notebooks. (not yet, at least.)
Selecting a notebook stack shows all notes in all notebooks within that stack
For those old enough to have worked with paper files, notebooks feel more natural

Once I wanted my notebook filing tree to resemble a file-tree in Windows, I was sunk; notebooks just don't offer this level of nesting. So I began moving everything "into" tags. Another problem was being consistent in filing - did a hotel receipt go under vacations, or receipts? How about my auto insurance policy - insurance, or auto?

Tags

Next I created one big notebook to store all my notes, and I replicated my notebook structure with tags. Then I started modifying and adding new tags. Tags allowed me to nest my filing system several levels deep. They also allowed me to add multiple tags to each note, which is the mind-blowing equivalent of storing a single piece of paper in multiple folders at the same time!

For example, I could have a high-level tag for Household, then a sub tag for Insurance, then more sub tags below that for Auto Insurance, Life Insurance, Health Insurance, etc.

Another example, I could scan a receipt from an oil change on my wife's car, and I could label (tag) that note with Auto, Accord, Cheryl, and Receipt. I would then be able to find that note by perusing any of those 4 tags.

This was like seeing the light for the very first time, and I began multi-tagging most of my notes.

Tags
Benefits Drawbacks
Can use multiple tags for each note, effectively "filing" a single note in multiple locations Tags don't always appear in nested, file-tree order. In some places they are alphabetized
Able to nest tags several levels deep Tendency to over-tag, both on a per-note basis, and by using tags at a very granular level
Keyboard shortcut (Ctrl + Alt + t) allows selection of single or multiple tags without leaving the keyboard Cumbersome to "move" from one tag to another - lots of keystrokes involved to add one and remove the other
Selecting a parent tag does *not* show all notes from all of the children tags

9 months and 1,200 notes later, and I started having panic attacks about my notes - too many tags in too many places with too many choices. Ick. Information overload! I longed for the simplicity of notebooks. I also realized I was spending more time thinking about what tags to assign a note, and where I should look to find a note, than I used to do when I used notebooks. I decided tags were making my use of Evernote less efficient.

Notebooks AND Tags working together

I have since moved back to using notebooks as my primary filing tool. I use notebook stacks to group notebooks around their various themes, and I spend a second or two thinking about where to file each note.

I have an Inbox Notebook which is where everything is captured, without thought. Then, each day or two, I review & file my inbox items.

I also use several higher-level tags. I have a tag for each member of my family, for example. This allows me to use broader notebooks, and combine them with tags. For instance, I used to have notebooks for Medical-Collin, Medical-Jason, Medical-Cheryl, Medical-Chris, etc. Now I have a notebook called Medical, and all medical-related notes are dumped into it. I also have similar notebooks for School, and for Auto. I can then tag those notes with Collin, Jason, Receipt, or Accord.

This combined system has left me with fewer overall choices, and I feel like I'm processing my information faster and easier - both for storage and retrieval. My guess is this is what Evernote's developers had in mind all along... It's like they wrote the program specifically for Goldilocks!

How do you use notebooks and tags in your evernote?

-Chris Butterworth

5 keyboard shortcuts to make Windows easier


Have you ever watched someone work with a program where you know how to do it better/faster/easier? It's maddening! These 5 shortcuts are easy to use and are available throughout the Windows environment - Word, Excel, Internet, Evernote, and so on.

1. Copy (Ctrl + c)

Whether you're trying to copy a letter, word, block of text, photo, or file, reaching for your mouse and searching around for menu options is so tedious. Once you select the text, just hit the Ctrl key and the "c" key, and Bam - your text (or image, or file) is copied to the clipboard.

2. Paste (Ctrl + v)

The copy shortcut is great, but you get to finish off the 1-2 combination by quickly and easily pasting whatever it is you just copied.

3. Select All (Ctrl + a)

Selecting long blocks of text may be one of the most frustrating events you do during the course of the day - you're holding down the button and dragging the mouse, wondering if you started in the right place, or if you you're going to be able to stop at the end. Don't do that anymore! Just place the cursor anywhere in the block of text, then hit Ctrl and "a". (probably immediately  followed by Ctrl + c, right?)

4. Find (Ctrl + f)

Being able to quickly find a word in a document is very helpful. It's even better when you trying to find something specific buried within a long web page or PDF file. Press Ctrl and the "f" key, and you'll see a pop-up box asking what it is you're trying to find.

5. My Computer (Windows Explorer) (Win + e)

From anywhere within Windows, press the Windows key and ā€œeā€ to open up a new instance of My Computer - ideal when you're trying to find a particular file, or when you need to copy a file from one location to another. (using ctrl +c and ctrl + v, of course!)

Conclusion

These are the most common things that drive me crazy when I'm watching somebody else work inefficiently within Windows. i bet you'll feel the same way too, once you get used to these..

Fluency + 1 - I wrote about fluency not too long ago. It's easier to add one new thing to your current workflow than it is to try to remember 5 things you should be doing. I'd recommend picking one of these 5, and start using it today, like Now! Then, as it becomes 2nd nature, come back to the list and try adding another one.

