I’ve had this idea for a while now and it just keeps nagging at me. So when I woke up this morning, wide awake, (which for me is unusual as I am by nature a night owl who hates mornings) I figured I would just toss this idea out there and we’ll see what comes of it.
Rather than make you wait I’ll just go ahead and toss it right out in this second paragraph and if you’re interested you can read more. If not, I will save you time and you can move onto your next task now. I am going to offer my services for digital organization to anyone who needs help and by word of mouth advertising only. I don’t have time to make a new career nor do I have the desire to build another business. Been there done that, got the shirt, as they used to say. But I do have a talent for seeing things and making them flow better and systems and data are what I do best. So here’s the deal. For $25 I will do a phone consultation with you to find out what it is you do, what you want to do, where you think your time gets wasted doing things that could be done better and I will tell you what I think you could/should use and how you can set things up to save yourself time and make things work more smoothly. And if after we talk I don’t think I have any suggestions for you at all, then I will gladly refund your $25. If I do think I can help you then we can negotiate a fee for me to do one of two things. Tell you what you need to do and let you do it yourself, small fee for these suggestions sent to you in writing but you have to do the work to set them all up and get them working, or for a larger fee you tell me what magic you want to see and I will set it all up for you then give you a detailed document of what all is working for you so you know where things are when they need to be tweaked. I will be happy to tweak things as things grow and change but tweaking will incur a small fee depending upon the time involved in the tweak.
Now having thrown that out here the SECOND part of my plan. Being a widow for the last 9 years this month I have a heart for widows and what they go through when their spouse dies. I’ve found sometimes they never learned what all their husband took care of in the household and they are overwhelmed at what needs to be done. So my offer is this, for anyone widowed in the last 12 months and depending on our time and travel schedule my children and I will work with you to give you ONE DAY of our services. So if we’re heading toward the inner eastern states this year and you know a widow in a state we will be passing through (you can always check our travel schedule at http://www.davis6.com/travels.html and see where we will be) then you can let us know and we will offer our services to them based on when we will be passing through. What will we do in that one day? Well that depends on the needs of the widow. Five of my children are traveling with me and the 6 of us together can do many things. Some of the things we can do, clean, organize, declutter, mow the yard, trim the bushes (no tree trimming…my tree monkey moved out), help organize finances, set up finances online to make it easier to handle, set up Quicken, scan documents and store them digitally, as well as others. Sometimes just knowing that this isn’t the end of the world and giving you hope and encouragement to see this as not the END of your marriage but a new beginning that can be what you choose to make it is what people need. There are things we cannot do. We can’t do plumbing or electric work, we don’t do taxidermy, we aren’t qualified to do legal work and we won’t do anything illegal. However, other than that, if we can figure it out we’ll do it. Right now that offer is 6 people coming to work for a widow for a day. Depending on needs, time and financial ability, we might extend our services if desired either for free if we feel the need is there or for a reduced negotiated fee.
If you are still reading then you will want to know who am I and am I qualified to help you. If you don’t know me but just stumbled upon this blog for some reason I had a very good career as a consultant which I gave up to stay home and raise our six children. Although you can take the girl out of the data but you cannot take the data out of the girl. By my very nature I am a computer nerd. I always have been. It’s in my blood. Even though I gave up my career I always did projects on the side. Two years ago I decided that I wanted to update my skills so for “fun” in my spare time I took Java programming classes.
Let’s start with the past. I was a consultant for many of the large fortune 500 companies. I’ve worked for Citibank, The Associates, Sprint, Dr Pepper-Seven Up, AT&T, Arco Oil and Gas and others. My primary focus for most of those jobs was custom database development but I also always managed to get the jobs that required systems integrations. Back then that could be a lot of work to get one systems data changed to a format the other system could use and build something to move the data from one to another. But in today’s world there are billions of tools out there that can do these things. That’s the beauty of today but also the curse in that there are often several tools that can do the same thing or worse there are several tools that can do one thing and if you can combine all those tools together you can get the result you desire.
I’ll share one of my favorite stories from my career. Working for a large corporation that was my first real paid consulting job that I wasn’t hired to do something else and I brought my skills of building databases to as an added bonus, but my first real gig as a bonafide consultant I was a little nervous. They hired me but at the same time I knew I was working with people who had been doing this work for YEARS. I was not sure I could cut it running with the big dogs. Every day I dug in and did my work and every day I managed to fix whatever problem was given to me. Then one day my boss came in and gave me a new project. It seems another consultant made a mistake and they fired him on the spot. The problem was they would open a record and every time they opened a record there was a calculation error and then it would save the WRONG NUMBERS to this record. We’re talking a major corporation with hundreds or thousands of employees and this one system every time anyone opened a record the data was being corrupted.
