Archive for Productivity

Inbox for Gmail: a better way to manage email

Almost everyone already loves Gmail but what if you could make it better?  InBox transforms your mail from the familiar home screen to a more organized, color-coded interface.

Create this magic on your desktop, tablet or phone by requesting an invite (see below) and downloading the app.  I love that I can try it out and still get back to the familiar if needed.  In other words, I can use both at the same time.

The big difference besides the cleaner home page is that mail now works more than ever as a to-do list.  If you use your inbox in that way, you will love InBox.
Options for handling messages in InBox include:

  • Pin–move to the top; stay in front of me; you are important
  • Snooze–need to deal with this but not today; go away until I am ready to do something with you
  • Done–finished with you, go away
  • Bundle–you all go together

Get InBox by sending an email to request an invite.  Mine came right away, they don’t seem hard to get.

It has taken some time to get comfortable with the new interface.  For me the hardest part is seeing that I have a new message, that just does not seem as apparent as I’m used to.

I have played with my bundles to make them more useful (moving messages in or out to “teach” Google which are appropriate) and that has helped.

The hardest part of it for me is the lack of a delete button.  I know that it isn’t actually doing anything different, that deleted messages are still THERE but with InBox they seem in the way more.

I don’t know yet if I will stick with InBox but it is worth trying out for sure.

Of course Lifehacker has a great post about using InBox, How InBox by Google works, and How to Use it for More Productive Email.

Try it out.  Let me know what you think.

Meet Browzine™ Turn your tablet into your e-reader!

Keep up to date with your scholarly reading with Browzine™, a new way of browsing and reading your favorite journals from many major publishers on your iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire, Android Tablet or Android phone. BrowZine is free. All licensed content is provided via UAB Libraries.



Get started in two EASY steps:

1.  Download the free Browzine app for your device.

2. When installed, choose University of Alabama at Birmingham as your university library. Use your Blazer ID/password when prompted.


Why use Browzine?

  • to scan the complete tables of contents of scholarly journals and read articles optimized for mobile devices
  •  to get one-click from journal tables of content to the PDFs of the articles you want to read
    • save specific articles for later reference and offline reading
    • create a bookshelf of your favorite journals for easy, fast access
  • to receive on screen notifications when new issues of your favorite journals are published

Other features:BrowZine_Article_Export_Options_iOS

  • Find journals by searching or browsing a title list, or by using a Browzine bookshelf chosen by subject.
  • Annotate or print articles by opening them in your favorite apps like Good Reader or iAnnotate.



Pushbullet is a great, free app designed to allow you to easily move items between your computer and mobile devices.











As promised, it is very easy to get started:

pushbullet get started
















I downloaded the app to my iPhone and iPad and added the Chrome extension to my computer.  I logged in with my Gmail account and that was it.  I could then use the app on my mobile devices to push items such as photos, files, and links to my computer.  I sent a couple of things from home and when I got to work the next morning there was a pop-up on my computer with the information.  Computer does need to be on though, when I sent one over the holiday it didn’t go through and I couldn’t easily resend it.

I did the same thing from my computer, using the Pushbullet icon in Chrome and instantly pushed files or links from one to the other.

Now I do have other options for moving things between devices but this is so fast and easy I likely will never use the other options again.  As I don’t have an Android phone I don’t have all the options (yet) but still find this FREE app to be a great time saver.

There are also some great IFTTT recipes for Pushbullet.

Apparently this app has been around for a while, I just missed it somehow.  If you have been using it and have suggestions on how to make the most of it, let us know in the comments.

5 Tips for a Happier 2015

Happy 2015!

Besides watching “happy” videos, here are 5 tips for a happier new year:

Simplify decisions  Create routines to simplify the decisions that don’t matter to you. Follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs and President Obama by simplifying your clothing decisions with a uniform (grey suit or jeans and a black turtleneck) or just a few clothing choices that suit your style. Or simplify your morning routine by eating the same breakfast every day or packing the same lunch. Try these simple steps to reduce your decision fatigue so that you’ll save your willpower and energy for the decisions that really matter to you.

