5 Tools You Should Be Using in the 2.0 World

11 09 2009

Tools form a fundamental part of our lives. All your daily tasks will become much easier to accomplish if you find the perfect tools for the job. Just imagine digging a deep hole with bare hands as opposed to using machinery. Which one will take more time? Which one will require more effort?

Just as well as any other task, getting oriented in the 2.0 world requires not only skills, patience and commitment, but also an effective set of tools that will make your life easier. Here’s a list of 5 tools that should not be missed:

  1. Gmail – A clear winner in the email department. This tool alone will save you precious time and nerves to an extent you would never even dream of. Stop checking multiple accounts – you can receive email from multiple email addressed inside Gmail. Get rid of overflowing inbox in which you look for that specific reply to a thread of messages from the same person, all the time. Gmail orders your messages into conversations so you always have your emails in context and can easily keep track of the latest additions. Just go and do it. Get a gmail account and see the wonders. Your productivity will skyrocket and you will wonder (like me in the first few weeks) how you could have waited so long.
  2. Launchy – Find stuff faster. Open programmes on your computer with an easy keyboard shortcut of your choice. Launchy helps you do things faster. It finds documents, images, videos on your harddrive (or even webpages) and opens them within seconds. It is a very powerful tool. I hear Google Desktop can do similar things yet I find it a bit intrusive on my computer screen. This is why I prefer Launchy as my fast launching and finding tool.
  3. Tweetdeck – Do you use Twitter? And do you still use only the online basic version? Why? Tweetdeck makes tweeting much easier and more user-friendly. Keep one column for those that you are following. See who mentions you in a second column. Search. Save. Look up users. Tweet from the same window. Hide what you’ve already read. Tweetdeck has an automatic link shortener and you can tweet with a single click. The organisation certainly pays off.
  4. Skype – Skype is a great and essential tool especially for those of us leading “international” lives. As I study abroad, I use Skype to connect with my family and friends back at home. Skype can also be used as a cheap alternative for your international business calls or as a complete replacement for a mobile phone. I especially like the video and video-conference abilities.
  5. Evernote – I’ve written on the wonderful uses of Evernote for getting organised before in the Get your life organised – Evernote article. Evernote simply creates a cross-platform way of storing anything you come across in your daily life – be it an idea, pdf, video, picture. It is great as a reminder tool or as a searchable backup of all your sticky and other paper notes. It is highly portable and usable and will make your life much easier.

So here is the list of 5 tools I think you should be using in this wonderful new world. Do you have any essentials to add? Do you agree or disagree with any of these? Please comment.


Why You Should Act Now

7 09 2009

I have written before on the topic of early action. In Soon-to-be Grads: What are you doing now that will help you later? I suggested updating CV, building online presence or broadening your network as priorities on the final-year student task list. The reasoning behind such suggestions usually lies in the general framework of “it will help later”. But how exactly?

Why should you really act now instead of putting it off for later? Are the advantages of early action that much higher? What is the principle that makes putting in the early effort worth it?


The principle of leverage easily justifies early action. Just like you would use a lever to move a large and heavy object (instead of simply lifting it using your body strength…and failing), you should use a lever to take big steps in your life. We all have those – applying for a new job, moving to a new city, publishing a book. We all have dreams that simply seem too big and dauting to even start at. When you’re using the principle of leverage, you are building up skills and knowledge in the present that will not only make things easier in the future but also open up new opportunities. Why not do it the easy way?  Using leverage in your life will result in less stressful days and more open doors.

The main reason why using leverage is worth the early effort is that the overall effort you need to put into any project decreases by a large margin. You “do more with less”. The need to act early, however, is essential. As Brian Kim stresses in his article How to Develop Leverage In Your Life:

Like all things worth of value, leverage can’t be created instantaneously. It must be developed. It must be built. It must be cultivated. And it will take time to do. Just like everything else worth doing. But once leverage is built, it proves to be one of the best catalysts of creating the momentum you want in any area of your life.

How to use leverage:

Develop your skills, knowledge and experiences before you need them. Read, network or build up your social skills as Brian Kim suggests. It will pay off in the end.

