Organizing Digital Photos – Simply

We all know that there are tons of options – i.e. software – for organizing digital information, including our photographs.  This is not this blog.  A blog about photo software might never happen – although I have used several of them, none of them meet my needs enough that I use any of them exclusively (only when they serve a need I have).  Truth be told, I don’t want to give up control to a program – not completely, not ever.  What this means for you is that I am talking about organizing your photos on your hard drive – and then you can use any software you choose.

First, you need to get all your photos into 1 folder – which you might already be doing since computers these days often have a folder so labeled.  If your pictures are all over the place – even digitally – then you’re making more work for yourself in finding them when you want them.   If you’ve never had a system for organizing your digital photos, don’t worry about further organizing of these – you can do that over time.  Create the system going forward – and if you do nothing else, get all your precious photographs into one location on your computer – off your camera, phone, etc. – and take the time to do this regularly.

Second, you need to decide how you’d like to have your pictures grouped together (i.e. a digital folder) – it can be easy to set things up for chronological organization with digital photos.  At least it can be easy as long as your camera and phone have been set with the correct day and time – that data is included within the image.  Just because it’s easier to do chronological organizing doesn’t mean this is right for you – or that you can’t incorporate it into the system somewhat.  If your son’s birthday is in early October, you probably want to divide the pictures of him from the party and his costume for Halloween – though maybe you do want an “October 2012” folder.  I discuss this in Organizing Photos.

As with all organizing endeavors, one of the things that either makes things work or makes them break down is the quantity you are grouping together.  Therefore, consider the number of pictures that will make it worthwhile to create a folder to keep them together.  The challenge can be that we all have some random pictures that don’t quite fit into a larger category – so we need to decide how we’re going to handle this.

Let’s talk about specifics – if you want to go chronological it could look like this:

a chronological folder set-up

Here’s 1 way to set up a chronological folder system for your photos

You can see that the months are in alphabetical order rather than chronological, although your photos are still organized chronologically – at least all of one year is together within that folder.  This is one reason some people will use numbers – and put them in the format of “year–two-digit month–two-digit day (when applicable) [space] and other data (if desired)” so that the view then matches our expectations.  Then you have different options – though here you can see the way the computer organizes the folders based on name.

chronological showing different format options

Here are the two format options for month and year

You could make the year folder or if you’re using the date formatting, you don’t absolutely need it.  Although here is an example still inside the year folder – if you kept with the date naming, the pictures would all be chronological.  If you look at this example, there are two folders that do not include the day – and those get placed before any folders with days listed, so keep this in mind as you decide about the folders you make and the format of how you label.


labeling folders with year, month, date and info

Using “xxxx-xx-xx info” is another way to order photos chronologically

This is the easiest way to organize photos.  You don’t need to worry about labeling each image – as the images are collected and organized within their labeled folder and tend to be chronological due to the metadata in the image.

Some people choose to label the picture itself.  The biggest challenge with this approach can be the time and energy to do this for each and every image – and deciding what information to include in the name.  The longer the name, the more of the text might be hidden, and could make the process of finding specific pictures more cumbersome.  Of course, you could also do a combination – where you label the folder with the broad information and then the photos have more of the details of the image.  Here are two examples of how long names can impact what is visible: on the left is the list and on the right are the mini-icons and both have pictures with a “…” which indicates that the full name is longer than the available space.


Showing how long names can be hidden

The “…” on both left and right sides show long names being shortened

How ever you choose to organize your digital photos – make it work for you.  I use a combination – where our trips get a folder for each year.  Then there are other folders that are simply more general – some of which include dates.  Here’s a view of some of how I’ve organized my digital photos – though I’ve discovered it needs a tune-up!


my personal photo organization system

Here’s a view of how I’ve organized my digital photos

Remember, organizing your things – whatever they are – is setting things up so they work for you.  How do you look for things?  Would it make more sense to have a folder for your children – and then subdivide from there?  It doesn’t make a difference how you do it, it matters that it makes sense for you.  It’s all about being able to find and appreciate your photos when you want.

Organizing Photos

This can be a daunting prospect, especially if you have little to no system in place.  It’s similar to dealing with paper – these relatively small things that each need to be looked at and dealt with.  Yet photographs are often one of our most prized possessions, and creating a system means that not only are we protecting them, but also that we can appreciate them when we want.  As I touched on last month in Technology – Digital Pictures, organizing photos is becoming even more of a challenge to organize since we often have both physical pictures as well as digital ones.

As with virtually everything that we need to organize, the first step is to figure out what you want to do with your photos – besides keep them of course.  Do you want to put them into an album?  Do you want to scrapbook them?  Do you want them all printed or scanned – keeping them all in one specific medium?  How would you like to be able to appreciate them?  There is no wrong answer – although many people are embarrassed they don’t want to do more with them than have some order.