Log out It’s difficult to stay focused on a task if constant distractions lure you away. Improve your chances of getting things done by batching your work and logging out of email, Facebook, and Twitter for set periods of time. Close your browser and set a timer to work on only one thing for 45 minutes and see how much more you can accomplish without interruptions. When you do log back into email, spend 30 minutes deleting, responding or filing mail and then close the program till you check it later in the day. Need convincing that interruptions have a detrimental effect on the quality of your work? Studies show that constant interruptions zap your productivity so get more done by batching similar tasks and reducing distractions.

Clear out clutter It’s a great feeling to get rid of clutter. It’s frees up your physical space and gives you more room mentally. And it’s rewarding to know that the stuff you don’t need can benefit others. Clean out your closet and donate clothing and accessories to the Suits 4 Success drive or other worthy organizations. Help with the School of Public Health’s Pathways project by bringing in your unopened toiletry samples from hotels. Use freecycle to share things you no longer need as part of a 40 day de-cluttering challenge. Clear out clutter at work as well. Consider unsubscribing from email lists, sending fewer emails, and printing fewer documents to clear out clutter in your office. And enjoy the new space you have when you have fewer things.

There is always, always, always something to be thankful for

(Photo Credit: Pretty Organized)

Develop recharging routines We all need recharging. Develop habits that “sharpen the saw” and renew your well-being. Stop eating at your desk and use your lunch break to take a walk, listen to music, or socialize.  Sign up for a class or program (at the Campus Rec Center, Organizational Learning or Development or UAB Employee Assistance and Counseling Center) that expands your knowledge or develops new interests. Spend time noticing and acknowledging all that you have to be thankful for and take time to recognize and thank the people that are part of your life. Need inspiration? Visit Three Beautiful Things or join the #365grateful project. And while you’re recharging, make a routine to recharge your phone, tablet or computer.

Recognize that perfection is not attainable Do you suffer from perfectionism? You’ve heard the expression that “perfection is the enemy of good” but what can you do to combat this tendency? You can try stepping back and looking at the big picture to develop a proper perspective. You can divide projects into smaller goals to maintain momentum and set time limits for tasks to avoid obsessing over minor details. You can make peace with the fact that making mistakes is part of the process and that perfection is not attainable. And you can be happy that you’ve achieve some good things in the process.


When I heard that ZipList was closing down earlier this month, I panicked. As mentioned in my post about ZipList earlier this year, this is one of the top few apps I use on a daily basis. The discontinuation of this app comes at a very bad time of year, so I’ve quickly had to do my research to find a replacement! And since I raved about ZipList and may have even lead some to start using it themselves, I feel the need to direct you all to another shopping list solution!

After reading about and considering a few other shopping list apps (Shopper, GroceryIQ, Grocery Gadget, and others) I have ended up with OurGroceries. (Available for both iOS and Android as well as via most PC web browsers.)

Our Groceries ListOur Groceries List 















So far, am really liking it. As I confessed in my ZipList post, I am not a grocery shopper. I go only when I must. My role is the list maker; my husband’s role is the store-goer. So the ability to share shopping lists in real time, is key. I like to sneak one or two more items on the list while he’s actually at the store!

In addition to list sharing, other shopping list app features I require include the ability to:

  • sign up for an account without linking to Facebook. (This was the deal breaker for Shopper. I did not see a way to share my lists without registering with my Facebook login and like others, I’m still suspicious of “anonymous login.”)
  • make lists for multiple stores: Publix, Target, Home Depot, Beth, Bath, & Beyond, etc.
  • categorize items by type of product and/or aisle in store

I didn’t find myself using ZipList to search for recipes and then automatically add recipe ingredients to my shopping list, so for those who like the sound of that, OurGroceries is probably not for you. You can store recipe names and ingredients but must manually enter that information. There is no place to store the actual recipe instructions. To me, the recipe part of the app is pretty worthless. I guess just having a list of recipe names might be helpful if you’re at a loss for what to cook and need to skim a list.