Early effort brings more results than late action. Let’s take the example of online presence:

Online presence can be useful in job search or career advancement, it can bring new networking opportunities or widen the range of interactions you have on a daily basis. It represents who you are on the Internet and in this 2.0 world often provides the first contact anyone encounters when they look for you (and “google” your name). When you start building up your online identity, nothing much happens. Your LinkedIn profile does not appear in many searches and noone contacts you to offer you a job. Your blog doesn’t get much readership and it may seem like you’re just writing for yourself. You mostly follow others on Twitter and your posts do not get retweeted much. At the beginning, it is just effort. You need to put in hours, you need to update your blog, you need to build up everything from scratch. Yet this may change after some time. And you find that you wouldn’t get that networking opportunity if you hadn’t been on LinkedIn or wouldn’t have connected with an important person in your field.

Like many things in life, building online presence takes time. You can’t reap the rewards straight-away. You need to put in the early effort. Yet as you build up your leverage, future endeavours get easier and easier. So go and act now.

What If You Had 15 Extra Hours Every Month?

22 08 2009

Andy Robinson who writes about career success at his blog recently published a post about Getting 15 Extra Hours Every Month for Personal Transformation. He writes:

“What would you do if you were “given” 15 extra hours each month? We’re talking about more than four weeks of extra PERSONAL time each year! What would be the highest and best use of that time?”

How do you get this time?

Andy suggests that you set your alarm clock to wake you up 30 minutes earlier than normal tomorrow. And then continue this habit day after day.

In this way you’re cutting down on your sleep (although you may go to bed early and thus balance your sleeping time).

Other ways of gaining 30 minutes a day may include:

  • cutting down on time spent watching TV (or at least recording your favourite programmes and shows and then watching them without commercials)
  • committing to actually GET UP when your alarm clock rings instead of lying in and then rushing
  • getting organised
  • using your commute time to do productive things
  • getting ready for your day the night before
  • not procrastinating

What to do with your 15 hours a month?

Andy suggests you use your 30 minutes a day for highly personal time (journaling, meditation, inspirational reading or planning your day).

But I believe that your extra 15 hours a month could be used in hundreds of ways, depending on what your priorities are. Use them to:

  • learn a new skill and advance your career
  • learn or improve your knowledge of a foreign language (daily practice is your best bet)
  • read for pleasure
  • read to keep up with your and other fields
  • watch interesting talks from outstanding people (try TEDTalks or Fora.TV)
  • get some exercise
  • find a blog in your field and read it
  • do anything that your normal day doesn’t allow

If the only thing stopping you from doing something is your (perceived) lack of time, give serious thought to these strategies and start changing your life today.

Do you have a BUCKET LIST?

19 08 2009

In my previous post, I argued that having and rigidly following a “life plan” may not always be the best strategy to get everything out of life. Nevertheless, I will be the first to admit that there is something magical about knowing what you want out of life and having a sort of check-list that you can consult and see how you’re doing on the virtual scoreboard. This is where the idea of a bucket list comes in.

What is a bucket list?

A bucket list serves as a constant reminder of what you want out of life. It is simply a list of things, activities and experiences you want to get or do before you “kick the bucket”. (See The Bucket List (2007) with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson for some inspiration.) Ever wanted to make that roadtrip? Are there some places that you’ve always dreamed of visiting? Are you planning to learn a foreign language? All these should go on your bucket list!

How do you make a bucket list?

Starting, as always, is the hardest part. The only things you need to make a bucket list are pen, paper and a bit of time. Now sit down and think. Write down anything that comes to your mind when you ponder the question: “What do you want to do before you die?” What are your secret crazy dreams? What do you wish you had enough money to do? How would you spend your days if you had nothing to worry about?

The most important thing: WHY should you have a bucket list?

Firstly, it forces you to think about what you want to gain out of life? What do you really want to do or experience? Through the simple act of writing it you gain clarity about what your future regrets may be. Avoid those. It’s still time and maybe you’ll surprise yourself when all those secret dreams suddenly start getting clearer outlines.

Most importantly, however, writing your bucket list will move you considerably closer towards accomplishing your dreams and wishes. How? As most goal-setters know, the simple act of writing down your goals counts as the first (and hardest) step. You are more likely to accomplish something when you know it’s one of your goals and you keep a visual record of it somewhere close.

If you’re interested in learning more about making bucket lists then this post may be another great starting point. Also check out BBC’s 50 Things to Do Before You Die.

