How Fancy Hands Saved me $90 in 5 Minutes

Fancy Hands Stats Through 1-18-15
Time > Money

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a Fancy Hands fanatic, and I can’t help myself but to spread the good word of the virtual assistant service whenever I see an opening in conversation. For those of you who’re not yet familiar with the service the elevator pitch is Assistants for Everyone. Do what you love. We’ll do the rest. And in my experience thats pretty much exactly what goes down. I have been a Fancy Hands subscriber since August of 2013, and in that time i’ve submitted 80 requests using the service, and by their calculations they’ve made 181 phone calls, scheduled 3 events, sent 2 emails, and overall saved me 1.3 days. 1.3 days! Thats over 30 hours of time that I didn’t have to spend doing stuff over the phone or online. Pretty cool right?

So the reason I’m writing about them today, is that earlier today I was doing my Sunday  review and one of my tasks was to “Have Fancy Hands call current subscriptions and ask for a discount”. This task was inspired by the July 2014 LifeHacker.com article “Have a Bill Haggle Day”. In the piece author Eric Ravenscraft advocates for taking a day, listing out all of your current bills and subscriptions, and calling them individually asking for a discount of some kind.

Enter FancyHands.

3 hours ago I submitted the following request to FancyHands:

Afternoon, I would like for you to please call DirecTV and see if there is anything they can do for me in the way of a discount moving forward. I do not watch a lot of TV (I’m sure they’d be able to see a record of that), and am with them for the Sunday Ticket only. At $100 a month in the “offseason” I am considering canceling my service and foregoing the Sunday Ticket next year.

If there is anything they can do in order to help me stay that would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
PJF

I type at just around 100 words a minute, so at 95 words total (not including the salutation which is a TextExpander snippet), this took me about 1 minute to type up and press send. Pressing the “Send Request” button on Fancy Hands is a very liberating feeling. I do hope you’ll try it someday.

18 minutes ago, I got the following email from Fancy Hands:

Hello Peter,
I called DirecTV and explained your concerns, they were able to apply a $15 credit for 6 months to your account, beginning on your next bill.
If you need further assistance please let me know.
Sincerely, Tia G.

Jonah Hill Moneyball GIF
Tia G to the rescue!

 

To recap:

  1. I submitted a request to Fancy Hands asking them to see if they could get me a discount on my DirecTV service which took about ~1 minute to do
  2. Fancy Hands promptly took the request and kicked ass
  3. I get to save $90 over the next 6 months thanks to Tia G.
  4. ??????

For the skeptics, this is not an anomaly, Fancy Hands has repeatedly saved me copious about of time and money since I started using them and I suspect they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I may or may not write a more detailed post (with video?) in the future about what other types of tasks I use Fancy Hands for on a monthly basis, if thats something you’d like to see be sure to let me know. And as always, if you have any questions or comments about this reach out! I love talking about Fancy Hands (if you couldn’t already tell)

Convinced?

Want to give Fancy Hands a try and see how much time, money, and effort it can save you? Good news, you can get your first month half off! By Clicking Here you can sign up and get 50% off your first months bill, oh and Fancy Hands will give me $15 off my next months bill.

To recap (again):

  1. Click Here to sign up and save 50% off your first month
  2. I receive $15 from Fancy Hands for referring you
  3. We become best friends and productivity soul mates

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5 Time Saving IFTTT Recipes

I am a sucker for automation. I spend a lot of time in a variety of tools that help to automate some of the more mundane tasks that I have to accomplish on a daily basis. While we will talk about all of those tools in the future, today we’re going to focus on just one, IFTTT. For those of you who have not yet been exposed to IFTTT, it stands for “If This Then That” and it is useful to pretty much anyone who uses…the internet. Seriously, if you do anything online then odds are you can put IFTTT to work for you. I have been using it for some time now, and today im going to talk about some of the “Recipes” that I find the most helpful.

Before we get into specifics, lets talk quickly about the process of creating a recipe with IFTTT. The first thing that you’re going to have to do is specify a trigger. The trigger is the jumping off point for the recipe. Its what lets IFTTT know that you want something to happen. Examples include: new RSS feed item, new favorite tweet, calendar event starts, time and date, etc. Once you’ve settled on when you want something to happen you have to specify the action to take. Actions could be things like: sending you an email, creating a note in Evernote, saving data to a spreadsheet, or sending yourself a text message. There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of different triggers and actions. Today we’re only going to touch on a few, but hopefully we can get your createive juices flowing and you’ll be able to envision exactly how you might want to utilize this service in your own life. Lets get started.

