Recently in Life Could Be Easier Category

Life could be easier ... with plants!

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Looking for a boost? Studies show that plants make people happier and more productive in their work.

A study published in the journal of Landscape and Urban Planning shows that employees with windows overlooking vegetation report that they are more satisfied than those who do not (Kaplan, 1993). Another research study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology shows the effect of plants on worker productivity (Raanaas, Evensena, Richb, Sjøstrøma, & Patila, 2011). Two groups of participants performed the same task, one in a room with plants and one without. The group with plants improved their scores the second time they performed the task and the other group did not.


These are just two examples of many studies that show how nature can improve cognition, focus, satisfaction, lower stress levels, blood pressure, and reduce road rage (Jaffe, 2010). But why plants? University of Michigan psychologists claim that we can restore mental fatigue when we shift to an effortless form of engagement like nature. Although there are other ways to restore attention, plants are more efficient because of the oxygen they release into the air (Wolverton, 1989), and their need to be tended.

Stop by your local co-op or find a garden center near you.

No windows in your office? These are some plants that can do well without direct sunlight. These are plants NASA suggests are best to filter air.

Get growing!



Jaffe, E. (2010). Discovering why the human mind needs nature. Observer, 23.

Kaplan, R. (1993). The role of nature in the context of the workplace. Landscape and Urban Planning, 26, 193-201.

Raanaasas, R. K., Evensena, K. H. Richb, D., Sjøstrøma, G., & Patila, G. Benefits of indoor plants on attention capacity in an office setting. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31, 99-105.

Wolverton (1989). A study of interior landscape plants for indoor air pollution abatement. Retrieved from

Photo courtesy of Dave Kleinschmidt via Flickr

Life could be easier ... with!

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lynda.pngAs e-learning is becoming more prominent, online course design, usability, and organization of information are likewise becoming increasingly important. The online training library sucessfully provides flexible and convenient self-paced instruction on a wide variety of subjects and software programs. As of 2012, offered 1,337 courses and is continually adding more in a wide variety of categories.

While browsing through courses, I was delighted to find that the menu options, headers, and footers are all clean and consistent. There is also an option to bookmark courses that you want to watch another time by simply clicking an icon. This builds a playlist associated with your account that lists courses you are interested in, as well as those recently started or completed. Additionally, it is easy to see where you left off if you haven't finished the entire course yet.

My favorite feature of the site is that although many courses are several hours long, they are organized into short lesson segments; a particular lesson might only last between five and ten minutes. This makes the content much more digestible and can be handy for wanting to learn only one procedure or aspect of a topic. Users can choose if they want to play a whole chapter or simply an individual video in a setting.

Although the courses are not interactive, they are engaging and instructionally sound. The instructors are experts on the topics and use a variety of screenshots, illustrations, and animations to engage the users. The examples used are realistic and the content is challenging while catering to a wide range of users and experience. Finally, the courses work on PC, Mac and a variety of mobile devices.

I took a course on Google Analytics to help with my job but found a variety of topics that personally interest me including video editing and film scoring that I will take in the future. Check it out!

Life could be easier...with a system

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Cleaning up my digital workspace
Guest blogger: Carolyn Rauber

I use four tools to manage my work: Evernote for notetaking; Google Drive for document storage and sharing; Google tasks for deadlines, checklists, and reminders; and a nifty little app called Thinglist for jotting down names, ideas, or anything that might land on a Post-It note or on a pad of paper.

You read that correctly: I can describe my system in one sentence! Before you roll your eyes, just a couple months ago it would have sounded like this:


  1. take notes on a little yellow notepad. Sometimes, when I don't bring my laptop to a meeting, I take notes on the Evernote iPhone app (when I can remember the password I chose last time I reset my password). Or, depending how I feel, I use Google docs, MS Word, or the Notepad app on my iPhone.

  2. My documents are in Google Drive and the hard drive on my work laptop (I have a different file structure for each, though). Some of my files are in Dropbox, but only the ones I need to access at home. I also put files in something called my Home Directory, which I used to think was Netfiles but was actually my Active Directory web space. I have one or two things in Netfiles, I think.

