Enter the Time in a Notepad File

I like to use Notepad to make notes as I work. In July, I described how I type .LOG at the top of the Notepad file, so the date and time are automatically entered when the file opens.
That’s a handy feature, but I wanted to timestamp the files as I was working to, to record my start and stop times. There are date and time shortcuts in Excel and Access, but unfortunately those shortcuts don’t work in Notepad.
I obviously hadn’t looked too hard, because today I found the shortcut that I’ve been looking for — listed right there on the Edit menu in Notepad. Now, if I want to insert the date and time, I press the F5 key, and it’s automatically entered for me.

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I Need More Storage Space

Yes, I definitely need more space for all this office stuff. At least that was my first thought as I looked around my office on the weekend. Even though I cleared out a few bookshelves recently, there’s just not enough room in here for all the remaining books, files, computers, printers, gadgets, project binders, and penguins.

So, I thought about a trip to Home Depot, to buy a shelving unit that would make better use of the corner space, and maybe hide some of the tangle of wiring.
Fortunately, I came to my senses and realized that the problem isn’t storage space. The problem is stuff.

  • Do I really need those notes from projects I worked on in 1995. (No, I’m not exaggerating.)
  • Why am I keeping those disks for CorelDraw 7? I haven’t installed it on my past 4 machines.
  • When was the last time I used a floppy disk? And why do I have all those boxes of them in the storage closet?

Fire Up the Shredder

This week I’ll be keeping the shredder busy, as I clear the file drawers and storage boxes of old documents. The old floppy disks and CDs with client information will have to stay for now, until I figure out a way to securely dispose of them.
Any ideas on how to get rid of them? My shredder is only designed for paper, so maybe I’ll have to buy one of those fancy new ones that eats anything.
In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be under that pile of paper in the corner. And don’t worry, the penguins are safe.

Procrastination Revisited

A couple of weeks ago I started reading Never Procrastinate Again, and promised to report on what I thought of the material, and how well it worked for me.

Reasons For Procrastination

This is an audio course with written transcript and worksheets, by Dave Navarro from the Rock Your Day blog. I listened to a few minutes of the audio files, but those just don’t suit my learning style, so I used the written transcript instead. There are also video files (about 100 MB) that you can download separately, but I didn’t bother with those.
The key to this course is identifying why you’re procrastinating, by reviewing ten possible reasons in a worksheet. The ten procrastination causes fall into three basic categories:

  1. I don’t like to do it.
  2. I don’t know how to do it.
  3. I’m afraid to do it.

Beside each of the ten reasons there’s a suggested method for overcoming your resistance, and there’s space to write little pep talks to yourself. On another worksheet you can schedule time to practice these pep talks.

My Checklist

I haven’t bought into the self pep talk approach, but the list of procrastination reasons was thought provoking. So, I wrote a list of work-related things I have to do, and things I want to do, both long and short term. A few of those things made my stomach knot when I thought about them, so I ran a couple of those through the reasons checklist.
The first example was invoicing. Why do I avoid that task, even though I like getting paid for the work that I do? The reason seemed to be a mixture of dislike and fear. It’s a bit tedious, even though I have a database with all the information, and the reports and queries help make it easier. The fear is that I’ll make an error in an invoice or that someone will question an item or two.

My Solution

I decided to work on the October invoices and create a set of instructions as I worked. Next month I won’t have to remember all the details, I’ll just follow the written steps. I’ll also look for ways to make things easier for myself.
I built a few error checking steps into the instructions, so that alleviates some of my fear. I also realized that my time sheet data entry needs a bit of improvement, so I can clearly describe the work that’s being invoiced for on-going projects. That should reduce any questions about the invoices.

Break Down the List

The other thing I realized is that several of the things on my to do list need to be broken into smaller pieces. That will make those items less scary, and make it easier to know how to do them.
I keep my list visible on the computer desktop all the time, so that helps me stay focused. Instead of wandering off to explore something new, the minute I think of it, I add it to the list to work on later. When I’m between billable work sessions, I can pick something non-billable from the list to work on. So far, it’s going pretty well.

The Verdict

The Never Procrastinate Again course helped me get started on a few things, even though I didn’t follow all of the author’s suggestions. Maybe the self talk and role playing works for some people, but I’ll pass on those. However, the checklist is great for identifying problems, and for realizing that some tasks are too big to tackle in one piece. Next time a task makes my stomach knot, I’ll run it through the checklist.

Are You a Star Maker?

When I open Google Reader first thing in the morning, there are a few blogs that I always read, if they’ve posted any new articles. Most of those I read within Google Reader, and occasionally click the link to go to the blog, to read the comments or find the end of a partial feed’s article.

Mark Them

Then I click the All Items link, skim through the articles in List view, and add a star to any items that look interesting. This keeps me from spending a couple of hours reading blogs, when I should be getting down to work.
GoogleReadStarAdd

Read Them

Later in the day I view the list of Starred items, and click on an item to skim through it.
GoogleReadStarList
After reading an article (or the first couple of sentences), I usually remove the star, but leave a few marked so I can go back to them. This helps me when I don’t have enough time to read a really long or complex article, or return to articles where I’ve left a comment.

Review Them

If you’re really obsessive compulsive, you can use the Trends feature to analyze the stars you’ve added. To me, it’s slightly interesting, but not too useful. I use the Read page when trimming my feed list, since it gives me a good idea of what I’ve found useful over the past few months, and what’s been clogging up the feed list.
GoogleReadStarTrend

How Do You Use Google Reader?

  • Do you use Starred items in Google Reader?
  • Trends?
  • Any of the other features?

