Automate the Boring Part of Life

Why Automate?

Because boring tasks should be automated, duh!

No matter which browser you use (Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer), everyone should learn how to use iMacros by iOpus, an automation tool to optimize the repetitive things you do on your computer. Combine this with a few other tools and you’ll shave hours off of your weekly or monthly schedule.

At work, I have to fill out a time sheet every week, but it’s a laborious and annoying process. I need to specify exact arrival and departure times for work and even for my lunch breaks. Additionally, the servers are usually slow and overloaded on Friday, so I find myself waiting around for drop downs to populate, pages to refresh, and time entries to be added.

So, I automated the whole thing.


Now I click a button, and what used to take me 10 minutes takes 10 seconds. What’s even better is the social benefits of passing this along to your co-workers who share the same administrative frustration.

The wiki tutorial is really the best place to learn about the depth of iMacros, but I’ll also provide a brief overview of how it works in conjunction with some other cool (and Free) automation tools.

We’re going to back up through this process, starting with the most detailed part of automation (iMacros) and then moving outward to the bigger tasks (running your iMacro automatically and then opening your browser automatically).

Identify Your Boring Tasks

Think about the way you navigate your web browser. Do you visit the same 6 sites? Do you enter usernames and passwords over and over? Do you input online forms? Retrieve flight info or stock numbers?

Almost anything can be automated, but it’s only useful if it adds value to you. Once you identify something that fits the bill, it’s time to record.

Record Your Actions Using iMacro

What iMacros essentially does is record all of your actions as you click and navigate through your browser.

It stores inputted information, and you can even use wildcard characters to generalize a search or drop down selection.

So record your macro by navigating exactly how you want the computer to navigate automatically.

*Avoid keyboard shortcuts, even simple ones like Tabbing into new fields or using the arrow keys to scroll up or down. I find that clicking into specified locations and typing is the safest way. May take an extra minute for you to record but it’ll be a cleaner macro.

Once you’re done recording your action, you can replay your iMacro and watch the computer do everything on its own. It’ll likely take a few run-throughs to iron out your code and get it to the point where you can repeatedly achieve your desired results.

Configure Your iMacro to Run Automatically

After you’ve created a bulletproof macro, you can use Firefox’s Weekly Browsing Schedule to automatically trigger and run your macro.

You do this by right clicking your saved macro (in the left sidebar), and saving the macro as a Local Bookmark.

Now, when you open up Weekly Browsing Schedule, you can trigger your bookmark to run at a recurring time and on a specific day(s).

Configure Your Browser to Open Automatically

So you have an automated macro, and you can trigger that macro to run whenever you want. Now you just need to make sure you have your browser open!

For Mac users, Cronnix does the trick. It’s a no-frills tool that will perform a command at a specified time and day – similar to Weekly Browsing Schedule, but this can open applications like your web browser.

Figure Out the Logistics

Using timesheet entry as an example, here’s the simple breakdown of events:

Cronnix: opens Firefox at 4:00pm every Friday

Weekly Browsing Schedule: triggers iMacro bookmark for ‘Timesheet Entry’ at 4:01pm every Friday

You’ll want to test the timing of everything before relying on this. But you can see the added benefit of automating things like this.

Other Examples

I’ve also used this to register guest vehicles in parking garages.

Since they require a guest vehicle be registered with the 3rd party parking enforcement at all times, I simply created a macro to register my car for a 7 day permit, and scheduled it to run every week. Eventually I added a dozen other entries so that any of my friends could come and go as they please.

Just took a little upfront work, but now my friends and I never have to worry about it again.

Contact me if you have something you’d like automated or need help with. I’m no expert but I love to help and love to learn.

And please comment below if you’ve used automation to simplify your daily activities as well.


Mind-Mapping Tool : Creativity in the 21st Century

An example of mind-mapping toolI’ve always been one that has had a hard time transferring thoughts to paper. It seems as though everything I have upstairs follows it’s very own indexing algorithm that my conscious knows nothing about. None the less, it’s been a battle to wrestle ideas onto paper that seem so plausible in my head, only to have them look so-so in a notebook. A possible answer to this problem is mind-mapping tools.

As Law Librarian Diane Murley defines it, mind mapping

[…] is one of several similar techniques developed by learning researchers in the 1960s. Mind maps are a nonlinear visual outline of complex information that can aid creativity, organization, productivity, and memory. Mind maps graphically show ideas in a relational context, with the main topic at the center of the map, major subtopics on branches radiating from the main topic, and sub-subtopics around each subtopic, etc.

