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My (digital) Personal Assistant

My (digital) Personal Assistant

I’m not rich or important enough for a personal assistant, but your girl needs some help keeping up with her own lifestyle. Between traveling for work M-Th, flex traveling to different cities on the weekends, GMAT prep, terrible attempts at recovering my tragic German, and writing for Cubicholia, it’s shocking that I’ve somehow remained a semi-productive member of society. I’m the girl who drops her key card in that little gap between the elevator and the floor because she was interrupted by a fleeting thought about Russian Tsar Nicholas II and how there may still be a chance that Princess Anastasia escaped the revolt…

Needless to say, I require some assistance every now and then.

So, how does a recent college grad hire a personal assistant? Trick question – she doesn’t. Call me Dr. Frankenstein, for I present to you my monster – a collection of apps and programs I’ve fashioned together to build a nearly perfect digital assistant to manage travel, productivity, and personal finances:

Travel

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TripCase

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TripCase is a great app for anyone who frequently travels. It aggregates everything in your travel itinerary – from your flights to hotel bookings to car rentals – into one cohesive picture. Within each roundtrip you can also view maps of the airport terminals, get alerts of flight delays, see the weather in your destination, request Ubers, get sightseeing and restaurant recommendations in each city, among other things.

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If you’re lucky, your company will book travel via a third party travel agency that automatically integrates your bookings with TripCase. However, if you book travel yourself, all you have to do is forward your boarding pass, hotel confirmation, rental car confirmation and anything else to trips@tripcase.com and they’ll take care of pulling the data into the app for you.

Another good alternative to TripCase is TripAdvisor’s GateGuru app. This app also aggregates travel data, but has the additional bonus of providing helpful information about your terminal’s amenities (such as power outlet locations) and shop/eatery directories.

Apple Wallet

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While there are a few pros to downloading an airline’s custom app – mobile check-in and viewing mileage balances are the two that come to mind – I forgo these for the sake of saving iPhone storage. Especially if you frequently travel on different airlines, I recommend getting in the habit of saving your emailed boarding passes to your Apple Wallet. You can still check in on the airline’s mobile site or app, but until airlines invest more in the UX of their own apps, I have to opt for the sleek interface of AppleWallet (I mean come on, this is what my career is centered around–user experience. I can’t be bothered with sub-optimal user experiences).

Wingz

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Of course, Uber and Lyft are the two most obvious options for catching rides to and from the airport. However, due to increased regulation in the States, many cities are beginning to ban the top shared economy apps., Upon learning that Uber and Lyft no longer operate during my last trip to Austin, TX (and in an effort to avoid the infamously terrible Austin Cab Company) I turned to my fellow consulting friends for alternatives and was suggested to book a ride in advance with Wingz.

Wingz specializes in advance bookings for rides to and from airports. In the well-designed app, you can input your location and destination and set the time you’d like to be picked up. You are then given a set rate (which in my experience, was comparable to that of an UberX), and matched with a driver within a few hours. While this was mildly stressful for me, as I waited until 10pm to request a ride at 4:30am the next morning, I encountered no problems. My driver was promptly on time with a nice car and cheery disposition. Given the incredibly high number of times I’ve been cancelled on by Ubers in Chicago on my way to O’Hare, I’ll probably switch to Wingz for my Monday morning trips to the airport.

Productivity

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MeisterTask + MindMeister

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I am probably the most excited to share these gems of apps with y’all! Essentially, MeisterTask is a project management software that utilizes the KanBan method (throwback to the HBS Toyota case anyone??). In case you (understandably) need a refresher, the Kanban method was introduced by Toyota in their production sites in Japan – a visual-based method of project management that fuels Just-in-Time and lean production methods, where differently-colored cards signal the need for replenishment of respective materials.

Translated into personal project management, this means that MeisterTask encourages you to complete tasks at optimal efficiency by allowing you to move tasks (which can be incredibly customized with due dates and categories, etc.) between three buckets – Open, In-progress, and Done. This presents an easy-to digest visual map of where you are on your to-do list, and which areas need more attention. You can even share your projects with others and assign tasks to different users – a feature useful for everything from planning group travel to operating a collaborative blog 😉 Furthermore, one of its most powerful features is its seamless integration with other project management software, like its sister program MindMeister, Slack, GoogleDrive, Dropbox, Outlook, and many others.