Your Customized Excel Toolbars

Yesterday I posted a tip for adding the Refresh All button to the PivotTable toolbar, so you can quickly update all the pivot tables and queries in a workbook. In the comments, Jan Karel Pieterse mentioned that he can press Ctrl+Shift, or hold the Alt key, then drag toolbar buttons to a different toolbar. I can’t get that Ctrl+Shift shortcut to work, but often use the Alt key to adjust toolbars on the fly.
In another comment, AlexJ described how he moves well-hidden menu commands, such as Show Formula Auditing Toolbar, to a toolbar, so they’re easier to use. Great idea!
Besides the Refresh All button, there are a few others that I add to my Excel toolbars. For instance, when I’m creating data entry forms it helps to know if a cell is locked or unlocked. I copy the Lock Cell button from the Protection toolbar to my Standard toolbar (Ctrl+Alt, then drag the button).

When I click on a cell, the Lock Cell button shows the cell’s current setting, and I can click that button to lock or unlock the cell. Very handy!
I also add the Record Macro and Visual Basic Editor buttons, copied from the Visual Basic toolbar, and Toggle Grid from the Forms toolbar.

What Buttons Do You Add or Remove?

  • Are there any standard command buttons that you always add to your toolbars when you install Excel?
  • Any standard command buttons that you always remove, because you never use them?

If you’d like to share a screen shot of your toolbars, upload it somewhere like TinyPic.com, and paste a link in your comment. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can open this Google Spreadsheet, choose Insert>Picture, and paste the picture link in there. I have no idea how well this will work, but it might be an interesting experiment!

Avoid Caps Lock Trauma

Okay, maybe it’s more aggravating than traumatic, but a few times each day I accidentally hit the Caps Lock key when I meant to hit Shift or Tab. Then, if I’m not paying attention, I type a few words (or paragraphs) before I notice, and have to retype everything.
Fortunately, I finally found a way to prevent accidental Caps Locks, using ToggleKeys, one of the Accessibility features in Windows.

To turn on the ToggleKeys feature:

Open the Control Panel, and double-click on the Accessibility Options icon.

On the Keyboard tab, add a check mark to Use ToggleKeys, then click OK.

Now, when you hit Caps Lock, Num Lock or Scroll Lock, you’ll hear a beep. Hit the key again to turn it off, then hit the key you really wanted.

More Noise

There’s also a Feedback with Noise option in the Tools>Options dialog box for Excel and other Office applications. To activate this you can download an Office Sounds add-in for Office 2003 and Office XP.
After the add-in is installed, you’ll hear zooms and clicks as you work. It might help you stay awake and alert, or might just irritate you.

Never Procrastinate Again

Do you procrastinate? I’m pretty good at it, and that’s why I ordered a copy of Dave Navarro’s text/audio program, Never Procrastinate Again. Maybe I won’t live up to the title of this article, but at least I’m moving forward!
There are mp3 files with the recorded program, and a pdf file with the printed transcript. It’s only 47 pages, and I’m already about halfway through it. That’s good, because I won’t get stuck a few chapters in, and set it aside to read “later”. There are also a couple of worksheets to help you get started.
It’s a very practical approach to dealing with procrastination, and makes it seem possible to overcome. I liked this quote:

“You don’t have to beat procrastination. You just have stop avoiding this one next thing – and that’s manageable.”

Don’t Procrastinate!

Take a couple of minutes and visit the Rock Your Day blog. Dave has an entertaining writing style and lots of good tips. Here’s a link to one of his articles on procrastination.
The pre-release ($27) ends tonight (October 14th), and tomorrow the price goes up to $37. That’s a good reason to avoid procrastination! If you’re interested, sign up for the advanced discount list today, and you’ll get an email with details on how you can order it.

Can You Count?

It’s been a long week. Do you still have the ability to count?
If your machine has Java installed, and it’s active in your browser, you can watch this brief video. Your task is to count the number of times that the basketballs change hands.

How many did you count?

To see the answer, you can read the results of this experiment.
Maybe that’s why so few people read the messages that we put in our Excel applications. They don’t even see them!

Building a Software Business

If you’re a software developer, you might be interested in this. Neil Davidson has created the Business of Software social network, “For anybody interested in building long term, sustainable, profitable software businesses.”

Getting Unstuck

Meanwhile, if you’re stuck on a project, whether it’s software or something else, the SCAMPER Random Question Tool might help dislodge your mental blocks.
To understand the theory behind the tool, you can read the SCAMPER guide.

Bring Your Laptop to Work

Last month, Dick Kusleika, at Daily Dose of Excel, said, “Get the same laptop at work that you have at home. I liked my D810 so much that when I started a new job I got a virtually identical machine. Now that my personal D810 is at Dell getting fixed, I can use my work laptop by just swapping hard drives.”
They’re using a similar idea at Citrix, where employees can buy their own laptop and maintenance plan, then use it at work, as well as home. The company provides $2100 for the purchase, but if employees leave within three years they’ll have to repay some of the money. Maintenance will be the employee’s responsibility.

What’s the advantage?

Why would you want to buy your own computer and use it at work?
I guess it’s a nice perk if you can’t afford your own computer at home, since you’d own this one after three years. Maybe the policies on what you can install are less strict than usual IT policies, so you can have games or other personal favourites on the machine.
What happens when it’s broken though? Do you use a sick day to take it to the repair shop?
Given the option, I’d leave the laptop in the company’s hands, assuming I could take it home when necessary. Life’s complicated enough, without having to be my own IT department.