Using Ringtones for Efficiency

There’s something about a ringing phone that makes it the most compelling item in the room.

When I was growing up, a ringing phone meant that someone you knew was trying to get in touch with you, so you answered it. Nowadays, however, the caller is most likely someone trying to sell you something. I’ve gotten into the habit of not answering my phone unless I know who it is.

When I am out of the house and working with a client, I don’t even want to look at my cell phone to see who is calling. So I had the idea of using ringtones to signal me that a call might be important.

A few years ago, when my father was still alive and I was his primary caretaker, I wanted to be sure to answer a call from him or one of his doctors or his assisted living facility. So I downloaded some songs and turned them into ringtones.

If my father or the assisted living facility called, my phone would play “Oh, My Papa”. If one of the doctors called, it would play Harry Nilsson’s “Lime in the Coconut” (the line that says, “Doctor, is there nothing I can take?”) And if my sister called (usually to discuss my father), it would play “Sisters” from “White Christmas”. I also added some songs to signal calls from my husband, my daughter, and my dog’s veterinarian.

This worked pretty well to alert me of important calls during the last months of my father’s life. It allowed me to pay less attention to my phone and more attention to my clients or other important things I might be doing.

Some months after my father passed away, I got a new iPhone and lost all my ringtones. Recently, I decided to reinstate some of them. It’s actually a tedious process and has many steps. I can’t believe there isn’t a more efficient way to do it. If you’re interested, you can find instructions on-line by googling “turning songs into ringtones”.

Personalizing your phone does have it’s hazards, however. A couple of weeks ago, my dog got sick and I took him to the vet. The next day, I left home to attend the annual conference of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). I was in the front row of one of the sessions when I became vaguely aware of music playing. As it got louder, I recognized it as “Who Let the Dogs Out?” I wondered if someone was passing the room with music playing. Suddenly I realized that it was my phone, and that it was the vet calling with the results of my dog’s tests! I quickly grabbed the phone and shut off the volume. The presenter did not break stride, so I’m hoping that she (and the other attendees) did not notice. But was my face red!

In Praise of On-line Shopping

I’ve always enjoyed catalog shopping. It was fun shopping from the comfort of my own home. My husband used to tease me about spending so much time waiting on the post office line to return packages. I told him it was better than standing on a fitting room line.

When catalogs moved to the internet and the postal service starting picking up return packages, shopping from home became even more alluring. I don’t have to wait on line at the post office anymore to send back items that didn’t work out, and I no longer have to wait for the new catalog to arrive. Merchandise is available to browse all the time.

My NYC apartment building is surrounded by stores. The supermarket is just around the corner, with a Duane Reade drug store right next door. And just across the street is another drug store, CVS. Within a few blocks, I have Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Petco, Whole Foods, and many others.

When I first moved into this apartment 15 years ago, I did most of my shopping in my local stores. It is one of the things I loved about this neighborhood. Over time, however, I found shopping in stores increasingly frustrating. When I visit a store to buy a specific item, they often are out of it, or even worse have stopped carrying it. I started to find a larger selection of items when I shopped on-line. If I’m looking for a particular brand, there is a good chance I will find it somewhere on-line, even if I can no longer find it in the neighborhood.

I now view on-line shopping as a better use of my time than shopping in the neighborhood. Rather than making the time to swing by one of my local stores only to walk away empty-handed, I can get on-line as soon as I realize that I need something, even if it’s the middle of the night. I subscribe to Amazon Prime, which for a small fee each year ($99 plus tax), waives my shipping charges on most items and gives me next-day or two-day shipping. I am amazed at the vast reservoir of items available through Amazon. I can bring up past orders and order exactly the same thing I did as last time, which saves me the time of figuring out what it is that I need. And if Amazon is out of something, I can usually find it on another site.

Unlike buying things in person, however, ordering something new from a photo can be tricky. You don’t know until it gets here whether it is what you really wanted. It might be bigger or smaller than you expected, or the wrong color, or have different features than the description. Many of my clients get discouraged and put off making decisions about what they’ve ordered. Most retail web sites have liberal return policies, but you must remember to take advantage of them. Shopping on-line should make you more efficient, not create clutter.

In Praise of Routines

The word “routine” is often used in a derogatory way to describe repetitive activities that do not delight or inspire. But I’m a big fan of establishing routines. They enable us to free up our brains to concentrate on other things.

After I finished graduate school, I moved into my first apartment and started a full-time job. During the first few months, I sometimes stopped myself on the way to the subway and went back home to make sure I had locked the door because I could not remember doing it. However, when I went back to check, it was always locked. Locking my front door was so routine that I did it unconsciously. I finally felt confident enough of this fact that I stopped going back to check.