Let me make a couple of things clear early on – one, you do not have to set aside a weekend or a day to begin organizing your pictures, you can decide to spend an hour here and there (as with all organizing endeavors).  Two, as precious as photographs are, challenge yourself to part with the blurry and unnecessary duplicates.  Three, if you want to keep the physical images safe, look for archival containers (including albums and pages) that might not be available locally.  Four, consider whether you need to organize the larger pictures independently from the standard size pictures.

Often the traditional thinking with pictures is to get them into chronological order.  If the mere thought of figuring out the chronology of all your pictures leaves you wanting to scream, don’t worry – there are other options.  The ideas for organizing photographs can work with both physical and digital – though digital has other challenges associated with it.

One approach for organizing photos is to consider a broad timeline idea – more than chronological.  One person I worked with chose this idea: since kids, couple-hood, before spouse, and earlier generations.  In this situation, we needed 4 empty boxes/containers for those categories and we sorted the boxes of pictures into them, just adding another box into the category when the first was filled.  In another situation, after using floss to remove old pictures from albums, we spread out the pictures to divide them into decades – the ‘10s, ‘20s, ‘30s, and on.

If you think about scrapbooking – not that you are going to do this – the idea is to have a theme, the focus of the particular scrapbook and gather those photos together.  You can use this idea for organizing, the themes for your family and life – trips; family traditions (i.e. holidays, celebrations, etc.); athletic/theatrical/nature-loving/etc. kids; family “monsters” (pets); state of the home (garden pictures, renovations, etc.).  This is a time for you to think about your family and the things you are capturing in the pictures.  These themes become your broad categories – the piles or boxes that you sort into.

Imagine having a collection of pictures from each year your child was in soccer (or whatever activity) all together.  Organizing your pictures in this way allows you to see the progression over the years – there is a continuity to the photos that also offers perspective, “look how much they grew from that first year until their last year.”

Even if you stop at this point in the organizing process you will have a system in place.  Of course, you can continue to refine that system more – breaking those broad categories down so that specific photos can be found.  This is when you can use other groupings within the larger category – so all the Halloween pictures of your kids or Halloween pictures of your kids from the 1980’s are together.  You get to create the way you break it down or not.

From a preservation standpoint it’s recommended that you refrain from labeling the photographs themselves as inks can end up damaging the images.  From an organizing perspective, labeling each picture can be time-consuming and maybe even frustrating.  It’s easier to label the envelopes, index cards, and box for each category.

There it is – the process to getting your photographs into a system.  Yes, it will take time to get through your photos and into the organizing system that makes sense for you.  Yet with these dear memories, how wonderful would it be to have easy access to walk down memory lane or to find pictures to share with others?  And with the system in place if you decide later on to do something different – like make an album – the photos are already organized.  Any new pictures coming in can also be easily added to their place in the system.

Technology – Digital Pictures

Technology is here to benefit us.  At least it’s supposed to and we can do our best to not let it take over.  This can be challenging – as I’ve talked about many times before.  Recently it occurred to me that taking pictures with our phones, tablets, and digital cameras is a good example of technology here to support us.  It’s also an illustration of how when we’re not careful, we forget to only use it to our advantage.  It’s important for us to use this wonderful technology of digital pictures to supplement our memories.

Pictures can be one of those things we all have a lot of – and often it’s not as organized as we’d like.  As you’ve probably heard me say before, one of the factors of getting organized is the quantity you have to deal with – and with digital pictures that quantity can quickly become overwhelming.  And then when you consider you probably have both physical and digital pictures to organize – it can be paralyzing to consider organizing them – and the organization aspects are topics for other blogs.

This technology of being able to take pictures digitally has many benefits for us.  There is no cost for taking the pictures – we don’t need film, let alone rolls and rolls of it on hand, just in case.  We don’t actually have to spend money getting our pictures developed, although we might choose to have some printed up and those will be ones we know are good and worth the time, money, and effort of getting the physical copies.  We have the immediate visual feedback about whether an image was captured – did someone blink at the exact wrong moment – and give us the chance to try again (and again and again).  Then there’s the possibility of catching each and every adorable expression of your grand-kids.

On the other hand, this same technology also makes it easy to take the pictures and avoid doing else with them.  It might even be a case that you might not really even look at them after taking them – the excitement of picking the developed film up to discover what was captured doesn’t apply with digital photographs.  And then the options for organizing them can be quite a bit more overwhelming and procrastination becomes easier – they’re saved and you can always do it later.  Just because these digital pictures don’t take up our physical spaces doesn’t mean they’re not consuming space and that space carry its own risks also beyond fire and water.

The most important thing is that there’s a difference between living the experiences and capturing it all to relive later.  When you have the camera (or photo capturing device) out taking pictures, you are only partially attending to what’s going on around you and missing the experience of being fully present.  Your memories are more likely to be of taking the pictures, not of the event itself.  This isn’t to say that taking pictures should be eliminated – rather that when we’re not careful it’s easy to get caught up in trying to capture the experience rather than relishing each experience and getting some pictures to highlight that.