  3. I have a constellation of Post-It notes, calendar alerts, Google tasks, large pieces of paper stuck to my wall, and notes on a whiteboard in my office to keep track of deadlines and to-do lists.

  4. If I need to write down a name, idea, or interesting book title -- gee, that could be anywhere.

After accumulating a year of stuff this way (I started at the Libraries in July 2012), I felt completely swamped. I decided to follow PIM's advice: take a few days, sit down, and organize my stuff. The challenge for me was choosing a system that reflected how I like to work. In an organizational fervor, I tend to create overly complicated file structures and tagging systems that look nice, but have no relationship to my workflow. That was what I wanted to avoid.

What follows were the biggest challenges, the ones about which my poor officemates heard me complain most loudly. I started at the beginning of the summer term, when my schedule was quieter. In all, it took several afternoons of effort, though I worked on it sporadically over a several weeks.



For note taking, I used notepads and my iPhone because I didn't like carrying my laptop to meetings in other buildings. I often used Google Drive for notes when I had my laptop, but it just didn't work for me because I couldn't differentiate my notes from other Google docs. I didn't want all my notes in a separate folder on Drive, or write "NOTES" in the title, either, because I wanted more context. For me, it was important to see whether the notes were from a conference or a staff meeting.

I had used Evernote sporadically, and had heard good things about it, so I finally chose to commit. First, I copied and pasted notes from Google Drive and from the Notepad app on my iPhone, to new Evernote notes. It took about an hour to create and tag these notes, all said and done -- the easy part. I then went through all my paper notes. I started to discover things like this:


These are meeting notes. Sometime after the meeting, I went back in highlighter to identify this note as related to the astronomy department, and highlight the key parts of the note. As if that would help me find or use it in the future!

I also found things like this:


Those are names of fancy furniture stores, hastily scribbled on meeting notes. The meeting was about statistics and serials, and must have been on my desk at the time. I don't know what I was trying to convey with the bouncy arrow.

As I typed my notes into Evernote, I made sure each note was tagged. (The furniture note was tagged "apartment" and "furniture.") It took hours, and I had to do it incrementally, but I felt much more efficient when all my notes were in one place. I could use the Evernote iPhone app to take notes on the go, or the desktop application on my laptop. I also discovered that I could attach files to a note; when I take notes on a presentation I like, I attach the slides. I still use the paper notepad occasionally, but I make sure to keep my pile of paper notes near me and type them up when I have time.

The biggest challenge of simplifying my note taking was typing handwritten notes. It took awhile to find and type everything, not to mention deciphering some of my handwriting!

Document Storage

For document storage, I wanted to access my files from home, work, or my phone. I also wanted to have collaborative documents in the same place as non-collaborative documents and put an end to the two-separate-file-structures system I had on my hard drive and Google Drive.

I chose Google Drive for the collaborative features, and the simple fact that most work I do takes place on Google Drive. I finally used the Drive desktop application I downloaded ages ago, and moved all the files from "My Documents" into Drive. I threw out my old, complicated file structure and created a flatter, simpler one based on the documents I knew I had. Then I chose a backup schedule.

I was also very diligent about what I kept and how I named files. I knew I had duplicates, versions that could be deleted, and files I wanted to keep. I went through everything. I deleted what I could, but mostly I made sure I could identify each file by title, and to rename it if I couldn't.

The folder that contained all my instruction materials was the biggest challenge. I had a year's worth of presentations, handouts, and prep materials. These came from class sessions, workshops, and orientations, and were all jumbled up. I could have created a folder for each session, but I wanted to keep the structure simple and flat. Instead, I created a file naming system for that folder.


I used the titles to keep workshops, orientations, and class sessions together. I added dates and course designations when I could, and tried to be as descriptive as possible. It's not perfect, but it works very well for me.

The most time-consuming part of this process was moving and renaming files, but it was absolutely worthwhile.