Look beyond your life plan

15 08 2009

I was a very lucky child. I had a wonderful family, parents who loved me and a nice house to live in. My family took me and my brothers on trips across the Czech Republic, my dad read to us before we went to sleep and my mum later homeschooled us to show us that learning is about something different than just being bored at school. Such bringing up helped me in many regards. I took up extensive reading, saw the value of higher education and began on my journey of self-improvement and discovery.

My bringing up, in some regards, certainly gave me a headstart on the journey of discovering all the opportunities that this world presents. Nevertheless, it was still grounded in the everyday constraints that we experience. Coming from a little town in the Southeast Czech Republic, I felt like a lot was determined by where I lived. I went to primary school in my hometown and then switched to homeschooling for Grade 5, only to start commuting the following year to the only grammar school in the area. If you wanted to go to university later on, this was the school to go to. (there was another school, but twice the length away). So I commuted to this school…for eight years. It wasn’t a bad school, don’t  get me wrong. It was just average.

My life plan was straightforward

And it seemed to fit in with the expectations everyone had. As I was thinking about my future life, my plan was always simple and clear. I had it all figured out. I would finish highschool and go to university in Brno or Prague. Most of my classmates would do the same so I would have a nice nest of friends somewhere near and go home every other weekend to see my family. I would finish easily (academics was always my hobby so I wasn’t worried about failing), maybe spend a semester abroad somewhere in Europe or the US, and then find a nice job in the city and live my life. Enter husband, kids and a nice house some years later and boom, living a comfortable life just like everyone else I knew.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with this scenario. It’s very comforting in the least and I’m sure I would have been quite happy if everything had turned out according to this life plan. Maybe your plan is very similar to this one. Maybe not.

Can life plans be dangerous?

What I want to point out in this post, however, are the dangers of living by your life plan. What if you’re missing something remarkable? What if you’re missing the opportunity of your life simply by following this mindset and not even bothering to try and do something different? The other ideas may sound crazy. They may sound impossible and they may be way over the top of your head. But what if they could change the whole course of your life?

For me the breaking point was a meeting at a student conference in Barcelona. On a random ride on the Barcelona tube, a British boy was telling me about his decision-making process about applying to Oxford or Cambridge. Now, as some of you may not know, you can only apply to one of these in any given year and this boy was letting me in on his thoughts about both universities. I quietly swallowed and held my breath. This was the first time I ever met somebody who was even thinking about applying to Oxbridge, let alone attending one of these universities. I was just standing there in awe of this student, all of a sudden feeling somewhat small. You have to understand that for someone who has always been involved in academic stuff and other distinct signs of over-achieving, the sound of Cambridge or Oxford brought immediate respect and drooling. What I would have given for the chance to go to one of the best universities in the world.

Crazy and impossible?

In my little world, however, that was something unattainable. I was an average Czech girl, going to an average Czech highschool. There was NO way I could get into Cambridge. I didn’t go to private schools (like this British boy) and I hadn’t been preparing for these two universities for years either. It was just impossible and not even anything to think about.  And yet this boy, when he finished his pros and cons about each university, turned to me and asked: “So are you thinking of applying to Oxford or to Cambridge?” That simple and yet so unexpected question changed my life. Suddenly, this little thought or possibility started living in my mind. What if I really could get in? What if I dared to do something this crazy? What if? What if? What if? I got prospectuses and the more I was reading and thinking about it, the more I felt like I would regret not trying for the rest of my life. So I dediced to be crazy. I decided to apply to Cambridge even though I did not believe I could get in. I got all information, delved into learning abou the British higher education system and application forms, improved my English and studied for certificates, learned how to write essays and much more. All on my own because there was simply no one in my circle or area who could help me.

And the impossible became possible. I got an offer from Cambridge University and have been studying there for 2 years. All this just because I actually tried and did not let myself get derailed and discouraged by the craziness of the idea. Big crazy things are sometimes the best that life brings. And your life plan will not incorporate those. Maybe it’s time to look beyond it.

What now?

So I dare you to do something different today. Give a little more thought to that crazy idea you had a couple days ago. What is one thing you always secretly thought about doing but never found the courage to actually give it a try? Then do it. It probably will not be easy and it may very well be scary. But you need to give it a try. The worst thing that can happen is that it won’t work out. Then you can at least spend your life knowing that you tried!