As a client and I recently talked about, would you rather watch the beautiful sunset and savor it or try to capture the beauty of the sunset in a picture to remind yourself in the future?  This is definitely something I struggle with – oscillating between the extremes of regretting what I didn’t capture since I didn’t even pull out the camera to the other end of realizing that I’ve taken 350 pictures in the last 2 hours.

Let’s be honest – who wants to look at 500 pictures of your daughter’s birthday party or your vacation to the Everglades?  Will you even want to look at that many pictures in a year, 5 years, or 25 years?  And I’m a bit tongue in cheek since I’m probably one of those who would enjoy looking through that many pictures.  Yet, even though I do like looking through tons of pictures, I can also share that I avoid looking at pictures – physical as well as digital – since it will take time to look at them all.  This means that they’re not being appreciated and cannot remind you of your lovely experiences – it has ceased to benefit you.  Imagine what it would be like to have a manageable number of pictures that do their simple purpose of reminding you of this and that experience – is it difficult to picture that?

There’s a balance between being fully present in the moment and capturing some images for the joy of reminiscing in the future – and what that balance looks like for you is not likely to match what it looks like for me.  What matters is becoming aware of our tendencies – do you want to savor the moments more as they happen?  Taking pictures is technology – whether we’ve thought about it in that way or not – and just like in all other arenas, the goal and purpose is to support you and your values.  Don’t be lulled by the possibilities – make technology work for you.

Limiting Your Collection Places – Including Technologically

You’ve heard me say this before: “I love containers” – all of them: any shape, material, size, etc.  I absolutely drool over them.  And fight the temptation to bring them all home.  It can be a problem.  I’ve ended up with large boxes just filled with empty containers – waiting for the perfect thing to use them for.  You could say I have a tendency to “hoard” them.  They are always useful – at least they have the potential for it.  Yet, there’s the point – potential usefulness.  Just because something is or can be useful does not make it worth using or keeping.  Also, “useful” is subjective – is it actually useful for you and your life?  This applies to technological solutions – programs and apps – as well.

How are containers and programs/apps alike?

  • They are designed to hold things within them.
  • They are there in essence to benefit us – make our lives easier.
  • It can be too easy to go overboard – collect different options.
  • With too many being used it’s all too easy to lose track of where things are.
  • It can be easy to get the “container” before you’ve identified your specific need.
  • Neither are the end-all, be-all answer for your stuff.

Recently in my newsletter I mentioned my “hoarding” of quotes and how I have a great program that contains them well.  That didn’t stop me from drooling over programs that were designed for the organization of quotes.  My husband cautioned me to avoid them; one of the reasons is that some software can become irrelevant quickly.  Yet, there’s a more important reason to avoid collecting programs or apps – how much do you want to disperse the information you are saving?

Sure, there are programs designed for this exact type of information and getting it organized.  Then there’s this program for that type of information.  This can go on ad infinitum probably.  And it might be tempting.  Yet, then you have to keep track of where your specific information is as well as the data itself.  It’s easier when just a few programs can help you maintain and organize various types of information.

The program I use to organize my quotes, NoteShare, is also used extensively for recipes, craft projects, and other lists.  The features of the program fit my needs in more than one context, although I’m contemplating alternatives for my collection of quotes, i.e. EverNote.  With NoteShare, between the ease of adding images and the wonderful ability to expand and collapse entries keeps the various files manageable, the program is quite versatile.

Just as with the extensive options for types of containers, we are now overloaded with choices for containing our information – both with the devices as well as the software.  With all the capabilities of the various devices it can be tempting, as well as inexpensive, to collect software to handle each different types of information we need and want to keep.  One of the obvious challenges though is that many programs can overlap in their ability and function – and then where did you actually store the information?

We need to be thoughtful about what we truly need and make sure it will help us.  A container will become cumbersome when we have too much or too little to store within it – as well as any number of other factors that make them counterproductive to our lives.  In fact containerizing isn’t even the right answer sometimes.  The options for containing our digital stuff need to be equally deliberate about – what do you need?  How will it help you?  Sometimes that means using programs that are extremely versatile, while at other times you have specific needs – like a photographer using complex photo editing software that would exasperate the rest of us.

The solutions that will work for each of us will not always be obvious.  Similar to setting up organizing systems that we think will work well for us that fall flat; finding the right containers – if containers are even needed for this or that – might well be a process.  I liked EverNote when I started using it, yet didn’t appreciate how versatile it was.  It wasn’t a “container” that I used much while now I’m using it more and more.  Our solutions for containing our stuff – physical or digital – can evolve.  We just want to make sure that we remain mindful about our choices, which will help us from getting overwhelmed with our stuff (again).