To-Do Lists

When I discovered Google Tasks, I was sure I found the solution to all my problems. "I'll just make a task for myself," I thought, "and will be compelled to get it done!" You can display your Task list by clicking the down arrow next to "Mail" in the top left corner of the page, then selecting "Tasks." I brought up the Tasks window in Gmail and went to town.


At first, I only wrote down long-term tasks and projects, but noticed that after I added a task to the list, I hardly ever looked at it. I had a difficult time breaking up with my Post-Its for immediate to-dos.

What I didn't realize was that Tasks are integrated with both Gmail and Google Calendar. A task with a "due date" adds it to the "Tasks" section of Google Calendar. I usually have my calendar up all day, so it's convenient for me.


I can now add tasks to the day as quickly as I add events. I make little to-do lists for myself every day.


Gmail has shortcuts for adding tasks, as well. You can save specific e-mails as tasks with the Shift + T shortcut. This is less useful for me, but I have used it occasionally when I'm in a hurry. Then I go back and add a due date to the task, which adds it to my calendar.

Those Pesky, Random Jottings

Remember the furniture note from before? I probably wrote that down after a conversation about fancy furniture stores. It ended up in the corner of a different note and was completely forgotten. I had tons of those. I'm looking at one now: a small scrap of paper that says nothing but "dieffenbachia." What am I supposed to do with that?

I ran across an article on Mashable that described an iOS app called Thinglist. It costs $1.99, but the description was what got me: "Thinglist. It's a list of things." That's exactly what I needed: a place to write down things.


This is now where I put things that would otherwise end up on a small scrap of paper in my office. The "dieffenbachia" problem is solved.


And that's it! That's how I organized my life: Evernote, Google Drive, Google Tasks, and Thinglist. Consolidating my information to those tools took some effort, and I'm still developing habits to use them. But I have much more control over my personal information! That alone is worth the trouble.

Life could be easier...with a phablet!

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Name: Link Swanson
Device: Samsung Galaxy Note II
Carrier: Ting

As a technologist, you would think that I would be "all about" tablets and smartphones; however, you would be wrong. Sure, I went through a brief obsession with jailbreaking and unlocking iPhones back in 2007. True, I did at one time drive around with an iPad to attached to my car dashboard with Velcro. But for the past few years I have felt an increasing desire to keep my screen-time at my desk, so I can actually be in the real world without constant interruption to bask in an AMOLED glow at regular five minute intervals.

In spite of this personal preference for keeping my free time screen-free, I must confess that I do whip out the phablet for certain situations, and that I am grateful that I have this miracle-curse on my person in these moments:

I'm looking at something that is broken and I need to fix it. Use the camera!

I snap a lot of photos during the process of repairing things: If I walk into the server room to a black screen filled with cryptic error messages in white text--I can't exactly print out the errors or take a screenshot when the system is stuck booting in runlevel 1--so I take a picture! Or when I am about to unplug a dozen cables from the back of the server: I take a photo before unplugging them all, which provides a handy reference point when it's time to plug them back in!

I'm driving down the road and I have this breakthrough idea. Voice notes!

Creative breakthroughs often come during rather bland routine activities. You can't always take time to write or type these sudden treasures. Voice recorder is a great way to capture them without much fuss. I use also use this for lyrical ideas or when I am improvising on my bass and want to remember that killer riff. Use at your (phone's) risk if you get great ideas while showering.

I'm playing a guitar that is horribly out of tune. Use gStrings!

For all the smartphone nay-saying that I do, I can't argue with the fact that it is pretty awesome to have a guitar tuner on me at all times.

I'm getting alerts that one of my servers is down: ConnectBot!

Hacking the command line while waiting in the checkout line: what a concept. I can make changes and fixes to my servers through SSH from any place where I can pick up a data connection. Pair it with Hacker's Keyboard for a truly powerful pocket administrative capability.

I'm talking with someone and we are trying to explain a spatial/visual concept: S Note and the Stylus!

