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use your itunes for more than just tunes

by Lifehacker

You’re not going to spend another tax season scrounging around for receipts and digging through your filing cabinet for the remains of dead trees, wondering if you’re claiming everything you should. No siree! Next year, all your tax documents – heck, all your important paperwork – will be converted to PDF files and organized into search-based folders. Your receipts, ebooks, scanned newspaper articles, tax forms, gadget manuals and client contracts will be available at your fingertips whether or not you’re by your filing cabinet.

And you can organize them using iTunes.

Wha?

Yes, I know iTunes isn’t a document organizer, but it does a surprisingly good job at it anyway. Using iTunes’ Smart Playlists and its PDF support, you can build a document library where PDF’s are automatically sorted into keyword-based lists. Let’s get started.

What you’ll need to digitize your documents as PDF’s

  1. A scanner. Document scanners are small, sleek and super cheap these days – some as low as 50 bucks – so pick one up to digitize dead tree material like newspapers, magazines, or paper receipts. Your scanner software will most likely provide an option to output the scan to a PDF document. If you’re going to digitize stacks of paper at once, you’ll want one equipped an auto sheet feeder. (Hardware’s not my forte, and the model you get depends on your needs and budget – but this thread has some recommendations from your fellow readers.)
  2. A print-to-PDF program. Windows users should download the free CutePDF writer for the ability to print office documents, email messages, images and web pages to a PDF file. (Seriously, CutePDF is a must-have.) Mac users, printing to PDF is all built into to OS X, so you don’t need to do a thing, except choose PDF from the print dialog.

Create a separate iTunes library for your documents

Strange bedfellows, your 1099’s and those Beck MP3’s, so you’ll want to create a whole new “all business” iTunes library for your PDF’s. To do so, hold down the Shift key when you launch iTunes (Option for Mac users), and hit the Create Library button from this dialog:

Give your document library a serious name – like “PDFDocuments.”

Once you’ve got a new library set up, you can drag and drop PDF’s onto it to add them. But before you do, a couple of tips for dealing with PDF’s in iTunes:

  • By default, when you add PDF’s to your iTunes library, iTunes copies them into the folder where it keeps its data, leaving you with two copies of the document on your hard drive. It also creates artist and album subfolders, which don’t apply to your PDF’s (they’ll all be “Unknown Artist” and “Unknown Album.”) To keep your PDF where you originally stored it, in the iTunes Preferences pane, the Advanced tab, uncheck “Copy files to iTunes Music Folder when adding to library” and “Keep iTunes Music folder organized.”
    itunespdfprefs.png
  • Remove all the music-specific fields from the default listing, like Artist, Album, and Last Played by right-clicking on the column header and unchecking them:

Develop your tag vocabulary and create Smart Playlists

Once you’ve added a few PDF’s to your iTunes library, you want to organize them into virtual folders – actual playlists. The advantage playlists have over folders is that one document can live in more than one playlist – so that 1099 form from 2006 can live in the taxes list, the 2006 list, the income list, and the 1099 list.

You could manually create playlists and drag and drop your PDF’s into them. Even better, you can use Smart Playlists that dynamically populate based on keywords. For example, I renamed the PHP Manual PDF “PHP Manual (ebook code)” then created a Smart Playlist for ebooks, all PDF’s where name contains the word “ebook”:

But I’ve also got a “Code reference” Smart Playlist that matches all the PDF’s with “code” in the name, and the PHP Manual is listed there, too.

Like all tagging systems, you’ll have to develop a vocabulary that works for you and stick to it to make sure all your PDF’s appear in the Smart Playlists they should. For example, for tax documents, I name them by year, purpose (income/deduction), and form number (1099, 1098, etc.) So it’s easy to see all of 2006’s 1099’s, or all my income documents overall.

Add your playlists to folders

itunesplaylistfolder.pngYou can also group like sets of playlists into a folder. For example, my tax document playlists are all in a folder called “Taxes.” If I click on the Taxes folder, I can see all the PDF’s contained within the playlists in the Taxes folder. Convenient.

