Facing Fear

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Last week I volunteered with First Descents at a rock climbing camp in Lake Tahoe. Standing in front of the rock on the first day, I felt my body reacting in similar ways to a big performance. It’s not often that I voluntarily put myself in a fearful situation, but I decided to go for it.

Pounding heart – check.

Clammy hands – yup.

Jittery, queasy feeling in my stomach – definitely.

Strong, slow breathing – happened automatically. Mentally I was up for the challenge, but the physical fears were real: injury, falling, face planting into the rock (only happened once!), and getting stuck. Plus, I’m not crazy about heights.

My first attempt. I didn’t make it to the top, but it still felt like a success to me.

Performing music for over 30 years has taught me how to work with and through the nerves. The trick was learning how to consciously control and deepen my breathing until all the other parts fell into place. Solid breathing is also critical when playing a wind instrument, but I found this tactic served me well for each ascent, and especially for coming down which felt terrifying.

Rock taught me a lot about my fears and my problem solving abilities in a number of different ways.  As a “teacher,” rock is strict, hard, and unyielding. But at the same time, the rock always offered options for unsticking myself from a particular jam. With some practice and guidance, I began to see how little tiny grooves, minuscule lumps, and cracks could all be used to get me where I needed to go.

I recall getting stuck climbing up on the second day. The physical discomfort was real with one foot wedged into a crack attached to a badly trembling leg, my body’s way of displaying resistance. I knew I had to move, but I couldn’t figure out how to untangle myself. Fortunately, a guide came over on a rope to point out some options. His suggestions sounded easy, but felt almost impossible to me at that moment.

In the end, I took a giant leap of faith that my right foot could not only balance on a scrap of rock the size of a toothpick, but also leverage that hold to propel my left foot up and out of the crack. A few minutes later I made it to the top! Problem solved.

Change as You Go

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I decided to do 2 things for each contact.

  1. Update all entries and edit the information so that it displayed properly. I noticed many duplicates went undetected by the de-duplication feature (see below) because of a minute difference. Duplicate names that appear as Doe, Jane and Jane Doe, for example, won’t be noticed. This is similar with phone numbers in that both numbers must start with a “1” or not have it in front. By ensuring all the data was entered in a standardized, consistent way, it was easier to remove duplicates and outdated information.
  2. Utilize the Group feature in Google Contacts to aggregate contacts based on my relationship or association. Although I didn’t realize it when I started, one of the things that bothered me most about my contact list was seeing so many there all the time. With the group feature, I can pick and choose which ones I want on my list at any given time, which is a huge bonus.

Duplicates feature will only detect an EXACT match. Even leaving off the “1” in front of a phone number makes a difference.

Before I started assigning groups and editing entries, I made sure the master group, My Contacts (assigned by default) was in place. That way I knew how to find someone quickly during and after the transition period.

My first level of grouping is Personal and/or Professional. From there I use more specific terms.  For example, I have a Musician group, but also two bassoon groups. You can assign multiple groups to each contact providing multiple access points. One bassoon buddy is in four groups: personal (friends), professional (we’re both small business owners), musician, Bassoon – TO.

Another useful thing about groups is they can be used to filter views or send a mass email by typing in a group name.

Initially I exported my contacts to a spreadsheet so I could change everything at once, but it didn’t work out for various reasons. Instead I scrolled through my master contact list to select contacts for each group. This felt painfully slow and tedious so I did all the easy, high priority ones and stopped. Now I change as I go. Basically, anyone that was missed will get added in the next time I touch his/her contact info.

Now that I have a system in place, it’s super-fast to make changes so I do it right away.

Contact Management

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Some months ago, I decided to organize my contact list. I should confess that when I set up my new smartphone last summer, the contacts were one of the most problematic transfers. My contacts were all stored in Google contacts, attached to one account or another. Even though I had been using Google contacts for a couple of years, I had never bothered to configure the settings, or utilize any of the app’s features to keep my contacts organized. I relied on search, or auto-fill, to get what I needed.

One of the consequences from the transfer, was that hundreds of duplicate and random contacts got imported. I learned later there is an option in Gmail Settings (under the General tab) where you can choose to add contacts yourself, or have Google add them automatically. The default is the latter.

Setting in Gmail to add contacts yourself instead of having an “Other Contact” created automatically

After that experience, I resolved to improve upon my existing system. It’s been a slow process mostly because it seemed like a big project, especially for a small business owner who needs to keep distinct separations between personal, professional, and client contacts.

The first step was identifying my requirements and then selecting the most critical ones to focus on.

  • One master list of contacts accessible from any email account or messaging apps
  • One master record for each contact (i.e., contacts with whom I have a personal and professional relationship)
    • De-duplicating and merging contacts
  • Way to change contact’s default email address based on which email account I was using
  • Importing and exporting capabilities (e.g., scanning business cards)
  • Integration with calendars and task lists
  • Security
  • Organizing, searching, and filtering (e.g., tags or labels)
  • Seeing the same information across all devices

Armed with my requirements, I did some light research to see what was available.  After reading about contact management systems and what they could do, I decided to investigate Google contacts to see if I could utilize what was available more effectively. Plus, this would eliminate the pain of doing a migration later.

I started by reading about Google Contacts on the G Suite Learning Center. Once I had an idea of how it worked, I formed a strategy for how I would organize my contacts, and then implement the new system. Stay tuned for next week’s post on the strategy and implementation.