My phablet has a stylus, and the S Note app from Samsung comes in handy whenever discussing concepts that are best represented visually. Sometimes scribbling a picture saves a lot of frustrating hand gestures when trying to convey spatial/visual relationships. Bonus: you can send the drawing in an email or text message to everyone involved in the conversation.

So there you have it: the situations that I value having a mobile device handy, and the apps that make it so.

Thanks, Link, for your tips! If you're interested in sharing tech tricks that you've picked up that make your life easier, please contact anyone in the PIM collaborative!

Life could be easier...

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The PIM group is relaunching the Life Could Be Easier series, this time featuring users of tablets and other devices. Our first post is from Jon Jeffryes, who was awarded an iPad in November's Emerging Tech Expo Device Competition.

Here's a quick overview of the Apps that I've found most useful since getting a work iPad in January 2013. I'll admit I started out skeptical about how useful an iPad could be in day-to-day work and have found myself pleasantly surprised.

I'm like contractually obliged to mention the EndNote app, since the reason I got the iPad was to offer EndNote Support. I've got to admit it's a pretty nice allows the user to download the citations from their EndNote Web account. You can also connect to Dropbox (if you have the app on your tablet) to connect full text to citations. Once you've got the pdf in the EndNote app you can annotate the pdf in the app itself (it allows highlighting and writing (with your finger or a stylus) directly onto the pdf). It's one of the pricier apps (at least for me)...but the functionality and connection to EndNote Web makes this a pretty powerful tool for mobile access to citations. The one caveat that might be of interest to users is that in the Settings the default is set to on for "Send Anonymous Usage Data" -- that might not be popular.

User feedback in the app store has been mixed, with issues on sync-ing citations and annotations.

Since I was looking ThomsonReuters products I also downloaded

This app is supposed to let you take a photo an article's DOI with your phone and then search Web of Science for the citation information (which you could then export to EndNote Web and download to your iPad).

As of yet I haven't been able to have it work successfully. So not something I use a lot, but I have tested it. If someone has got it work I'd love to learn what I'm doing wrong!

My favorite thing to use the iPad for professional reading. To that end I've downloaded


...which everyone already knows and loves. I store the pdfs there and then open them in


iAnnotate PDF

Reading pdfs on an iPad is so much more pleasant than reading paper (I never thought I'd enjoy the electronic version of anything more)...but my usual practice was to carry multiple printed pdfs around in my bag for months and months and they'd get coffee stained or ripped up. Now I have a bunch in DropBox and can read them in pristine condition. The annotation features in iAnnotate are much more advanced than those available in EndNote -- multiple color highlighting options, typing notes, etc.. Another nice thing for all those folks wishing they had a standing desk is that with the tablet you can stand up and read them.

and finally my unexpected gem is


I'm a meeting doodler and that has always been my least favorite aspect of laptop notetaking. This app provide a screen that looks like a napkin and you can doodle your thought processes to your heart's content during meetings. You can also type in notes, draw diagrams, etc.

I've also found the iPad to be useful during informal presentations...during two recent poster presentations I used my iPad to supplement the presentation by taking people to live examples on the Internet I use


to access the Internet.

I'm also still interested in exploring the possibilities of project management using

Corkulous Pro

I'm hoping to use it for stickies and other reminders to have a virtual, transportable bulletin board. I just haven't gotten around to integrating it into my workflow yet.

And if you love dictionaries you can't beat

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I downloaded this after Peter Solokowski's speech in Walter Library and it's wonderful...a quick search that feels more reliable then my old Googling technique to find definitions. It also has a "word-of-the-day" feature that I quite enjoy! It fits perfectly in my tablet milieu (today's word of the day!) It also allows you to favorite definitions for easy access and tracks your "recent lookups".

Life Could Be Easier...

Colorful Tabs is a Firefox Add-on that can help you organize your work. If you are working on a project that requires having multiple browser tabs open you can change the colors of your tabs to help you keep track of things. For example, when updating Library Course Pages you might have tabs in one color for live pages, those in another color for pages you are editing, and a third color for the class schedule. Color schemes can help you navigate back and forth between tabs efficiently.