Review: NeatDesk Scanner

4.5 out of 5 stars

The Neat Company's Neat Desk Scanner

The Neat Company’s NeatDesk Scanner – desktop scanner I’ve used


  • Eliminate paper
  • OCR (character recognition)
  • Searchable files (due to OCR)
  • Ability to edit PDFs, including copying parts of it elsewhere
  • Scans can live within program or not depending on your needs
  • Multiple pages into 1 document
  • Color or black and white
  • Double-sided scanning option
  • Scans papers, receipts, and business cards
    • Can add business cards into your contact program
  • Create reports, including ones for taxes (from any or some of the receipts)
  • Versions for both PC and Mac
  • Desktop (NeatDesk) and portable (NeatReceipts) models


  • Limited ability to scan to other programs (i.e. Evernote)
  • Occasional image problems
  • Cost
  • Document primarily – less suited for photos
  • PC and Mac models are not interchangeable


Three yeas ago I talked about the temptation of “Creating a Digital Filing Cabinet with a Scanner” – and that all the tools around us have both pros and cons.  Getting and using a scanner in order to reduce paper is the answer for only some of us.  Just as I knew I would eventually, I picked up the NeatDesk scanner from The Neat Company.  It was a little more than a year ago now.  My husband and I both used it independently – scanning papers in so that we could then recycle the paper out of our space.

I can be a bit of a control freak (about my own stuff) – I want to be able to make the decisions and to control where and how things are organized.  NeatDesk allows me that freedom with one setting.  Not everyone wants to make decision after decision about each scanned item – and they provide for that as well, containing everything you scan to the program – if you choose.  I have less experience with this, although I know that you can export any files from the program to somewhere else when/if you need to.   They also offer the ability to export data into spreadsheets and create reports for various expenses, including for taxes (US and Canada).

One of the most important considerations for me was the ability to copy part of a PDF into another program – the time saved by not having to type up a section of the paper.  For instance, my mom sent me an article about the benefits of getting out into nature – I wanted to save the whole article, so I scanned it.  Then I wanted to share just a paragraph in the bottom part of my newsletter, and I was able to open the scanned article and copy and paste just the part I wanted to share into the newsletter.

The cost can be a large factor: the desktop NeatDesk scanner is about $400- and the portable NeatReceipts scanner is about $180- though they do have sales periodically.  Since cost is something to consider – wait to buy a scanner until you are prepared to use it.  Just like any new tool, it takes time to get familiar with it – the learning curve.  I found the NeatDesk to be fairly easy to learn and use; even remembering with gaps between using it.

The Neat Company's Neat Receipts scanner

The Neat Company’s NeatReceipts scanner – their mobile scanner

A regular challenge for me can be to obsess about using the new tools – the temptation to block out all other activities for doing it all.  In this case, I knew part of me would want to sit down and scan everything in sight! I also know that this isn’t the best way to handle things.  First, it leads to a strong possibility that I would scan things that were unnecessary.  Second, life doesn’t stop simply because I have a new system.  Third, like so much, it might never be done – I still get paper magazines with articles to save.  These points mean that incorporating scanning into my life would be more helpful.

Therefore I set up a file in my small desktop filing box called “To Scan” and as I came across papers that I’d want to scan I put them in the file.  Then about once a month I sit down and scan all the papers in that file – a focused time for only this purpose which also means I’m also saving time and energy from scanning one paper here and another there.  This also gives me time and space to be clear about the decisions I’m making about what I’m scanning and then how and where to organize the scanned papers.

The versatility of the settings makes it valuable as well – being able to scan both sides, multiple pages into one document, color or black and white means that we as the consumer have less work – the scanner can more easily benefit us.  As with any tool we use, one of the most important considerations is how it can assist us with our priorities and limit additional effort on our part – the NeatDesk scanner succeeds well in keeping things simplified.

In some ways The Neat Company products are designed for organization within their program.  The ability of where you can direct your scanned documents to go is more limited than I would like.  Since I continue to discover how helpful Evernote is, I’m a bit disappointed that I cannot scan directly into my Evernote account.  On the other hand, I use Dropbox a lot as well and NeatDesk scans my papers there quite easily.  Despite the Evernote limitation, I would not give up my NeatDesk scanner – the functionality of it meets my needs (and it’s not hard to add the documents to Evernote, it’s simply another step).

Some of the documents I scanned came out blurry, though it does seem to be a rare occurrence.  This year I scanned many of the tax related documents for my husband – when there was grayed or colored areas those were barely legible.  Except that when I repeated the scanning of them with a different setting, they scanned in beautifully.  This isn’t always the case – I have a black and white printout from a presentation with the PowerPoint slides and its appearance leaves something to be desired – though part of that could easily be that the printout itself is less than ideal.