The Dying Art of Navigation

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A few months ago I watched the 4th season of the “The Amazing Race Canada.” This was my first time watching any of the Amazing Race series from the US or Canada. I watched in fascination as teams raced around the globe, using a combination of intellect, physical fitness, teamwork, and endurance to get through the challenges.

What makes Amazing Race interesting to me is the surprise element of the challenges (called “Roadblocks” and “Detours”).  Challenges range from learning a folklore dance routine to assembling a scooter from scratch. But the one challenge that remains consistent throughout the show, and in every leg of the race, are the navigational skills required to move from point A to point B, often in foreign cities and countries. Some of the challenges require teams to make deliveries in one of the cities, as if to further test their map-reading capabilities.

At least once in every show I was stunned to watch teams lose the lead, or fall behind, sometimes to the point of elimination, simply because they got lost. They couldn’t read maps or follow directions. Often they weren’t looking for landmarks and signs.

It’s great that technology like Google Maps is around to help us out, but without learning navigation skills or how to read maps, the technology won’t be enough. There can be real danger in blindly following the GPS. Occasionally I use Google Maps to get around on my bike, but Google isn’t always right. Sometimes Google indicates I should take roads that are terrible for cyclists (i.e., no designated lanes, full of potholes, fast drivers, etc.). I read a number of articles about people dying because they were too reliant on GPS and got lost when the technology failed.

Navigating without a map requires me to utilize and strengthen different parts of my brain. I have to pay attention to my surroundings, remember landmarks and street names, and learn how to orient myself.

I love using Google Maps, or Waze, especially when I’m driving in an unfamiliar area. And also because I’m directionally-challenged. Even so, I still learned how to read (and fold!) maps and navigate. Sometimes it takes me a bit of time to figure out the directions, but I can do it. And this isn’t because a smartphone is telling me what to do. It’s because I learned the seemingly essential survival skill of navigation, without technology.

Time Saving Prep Kits

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Over the years I’ve discovered the magic of making and maintaining prep kits. I define “prep kit” as a collection of things assembled for a specific purpose.  A first-aid kit is probably one of the most common examples.

Having a prep kit assembled and ready to go is a huge time saver, not to mention stress relief because you know you will have what you need. Essentials are located in one place so you don’t have to spend time and energy searching for them. And it makes those key items easy to find.

During the spring and summer, I ride my bike everywhere. After having forgotten my night gear a few times, I put everything together in a pouch.

Reflective pouch fits under the bike seat, front and rear lights, safety sashes, two pant cuff clips, a seat protector, and an emergency lip balm.

Now I can grab all my gear in one movement and find it easily in my new large and cavernous pannier. I also included a seat cover for those times when it rains. Riding on a wet bike seat is a distinctly unpleasant experience. I have a separate prep kit for repairs with a pump, a patch kit, and something to clean my hands.

Easy to see and find the pouch in the depths of my filled pannier.

One of my other commonly used prep kits is for the gym. I assembled this one at least 10 years ago because I kept forgetting key things when I went to workout, such as a lock, shampoo, gym fob, comb, etc. Now I just take my gym pouch and I’ve got everything I need. Occasionally I have to refill or replace something, but the maintenance is minimal.

Prep kits also make it easy to change bags and feel confident your essentials made it. My aunt was fond of packing smaller themed pouches for her day-to-day items. This made it easy for her to switch purses and know that everything was coming with her. Or to pick and choose which pouches to take on each occasion.

I worked with a woman once who liked to use a different purse almost every day of the week. Instead of prep kits, she purchased a purse insert. The purse insert is an internal organizer that can easily be moved from one bag to another. See examples here.

Do you have any prep kits? For what? Write your response in the comment section below.

Read it Later Apps

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Before trying the new “read it later” app, here are some options I’ve already tried.  Using the Apple “Save for Later” button, a built-in read it later app.  Sending things to my ebook, when I had one.  Bookmarks.  Syncing bookmarks (and open browsers) across devices with an account, which I found too annoying and disabled quickly.  Finally, saving links and articles in a variety of cloud-based apps (Evernote, Google Drive, Google Keep, and Dropbox).

I decided to try Pocket, a “read it later” app that ranked highly amongst several reviews I read.  I installed Pocket on my devices, including a browser extension. After one week, I’m enjoying Pocket on the smartphone.  The integration is seamless, neatly collecting my “read laters” in one place.  I can tag articles with key terms to sort, or find, them more easily later.  On the computer, I’m required to sign into Pocket to add something.  But once signed in, it’s easy to add and tag articles for later.

A couple of readers commented on last week’s post with their solutions to the “read laters”.  One suggestion is to download articles with long-term value, or to read later, to a cloud-based application (e.g. Google Drive or Evernote, a content management system) to ensure syncing across devices.  Downloading articles means content will always be available and likely you will also have options to add tags, descriptive terms, or put things into folders to help you find them later.  This also eliminates the need to maintain links.

I have tried some of these options already, but I’m selective when it comes to saving something. One of my biggest challenges is having a place to store articles until I can read them.  Quite honestly, most articles aren’t worth saving after I read through them. I’m not inclined to spend the time and effort, as minimal as that may be, to download and organize articles that will be deleted right after reading.  For this purpose, Pocket works well as a temporary “processing” area for articles to see if the make the cut.

Sometimes I need to save actual links for reference, for example, websites I refer to often that have dynamic content.  Pocket will not be a good solution for this, but I can continue to use bookmarks, or a different cloud-based application.

Now to find the time to read everything and avoid a backlog!