For more information:

- Laurel Haycock on behalf of the Personal Information Management (PIM) Collaborative

Life Could Be Easier - If you know about our E-Books

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The University Libraries has more than 350,000 e-books available for use by current students, faculty, and staff. E-Books can be read on an iPad, other mobile device, or a laptop or desktop computer. A guide to "Freely Available E-Books," is found at the top of the Libraries' home page under "How to Find" - "E-Books" at: . There you will find links to University of Minnesota e-book packages and platforms, links to public library e-books, and a number of freely available e-book repositories. Also, under the "Books" tab, "Quick Links," is the guide to "E-Book Collections," at: . Here you will find more details about accessing and using e-book vendor packages at the University of Minnesota Libraries.

- Virginia Bach on behalf of the Personal Information Management (PIM) Collaborative

Life Could Be Easier - On the Go, Part 4

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Shortly after our September Life Could be Easier: Mobile Edition feature, Nancy Herther suggested that we investigate mobile apps with voice recognition capabilities. She also pointed out several apps to get us started. Days later, Apple announced the iPhone 4S, which features the greatly enhanced (and now Apple-owned) Siri app.

Siri's getting a lot of press right now, but it's not the only app out there that responds to your voice. Here are a few choices that support everything from web searching to more "personal assistant" functions:

Dragon Mobile Apps: iPhone and Blackberry
Nuance's Dragon Naturally Speaking speech recognition software has been available on desktops for almost 15 years. Nuance also markets several apps for iPhone and iPad that take advantage of the Dragon engine: Dragon Dictation allows you to send emails and texts or update Facebook. Dragon Search provides a voice interface for online search. And the recently released Dragon Go brings Siri-like functionality to earlier model iPhones and iPads. Nuance also throws a bone to Blackberry users, with Dragon for E-Mail.

Workflow example: Jerilyn Veldof reports that she records her thoughts following meetings using Dragon Dictation and sends the text straight to Evernote.

Google Search: Android, iPhone, Blackberry, and Nokia S60
Google Search provides voice access for general web searching.

Google Voice Actions: Android
Clearly, Voice Actions is the application that Siri leapfrogged over. With Voice Actions, you can send emails and texts, call contacts, get directions, play music by asking for a song title, artist, or album, and do general web searches.

Bing Apps: Android, iPhone, Blackberry, Nokia, and Windows Mobile
If you're looking for an alternative to the Google world, the mobile version of the Bing website works great. It provides quick access to location-based deals, movies, news, and more. Although the mobile site doesn't support voice search, you can download a Bing app for that does. I had a little trouble finding the right app at first; at least for Android, Verizon phones require the Bing on VZW app instead.

Vlingo: Android, iPhone, Blackberry, Nokia, and Windows Mobile
Like Siri, Vlingo focuses on keeping your hands free and translating what you say into the appropriate action. Lifehacker selected Vlingo as the closest thing Android users have to Siri of the apps in the field; the linked Lifehacker post profiles several other personal assistant options for Android.

Jeannie for Android
If you're looking for something with a little more personality, check out Jeannie. I haven't tried this one yet, but the video on its Android Market page is intriguing. There's even a kid-friendly version.

Life Could Be Easier - On the Go, Part 3

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Published in the September 12 Monday Memo:

From Amy West, Data Services Librarian, Device Type: Android

RememberTheMilk - app is free, but only available for RTMPro subscribers ($25/year)
Android Market
RTM Pro does cost $25 a year, but for the absurdly absentminded like me, that's a bargain. I have my todo list right on the home screen of my phone, installed as a plug-in next to my email and integrated into my calendar. Since I've got it on my phone, then when I think of something that I should do for work or home (usually on the bus coming or going), I can note it right then. I still forget things, but way, way, way less than before. Since the phone's always with me, RTM makes a nice bridge tool between work and home.