Some features OurGroceries doesn’t have (or not yet) that some of the other similar apps have include barcode scanning, price tracking, coupon integration, and photos of products. For now at least, I’m enjoying the simplicity of OurGroceries.

There is a free version of OurGroceries, which includes ads. So far, the ads have not been too much of a nuisance to me. For $4.99 (in-app purchase), though, you can upgrade to OurGroceries+ and go ad-free.

Almost Painless Biosketches

sciencv logois an online tool that assists researchers in creating and formatting biographical sketches needed for federally funded research. Because it generates reference lists from My NCBI and imports grant information from eRA Commons, it is fast!  Save your templates to modify and update later.

Formatted Biosketch

  • Developed by NCBI (NIH) for the SciENcv interagency working group: DOD,DOE, EPA, NIH, NSF, USDA
  • Used to create, save and maintain multiple NIH biosketches for grant applications and annual reports. Includes template for NIH Biosketch now, and NSF is to be added Fall, 2014.

This video from NIH demonstrates the features of SciENcv.  Prefer to read? See these detailed instructions.  Or check out this guide to get started working with My NCBI.



Wearable Tech

From Google Glass to a variety of wearable fitness trackers to smart watches to gesture rings, is resistance really futile? We can already control most of our lives with a smart phone and now it seems we’ll be able to do the same with a stylish wearable accessory. It is kind of ironic really. We buy an activity tracker to help be fit but then buy a gesture device, like the Nod Gesture Ring, that will let us control our TV, house lights, and environmental controls without moving from our seat on the couch.

According to Daniel Bulygin on, 82% of Americans that have wearable tech believe it has enhanced their lives. No doubt that technology has enhanced lives throughout history. The flushing toilet alone was certainly an improvement over the outhouse. But for the everyday person, how much of this really makes our lives better or easier? I’ve kinda decided that wearable tech is kinda like library instruction without a course assignment. It isn’t very useful until you actually need it for something.

For instance, a gesture ring could seriously improve the life of someone who is wheelchair bound. If someone is really motivated to get fit then a health tracker could make a real difference.

So what is the verdict on wearable tech? You tell me.

Now where was I….?

Does everyone struggle with distraction these days?  We all have so many things to do and whether you are trying to AVOID doing something or you have SO MANY things to do that you jump from one to another, getting them all done seems impossible.  Especially this time of year when there actually IS something shiny over there beckoning to you. So how to stay focused and get things done?

Know WHAT it is you need to get done

I’m a firm believer in to-do lists.  There are so, so many available now and we’ve covered this topic (use the blog search feature to find previous posts) before so I won’t go into great detail here but as I tell my kids, how do  you get stuff done when you don’t know what actually needs to get done?

Pick the right TIME to do it

I have better focus in the morning but my son isn’t even fully awake until afternoon, I don’t think.  I have learned that 7 to 9 am is my best shot at getting any writing for the day done.  Look at your own schedule and preferences.  You can’t always set your own schedule but when you can, use your time most productively.

Create the right ENVIRONMENT

If I’m trying NOT to do something it is amazing how being hot/cold/hungry/restless can throw me off.  I could get this post written if only had a cup of coffee.  Set the stage as best you can.  If you are really struggling try standing or exercise. Standing desks apparently can make you more productive.  I’m not sure if I can say that I believe this is true but I do agree that if I sit too long I get fidgety and want to get up and wander around.  In fact exercise can help you focus and remember it seems.  So maybe a few minutes of wandering around can help me get back to work.  You can also try music if that isn’t just another distraction.  Spotify has some great playlists for work. (Browse or search playlists.)

Let TECHNOLOGY help not hinder

If you can’t be trusted not to be on Facebook when you opened a browser to do research try an app blocker on your computer set to limit what you can use.  Cold Turkey is a new one designed to block certain apps at certain times.  (Since this one is SO hard to get around I’m afraid to try it.  It is tempting though.)  The app is user supported–pay what it is worth to you.  There are lots of others depending on the tool/operating system/app you want to block.