If you want, you can use any of iTunes’ music metadata fields, like Artist, Album, Genre and year to slice and dice your PDF’s, but to me that’s taking the “shoving a square PDF file into a circular music file slot” too far. I stuck to adding keywords to the name of the document only. That way, if someday I want to use another program and all my PDF’s have keywords in their title, they’ll still be easily searchable. (Also, Spotlight, Vista’s Saved Search folders and Google Desktop will all find PDF’s with keywords in their title – but not other iTunes metadata fields.)

“But PDF’s aren’t music files”: Why – and why not – iTunes

My three requirements for choosing a PDF organizer were: that it’s free, cross-platform (at least Mac and Windows), and that it supports tagging (so that one PDF could be “filed” under several “folders.”) iTunes fit the bill on all these counts.

However, there are serious drawbacks to using iTunes this way. There is no in-iTunes PDF viewing or previewing – no PDF reader at all, in fact. You’ll need to use Adobe Reader, FoxIt or Mac’s Preview to actually open the documents. Lastly, iTunes cannot search the contents of a PDF, which also hurts me deeply. (However, Google Desktop Search and Spotlight can.)

If these drawbacks are a no-go for you, there are alternatives. Mac users married to the O, S and X should check out the free Update: $34 Yep. Windows users who are willing to spend some cash, Rick recommends PaperPort (which goes for about $200 if you didn’t get it with your scanner.) As far as I know, PaperPort does not support tagging. A similar application to PaperPort is previously-mentioned, free DocsVault.

wake up your email communication?

Webapp Resnooze sends timed email reminders to yourself and friends and gives you the option to “hit the snooze button” on the reminder to get it again later. Select either a text message or a URL for Resnooze to email you and the frequency—daily, weekly or monthly. Delete or repeat the reminder using a link in the incoming email—good for “read it later” bookmarks, tasks due at a later date, or email messages you want to follow up on in a week.

a different way to manage your billing needs

What is CurdBee?

CurdBee is a safe and secure web-based billing application from Vesess. Use it to send clients invoices and then collect payments via PayPal or Google Checkout, billing them easily in the currency you choose. It’s so simple, you won’t believe it till you see it.

New: Supports mulitple currencies

CurdBee now supports multiple currencies

Take a Tour

CurdBee screens

Get going

Keep track of everything from overdue invoices to clients and projects via a single, simple interface.

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FAQs

How much does it cost?
CurdBee is a free service, and its core features will always be available to everyone, at no charge.
How safe is my information?
Your privacy is of utmost importance to us. We will never share any of the information you give us, or use it otherwise, without your explicit permission. No, really, we promise. Read our Privacy Policy for more details.
Do I have to bill in US Dollars?
Not if you don’t want to! Thanks to CurdBee’s latest update, you can now use ten international currencies. Apart from setting a default currency, you can also specify each client’s preferred currency individually, making it easier to bill around the globe.

To Do List Managers


If all the methodology of the best GTD applications loses you in the productivity shuffle, there’s nothing like a classic, simple to-do list to keep you on track. You’ve never had more options—both simple and robust—for managing your to-do list as you do today. On Tuesday we asked you to share your favorite to-do list managers, and today we’re back with the five most popular answers. Keep reading for a glimpse at the five best to-do list managers, then vote for the to-do tool you like best. Photo by elusive.

Microsoft Outlook (Windows)

To many, Microsoft Outlook is primarily an email and calendar application, but countless users also prefer Outlook tasks for managing to-dos. Since many of our to-dos originate from email, the integration of the to-do list with Outlook makes creating tasks from your email and calendar a breeze. Also, because of its wide use, you can sync Microsoft Outlook tasks to tons of devices and services for improved accessibility. The downside: If you don’t have it, Microsoft Outlook will cost you $150 for the standalone version or the price of a Microsoft Office bundle.

