Get Organized Using Your Smart Phone
This post was originally published on Modern Alternative Mama.
As a former project manager for large and complex projects in the computer software industry, I know a bit about keeping information organized and my workflow streamlined. When I got my first iPhone I thought it was a cool gadget and that it would be handy to be able to check my email and surf the web from anywhere.I really had no idea the impact that one device was going to make on my life. Now, several models and many technical advances later, I can say that my smart phone has changed the way I live. I no longer carry or use a paper calendar, I rarely ever jot down a shopping list except inside an app, I track my to-do lists entirely in the cloud and I keep track of all my work and personal projects and ideas inside my phone.Few would disagree that smart phones have the ability to help you get and stay more organized, but I often hear that people don’t know where to start, they feel overwhelmed, or they can’t find the apps that best fit their needs.Drawing on my career background and having spent many hours experimenting with organizational and productivity apps, I have three tips on how to use your smartphone to get (and stay) organized and 13 apps I recommend for busy moms with busy families.
Tip #1 Know your style and your priorities.
Are you someone who loves to plan things out in great detail, or do you prefer to mostly wing it? Do you feel hemmed in by complex plans, or do they make you feel secure and confident? The highly complex to-do tracking app that allows you to sort your tasks by date, priority and project may be perfect for some people, but completely overwhelming to others. If the app you are trying to use doesn’t fit your style, you won’t use it. Don’t pick the app based on the person you wish you were, pick the one that will work in your actual real life.Along these same lines, get clear on what organizational pain points you want to address and tackle them one at a time, not all at once! Maybe you are trying to get on top of your budget this month. Try a money tracking app and a shopping list app to support that goal. Don’t also start using a health app and setting up a complex family calendar. Once you get your budget system working, tackle the next priority on your list.If you overwhelm yourself my taking on too much or trying to use an app that just doesn’t fit your personality, you won’t stick with it. The tools are only useful as much as you use them.
Tip #2: Stick with a new system for at least a month
They say it takes 21 days to build a new habit. I find it takes just about a month to set up a new organization system that includes learning a new app and building new interaction habits around it. When you are focusing on better organizing an area of your life, give it some time. Change often feels uncomfortable and awkward, but that doesn’t make it bad. If the system still isn’t working for you after a month, make note of what was and wasn’t working and then let it go.
Tip #3: Delete apps you aren’t using.
If you try an app and it doesn’t work for you, there’s no need to keep it around. I find keeping a lot of old apps that I didn’t like using on my phone makes me feel bogged down. True, modern smart phones have enough memory to keep hundreds of apps in storage, but why bother? Don’t make yourself scroll past them, figure out how to organize them, or make you feel guilty for “failing” to use them. Just delete them. Here are 13 apps I suggest for organizing the various aspects of your life.
General Information Management
Any list of organizational smart phone apps would be incomplete without Evernote. The developer’s tagline for the app is “Remember Everything.” Evernote can be your digital brain and the way to a paperless office. You could run your whole business out of Evernote. It can also just be a way to track lists of ideas or pieces of information you need to keep at your fingertips, like immunization records, emergency numbers, or clothing and shoe sizes for everyone in your family. You can make it what you want it to be. Evernote can sync data between devices and with your computer, and it is available on all the smart phone platforms. The free version is very robust, but there is also a paid version available with additional features. There is also a great ebook available to help moms get organized with Evernote: Evernote For Moms
To Do Lists
Evernote is great for storing all kinds of information, but when I need to keep track of what I need to do today, I want something far simpler. The app I personally use many times a day is Workflowy. It is a super simple list tool that allows me to track what I need to get done in a basic outline format. I can group like tasks, drill down to just see a group or jump to the top level to see everything. It is free and can be accessed in any web browser as well as through an iOS app for iPhone and iPad.If you want a bit more detail, try Wunderlist. This app similarly keeps data in the cloud so you can access it from any device, but allows you to set up multiple lists, mark priorities, share lists with someone else (great for shopping lists!), set reoccurring tasks and due dates. The free version will get you a lot of features and there is also a Pro upgrade available. Wunderlist is available for iOS and Android.
The biggest organizing hassle for most families is making sure everyone is where they need to be when they need to be there. Having a solid calendar system is key to making this happen with low stress and high success. Many families rely on Google Calendar, which allows you to share your calendar with multiple people, schedule reminders, and access calendars from both iOS and Android devices and your computer. It is solid solution.The next step up is Cozi Family Organizer, which was Babble’s #2 pick in their Top 50 iPhone Apps for Moms list from 2011. While it does sync with Google Calendar, it supports so much more, including setting daily or weekly routines, meal planning, tracking shopping lists and making to-do lists. You can even use it for a family journal. The basic features are free and Cozi Gold is available at a subscription rate of $2.50 a month. Cozi runs on iOS and Android and also syncs with a desktop version.
Right behind scheduling on the stress meter is shopping. A highly recommended app in this category is Grocery Gadget. It runs on multiple device platforms ($2.99) and also has a web portal so you can manage your lists from your desktop. You can sync a list with your spouse and even update the list real time, so if you forget something just add it while they are still in the store. You can organize lists by store or event, arrange list items based on the store’s layout, and can even add photos or barcode information to make sure the item purchased is exactly the one you wanted. Even better, Grocery Gadget can track e-coupons to help save you some money.
When I left my corporate career to stay home with my baby I set up a detailed budget in Mint, which helped me get through that first year of tight finances. Mint would alert me when I was over budget in any area, when money was running low in an account, and helped me to track all my spending to help plan future budgets. The power of Mint is in the web-based application, but the iOS and Android versions allow you to keep an eye on your finances wherever you are. Also, the whole service is free. I’ve been using it for almost 5 years and I’m confident their system it is very secure.If you are a fan of the Dave Ramsey method of envelope budgeting but find actual envelopes of cash to be cumbersome, The Easy Envelope Budget Aid app will allow you to set up virtual envelopes and then track the money spent from your desktop, Android or iOS phone. You can also share account information between users to track a family budget when you have multiple people shopping or paying bills. The app is available in free (limited) or subscription ($5/mo) versions for iOS and Android.
Health and Fitness
In January, your top organizing priority may well be your fitness. Calorie Counter Pro makes it incredibly easy to track a number of metrics to help you get in shape, lose weight, or even train for a fitness event. Tracking your calories consumed is as easy as scanning the barcode of a package with your phone’s camera and the app will pull the nutritional information. You can also track your weight, time spent exercising, your measurements, how much water you’ve had to drink, and even when you last took your medicines! This app is $3.99 and is available on iOS and Android and you can connect it with other subscription diet and health support through the developer, MyNetDiary. http://www.mynetdiary.com
How do you use your smart phone to stay organized? If you have a favorite organizing app, please share it in the comments!