1. Trigger – New event gets added to my Google calendar Action – Create a new note in Evernote

 

gcal-evernote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of my favorite recipes because it allows me to streamline the note taking process for all of my meetings that get put on my calendar. As a software engineer my meetings consist of things like: standups, sprint planning, retrospectives, client kickoffs, and code reviews. Before I had this process I would take notes on whatever app was open at the time: Sublime text, stickies, text edit, sometimes Evernote, or simply not take notes at all. With that system I was able to take notes (for the most part) but I rarely had all of the the context necessary to make them as useful as possible. Things like: start/end times, other attendes, original description, etc. So what does this recipe do? Well as the title implies, everytime I accept a calendar invite, IFTTT creates a note for me in Evernote that includes all of the basics, as well as a place for all of my notes. No longer do I have to worry about taking notes in my text editor, and putting them in Evernote. Now whenever I have a meeting, I open up Evernote and boom, there’s a meeting note waiting for me that I can work off of. As an added benefit I can use these notes as part of my timeline to see what I was doing on a given day.

2. Trigger – New Foursquare checking – Action – Create a new note in Evernote

foursquare-evernote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I went over my lifelogging process in detail here, but heres the long and the short of it. I use Swarm (formerly Foursquare) to check in everywhere i go. From Best Buy to Peter Luegers and everywhere in between, if i’m there, I check in. Once I do that I have IFTTT automatically create a note that contains all of that check in information. This is great for looking back at where you’ve been and what you’ve done. I also double down on this recipe and have IFTTT create a new calendar event in my Google calendar for each checkin. This allows me to more easily look back at where i’ve been when perusing my calendar.

3. Trigger – New “How I Work” post – Action – Email me

lifehacker-email

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I LOVE the Lifehacker.com “How I Work” series where they take people from all industries and ask them to bare all with regards to how they do what they do. If you’ve never checked it out before I highly recommend reading some of the past posts. You’re all but guaranteed to pickup something from each one you read. Given my love for these articles this recipe should come as no great surprise. I have IFTTT monitor the Lifehacker RSS feed and whenever an article is posted that includes the words “How I Work”, IFTTT emails me to let me know that a new one has been published. This lets me get right into the content without having to constantly check their site to look for the latest in the series.

4. Trigger – New Automatic trip data – Action – New row in Google spreadsheet

automatic-googledrive

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a proponent of the quantified self movement I am a big fan of the Automatic. Automatic is a devices that plugs into your cars onboard computer system and monitors your trips and alerts you when you’re driving in a way that is not gas efficient. With this recipe everytime I complete a trip IFTTT creates a new row in the Google Drive spreadsheet that I have for my Automatic. This allows me to more easily go back to look at trips, and is especially helpful for longer distances so that I can see how much it cost me to drive from A to B. Automatic is constantly improving their product and if you haven’t tried it yet I strongly recommend picking one up.

5. Trigger – Fitbit Daily Summary – Action – New note in Evernote

fitbit-evernote

 

 

 

 

 

 

In case you haven’t noticed, I love Evernote and I try to put as much stuff in there as possible, this recipe is an extension of that. I currently wear a Fitbit flex and with IFTTT I am able to take the data that it collects and put it into my Evernote at the end of each day. This serves to give me even more context when I look back at notes for a given period in time.

 

So now that we’ve gone over some of my top uses for IFTTT, what about you? Is it something you use? What are some of your favorite recipes? Let me know on Twitter, in the comments, or email me!

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Lifelogging with IFTTT, Evernote, and Swarm

IFTTT-LogoCall me crazy, but I like to know where I’ve been at different points in my life. Im not talking just on a macro scale either, im talking day by day, hour by hour, where was I and what was I doing on this date, 2 years ago. Why? Its pretty simple, I like to relive days of old whenever the mood strikes. Its fun for me to open up my calendar or Evernote timeline and look back at a date and say “Oh ya, I remember this”. Once you open the box you never know what you might do with it, or where it’ll lead you. Perhaps you come across a dinner you had with an old friend a year ago and seeing the record of it leads you to get back in touch? The possibilites are endless, though for the sake of this article we’re going to focus on how you can automate (mostly) the process of documenting your life.

To get started you’re going to need three things: IFTTT account, Swarm account, Evernote account, and a Google account (optional). Once you’ve got those things we can dive into the process of documenting your life.

Step 1 – Funnel Swarm Checkins to Evernote Automatically

The first step in this process is to head over to IFTTT and setup a recipe for taking your Swarm (formerly FourSquare) checkins and turning them into Evernote notes. Doing this is simple. First click on the “Create” button in the top right hand corner of IFTTT. Once you’re on the create a recipe page you want to first select the trigger which in this case is a FourSquare checkin (they haven’t changed it to Swarm, but it still works, I promise.) Once you’ve got that selected its time to create an action. For this I choose to make an Evernote note that goes into a “Timeline” notebook. The note includes everything that IFTTT puts in there automaticlally with the checkin. At this point you’re pretty much ready to rock and roll.