Since I waited until I was ready to get the NeatDesk and have used it regularly for over a year I can share with you that it’s a tool that I truly value.  It offers me important options for getting papers into a digital format and makes it easy to do so.  Being mindful of my own tendencies, I knew going in that I would need to establish systems with it that would benefit me.  Just because I have found it to be a wonderful tool doesn’t mean you need to create a digital filing cabinet with your papers.  What are your needs?  What are you comfortable with?

The Neat Company's Paper Monster

The Neat Company’s Paper Monster
Isn’t it cute? 😉


To-Do’s – Technology and Traditional

My adamant approach to all things we do – whether organizing, managing time, cleaning, or working on our goals – is to find our own, individual way.  There is no one right way to do anything.  Take what works from each approach and combine it into something that works for you, even using any of your own unique ideas no one’s ever mentioned.  And no matter how good or logical something sounds – follow your own needs.  Additionally change or adapt it when it makes sense.  When it comes to to-do lists, it can be completely personalized, where only you matter.

Recently I talked about my to-do program on my iPad – Appigo’s Todo. Yet, as much as I use it and wouldn’t give it up, it’s only part of how I handle my to-dos.  I do rely on it and is the place where I try to capture all the tasks I need to do – eventually. This is often called a “brain dump” where you get all your tasks – regardless of priority, relevance, timeline, limitations, and etcetera – out of your head.  It’s not important how you capture them outside your head as long as they’re saved somewhere besides your brain.  This is one of the important aspects my technology to-do list serves for me.

This complete collection of all your to-dos can be utterly overwhelming.  I’ll confess that quite often looking at my whole to-do list can paralyze me.  It’s not that I don’t recognize what needs to be done or that many items are for the future – it’s just that there’s so many – ugh.  A pro for a digital collection of your tasks is that it stays neat and never requires you to rewrite it since you can move, rearrange, and modify any and all tasks easily.  I’m pretty confident that I am saving significant time simply by not rewriting and reorganizing my lists!

For exactly this reason as well as some other reasons, I sit down once a week with this master to-do list, my calendar, and my ARC notebook.  I review most of the tasks on my list considering the time and energy I’ll likely have to dedicate to working on these items.  Then I date the page in my ARC notebook, “June 3-9, 2013” and proceed to list typically 7-14 tasks, the goals of what I want to accomplish during that week.  The process of writing them down serves me in a couple of way – it forces me to be mindful of how many tasks I’ve set out to do since I find that just a digital list can too easily grow unrealistically.  Also, writing them down seems to help my memory of them without the list in front of me – there’s research that supports the process of writing connects our brains with it more than just reading it.

A couple of notes:

–       generally I recommend not setting more than 3 goals/tasks per day as a common struggle is to overestimate how much we can do which can then lead us to feeling unsuccessful and more overwhelmed though of course varies according to your own life

–       some people find it helpful to add their tasks directly into their calendar which is great if it works (my inner child rebels against that vehemently! lol)

Even with this process, it doesn’t mean that I don’t look at my master to-do list during the week.  First, my master list has regular daily or weekly tasks that aren’t included on my weekly handwritten to-dos.  Second, as much as we might try to plan our weeks (or days) things can arise that require we adapt or change our focus.

This is when I find the digital to-do list additionally helpful.  Most (maybe all?) digital to-do programs come with multiple features for organizing your to-dos.  How you set those up and how you use them is quite personal.  I’ve designated areas or “roles” of my life (which I talked some about in, Tasks – Big Picture View): Routines (this is new for me), Business, Household, Health, Personal, Volunteering.  Ideally I spend some time each week in each of these areas and if I need to shift my goals for the week, I can consider if I want to focus on a particular area and use the program to only look at those tasks.  I have some tasks set with an alarm, which helps make sure they’re dealt with.

Another way the digital to-do list helps me is that I set up contexts (only 1 per task) and tags (no limit per task), both of which I can sort with and see only those tasks that relate to what I’ve specified.  There are times when I put off certain types of tasks and then find myself motivated to tackle them.  Let me give you an example – what I consider “technical” phone calls are disturbingly problematic, those phone calls where

  1. there’s a strong probability that it will either be phone tag and I’d ideally be around to limit the phone tag or
  2. require being on hold indefinitely

Chances are that only those types of phone calls are even on my master to-do list and by setting the context as “@Phone calls” I can pull all them up regardless of what category they fit into and burn through them when I have the time and feel up to it.  Similarly one way I use tags is for identifying types of tasks that match my current capabilities – my physical and mental state like I talked about in Your Tasks have Needs.

I’ve combined my to-do list into using both technology and more traditional methods.  Some might find my way to be slightly redundant.  Yet it’s my way, not anyone else’s – it’s been changed and modified over the years according to what does and doesn’t work as well as working through how to make it more successful.  I doubt I will ever be done tweaking it – like the written list that sometimes has a specific day written by the tasks and sometimes time estimates while most of the time it’s just the task.  It’s most important that you find ways that work for you – a system for handling your tasks that supports you in making progress through them – whatever that ends up looking like for you.