Is it important to manage distractions?  Yes.  Yes, it is.  Is it hard to manage distractions?  Yes, it is.

Lifehacker addresses this question often, they have some great advice.

Stay focused on the current task with a “procrastination pad”

Don’t do research when  you hit your writing groove

How can I improve my short attention span?

Master the art of the to-do list by understanding how they fail

How to focus and stay productive when you’re expected to always be available

Good luck and make 2014 your most productive yet!


3D Printing and the Future

Ever since I first started watching Star Trek I have wanted a replicator. The thought of coming home and saying “Computer, wine, Merlot” just makes me smile. And the clean up! You just put the empty class back and it disappears.

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.

As it turns out we may not be far away from having that replicated cup of tea or wine. In fact, we may be really close to things a lot more important.

3D-printing has been around since mid-eighties but it was expensive and no one could think of really cool ways to use it except for things like architectural models and prototypes.

3D printers create solid 3-dementional objects by adding layers from the bottom up called an additive process. For a couple of thousand bucks you can buy a 3D printer that can happily “print” plastic thingies for you. Break your sun glasses? Just scan the pieces and print out a new pair.

Now this is all nice but what if the printer used other materials besides plastic thingamabobs? We are in the health sciences so let’s consider some of the applications that folks are researching right now.

  • Made to order prosthetic limbs.
  • Your custom prosthetic limbs can also be printed to be more like an actual arm or leg with moving joints even in the toes.
  • Chemicals smaller than a grain of sand are also being printed. Thus, your drugs can be made custom as well.
  • Bio-Ink can used to print tissue. Cartilage and bone has already been developed and skin for burn victims is being developed.

Imagine for a moment what 3D printing means for people needing an organ…..

Want to know more? Check out these two videos.


Ipad/iphone Apps for Reading the Current Literature

Keeping up with the literature in your field is necessary, but can be time-consuming!

This post is about 3 different, but similar, FREE apps that are designed to make the process much easier. Each has included the UAB proxy server in its options, so you will be able to link to the full text PDFS in a click for many articles that UAB licenses. Which one(s) you use is really a matter of personal preference. The apps are Docwise, Docphin, and Read (by QxMD.) You download them at the iTunes App Store.

All 3 of them feature:

  • An easy-to-use interface.
  • Settings to choose the journals to display whose current issues you want to read.
  • Searches to find a specific article, or articles on a topic (keyword searches.)
  • Once the topic is found, the ability to set alerts and topic updates so all new articles will be identified when published.
  • Can have email updates when new articles meeting your criteria are published.
  • One click sharing through Social Media such as Twitter.
  • The ability to favorite a PDF so you can read it when you are offline or traveling.
  • Easy access to the full text article for most UAB holdings (after you set  automatic log in with your Blazer ID and password.)
  • Please note:  These links work very well for content UAB licenses directly from the publisher, but may not work for content purchased from other vendors and will not work for unlicensed content that is not freely available.
    • The app developers work with the publishers and Lister Hill Library simply provides the proxy settings.  Often it is not clear why full text is not displayed, but the library cannot do anything about it.  We can help you get any articles need, though.  Simply Ask a Librarian.
    • Still, for a great many journals, this process is fast and nearly seamless.

Docwise   Read Review    Read Review

Docwise includes a customizable news feed from sources including CDC, FDA, Forbes, Time,  Washington Post, CNN, Medscape and more.   If you want to be able to scan current medical news in the same app as literature, this is very useful.

Click on the images to enlarge them.

Docwise_journal docwise_topic

Docphin:  Read Review  Read Review

Docphin includes a section on landmark articles, by speciality.  The app covers approximately 250 carefully selected journals. News from feeds chosen by Docphin, and including some Twitter feeds, is aggregated into the Medstream feature.

docphin Medstream Docphin journals


Ckick on the images to enlarge them.

Read by QXMD  Read Review   Read Review

Read allows you to choose to follow specialties, journals, collections and keyword searches.  It aggregates and highlights important articles under the “Featured” tab, although it is not clear how these are chosen.

Read_list Read