 

foursquare to evernote ifttt

If you want, you can also elect to create another recipe for storing these checkins as events on your Google calendar. If you’re someone like me who has their Sunrise calendar app open all day, it can be nice to see where you’ve been, at a glance.

Step 2 – Checkin everywhere you go

This is pretty self explanatory but if you don’t do it then you won’t get very much out of what we did in step 1. The point here is that no matter where you go, how long you’re there for, or what you’re doing, you should be checking in using Swarm. I checkin if im buying a light bulb from Lowe’s, just as I do if im having a graudation celebration dinner wth my family. It all goes back into my notebook.

swarm

One important thing that I like to do when checking in is to provide plenty of context. In Swarm you’re able to add a description, do it. Write down who you’re with, what you’re doing, what is the occasion? Doing this will make step 3 a lot more enjoyable.

Step 3 – Review the data every so often

This last step isn’t really much of a science, its more of a personal preference. Every so often its nice to look back and see where you’ve been, or what you’ve done. I dont have a set schedule for looking over this stuff, but id say that about once a month ill do a review of the past 30 days or so. basically a step by step introduction to how I go about logging all of the events that take place in my life. How do you do it? Is their something I forgot? Let me know!

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How I Buffer Effectively

buffer logoFor those of you that don’t already know, Buffer is a social media scheduler that allows you to que up posts for your Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin accounts weeks/days/months ahead of time. Why is this to useful you may ask? Well for starters, I find it difficult to have to remember to share something at some point in the future. For me personally its easier to share it right away, and then forget about it. The problem there however is that if you spam your followers with tweet after tweet after tweet, you’re going to loose followers, even if the content is spectacular. With Buffer you’re able to combat this by taking the content that you’ve found and sharing it right away (in your mind), and then having it spread out of a period of time.

At this point you’re either already a Buffer user interested in learning how I use it effectively, or someone whos just heard about it for the first time. For those of you in the latter camp, go ahead and sign up, then come back, and we will continue.

My 3 Pronged Approach For Using Buffer Effectively

1. Find great content that is worth sharing
If the stuff that you’re sharing with your followers is largely worthless, then you’re not going to reap any benefits from having shared it. How can you tell if something is worth sharing? Well, much like porn, you know it when you see it. Did you learn something when you read it? Is it something that hasn’t been talked about a million times before? Will its voice resonate with your audience? Is it in a similar niche? These are all questions that you need to ask yourself before deciding what to share.

2. Researching the author, and constructing the share
Step 2 is where, in my opinion, 90% of people fail. They’ve got a got piece of content (or so they think), and so they drop the link into Buffer without ever giving it a second thought. While you could make the argument that doing this is better than doing nothing at all, its still very poor execution. At this point what I do, is lookup the author in Google to find their Twitter handle. Ill then construct a custom message to go along with the link, that includes a hashtag or two, and a mention of the author.

 

buffer analytics

The number of replies, favorites, and retweets that I receive when I do it this way as oppposed to simply clicking “Add to Buffer” and doing nothing else, is astounding.

3. Schedule the share at the most opportune time
At this point you’ve got a great piece of content that your followers are sure to love, and you’re constructed a top of the line share that is going to garner more favorites and retweets than a vanilla share. The only thing that is left to do is to make sure that you put that content in front of your audience…..when they’re actually online. If you’re sharing your best stuff at 4am on Sunday then chances are no one is going to see it. What you need to do is use a service such as SocialBro that can run a report and tell you when your followers are most active. Then tune your Buffer schedule to match those times.

My Tweet Times
My Tweet Times

Recap
Find great content, put some effort into the way it is presented, and share it at an optimal time. If you do this, I promise that your results will be better than if you did not.

Any questions? Leave a comment, or send me an email (I always reply.)

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Getting Started with Alfred

If you’re reading this, then chances are you’re interested in becoming a bit more productive on your Mac. Luckily for you, Alfred is one of the easiest programs you can add to your computing arsenal, and in my opinion it can make one of the biggest differences with regards to productivity. Before we get into the nuts and bolts of Alfred and what it can offer, you’re going to have to download it onto your machine. There are two ways that you can do this: through the Mac app store, or from the Alfred.com website. Technically you could download it from either place and be up and running in very little time. However, due to the Apple sandbox Alfred cannot run totally free unless you download it directly from their website. Moreover, the Alfred PowerPack which we’ll touch on in a bit can only be used on the version downloaded directly from the Alfred.com website. Bottom line; download Alfred from the Alfred.com website.

