Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 at 6:12 PM | Category: Business, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech 3 comments

Pink whale letter openerIn reading about a letter opener that looks like a whale, my first thought was who needs a letter opener when a finger works fine? OK, sometimes it fights to dig in the little space in the corner. Sometimes it walks away with a shiny new paper cut. (How does something tiny hurt a lot?) Besides, I open my mail wherever I stand as I sort mail right away. A letter opener may not be within reach.

I have that whale letter opener and love it. Yes, the everyday arcane task of opening a letter is fun with the pink whale. Its skinny tail fits in everything and then zzzzipppppp! I love the tearing vibrations as the whale makes its way across the envelope.

Simplicity works. Imagine if the inventor had added bells and whistles. How silly would that be to blow the whistle or jingle the bell whenever I opened mail? “Hey! Gather around, the mail’s here!”

That’s what’s happening with apps today. Twitter’s new interface is live. It requires more steps to do tasks that took one or two steps with the old design. I waste too much time looking for features. Good interface design that’s intuitive doesn’t make you work hard to get around. (Many folks need to read Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think.)

For a long time, I used Palm Desktop to manage my tasks and calendar. Yes, the app that came with Palm Pilots. After I recycled my last Palm, I continued using Palm Desktop for years without the device because nothing measured up. Eventually, I moved to Google Calendar while continuing to use Palm for managing tasks.

Google’s tasks wasn’t ready for me because it didn’t have the needed recurring feature. All the other task apps had problems: overkill, missing features, no desktop version, no syncing with smartphone.

Then, I found gTasks. It has the recurring task feature and syncs with Google tasks and my smartphone. (Would you believe someone left a review on January 22 saying it took a long time to find an app replace the trusty old Palm? That says something about Palm despite its rocky last years.)

I’m not a Luddite. The opposite actually. I love my gadgets and technology. I’ve admired and appreciated a good website makeover. But developers think they need to offer everything to be all things to everyone. That just overwhelms potential users. We’d keep looking for a simpler product rather than settling for a bloated or confusing one.

Content is like that, too. Not all web pages need to be covered with words. A lot of great sites communicate with few words. Yes, we customers want to know as much as we can about a product or service. That’s why you have navigation and links to take us there when we’re ready. Too many directions and calls to action send us away from the website.

Mail’s here. Zzzzippppp!

What products do you love for its simplicity? What do you like about it? Have you had favorite products add too many features? Did you abandon it or stick with it?

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Turning Fear into a Memorable Experience

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 at 10:22 AM | Category: Business, Life Tips, Meryl's Notes Blog 3 comments

Bar Mitzvah TorahOver a year ago, my family debated whether my older son should have a regular bar mitzvah or a smaller one that doesn’t involve the full three hour Saturday morning service. He has a few challenges and we feared adding another one in preparing for this rite of passage.

We did a lot of back-and-forthing before we decided to do the whole shebang. Yes, it meant practicing twice a day for nine months. Yes, it meant attending tutoring sessions once a week. Yes, it meant practicing even after coming home late from a football practice or game and still having homework to do.

In nine months, he only missed five practice sessions not counting the time he was away at camp. During football season, this guy made an effort to do one practice session in the morning before catching the bus to school.

The long-awaited day came. His part came later in the service. Thankfully, I had lots going on (you know, waving to family and friends and quietly catching up with folks) to keep my mind occupied without worrying about him making it through. His big moment arrived. My body froze. I listened and watched hard.

He was getting through it. Just one brief stumble and instant correction. Almost over … stomach stirs … candy in hand … when will this end??? Silence. Men’s chorus erupted in song and candy flew.

If a ginormous sigh of relief and the swelling of pride made a sound, everyone would be looking at me. I don’t remember feeling overwhelmed with these emotions. Not even at my daughter’s bat mitzvah. (She did great and of course, I was proud.) This accomplishment meant more because of the screams, nags and tears that went into it to make it happen. “At first, I was unsure that I could complete this daring task, but now I see that I will accomplish this goal,” said my son in his speech.

What does this have to do with fear? Sometimes we’re afraid to take on a new project or client thinking we can’t deliver. There’s a difference between a challenge that stretches you and one that goes beyond your qualifications. A client asked if I would be interested in working with him. At first, the technical topic scared me and I balked in spite of having worked in the client’s industry.

I stepped back and studied the situation. This was the kind of work that would help me grow. I had the qualifications. My experience in the industry helped me ask the right questions to get the information to complete my tasks. When I finished the project, I felt like I accomplished something big. Not bar mitzvah big, but work big.

When I work on a project that comes easy, I react in the same way I did with my daughter’s bat mitzvah. Simply proud. Completing a challenging brings a bigger and more memorable sense of accomplishment like it did for me with my son. It also reminds me I can step out of my comfort zone and excel. The next time a challenge comes, I remember these moments. If my son says he can’t do something, I’ll remind him of that day on February 4, 2012 when he read one of the longest portions.

I had another opportunity to work on a project that was in the same technical industry. However, it relied on a lot of phone calls and interviews. Thanks to the relay service, I can make phone calls. But they’re a time sink and stressful. I don’t mind making calls, but not when it dominates the project.

Yes, I enjoyed every bit of the bar mitzvah. Yet, I’m glad IT’S OVER. No more practicing. No more fretting over the little details.

Have you accomplished something that felt impossible? How did it feel? How did it help?


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