Ok..that’s bad. Any time there’s an error in a production system it’s serious. Usually though errors are not so bad and we can fix them but changing data every time a record is opened. This means we have to first FIND the error. They fired the guy. I can’t go ask him what he was doing. How am I going to find what he was working on last to figure out where the error is? Then we have to figure out what records have been opened since his changes were implemented. We have to fix the error to stop further data corruption and then we have to go find all the affected data, figure out what it should have been based on the error that was introduced and change it all back to what it should be.
Let me tell you, I was terrified that this was going to be the day they fired me. Seriously, I was the newest team member. Why didn’t they have one of the other programmers do this that had been here for months or years and knew these systems better than I? I have no idea why I was chosen for this task. But I jumped right in. I evaluated all the files to see which ones had been changed by the previous employee so I could figure out which modules he worked on. I knew what data was being corrupted so then I investigated all the lines of code in each module to see what was going on. I was able to determine the error, fix that line of code and then I had to do more research and analysis to find out when the code went into production then search all the data that had been modified since that change and create a formula to go in and undo the wrong calculations and restore the right data.
Apparently I did it all right and repaired the damage that was done because I didn’t get fired! WHEW what a relief. That was when I knew I really was a consultant and I was worthy of working with the real programmers! To solidify that view I had another problem at the same company and sometimes there are multiple ways you can approach a problem. You have to consider all the angles and find all the problems BEFORE you work the problem. Sometimes at least back then, extra lines of code could slow things down. So you wanted to get the task done with as few lines of code as possible but you also had to make sure the code wasn’t too complicated for future programmers to maintain. I’ve seen some great coding but sometimes in an effort to be efficient they make it so complicated it’s difficult for others to maintain. I had one of those problems where I saw 3 or 4 was to solve it but I wasn’t sure which would be the best. So I went to a colleague’s office and presented my ideas and the issues with each solution and asked his advice and opinion on which way I should go. This guy had been there two years. He looked at me and said, “this is what you’re doing?”
“Yes”, I replied.
He said, “you do things like this often?”
“I’ve never had a task this complicated. For the last several months all I’ve done is go in and fix misspellings on screens.”
Seriously? I had no idea. Here I am thinking everyone is doing the same kind of work and I find out that my assignments are more complicated than some of the people who’ve been here longer? WOW. Ok..I was impressed and terrified at the same time. As a woman it was kind of fun to know that I was thought of as being as competent as the men. But at the same time it was a little frightening knowing that my assignments were difficult and complicated. Remember that other guy they fired! I sure don’t want to be him.
But I managed to survive. In all my years consulting I was never fired unless you count the one time I was working for an unethical man who refused to pay his bills and hired me to be a programmer than wanted me to call our clients and lie to them and tell them that we were further along in the project than we were so that he could bill them again. I refused to lie to them. I suggested if he wanted to lie he needed to be the one to do it because I would not. He didn’t like that answer. After screaming at me, calling me names and throwing a programming book at me he fired me. But I don’t really count that. I feel if you were fired for doing the right thing then it shouldn’t really count. He had hired me to be his database programmer but then he had me spending half my day answering the phones dodging his creditors.
Ok so that’s my background. I’ve been doing this a long time. Now so long that I wrote mainframe programs nor used punch cards, but I was there when Windows rolled out. I was in that group of the first programmers to jump on that new technology and run with it.
How could any of that old stuff possibly qualify me to help you with today’s technology you might ask. Well as I told you before programming, data is in my blood and I just cannot avoid it. Before we sold our house to do this fulltime RV life I purchased and installed a whole house automation system and was building it to control our entire house. We weren’t finished but we did have control of all three A/C thermostats, control of music systems in 3 rooms, lights in several rooms, alarm system, sprinkler system and pool systems all controlled from either a PC in the home or my cell phone when I was not at home. It was a pretty sweet system. We also had our own server, yes our own server that could run a small business in our home with all the components necessary to protect it from the “world”. We had a firewall, a router, the server and 7 PCs all networked together. My late husband built that system but I inherited it when he died and had to keep it all running and replace components when they failed. I HATED that part of my job. I don’t do hardware and I don’t do networks, but I learned a lot.
More recently, since my husband died and I’ve had to run our house and manage the children and continue to homeschool them all on my own, I decided to use my technology background to make things run more smoothly. I setup an Office365 account for our family, set up our own domain name and set up an entire Sharepoint site through Office365 to run our school. ALL our school work was scanned in by me and my children and is available on line no matter where we are. In addition to that I built forms for the kids to use to complete some assignments, we use the Office365 calendars and tasks to assign school work, chores, etc. Our system has grown and changed over the last 9 years and it always being updated when I think of new things we can do.
