I just googled a few items and discovered I haven’t done a year-end, get-it-done review since the end of 2012. I’d done one for 2011 and 2012, but somehow 2013 came and went and I have no idea what happened there. I’ll just blame it on my kids.
Since 2011, I’ve done a pretty good job of staying on top of a variety of things related to my home and work life. Clutter has remained under control, the house is still secure, and I’ve discovered even more ways to try and make my work a bit more efficient so that the home life (which is usually NEVER efficient) is given more attention. One thing that definitely suffered this last year was fitness/health, but I’ll talk about that shortly.
My hope is that some of the information below might be useful to you in your own personal and work lives. And trust me… for every item I seem to have under control, there’s a matching item that is completely chaos. I’m looking at my kids again.
So, without further ado… an examined life.
Man, I totally rocked it this last year when it came to my home-office. I won’t say I stayed completely paperless, but I probably hovered around 80-85% for most of the year. Clutter drives me crazy, especially in my home-office. Once again relied on a personal scanner (or two… I’m a huge fan) to keep the paper gone as well as the magazines and books. I did notice a larger switch to digital books versus print, but I’m still a sucker for a printed book.
At year’s end, I had a grand total of eight Family Handyman issues that hadn’t been scanned during the year. What I typically do is get a stack of 5-10 FHs and take them to FedEx Office to have a single $1.50 cut made down the stack of magazine spines. I then scan in the entire issue, 50 or so pages at a time (front and back). I turn on the feature that makes all text searchable so that whenever I need to know how to “fix a leaky toilet,” I can search the folder holding all the PDFs and find exactly what I need. For the other magazines I receive, I rip out any articles that I think may be useful to me or a friend/family member, scan them in, and recycle the rest of the issues.
One really great upgrade that happened this year was when Dropbox bumped up certain paid Premium accounts. I was paying $100 a year for 100GB of data, which was fine with me because of how I use Dropbox across all my devices. Well, Dropbox upgraded me to 1TB of storage for the same price. Yeah… 1 terabyte. I never really worried about using up my 100GB, so 1TB is fantastic. All my magazine and book scans, PDF books, ripped movies and photos are stored in Dropbox (and yes, I back everything up.)
A bit of self-promotion here — I also finally had a book published (by Pearson) that I’d been wanting to write for a long time. It’s called Ultimate iPad, and I basically documented everything I’ve done to move to a more digital lifestyle. People were always asking me how I did this, that, and that other thing… and I finally had a single place to explain it all.
All in all, I’m happy with where my home-office currently stands — floor is empty, books are on shelves (instead of stacked on a desk), magazine stack is reduced to zero, and Dropbox folder structure is updated and logical. From my computers, tablets, and even my phone, I can access 99.9% of any file I need, including photos, videos, PDFs, image files, DOC and TXT files, and more. All searchable by keywords. Boom.
Files — Music, Movies, Photos, etc.
As mentioned above, Dropbox upgraded me to 1TB of storage for $100 per year. Not having to really worry about space issues with Dropbox was a real boon for both home and work this last year — I have things set up so that photos that are taken with my phone or my wife’s phone are automatically backed up to Dropbox. But I don’t stop there.
I have two processes that occur automatically — once a week, the contents of Dropbox are backed up to my 3TB external hard drive. I also subscribe to the Unlimited online backup service from BackBlaze — $5/month allows me to backup the contents of any storage devices connected to one computer. YEAH! So, not only does Dropbox get backed up, it gets copied to the 3TB drive that gets a FULL backup continuously to BackBlaze. I’ve been using it for right at a year now and I’ve had ZERO problems. I found BackBlaze based on a friend’s recommendation, and I’ve not regretted the $60 a year insurance policy one bit.
Oh yeah, and all my favorite ripped movies are stored on the 3TB and Dropbox, too. You might be saying “But Jim, Dropbox only lets you stream the first 15 minutes of any movie… what’s the point?” Glad you asked. I found a solution that lets me stream any movie I want immediately. No Internet? I also found a workaround that lets me pull-down those movies from either 3TB or Dropbox and save a few on my iPad for non-online watching. I explained it all in Ultimate iPad. You should grab a copy — it’s really good.
I’d have given myself an A, but I hit a road block early in 2014 when I lost access to my digital music. I had a backup from years earlier made on DVD discs. Bad idea. A few discs wouldn’t read for some reason. I have kept my CD collection in storage, but I still had to go through the process of ripping about two dozen CDs to get those lost albums back. Now, all my music is backed up on the 3TB and then to Backblaze. Won’t make that mistake again.
Work and Research
My typical writing routine is to head to the coffee shop in the morning (after dropping the kids off for school) and then getting started on the chapter or whatever is due that day. After a few hours of writing in the coffee shop, I then head back to my office — by that point, I’m anxious to finish what I started so I’m usually motivated to work in my office no matter the quiet or interruptions. It’s a mind-trick that has worked for me for some time… the only problem is that visiting the coffee shop numerous times a week gets expensive and has given my health/fitness a solid hit. So, I resolved to get my office to a point where I will WANT to work from here. Check with me in twelve months and I’ll tell you how it went.
I continue to use Evernote in new and interesting ways. It didn’t take me long to upgrade to a Premium Evernote account after I’d learned just how great Evernote was for organizing my work. Each potential book proposal is stored in its own Notebook — I use the Notebook to collect URLs, screenshots, photos, audio notes, scans, and more that are related to the book idea. If a book is contracted, I then use Evernote to help me organize the collected content by chapter OR to help me actually create the chapter structure if it doesn’t yet exist. About all I’ll add about Evernote is this — if you haven’t tried it, sign up for the free account and see if it works for you. You may be pleasantly surprised to find a new and useful tool for keeping all of your To-Dos synched and available from pretty much any device.