Remember the Milk (Web-based)


Remember the Milk (RTM) is a web-based to-do list manager with an emphasis on simplicity and integration with popular third-party applications. At its most basic, RTM creates, edits, organizes, and checks off your to-dos through its fast and streamlined web interface. That’s only the start, because RTM shines in many other forms, whether we’re talking keyboard shortcuts or integration with the likes of Google Calendar, Gmail, or Twitter. It’s web-based, so you can access it anywhere you have an internet connection, but you can also use RTM offline with Google Gears or access it from your Windows or Mac desktop, so you get the best of both worlds. Remember the Milk is free to use, but Pro accounts are available with advanced features for $25 per year.

Pen and Paper


For hundreds of years prior to the computer, humankind has managed to-dos with a simple pen and paper, and for many it’s still the only way to go. There are countless methods for managing your to-do list on paper, and the beauty of this to-do manager is that it’s completely flexible—you’re only limited by your imagination. With that in mind, a classic, straightforward list with items you can cross off as you go has always been gratifying, and it’s the template that most software to-do lists follow to this day. Photo by Florian.

Todoist (Web-based)


Webapp Todoist offers speed, simplicity, and a handful of excellent keyboard shortcuts. Todoist and Remember the Milk are both very similar in their aims (speedy web-based to-do management); the main difference lies in the way they present your to-dos. Todoist’s layout sets out your to-do categories on a sidebar similar to how Gmail presents labels, whereas RTM provides a more task-centric view with categories laid out in tabs across the top of the interface. Like RTM, Todoist is a great web-based managers that integrates with several third-party apps. (Original post)

Plain Text


The plain text file—todo.txt—has always been the most basic computer-based to-do list. Tracking tasks in a todo.txt file means you can view and edit them on any operating system on any computer, and you’re never tied to one application. You can access your to-do list with OS defaults like Notepad or opt for more features from your favorite text editor. Gina has shown you how she manages her to-do list with Todo.sh (a command line script that works with your todo.txt file), but if you don’t want to go advanced, you can just as easily manage your digital to-dos with a simple, straightforward text editor.


Need Help pressing the restart button?

Here are a few tips:

1. Start with a single step.

Go through each item in your inbox one at a time. If you don’t have an inbox, collect all the piles from your work area into one mission control center. Use a sticky note to group like-actions together. For example, make notes labeled: read, email, file, review and sign. The new piles will be the beginning stages of order and won’t need to be sorted again. Once you’ve named everything, you’ll get rid of that fear that something unknown is going to blow up unexpectedly.

2. Use a helping hand.

When you can delegate, do it. Don’t let work that you don’t need to do pile up around you. Move it to someone else’s desk! Forward it to the appropriate person to keep the momentum and get that project done. Don’t be the bottleneck that causes the last minute, late night emergencies. But before you send it on its way, be sure you track what you are waiting for with a date stamp, the person’s name and what you need from them. You may get to hand it off, but you’ll also want some record of who, what, and when, in case you need to remind them to get what you need before the upcoming deadline.

3. Give yourself more time.

If you’re not going to be able to deliver on time, reset any deadlines that can be moved. You’ll have piece of mind if you communicate when you’re running behind giving everyone enough time to recalibrate their work. It may hurt at first, knowing that you have lost control of your system, but you avoid future emergencies by keeping everyone updated in advance. One way of avoiding the stress of unexpected deadlines is to make your schedule the first thing you look at when you start your day. Yes, that means looking at your calendar before checking email. Knowing what’s coming will help you prioritize what you do first.

4. Focus on your restart.

When you’re at the point where you need to build your productivity system back up, you’ll accomplish it by focusing on just that. Get back on the wagon by going cold turkey when it comes to surfing, scanning and chatting. If you give yourself 20 minutes to resurrect your system, you’ll be surprise how much you can get done. Turn off all of your flashing reminders, your phone and all the other gear that rings, sings and vibrates. You need less time than you think of solid uninterrupted focus to get back to the present.

Let’s face it; everyone’s productivity system ends up buried sooner or later. It’s your ability to get back to organized after falling off the wagon that will create some semblance of order and peace of mind that comes with having a system in place.