This last few months I decided that there is too much wasted time with me repeating things. Now that we are fulltime on the road I have things to keep track of like what campground we have reservations at when. Let me share with you just a sampling of what I’ve done recently all done with either free online systems when possible and a few items I had to purchase that I couldn’t find any other alternative to handle.
SOME of my personal automation
1 Outlook rules that run to keep my inbox cleaned.
3 Custom VBA script rule that runs whenever an email confirmation is received from a particular camping club. It parses the email and creates an EVENT in my Outlook Calendar with all the important fields, date, time, campground, location and all the details of the email in the body for easy reference, then it moves the email to another folder for easy retrieval.
5 New calendar to track travel in Outlook that is shared with all the kids so I don’t have to answer 5 times a day where we are going next. View in my personal Outlook COLORED so I can know WHICH campground membership each reservation is with.
7 Zapier recipe that picks up email from another campground membership and pareses it similar to the one above. Not as neat or clean but much faster to create until I have time to write the custom VBA script for it. It also creates a new EVENT. It just isn’t as pretty but it took minutes to set up whereas the custom VBA took days.
9 Custom Microsoft Flow that sees when a new item is added to the Travel calendar in Outlook it recreates the event on the Sharepoint calendar on Office365 so that when scheduling for school I know when we will be somewhere we need to work around.
11 Synced tasks in Sharepoint Office365 to Outlook so I can see and manage school tasks within Outlook.
13 Used TasktoCal to enable Outlook to view TASKS in the CALENDAR view so that I can link school tasks to the school calendar and see them all in the calendar. Pretty slick little tool. Not free though but might be worth the money to keep.
15 Purchased an Echo Dot this year for fun. Found her quite helpful while driving the RV. She stays plugged in on the dash. When I think of something I just say, “Alexa, add ___ to my do to list.” Or I can say, “Alexa, add ___ to my shopping list.”
17 This is where it gets really fun. The Alexa list is cool that I can speak to it but useless other than that. So…I have added an IFTTT that picks up any task Alexa adds to a list and it creates a task in the appropriate list in Wunderlist.
19 I then have Zapier picking up tasks from Wunderlist and sending them to Google tasks. (Might abandon this one.)
21 I have sync2 running in Outlook to sync Google tasks with Outlook tasks. Another NOT free piece of technology but if you want to sync all of Google to all of Outlook it is the only tool for the job. Might abandon it though. Haven’t decided.
23 Decided I liked Wunderlists abilities so added it to Outlook from the Office365 site and testing another Wunderlist addin to Outlook. Undecided which will win. Still testing these.
25 Shared Wudnerlist Grocery list with my daughter who does all the grocery shopping.
27 Set up Cortana so that if I’m using one of my PCs I can say, “Hey Cortana add ___ to my grocery list” and she will add it to my Wunderlist grocery list.
29 So now whether I’m driving or working I can just speak to Echo dot or to Cortana and items will be magically added to my calendar, my to do list or to my grocery list in the appropriate applications.
31 Have an IFTTT applet that picks up a post from my Blog and creates a FB link announcing it.
33 Have several other IFTT applets to do fun things like make copies of photos, etc. Simple stuff that was pre-written but helpful.
35 I have a Microsoft Flow that pulls everything from my Google calendar and adds it to a duplicate calendar in Outlook.
37 My phone is set up to be able to access anything and everything I have working.
39 Use Tasks on my phone, simple free app that lets me see and manage my Outlooks tasks quickly and easily.
41 On the hardware side we travel with a 16 Tb NAS drive connected to our router and our router connected to a WiFi ranger router that is connected to an external antenna so we can boost free wifi and it tethers to our Verizon jetpack so that we can share our jetpack in the coach.
43 I also have TWO external 8 Tb USB drives that I use to backup the NAS. (Had our NAS crash in Alaska or Canada and almost lost everything.)
45 Tried FreeFileSync and GoodSync. Both good products but GoodSync won out finally. I have scheduled backups that run nightly that take all the data from the NAS drive and back it up to the Amazon cloud. (Unlimited Amazon cloud service…best thing going.)
47 Also use Google drive to backup often used things. Google drive is the fastest most versatile of all the clouds I’ve tested. Easy to use and very reliable but not the cheapest. Have a 100 Gig plan.