I have many routines that I do every day, especially first thing in the morning when I’m not at my peak alertness. I find that if I do my routine out of order, it messes me up. For instance, after my shower, I put on deodorant, then moisturizer, then powder. If I vary the routine by putting on moisturizer first, I end up doing it twice, because after the deodorant, I automatically put on moisturizer. It takes too much concentration for me to break the routine.

Establishing a routine will free up your mind to concentrate on other things. I’ve seen figures that estimate that we have 50,000 – 70,000 thoughts per day. Even if that’s off by a huge number, it’s still a lot of thoughts! Routines allow us to focus on the thoughts that really need our attention. For example, if you’ve have a morning routine, you can focus your mind on how you are going to tackle a complex situation later in the day.

How can you establish a routine to help you save time and energy? Pick a process that you do nearly every day but that is taking you longer than you want it to. If you have trouble getting out of the house in the morning, getting started on your work, or getting to bed at night, these are good processes to turn into a routine. Figure out what needs to get done, in what order, and how long it will take. Write it down and follow the script for as long as it takes you to get the hang of it. At some point, you won’t need to consult the list anymore. You won’t have to stop and think what the next step is. You’ll become an efficient machine!

What parts of your day could benefit from being turned into routines?

The Power of Unitasking

A few weeks ago, I attended the monthly meeting of the New York chapter of NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers). Our speaker that night was Christine Li, Ph.D., who bills herself as the Procrastination Coach. Her talk was very wittily entitled, “I’ll Procrastinate Later: Getting from Self-Talk to Self-Start”. She shared information that we can use with our clients, and I enjoyed her presentation. I’m guessing that we are not her typical audience, however. She was definitely preaching to the choir.

Nevertheless, her discussion about time management got me thinking about a way in which I can be more effective.

I’ve gotten used to things happening quickly on my computer. If something takes more than 10 seconds to open, it feels like forever. I will start looking for something to do while I’m waiting. For example, I may go back to my e-mail program to see if I can read and eliminate another e-mail. By the time I am done, I may have forgotten about the other task I had started to do. Or I’ll get back to the program I was opening –my browser, or one of my desktop apps — and I can’t remember why I opened it!

During Dr. Li’s presentation, I made the commitment to do one thing at a time. If I’m opening a program and it takes a little while, I stay with it. I take deep breaths until it’s ready for me to do what I opened it to do. Focusing on one thing at a time allow me to use my time more effectively. And deep breathing is good for you!

What one small change can you make to be more effective?

Getting There From Here

Like many residents of New York City, I don’t own a car. If I want to get somewhere, I can walk, use public transportation, or take a taxi (in ascending order of cost). Depending on the time of day and the distance, any one of those can be faster than the other two.

NYC taxis became more convenient in recent years when they installed credit card machines. This made it much easier to pay without having to fumble for cash, and much more convenient to keep track of business expenses.

A few years ago, a client introduced me to Uber, and it was a game-changer for me. Uber’s web site describes them thus: “For riders, Uber is a convenient, inexpensive and safe taxi service. You can hire a private driver to pick you up and take you to your destination with the tap of a button on your phone – and they’ll be there in minutes. Not only is it an on-demand car service, but you can see exactly where the driver is when they’re coming to pick you up.” Uber is available in many cities in the U.S. and around the world.

One of the things I love about Uber is not having to deal with payment. My account has my credit card information in it, so when I get to my destination, I just exit the car and go on my way. My daughter goes to college in Washington, D.C. and she told me about a cool feature called “Fare Split”. If you are sharing an Uber with friends, you can easily split the final fare with them if they have Uber accounts.

Earlier this year, a colleague introduced me to an app called Way2Ride that makes paying for a taxi almost as convenient as Uber. After hailing a cab, you check the taxi TV screen for a 7-digit code. Enter the code into the app, and voilà! When you exit the cab at the end of the ride, payment happens automatically. The taxi receipt is e-mailed to you, which makes it great for tracking business expenses. I think the Way2Ride app can also be used to hail a cab – making it even more similar to Uber – but I have not yet tried that.

Another colleague recently introduced me to a ride-sharing application called Via. Another game-changer for me! Like Uber, you can summon a Via from your smartphone, but the big difference is the cost: $5 plus tax on weekdays, $5.95 plus tax on evenings and weekends. (My daughter tells me that Via is even cheaper in D.C.) You’ll be directed to a nearby corner for pickup, and you’ll be dropped within a block of your destination. Because it’s a ride-sharing service, you may find someone in the car, and the driver may stop to pick up or drop off others. Several times I’ve been the only rider in the car, and other times I’ve had some really interesting conversations with my fellow passengers!

It’s great to have all of these options available when I need to get around the city. You can download Uber, Way2Ride, and Via from the App Store. If you want to get some free rides (and give me some free rides, too), use these promotion codes: iu3hn for Uber, or sharon7a5 for Via.