My Top Paid App Picks (plus one free app)

Continuing with the theme of technology and productivity, it’s time to talk about apps that might be worth paying for.  Remember the most important aspect to any technology is what your personal needs are – how do you use or want to use your tools.  Using our technology tools, we all vary in what we need and how we use them.

The chances are that there are some free apps that could help you avoid spending money.  Yet even then there are times when it makes more sense to purchase something that will meet your needs.  As I’ve said more than once, I tend to be frugal and especially dislike spending money on something that may or may not meet my needs.  I have more than 100 apps, yet have spent money on only a few.  Apps tend to be significantly less expensive than your traditional computer programs, and I appreciate that.

So, moving on, these are the apps I purchased and why.

1. Todo ($4.99)

This is exactly what it sounds like – a to-do program.  In many ways it functions like many of the other to-do programs available.  It allows you to create projects and checklists as well as a simple to-do item.  You can create multiple categories – like home, work, personal, etc. as well as repeating tasks, start date, priority, alarms, etc.  It also offers you the option of setting tags and contexts – so you can sort by these and see all your tasks that fall under one of these – like all your phone calls or those tasks that require your spouse’s help.  One of the reasons I like it is that my past do items (yes, I do have past due to-do tasks!) are listed yet aren’t quite as annoying as with some other apps.  This program is my brain dump for all tasks, it’s where I collect all those tasks that I need to remember and accomplish.

To Do

One image from Todo app (this view from phone, not tablet)

2. Pages ($9.99)

It’s a word processing app, the equivalent of Word for Mac, and it does allow you to save your files as a Word file (DOC) as well as a PDF.  This is certainly an app that is useful only if you want and have a need for doing a fair amount of typing on your iPad.  Not everyone adjusts to the keyboard or even needs to do much typing; I have written more than one blog on my iPad using this app.  The iPad version is friendlier than the computer version of Pages.  It is very straight forward and easy to use – not much of a learning curve.


One image from Pages app

3. Notability ($1.99 “on sale 60% now”)

A month ago I said I’d only purchased 5 apps, this one was my 6th purchase as I was looking for another program that would allow easier note taking at the NAPO conference.  It offers you the option of audio recording while you take notes, linking the place in the audio to your place in the notes.   You can use the keyboard or writing (finger or stylus) as well as import PDF files to take notes on.  You can export all of these out of the app if you want them elsewhere later.  Since I’ve only just begun using the app, I can only comment on my usage so far, and I really like it and it’s versatility.


One image from Notability app

4. iAnnotate ($9.99)

This is an app for taking notes and annotating PDF files (though they’re now offering Word and PowerPoint annotation with a free account).  It offers a number of options for how to mark-up the PDF’s and how to export them.  I’ve found it a little cumbersome for note taking during conference sessions, though some of that depends on the format of what I’m annotating. When there’s not such a time constraint as being in a session, I prefer this app for annotating for it’s cleanliness and versatility in how I save and export it. Recently I had a PDF I needed to scan and get back to someone, I opened it in iAnnotate, signed and dated it, and emailed it back to her – all within the app.  It was wonderful and saved the hassle (and needless paper) of printing it, signing in, scanning it, and attaching and emailing it back to them.


One image from iAnnotate app

5. Numbers ($9.99)

I use this one the least and primarily for a few business needs – it’s a spreadsheet app.  Like Pages above, it’s the Mac equivalent for Excel, and allows you to open and send files as XLS (Excel) files.  It has many features to offer the user the versatility to do what they need with their spreadsheet.  This is a good example of an app that some will need, while it would be unnecessary for many people.


One image from Numbers app

Last month I said that I’d share the 5 apps I paid for and that 4 of them are indispensable to me.  You might notice that there’s only 5 apps listed and one of them is quite new for me.  The ones I’ve found to be indispensable are ToDo, Pages, and iAnnotate.  There’s an app that I thought I’d paid for, and yet as I look at it now, it’s free!

That’s Penultimate.  This is a great handwriting app. You can create multiple notebooks and sync them with Evernote – an apparently new feature that I’ve not used.  This year I created a notebook for phone calls – a place to take notes on both the messages I collect from voicemail and while talking to someone.  They’re all in one place and there’s a way to view all the pages within a notebook, so when I need to find my notes on a specific phone call it’s easy to do.  It’s also the place I can quickly write something down, even with my finger (though it’s messier than with the stylus) and when I want to “throw” away the note, there’s an option to clear or delete the page.  You can also send a whole notebook or even just a page within a notebook with email.