49 Back up all photos with Picasa to Google photos. Use their FREE plan for that. Great tool for searching photos.
51 Also back up all photos from phone to Google photos AND to Amazon photos. I no longer worry about systems crashing or companies changing because everything I have is backed up in more than one place.
53 Using YouTubeUploader for the Lazy to upload all our videos to YouTube for FREE! Not only are our home videos digital, but they are backed up on our NAS, on TWO USB drives, uploaded to Amazon cloud AND on YouTube.
55 REDUNDANCY, REDUNDANCY, REDUNDANCY. Many of these programs are FREE and they don’t guarantee your data. I value our photographs and home videos more than anything so these are all backed up more than once in the cloud and in house.
57 Use MultiCloud one of my FAVORITE apps of all time to do a LOT of things in the cloud. Everything I have, Evernote which is useful because I can make checklists with it that my Samsung Gear S can access and check off easily to office365 and several other things all take data and either sync them to Amazon Cloud (remember Amazon cloud has an UNLIMITED plan for pretty cheap.) or just back them up.
59 Use OneDrive and OneDrive business. With the Office365 account each user gets 1Tb of storage on OneDrive. Not my favorite product. Microsoft needs to step up. It has improved greatly but it’s sync is slower and more error prone than Google. But 1Tb comes included for each child. So I have the kids storing all their documents on it and let it sync in the background. Working with Office products on their PCs it is the best option for them because it’s integration is so simple.
61 I use RoboForm to manage passwords to make life so much easier.
63 Added Buffer recently so I could start utilizing Google+. I have a book being published and I wanted to be able to use Google+ along with FB so that if the book sells people can follow us from their preferred social tool.
65 I have other tools I use. I’m working to get everything integrated and working together smoothly so that I don’t have to use but one or two front ends and other things work magically in the background. So far I’m LOVING not having to duplicate my calendar manually and not having to input data into my calendar when emails come in. Pretty slick what we can do with all these apps and many of them are FREE!
This list is definitely not complete but should give you an idea of what I am capable of creating to streamline your data. I almost forgot! I built this website! I have built a few websites for friends and ministries. It’s not my favorite thing to do…but what I did enjoy was creating another web site just for myself that I use all day every day.
Let me explain this one. I tried some bookmark programs and they worked and one was GREAT. And then it changed and shattered my world. So I decided I would no longer let others control my daily online life. I created a multi page website just for my own personal use. On it I put links (with logos) to everyplace I go to. Credit card companies, banks, insurance company, church, etc. I have multiple pages so I could make a tabbed page and separate things. I have a personal page, a church page, a school page. Now that we are fulltime RV living I have several campground memberships I have to login to make reservations. So instead of having to remember everything or store links or type www.whateverI want.com I can just click a link. I have my default homepage set to my private web page. Now here’s what’s FANTASTIC. If I go to someone’s house and use their PC…all I have to do is pull up my web site and VIOLA, ketchup! (Long story I might share on a blog one day.) I also created a page for my kids with pre-approved web sites I want them to use for education. So they know if it’s a link on their page it’s safe and mom approved. I also formatted my page so that if I access it from a mobile phone…yep…it gives me the mobile page formatted for my smaller screen! I LOVE this so much I made one for my mom. When my dad died and I helped manage her stuff I couldn’t always remember what insurance company we chose for her. So I just crated a page for her with every place she has accounts. She never has to think about it. If we decide to change her insurance company I just edit her page and change it so she never has to remember just look on the page. Insurance…must be Progressive!
SO, now you can see some of what I’ve done in the recent years. One of my favorite parts of my job when I worked was sitting down with the client and finding out what they did and how they did it. Then I would analyze everything and find ways to reduce their paperwork. Back then sometimes people would fear that they would be automated out of a job and at times there was resistance. The phrase, “we’ve always done it this way” was my worst nightmare. In today’s world people are embracing technology but there’s the trap that there are too many apps and finding the right ones to use can sometimes take far too much time. I love testing things and making things work together. If you think I could be of any help to you let me know. For $25 we can have a phone consultation and discuss what you do and how you do it and what you’d like to do. In that consultation I will suggest several things you can do to automate things yourself. If you like what I have to say and want to hire me we can negotiate a flat fee upfront. I will set up all the accounts you need and give you a document when I’m done showing you what all is set up so you can manage it. If during our phone consultation I give you no ideas at all or say that I don’t think I can help, then I will refund the $25 consultation fee.
Again, I am not promoting this business except through word of mouth. So if you know someone you think could benefit please share this. I do have limited time and I have no desire to build a business. I’m doing this because friends in the past have asked me to help and I’ve always declined. And I’m offering whatever help I can to widows because I believe in James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”