What are some other good shortcuts out there? Do you have a favorite I didn't mention? Let me know..

-Chris Butterworth

G Drive is here

There's been talk about Google Drive for years. And now it's here.

New technology falls into one of two camps - it's either cool, with a great wow factor, or it's useful & functional, with not just the ability to make you more efficient, but it actually *makes* you more efficient.

G Drive has a lot of the former, and for many people will have the latter as well. Here's how it works:
  • Sign into your Google account and visit the google docs site. (http://docs.google.com) Google will ask you to try the new Google Drive. If all you're doing is using your online spreadsheets and documents, you won't notice a difference. But if you want to share your other files with other computers, in real time, read on.
  • You'll see a button on the google drive screen asking you to download google drive to your local computer. You'll need this if you want to share, have available, or backup your local files.
  • When you download google drive, google will install a Google Drive folder in your My Documents folder. This folder acts like any other folder. You can move files of any type into it, and you can create sub folders within it. This is where it gets magical.
  • Anything you put into the Google Drive folder gets immediately sync'd to your online Google Drive, and then to any other computer you have (currently running) with the Google Drive downloaded on it.
  • Move an excel file into your G Drive folder at work, and it shows up on your home computer within seconds. Make changes to the file & re-save it, and the updates show up immediately at home. (and on your tablet and on your phone!)
  • Fast. Easy. Free.

Where it's awesome
  • Sharing files between computers: home & office, his & hers, desktop & laptop.
  • Sharing large files with others: move that 200mb video into your G Drive, then go online and share it with whomever you want to see & download it.
  • Backing up critical data: move your critical files into your G Drive. If your computer dies tomorrow, you get a new computer, download G Drive, and your critical files will be sitting right there waiting for you.
  • Far easier than Microsoft Live Mesh ever was.
  • Similar to Dropbox, but with more storage space and easier integration, especially if you're already using google docs.
  • Syncs across devices as well as Evernote, but without a filesize limitation.
  • Fast. Easy. Free. (so true, I had to repeat it.)

Where it falls short
  • Backing up full data sets. I dream of the day when I don't have to think about, or pay large dollars for, backing up my 250gb of data. 15 years of historical data, family photos and video, and music, that I don't want to lose. I'm fanatical about backing it all up, but I'd love to just have it sitting in my G Drive and knowing it's in several other locations, instantly and without any other programs.
  • Extra space is cheap, but not cheap. As of today, 25gb costs $2.49 per month, and 100gb costs $4.99 per month.  That's $60/yr for less than half the space I need..
Give the new G Drive a try & let me know what you think.

-Chris Butterworth

DeskSMS - saving seconds adds up to saving minutes (and eventually hours!)

** updated 5/14/12. After 2 weeks of evaluation, it was time to either pay up or get out. And I'm sad to say, but I got out. Another tech which has functional potential, and which some people might find useful, but I simply could not get enough use out of it to justify paying for it. In fact, after the first few days I was back to texting from my cell phone as my primary choice/response. Too bad, this seemed to have had potential... -Chris

Most days I'll have a handful of texting conversations during the course of the day. It's not a lot, but each text is very disruptive to my workflow.

Look over at my phone.  Pick up my phone.  Hit the "on" button and swipe to the home screen.  Drag the notification bar to read the text. Press to answer the text. Slowly type out my response. Hopefully find and replace all the errors caused by auto correct. I'm probably out about a minute by the time I've responded - longer if I had to type a long response. Add all those minutes up throughout the day and I probably lose more than 10 minutes a day to texting. (I can only imaging how much time is involved for those of you who text more frequently!)

Now imagine if I could get notified of, read, and respond to my texts without leaving my office computer.  I would save about 75% of that time, which translates directly to the productivity bottom line.

Enter DeskSMS. (hat tip 40Tech).

I read about this yesterday and downloaded it today, and so far it has worked flawlessly.  I don't think it works for MMS. (at least I haven't figured out how to send a picture yet.)  And it's only free for two weeks. (after which it costs about $5 per year.)

So far I'm calling it a win.  The real test will be whether I find it enough of a productivity enhancement to pay for the service.  I'll give you an update in 2 weeks...

-Chris Butterworth

fun way to track your progress

We all know you're supposed to track your progress towards your goals, and there are dozens of methods for doing so.  Today I stumbled across one that was a little different than the others - an easy way to plot your distance on a map to see how far you've run, biked or swum!

Here's mine so far this year.  (measurements as of today; click either picture to enlarge.)

Key:
Running - the radius of the green circle, centered at my house.
Biking - the radius of the red circle, centered at my house.
Swimming - the radius of the white circle, centered at the end of the Huntington Beach Pier in Southern California.


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For me personally, this is a big motivator.   Whenever I can see my progress, I want to go a little further each time, knowing the circles will grow!  I wonder if I'll be able to swim all the way to Catalina Island by the end of the year, or if I'll run far enough to leave the State?

These circles are super easy to create over at a website called FreeMapTools.com.  The only downside is I can't find a way to make them dynamic, where the circles get bigger automatically as I enter my new workout results.  Maybe somebody out there will build a tool that does that.. Are you listening, RunKeeper?  In the meantime, I'll just update this once in awhile to see how far I've gone.

ps - My RunKeeper results are public, so you're always welcome to see what I've been doing lately.  Or better yet, join my street team.  (not sure what to do with a street team yet, but I'm sure there's something for it...)