One image from Penultimate app

One of the things I’m realizing is how this tool – the iPad with associated apps – are moving me naturally toward being more paperless.  This didn’t happen overnight – it’s actually taken me years of using it and adapting to using the technology.  Yet, with my growing comfort and considering things in different lights I’m realizing how to utilize the various features more fully.

Some people believe tablets will replace computers before long, there’s nothing I can think of that you can’t do on a tablet.  I still find my computer to be quite useful and in some ways easier to use – though we all know how fast technology changes.  Now I’m going to feel like a broken record – find and use the tools that will assist you in making your life easier.  🙂

My Top Free App Picks

Recently I talked about Technology Tools – To Get or Not to Get, as well as how well the iPad serves my needs.  This lead me to think about what apps are virtually indispensable to me, as well as how extremely overwhelmed I can become even looking at all the possible apps.

It’s not surprising to be overwhelmed by the number of apps – since it’s reported that there are more than 1 million in iTunes.  And it’s a personal peeve of mine that they don’t offer free trials – to see if the app will meet my needs before I spend money on it – even if it’s only $1.99 or some other “minor” amount.  Those small purchases can add up.  Yet, there are many free apps and I’ve only paid for 5 of the 100+ apps I have.  I’ve been grateful for the input of friends on what is worth getting.

Therefore, without further ado, here are my top free apps and why.

1. Evernote

I’ve talked about Evernote before, in Note Taking for Virtually Everything, and need to revisit this incredible cloud program again in my blog.  Since it’s a cloud program, it can be on most any device and offer you access to your account.  Evernote is amazing in how it can collect all the things you want to remember and be functional.  It can also serve as a place to back-up things from your iPad.

One view of Evernote

One view of Evernote

2. Dropbox

Here’s another cloud program that I talked about in my cloud computing entries, in Drop Files You Use – Here, which works with many devices to provide access to your account.  It also offers the option to back-up data from your iPad into it, like photos, and can be easier than Evernote to access any pdf files.

View of Dropbox

One view of Dropbox

3. Alarmed 

You probably know that I am a fan of timers – it’s a good tool to help keep you on track and to get a sense of the time things take you.  I have 11 free timer apps on my iPad from my exploration of timer options.  Alarmed is the one I use the most – it has both a reminder and a timer section and both allow you to create several alarms and choose from multiple alarm sounds.  I use the reminders as a repeating system to remind me to relax before bed and similar things when I might lose track of time.  The timer area has alarms for the washer and dryer as well as the “You can do 15 minutes” alarm when I’m struggling to get moving.

View of Alarmed timer

View of Alarmed timer

4. 30/30 

I hope to use this one more, especially since they’ve recently resolved some issues.  It’s similar to a timer app as it’s a self-proclaimed “task manager.”  It offers a visual display of what’s on your list, the time remaining on the task and what’s up next.  I’ve been using it to help me create new routines – many of us are familiar with how challenging it can be to get in new habits – and this gives me a framework for remembering and doing it.  I also use it for times when I might have a tendency to get off track – a system for keeping me focused on one area for a period of time before moving to the next area.  I really appreciate the visual aspects of this app – from choosing a color and an icon for each task as well as the ring with time elapsed moving along.

View of app 30/30

One view of 30/30

5. Dragon Dictation

This is another app that I don’t use all the time, yet when I use it, I really appreciate it.  It does require an internet connection and you have a limited amount of time to speak, yet it does a pretty good job in transcribing your speech into text.  From there you can send it or paste it into the app of your choice.  Considering this is a $200- computer program that is free for the i-devices – it’s great!

One view of Dragon Dictation app

One view of Dragon Dictation

There are more apps that I use and appreciate.  These 5 free apps are the ones that help me most – with simplifying, with organization, with productivity, with supporting me in my life.  Although these cannot help anyone if they sit unused on your device – you have to use it to make it helpful.  Next month I’ll share the 5 apps that I did actually pay for – and 4 of them made it to my indispensable list along with these 5 I talked about today.  Remember what matters most is finding and using the tools that will help you make the most out of your life.

The Experience – That’s What Matters

I’ve talked before the idea of gifting experiences instead of stuff.  As well as talked about how the containers and tools we use for organizing need to fit our needs – their purpose is to make our life easier.  Earlier this year I talked about Technology Tools and how these too need to be evaluated on how they could help us.  Therefore, let’s move into media – my beloved books and music!

You might be getting sick of hearing how I hold onto books and CD’s, yet these too are about the experience.  When I read, I’m learning or exploring – it’s information that I delve into and appreciate greatly.  When I listen to music, whether it’s on in the background or I’m soaking it in – it’s part of my experience.  These mediums are essentially about the experience of them.  If they’re not used, they become either décor or clutter.

Since their purpose is to be used – are you using them as effectively as you can and want?  For me, I knew I was missing much of our music.  I simply forgot what we had, even with as organized as the CD’s are, and so they would stay in their drawers.  And I was resisting the idea of digitizing our music.  Yet as I thought about all the lovely music we have – about 800 albums of a wide variety of genres, and the ensuing guilt over owning yet not appreciating them – I agreed to move them into digital form.