Old School Mind-Mapping Tools

Take out a sheet of paper. Probably best to use the landscape orientation. Write down your main idea in the middle, and put a circle, square, rectangle, or whatever shape tickles your fancy. From there, branch out sub-topics. These sub-topics can be the three main points in an essay…or the five most important features a new product design must include. Anything. This is the kind of mind-mapping tool that is entirely subjective. So from there, it’s literally up to you. Be creative. Let your mind wander. This isn’t a final draft, so don’t be afraid to suck the marrow out of that sponge sitting in your dome. Use different colored pens, stencils, shapes, lines, or whatever else sounds tasty at the time. At the very least, if your idea behind the map turns into a turd, make sure it’s something you see as art. The end of using a mind-mapping tool should be rewarding, regardless of what comes out on paper.

Here’s a few to tantalize:

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New School Mind-Mapping Tool

If you’re like me, the whole pen-and-paper deal isn’t going to cut it. I need technology. Where are my web apps at!?

mind-mapping tool MindMeister

MindMeister touts four main features to their web app: ability to share and collaborate, history playback, access anywhere, and it’s easy-safe-secure.

Go mobile with this mind-mapping tool!

Access your mind-maps anywhere with mobile MindMeister!

I’ve looked at MindMeister as being sort of a personal mind mapping tool as opposed to an enterprise planning one. Though I’m sure their opportunity to monetize lay in ‘corporate brainstorming’, they’ve managed to keep an image about themselves that makes this an intimate experience. One of the coolest parts about that is this share and collaborate stuff. Lloyd and I are constantly trying to brainstorm topics for this blog, and with the help of MindMeister’s collaboration, we can do it a lot easier. We don’t need to be in our man cave every time we have brainstorming sessions.   Also, the history playback function comes in handy when you need to re-energize your creativity during some grueling mind mapping. Look back and regain the spark that brought you to the next point; only this time, go in a different direction.

Click here for some examples on MindMeister’s site. After that, get your mind-map on.

Google Glasses and Augmented Reality

I came across these Google Glasses for the first time today. It’s basically an augmented reality (AR) head-mounted-device (HMD). In the real world, these are called SAG’s, or “sweet-ass glasses”. Some more sweet ass wearables, (infographic provided by VoucherCoders.co.uk). The possibilities that this technology holds seem endless.

With respect to health and fitness, imagine mapping a jog on the fly. Or, as a football player, run drills ANYWHERE without cones. All the while monitoring your heart rate and blood pressure on the top corner of your screen.

Project Glass, as it’s called at Google’s X Lab, might also not be the only player. Earlier this year, Apple filed a patent that they described as a, “display resolution increase with mechanical actuation.”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7TB8b2t3QE[/youtube]

P.S. The idea of “wearable computers” was first toyed with when Edward O. Thorp created a device for increasing odds in roulette.

 

 

 

Budget Badass

Why budget?

How many times a month do you think about your money supply?

And how many times do you go online to check your balance, or how many times do you decide not to out of fear?

It’s time to get organized with your spending. You may not think of it as a worthwhile effort, but ask anyone who tracks their expenses diligently, and they’ll tell you how much money they saved by doing it.

It’s not hard either. We’ve all heard of Mint and it’s myriad of flexible features. I’m all for technology, but call me old school on this one – I use my own custom excel sheet, and manually type in each one of my expenses.

If that manual effort turned you off, and you’ve already tried ‘budgetting’ yourself using Mint, then you’re already up crap creek.

I’m a fan of the manual inputs because I get a better feel for my spending patterns and habits. I feel genuine joy when I’m done typing and realize I have a savings surplus; and additional motivation when I realize I’ve gone over my limits.

When I see the same numbers on my mobile Mint app, it’s more like a corporate CEO receiving a green and red expense report – it’s good or bad for just a second and then it’s onward and upward to other things. You can still reach the same conclusion, but the effect it has it far greater when you’ve invested just 10 minutes a week into the data you’re trying to understand and conquer.

How to do it:

1. Use mint to find all of your transactions. This should give you an idea for how much you spend on groceries, utilities or gas each month. You can use their pre-determined categories or create your own to analyze your spend data. Or you can start off with an approximation and rely on fine-tuning your limits later.