alfred app logoAlright, so now that you’ve got the app downloaded and installed its time to poke around and learn the basics of Alfred. For users of Spotlight you’ll feel right at home in terms of how it presents itself, but the comparisons between the two largely stop there. Alfred is not on
ly faster (much faster) than Spotlight, but it also has a plethora of features that Spotlight does not, nor will it ever, and we’ll cover those a bit later. Anyway, once you’ve got Alfred up and running the first thing you need to do is pick a hot key that you’ll use to bring up Alfred. The most natural seems to be the CMD+Space combination, and thats what I use. One thing to note is that Spotlight uses that combination by default so you’re going to have to turn that off. To make that happen head over to your System Preferences -> Spotlight -> Uncheck the box next to “Spotlight menu keyboard shortcut:”. Doing that will allow Alfred to take over that hotkey. Something you’ll notice after doing that however is that the Spotlight icon is still present in your menu bar. If you’re like me and prefer to keep that as tidy as possible then you’ll want to remove it. In order to make that happen you’ll need to open up your Terminal from /Applications/Utilities and paste in the following: sudo chmod 600 /System/Library/CoreServices/Search.bundle/Contents/MacOS/Search press return, then paste the following and hit return as well killall SystemUIServer. If you decide at some later date that you’d like to get the icon back you can simply run the following two commands: sudo chmod 600 /System/Library/CoreServices/Search.bundle/Contents/MacOS/Search return, and then killall SystemUIServer return.

If everything worked out for us the way that it was supposed to after that last paragraph, you should now: 1. Have Alfred installed and running 2. Be able to call it by pressing CMD+Space 3. Not have to see or deal with Spotlight anymore. All good? Alright, lets move on to how we can use Alfred to help us be more productive.

Opening Applications
The main usage point for Alfred is as an application launcher. What does that mean? It means that instead of dragging your mouse to an applications icon, you can now press CMD+Space and type in the name of the app, press enter, and have it launched for you right away. Even for those of you who’re not able to type at a blistering rate, you will be faster using this method. Go ahead and give it a try, how does it feel? Another thing that you can do is use Alfred to switch between applications on your machine. I personally stick to using one desktop and then rely on a combination of Alfred and Alt+Tab to switch between everything. As you can imagine, I’m running 10+ programs simultaneously more often than not so Alt+Tab tends to get pretty cumbersome pretty quickly. For that reason, if I want to access Spotify (which is already open) and Safari is my top most window, I can Alfred into Spotify without having to cycle through all of the other apps that may be open at that time.

Custom Web Searches
I am not sure the last time I went to Google.com to type in a search, or even typed in a search in Safari. When I want to search Google for something, all I need to do is pull up Alfred and type in whatever it is I want to search for. So long as the thing that I’m searching for isn’t also the name of an application on my machine, this is a great way to efficiently search the web. Alfred lets you do more though, they’re called custom web searches and they’re pretty awesome. Basically you can take any website that has a search functionality, and integrate it with Alfred. When you download Alfred it comes with a number of these searches built in, and honestly I haven’t had to add very many. The ones I use most often? Amazon {query}, gmail {query}, youtube {query}. What am I doing there? Well, pull up alfred and type in amazon (space) and then the name of something you’d like to search for in Amazon, press enter, and see what happens. Wasn’t that cool? What kinds of websites do you frequent that you’d like to mimic that behavior with? There is a lot more that we can do with web searches, but for now I think that this is enough to get your feet wet.

Calculator/System Commands/And more
The last of the major (basic) features that I want to touch on are the calculator/system commands/ and a few other minor switches. The calculator is something I use at least once per day, I’m not sure it’ll work for those of you doing calculus but for quick calculations theres no way to get to a calculator faster. Moreover, you can actually copy the result of your equation by pressing enter. This is incredibly helpful for relaying the result of your problem to whomever it is you need to relay it to. For system commands, you can say things like: lock, empty trash, shutdown, sleep, etc. Theres no reason to reach for your mouse when you want to accomplish these sorts of things, and with Alfred you don’t have to. Lastly you can run terminal/shell commands if you’re a 1337 h4cker and thats your thing. You can also find contacts, and use the built in dictionary to check spelling or grab definitions.

We’ve come a long way in 1,100 words. At the beginning you were a mouse wielding human, and now you’re a keyboard mashing super human. Nice! There is plenty more that you can do with Alfred once you’ve got the power pack, things like workflows can save you exponential amounts of time. You can also directly integrate with iTunes, 1Password, Recent Documents, and even sync your settings via Dropbox. Would you like to see a post from me detailing the use of the power pack? Let me know in the comments below, or email me and ill be sure to make it happen.

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