We used an external hard drive to store the digitized music, purchased the Sonos system to have access to our music wirelessly, and presto we have digital access to our entire music library.  Now we can listen and appreciate the music we love, which is what matters most.  In addition, we used the process of digitizing our music to purge – was there any reason to keep those albums we ended up not loving?

I’ve not jumped into an e-reader yet – and am not sure if I will.  I read daily and our books are organized so I can find what I want or need.  Yet, as I’ve talked about with all these other things – what are your personal needs?  This isn’t about following the crowd, but rather about whether an e-reader would facilitate your needs and values.

Remember, this is about the experience – and whether you hold a book in your hands or an e-reader, you can jump into the words, knowledge, and world either way.  If I was traveling more I don’t think I could resist getting an e-reader – having any number of books available in one convenient place (without any additional weight).  I’m impressed with the ease it can offer for people to read – in the waiting rooms, lunch breaks, wherever there’s some available time.

As with virtually everything I talk about – I am not advocating one thing or another.  It’s about your life and what can help you in living it they way you want – to make the most of the experiences you want.  And, I’m not saying that you need to get rid of the physical items even if they’re digital.  We kept most of our CD’s, only parting with about 70 of them.  Similarly, I couldn’t imagine parting with many of our books.

It’s all about experiencing the content.  If you’re not accessing them, is there a better way?  What’s getting in the way of using them?  The digital possibilities offer us options in order for us to have the experience of them regardless of the medium.  If you consider yourself a book or music lover, does your life reflect those values?  If not, it might be time to consider alternatives that can help you in living your values.

Technology Tools – To Get or Not to Get

With the proliferation of technology tools, we need to think about both how we work and what could benefit us.  Just because the tools exist doesn’t mean that it’s something that will help us.  If you think about how many different ways there are for organizing papers, you can make a comparison – you can’t use all the different tools for dealing with paper; you need to figure out what you need as well as what will help you.  Then that is what you use and appreciate.  Tools of technology are no different. As with all tools, the most important consideration is your own needs.

Some people feel that they need to get the tech tools; they need to be up with the trends or not get lost with all the technology changes bombarding us.  I can relate to that – I was debating about getting a smart phone.  I wasn’t sure that it mattered to me – I have my iPad which serves me so well, yet I couldn’t help but consider adding that skill set to my knowledge base.  I’ve known more than one person who felt that they “should” use the technology.

Let’s eliminate all “shoulds” for getting and using technology.  Many people continue to function perfectly well without using any smart devices – I’m working with someone who doesn’t even own a computer, let alone a basic cell phone or anything else.  If on the other hand, you have a need for one (or more) of these tech tools, that’s not a “should.”  There’s a foundation for getting it – to fill a need you have.  This isn’t about comparing yourself to your kids or your parents, or neighbors or coworkers, etc. nor is about following the trends of the latest thing (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). It’s about examining your personal needs and identifying a gap that these tools could meet.

I absolutely adore my iPad and I don’t think there will be a time that I will not find it extremely useful.  I use it for quite a number of things, having adapted to using it, and now both appreciate its benefits for me and how things have been simplified.  Yet, just because it’s a fabulous tool for me, doesn’t mean that it is a good tool for anyone else.  It seems that some people think that if the technology exists, everyone should use it.  That’s silly and potential wasteful – of your money, time, and energy.

One of the potential challenges with all this technology is that there is a learning curve – the time it takes to both learn and adapt to how it works – and it continues to change.  That isn’t even addressing the huge number of apps available to help meet your needs – which also require learning and adapting to.  And it might mean that you could use additional tools – I decided to add a stylus to my tool bag for a handwriting app.  I’d encourage you to make the most of the tools you choose to incorporate into your life – remember they are there to benefit your life.

When technology is used to fulfill a need, it can make our lives easier and help us become more effective in life.  I was recently talking to someone about options for using technology and the potential for eliminating the amount of papers.  There is a way that she could only use technology; it would require learning a number of new programs and adding steps to her process.  I commented that it sounded both too complicated for her and went against her inclinations.  From there we moved into talking about some simple ways to use technology that could be relatively easy to implement and would additionally simplify parts of her process.

I’ve found that thinking about these technology options specifically as “tools” it encourages me to think about their usefulness for me – just as I wouldn’t buy a compound miter saw since I couldn’t and wouldn’t use it.  Despite that this technology surrounds us, it doesn’t change the fact that they are tools – something that’s supposed to make our lives simpler.  Yet only for those people who have a need for that tool.

Is there a need that one of the technology tools would fulfill?  This is the most important consideration before you jump in and get anything.  Identifying your specific needs can then lead you to which particular tool will be most beneficial for you – since there are so many.