2. Create 2 lists of spending categories.

One is for static spends, those which do not change month to month.

Example: rent, health insurance and car insurance premiums, car payments, phone bills and loan payments

The other is for dynamic spends, those that vary month to month and that you have relative control over.

Example: gas, groceries, pet food, going-out funds

3. Assign a limit to each of your categories. Static spend should be easy. Estimate your dynamic limits. Total up each list, and what you have is your monthly spend. For some people it may be helpful to have a weekly spend as well.

4. Calculate your monthly or weekly income, and then all of the sudden you can see if

a. You spend more than you make

b. How much you can potentially save per month

c. How long it will take you to reach a certain savings goal; for instance, if you want to swim in a cage with great white sharks, how long do I need to stick to my budget before I have the necessary $1,000?

At this point you can go hog wild over tickers and breakdowns and graphs that dissect your data. I like to calculate the plan versus actual spend for each of my individual categories to see if I spent too much on going out at the bars or buying concert tickets.

I also have a timeline going about 6 months into the future. And every week I track where my bank account balance is versus what is should be. It’s a motivating glimpse into what kind of money I can potentially have in just 6 months – and it makes it a whole lot easier to not stress about the funds when I can see myself acquiring them every week.

The one catch is that you must input all of your expenses in order to actually reap the benefits of successful budgeting. But doing so has a multi-tiered effect, with the outcome looking something like this:

 

Totally worth it, right?

Tomorrow: The Future & Speed of Technology & Fitness

 

I like trends.

And It almost seems like the pace of technology is relentless, doesn’t it? Well, according to Moore’s Law, it is, and the world of fitness technology is not immune to this phenomenon.

NextWeb‘s Courtney Boyd Meyers broke it down when she wrote,

“The path to the future of fitness relies on massive data aggregation, social elements and convenience.”

Data Aggregation and Fitness

Imagine a world of real-time feedback for personal health. Our own “health dashboard” displaying heart rate, blood pressure, most recent blood panel…all relative to various metrics (like, the weather, for example). Well, we aren’t quite there yet.

We have a problem similar to solar energy. With the advent of products like FitBit, Nike Fuel Band, among others, we’re gathering that massive amount of data that NextWeb’s article talked about. The problem is we don’t quite know where to put it; in the solar panels situation, battery tech isn’t as efficient.

I personally have used a FitBit and found that the web-based dashboard left me wanting. It didn’t quite have the in depth analysis of data that I’d assume FitBit’s technology is capable of capturing.

Social Networks and Technology

If you follow news about Google, you may have heard of some pretty interesting changes to their search algorithm. It basically means that social networks will play a more influential role in Google’s content delivery. And again, fitness technology is not immune to this. Fitocracy aims to take this head on. With it’s game-based exercise programs, you can compete with others. Cheers to 21st century jogging groups!

Convenience and Technology

Convenience is the name of the game for technology. And once again, fitness technology plays by the same rules. A cool example of a site not related to fitness technology but makes life more efficient: http://secure.motherknows.com. It basically stores your child’s medical information in an easy-to-access manner so that emergencies while away from home can be dealt with. That’s a great way to make people’s lives easier, relatively easily. The backend of MotherKnows isn’t powered by Watson, and yet it can provide peace of mind, one of the most valuable commodities.

Moral of the story, technology is speeding up. We don’t necessarily have to accept all technology hook, line, and sinker…but if it has the potential to make us all healthier, might be worth a look? What do you think?

 

Now: When Personal Technology and Health Fitness Collide

For years the concept of healthcare technology revolved around giant companies purchasing expensive commercial equipment, ocean-deep research and development funding by Fortune 500’s (Pfizer, for example, plans to spend $6 billion in R&D in 2012) and weird niche gadgets that only a few people knew about.

Welcome to today, where technology applications are brought to us consumers in waves. Virtually all aspects of our lives can be monitored or complimented by technology, and with that comes a daunting responsibility – to utilize our available resources to the utmost potential, all the while maintaining a healthy balance of information and care-free living.

This site will revolve around the intersection of health fitness and personal technology, because at no other time in our history have we had the ability to leverage such a unique platform of data-driven, socially interactive, and relatively fun & easy applications.

We’ll also try to throw in some random pointers how to let technology work for you, so that you have more free time to be human.

Enjoy, comment or get in touch with us.

 

 

 

 

 

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