-Chris Butterworth

Evernote power-user tip - 8 useful keyboard shortcuts


The faster you can make Evernote work, and the more it works just the way you want it to, the more valuable it becomes.  Enter keyboard shortcuts - key combinations you can use so you don't have to slow down and reach for a mouse.  Here are the 8 shortcuts I've been using most often:

1. tag list (ctrl + alt + t) - when inside a note, or when selecting a note (or multiple notes) from the notelist, this brings up a full list of tags.  You can quickly add & remove tags from these notes.

2. bullet points (ctrl + shift + b) - probably half of my notes have bullet points.  They help me organize my thoughts, and the tab / shift-tab work very well for indentation and un-indentation (I've found some of evernote's formatting to be a bit quirky.)  It's a quick & easy way to group various thoughts and sub-thoughts together.

3. list view (ctrl + F5) - brings up your notes in list view, with the note preview pane at the bottom of the screen.  Perfect for perusing a longer list of notes and/or sorting by a specific column.

4. snippet view (ctrl + F6) - brings up your notes in snippet view, with the note preview pane on the right of the screen.  Perfect for perusing a shorter list of notes.  I also like the preview pane in this view better for drafting & editing notes.

5. hide / unhide preview pane (ctrl + F11) - especially useful with the list view, this removes the preview pane altogether and gives you a full screen of your listed notes.  Pressing it again toggles the preview pane back into view.

6. view notes from a specific tag (ctrl + shift + t) - from the notes list, this will bring up a drop-down list of all tags.  Typing the first couple letters of the tag you want will quickly bring up that tag.  Hit enter, and your screen displays only the notes within that tag.

7. print screen / screen clip (windows + prtscrn) - allows you to use the mouse to grab any part of the screen, and create a new note conatining that exact image as an image file.  You can click to open, right click to save as, copy, etc.

8. copy screen clip (windows + prtscrn, then ctrl with mouse) - same as screen clipping above, except if you hold down the ctrl key while you clip, the screen clip will be copied to the clipboard, where it can be pasted anywhere - email (and then a blog post!), a different note, word / excel, paint, etc.

I find that with keyboard shortcuts, like a lot of other things in life, it's difficult to digest them all at once and completely change how you're using evernote.  It's probably better to work on using one or two of them until you become fluent with them, then add another.  lather, rinse, repeat, until eventually your hands don't leave the keyboard anymore!

-Chris Butterworth

mailing it in - blogging by email

Faster & easier.  I'm always on the lookout for ways to do things faster &/or easier.  It looks like blogger offers an option to email a blog post to my blog.  If that's true, I'll have one more option for publishing a blog post, especially from the field.

As it stands now I compose most of my posts in Evernote, whether on my mobile phone or my computer.  Then, when I get to my computer, I log into blogger, copy & paste my post, and publish.  But, sometimes the formatting needs a little massaging.  And other times it's several hours before I'm at a computer.  Heck, I might even wait until the next day rather than exerting myself with those 4-5 mouseclicks if it's late at night!

So, blogging via email could be useful, since I have access to email from almost anywhere / anytime.

The real question is, how will blogger handle this email?  Only one way to find out.

Below is a bullet list with some of my questions:

  • My default email font is trebuchet, navy blue.  Does blogger strip that & use my blog's default, or will this font render?
  • What will this bullet point list look like?
  • How about other changes to the font, such as bold, underline, italics, or a different color (red)?
  • And spacing - I'm double-spacing between paragraphs in this email; will blogger recognize that?
My next concern is regarding pictures - will blogger understand & include photos?  I'm going to insert one photo into this email, directly below this sentence.  It's a picture of me with my 2 kids, just before running the Turkey Trot a couple months ago.



photo above ^

ps - the photo is 1024 px wide - will blogger resize it to fit w/in the blog's column?

And finally, I'm going to attach a photo to the email.  It's a picture of the choppy water at Lake Pleasant before a particularly cold triathlon last spring.  Where will blogger insert that image, if it inserts it at all?

The bottom line is that faster & easier is a good thing, but it has to be functional as well.  If this email-post looks ok, then I'll have one more arrow in my productivity quiver...

-Chris Butterworth

This one thing can make or break your day

I've written about single tasking and single mindedness before - if you know what you're going to accomplish before you start, it's much easier to eliminate the pull of all those distractions. If you're just wandering through the motions, you might as well not even try...

from Seth Godin:
Let me guess: check the incoming. Check email or traffic stats or messages from your boss. Check the tweets you follow or the FB status of friends. 
You've just surrendered not only a block of time but your freshest, best chance to start something new. 
If you're a tech company or a marketer, your goal is to be the first thing people do when they start their day. If you're an artist, a leader or someone seeking to make a difference, the first thing you do should be to lay tracks to accomplish your goals, not to hear how others have reacted/responded/insisted to what happened yesterday.
I couldn't agree more.

-Chris Butterworth