One final thing I started in 2014 that I’m really looking forward to is creating a series of summer camps that I’ll be teaching beginning in 2015. I taught two camps in 2014 and they were a huge hit… so I’ve been developing four additional camps and shopping them around to some Atlanta area schools. While I wouldn’t want to teach them year-round, they will be a nice break in the summer from writing. Creating a camp from scratch is daunting, so just be warned should you want to try your hand at it.
I met my work goals last year… plus some. I’ve set a pretty high goal for this year as well… hoping to write at least four books, but would prefer five. I’ve got a proposal out right now for a book that I’m very anxious to write, so hopefully I’ll have the first 2015 contract in a week or so.
We geeks tend to view our homes as castles, right? Well, our neighborhood seems to always be a target around the holidays, and December 2014 was no different. One successful break-in and two failed (Hooray for alarm systems that are actually USED) had our neighborhood on alert.
I’m fortunate to live in a cul-de-sac where three of my neighbors work from home during the day and we all keep an eagle-eye out for strangeness — and so do our dogs. A few of us have video surveillance systems installed, too. And we’re always looking for new ways to add security. An acquaintance recommended a piece of hardware to me based on personal experience. He came home from work to find a dozen or so footprints just below the lock on his apartment door — someone had tried to kick in the door and failed. Why? Because he had one of these installed. I bought a bunch and installed them and they work great. I don’t recommend using the included screws — they stripped too easily in my opinion. Go the hardware store, buy three better (more hardened) replacement screws for each device (of same length -3″) and install the thing.
I kid you not — I had to know, so I tested one. I installed it, left the door unlocked and the deadbolt unfastened. I had my son enable just the device and I kicked four times and ran at my door twice. My shoulder felt it the next day… but that door did not budge. They’re rated to hold at 800lbs, so put two on your back door and rest easy.
One other funny thing happened a few months back — My neighbor and I kept noticing dog droppings in between our houses that did NOT belong to our dogs. (Our dogs go in a very specific area that we’ve all agreed to use.) Turns out a young woman in our neighborhood was walking her dog and allowing it to do its business in the walk area between our houses. We never could see her doing it, though. One night, I just lucked out… I had to go out at around 1am for some medicine and as I was pulling into my driveway I saw this woman and her dog walking away. Late night attack!
I don’t know where she lives, but the problem continued for a few weeks before I became suitably irritated. I wasn’t wanting to ambush her at 1am and risk a dog attack or pepper spray, so I installed two Mr Beams Motion-Activated Spotlights that are linked wirelessly. One goes on… the other goes on (there are two channels so you can have two different areas covered by different sets). I installed them at the corners of my house and pointed them at the danger zone. I can only hope she peed her pants when those bright beams hit her. These LED lights are bright in that dark area, and wouldn’t you know… the late night surprises have stopped.
I’m being a bit hard on my self here. I went passive-agressive on the woman with the my motion lights when I really should have just found her and told her to cut it out. But technology is fun! I’m sure she’s just found a different house.
Yikes. This one is going to be bad. I started off 2014 in good form — headed to the gym three days a week, watched what I was eating, tried to play outside as often as possible. But man, we had a brutal summer in Atlanta. Somewhere during the summer, I gave up on the gym for a while… and, of course, I just didn’t get back to it. I’m about 10lbs over my normal healthy body weight, and I’m determined to lose it. I’ve made myself a promise that as soon as the kids are back in school (Tuesday), I’m heading back to the gym.
One really good thing I did in 2014 that I’m very proud of was that I made two regular visits to my doctor. Most men seem to avoid this, but I made a promise to my wife and my kids that I was not going to ignore the doctor any longer. I went, had some blood tests, found my cholesterol was a little higher than it should be, and got basically a clean bill of health. I also really like my new doctor… he asked the right questions, and he had some good answers to my own questions. I would really like to be around for my grandkids one day, so I’m doing what I can to stay on top of any health issues. Do it for your kids, dads! Go get a checkup!
Finally, I had an eye exam in mid-December that gave me a shock. Apparently I’m somewhat at risk for macular degeneration based on the numbers returned by a test. My eye doctor isn’t worried… she’s basically told me I need to substantially increase something in my diet that I loathe… green stuff. My wife loved it. So now I’m eating broccoli, kale, green beans, etc… my eye doctor seems to think my numbers will improve if I can stick with increasing green healthy foods in my diet. I don’t really want to lose my vision, so I placed a standing order with my wife to buy me a weekly bag of raw broccoli. And I’m actually starting to develop a taste for it.
Missing the gym, avoiding the doctor, and not getting my eyes checked often enough have given me the lowest grade in the bunch. I earned that grade by lack of initiative. I’ve got a wife and two boys, ages 7 and 4, who I love dearly. Things are going to change this year, and that grade will be an A next year. Guarantee it.
My Report Card
2014 was a good year for work… a so-so year for personal stuff. I’ve set some high goals for myself this year, including a regular doctor’s visit and getting myself back to the gym. Here’s to hoping 2015 is a better year.
I do hope 2014 was a good year for you… and I hope 2015 is off to a good start. To all my fellow geek dads out there, have a great 2015. Play a few new games. Read some good books. Learn a new skill or two. And make an appointment for a checkup so 2016 meets you with a smile.