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MeisterTask operates even better with its above mentioned sister application, MindMeister. MindMeister is a brainstorming software that’s particularly useful if you’re a visual planner like myself. Designed like a classic mind map and given a digital power boost, you can map out anything from all the various components of a vacation (flights, sights, hotels, etc.) to a life map used to visually present all the various projects you have running simultaneously (mine has everything from GMAT/grad school prep to Cubicholia goals, travel goals, language learning, and career goals). From this digital mind map, users can directly import individual components into MeisterTask. It doesn’t hurt that it’s impeccably designed as well 😉

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Google Calendar

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While this one may seem glaringly obvious, I have encountered various brand advocates for either Outlook or Apple’s calendar app, so I will take this opportunity to share why I’m personally Google-loyal. Beyond personal preferences for interface and Google’s superior integration with many other apps I use, the main reason I’ve stuck with Google Calendar is its “shared calendar” feature.

While juggling personal and professional travel, a collaborative blog, and personal errands, I’ve found it’s easiest to create separate calendars for each major “workstream” in your life. This way, you can hide/unhide various “workstreams” (this helps to minimize feeling overwhelmed by a jam-packed calendar) and share different calendars with different “stakeholders” (ie. Share your travel calendar with friends trying to plan a visit, share your blog calendar with the other editors, etc.). I’ve used this system since college, and it’s yet to fail me.

Slack

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After constantly toggling between a roommate group text, a Cubicholia-specific Facebook Messenger thread, and individual messages, we at Cubicholia finally migrated to the team-based messaging app, Slack. Slack allows teams to separate conversation into isolated “channels” that reduce confusion, getting off-topic, and keep correspondence well-archived to be revisited later.

For example, we only use the #highpriorityissues thread for major issues that need immediate attention (like when Sayli and I deleted all of the j-queries in the site code, oops) and #posts to dump spur-of-the-moment ideas about future topics to write on. Slack allows a short description of each thread to remind everyone of exactly what should be discussed in each. After switching over, we definitely noticed a dramatic reduction in confusion and time spent reconciling lost conversation.

Equinox

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The Productivity section wouldn’t be complete without some kind of program in place to ensure personal health isn’t ignored. Regardless of which gym you’re a part of, or if you workout on your own, there are lots of apps created to set & track your fitness goals. Personally, as a member of Equinox, I am absolutely enamoured by their app. Not only is it well-designed visually, but it houses many functional features present in other fitness app, but customized to Equinox members.

Beyond the standard functions like class booking and mobile check-in, the Equinox app allows you to set goals like“# of check-ins” per week. Equinox also integrates with the Apple Health App to present an aggregated view of your overall fitness progress. The “Activity” section tracks your weight, completed workouts, calories burned in Equinox and individual workouts, and your sleeping patterns. While I’m no model for fitness, it’s nice to have everything in one place when I do (finally) give this area of my life the attention it deserves.

Personal Finances

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There is probably nothing I hate discussing more than money. It’s annoying, it’s stressful, and it takes away from everything else that I’d rather be doing (aka literally anything else). However, the catch 22 comes into play with my pride in being a self-sufficient betch. Ergo, I’ve mitigated this necessary evil via personal finance software that minimizes my time spent on the topic.

Mint

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After exploring multiple personal finance applications, I highly recommend starting out your adult life with an aggregated view of your finances with Mint. Mint makes it incredibly simple and quick to import data from your debit and credit accounts. However, my favorite feature is the ability to set different financial goals to track your progress against. For example, I’m currently saving for a trip to Paris with my college roommates (and Cubicholia co-editors 😉 ), so I estimated the total costs, and each month contribute the necessary amount, given the number of months I have left to reach the goal. This feature is also useful for longer-term goals like saving for grad school or a car.

Bank Apps

As mentioned above with airline apps, I generally dislike downloading multiple company-specific apps. However, the one caveat comes with mobile banking apps. I’ve grouped them together within one app “folder” (purposefully marked with the flying dollar bill and middle finger emoji), and go in and check them all at once periodically (again, to minimize the time spent on my least favorite topic). While these account balances are aggregated within Mint, I use the individual apps to cross reference my company expense sheet with each line item on my statements, and triple-check due dates on credit cards. Additionally, if you travel internationally, it is exponentially easier to add travel notices within apps than to call each of your cards’ 1-800 numbers.

Well, there you have it. Used together, even the most scatter-brained Jane can keep her various projects and goals in check. While it will take a bit of time to set these up, I recommend setting aside one full afternoon to sit at a cute café and go ham. The initial set-up time is well-worth the ease and peace-of-mind that compounds afterward.

Which apps/software do you use to manage your life? Leave your recommendations and suggestions in the comments, I’m always looking for better methods to simplify life 🙂


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  1. Dana

    12 January

    LOVE this piece!! Really helpful for a girl who NEEDS to stay organized like me 😉

  2. Chandler

    8 March

    Ok, you convinced me to download MindMeister

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