Tweetdeck - free
Best Twitter client for Android. You can specify notifications by type, e.g. do nothing for new tweets, flash a light for @ replies, make a noise for a DM, etc. You can also receive updates from Facebook when someone comments on a post of yours - better notifications than the native Facebook application. I do find the fonts a little small and you can't choose which photo upload service to use, but these problems haven't been enough to make me switch. Tweetdeck also supports multiple accounts.

PowerNote for Android - free
Android Market
PowerNote is a tool developed by Diigo the bookmarking service. I don't care for PowerNote as an independent app, but once it's installed you can save things from other applications like Tweetdeck to your Diigo account via PowerNote. Diigo is fabulous - it supports bookmarking, annotations and notes. I now use it over In the mornings while I throw cat food for Leopold to hunt down, I get caught up on Twitter. Any substantive tweets get saved to PowerNote so I can read them later at work. Since it's already added to my Diigo account, this means I only have to decide if I want to make it a public bookmark and if so, add tags. I have found that this is the single most efficient way to manage bookmarking & professional reading. For what it's worth, I have a standing reminder in RTM to check Diigo each day for items I saved!

Weatherbug Elite - $1.99
Very nicely laid out screens, displays temp in notification bar at the top of the phone and, for those days when I want to make sure to tell my family about all the character I'm building up here in February, built-in screen capture that I can then post to Facebook.

OurGroceries - free with ads
Shopping list application. Unlike RTM or other tools, this one remembers previous entries and displays the most commonly listed ones first. Turns out that makes it worth having a separate application just for lists. You can have multiple shopping lists and they'll be rearranged based on whether they have anything in them and/or how recently they were modified. I've also found it very handy for packing since ALA Midwinter because once I've entered "ipod charger" the first time, it comes right up every other time I put together a packing list. You're supposed to be able to share lists, but at the moment I'm the only one in the household w/a smartphone so I haven't tried that.

From Paul Zenke, University Libraries Instructional Designer Device: Paul uses a (self described) dilapidated iPhone 3G.

GoodReader (iPhone/iPad) $4.99
My favorite iOS application for reading, highlighting, managing, and syncing .pdf and .doc files. GoodReader has so many advanced features it feels like a desktop app.

Sample workflow: Save a .pdf article in Dropbox, sync to GoodReader, download the article into GoodReader, highlight sections and make comments, zip the original and the marked-up version, then email the zipped files to a colleague for their review.

Tweetbot (iPhone) $2.99
My favorite Twitter interface on any device.

Simplenote (iPhone/iPad) $0.00
A simple multi-platform writing tool.

Dropbox (iPhone/iPad) $0.00, web service has free and paid subscription options
Access your files on the go.

Apps previously mentioned by my colleagues on the PIM blog, that I also use:
Evernote (iPhone/iPad) $0.00, web service has free and paid subscription options
Where I keep my notes, images, and audio files.

Sample workflow: After a meeting, or while walking across campus, I'll create a new audio file and will record audio straight into my phone. I use this when I want to talk through an idea, or to avoid forgetting something while I'm not able to write it down. The audio file then syncs with Evernote's desktop and web interfaces so my audio note will be ready for my review on my desktop when I get back to my office.

Another Sample workflow: I use the iPhone's camera to capture whiteboard drawings directly into Evernote. I'll often paste them into the same note I was using to take notes during a meeting so I'll have all my media together in one place. I can also email these notes to a group directly from the application.

App to watch:
Mendeley (iPhone/iPad) $0.00
I use the Mendeley desktop app daily, however the current version of the iPhone app (1.3.1) consistently crashes. I can't wait for them to fix the bugs.

More Apps

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Bonnie Swogger has a post over at the Undergraduate Science Librarian blog on her favorite iPhone apps for research and collaboration. Some, but not all, of these have come up in our "Life Could be Easier: On the Go" series, so I encourage you to check it out. She also has an older post on iPhone apps for scientific literature that may be of interest to some of you.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Life Could Be Easier category.

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