Life Doesn’t Have an Instruction Manual

But I do have 10 life tips I'm proud of

You know what we all don’t do enough?  Share the small successes and little tips that make life just a tad easier.  Life doesn’t have an instruction manual and this certainly isn’t one.  But this post is a celebration of 10 small – and somewhat random – things I’ve found in my life that save time or help make things more epic.  Stuff I’m proud to have discovered precisely because there is no instruction manual for life.

So put the big, important things in life to the side - that’s not this post. In fact, I generated this list simply by walking through my life for the past week or two and taking note of routines and products worthy of sharing. It was a fun exercise and a good reminder in these times of COVID and fires and hurricanes and more to just slow down and geek out on the little wins.

Without further ado, here are ten things I’ve figured out in my life. Some you might already know - but I hope there is at least one new one for you. Share more #MTBLifeTips to me on Twitter at @AdamHarmetz.

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1. How to always remember to take medicine

Problem: I take a Claritin allergy pill everyday for 8 months of the year.  I always forget in my un-caffeinated morning brain whether I already took the pill or not.

Solution: This find is awesome.  A bottle cap that reset a timer every time it’s opened.  If I see 17 minutes and not 24 hours, I know I already took it. There are other solutions, like a Monday-Friday pill box or using my phone, but this is the only solution that requires no ongoing set-up and is in the total flow of doing the task itself.

Bonus: This gives me a sense of whether I’m getting up at the same time every day and a forcing function reminder if I’m not. 24:56? Wow - I’m up almost an hour later than normal.

Purchase on Amazon: TimerCap Automatically Display Time Since Last Opened.

2. How to properly use a toilet seat cover

Problem:  After setting up the toilet seat cover, I felt like it was a race against time to sit down before it fell in. God help me if the auto-flush goes off before I sit down.  I was using them like this:

Solution: Oh man, I was just doing it wrong my entire life. Am I the only one? Where was I supposed to learn this? According to a meme on the internet I saw, it actually goes like this:

Nothing touches the water until you are done and nothing is caught by an accidental auto-flush. When you are done, you just flip the spare part in the bowl. As my daughters likes to say: Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy.

Bonus: Yes, it was intentional that this tip was listed as Number 2.

3. How to keep track of time zones

Problem: I work with awesome people from all over the world, and I have friends I video chat with weekly from Europe as well.   While I can get widgets on my phone and calendar plug-ins on the computer, I really wanted a wall-clock version that helped me clarify what time it is around various parts of the world.

Solution: After a bunch of research, I didn’t find a purpose built product for this one.  But I did find clocks built for dementia patients that had large font and also provide the time of day (e.g. morning, evening) and date:

I put together a set of them for the major time zones I interact with:

Bonus: You can read about the full telepresence studio I built here:

4. How to do desktop publishing in the year 2021

Product: Despite 20 years of additional product making, nothing has captured my imagination for Desktop Publishing as well as tools like Adobe PageMaker or Microsoft Publisher from the late 90’s and early 2000’s:

Indeed, Desktop Publishing was a class offered in my high school - one of my first educational experience with computers. And 3 years of High School Yearbook gave me a special relationship with this type of software.

Flash forward to 2021 - greeting cards, posters, social media GIFs, et cetera – I just need something clean and simple that enables me to have great design without being a designer.

Solution: Canva.  Helen and I started using Canva this year, around the time Mind The Beet was formed.   It’s how we do all our social content for the newsletter and my use of it had branched out from there to other work and fun scenarios.  Their templates are amazing - everything from an Instagram story to a printed poster to a meme generator to a Zoom background.

Their editing canvas is simple enough that absolutely anyone can use it. They also have advanced features, like being able to one-click remove the background from an image:

I find myself not only using it for projects end to end but also using it quickly and then going back to Word or PowerPoint with the results.

Bonus: They are a female founded company!

5. How to scan documents

Problem: Speaking of 1990’s computing, does anyone remember the Logitech hand held scanners?

ScanMan256 - what a great name for the time on so many levels. I have super fond memories of using this thing for schoolwork.

Recently though, we went paperless in our household - and what do you do with the paper mail you get that you want to save? Or if you need to send something back signed?

Solution: Most file storage mobile apps have scan-with-camera built in. It does more than just takes a picture, it will clean up the image and adjust it so even if you took it at an angle it will look like a high quality top-down scan and will save as a PDF.

Bonus: I work in the OneDrive & SharePoint organization at Microsoft, so I use the OneDrive app for this all the time. Learn more about OneDrive scanning.

6. How to talk to kids

Problem: Kids’ brains are growing and they haven’t wired up the neurons to process speech and articulate opinions as quickly as adults.   I, however, prefer West Wing walk-and-talks:

Solution: Honestly, the simplest thing I’ve found across the entire spectrum - from a parent to anyone who only interacts with kids once a year – is the 6 second rule.   Ask a question/say something and count to 6 in your head before speaking again.  It’s a simple trick to realize just how long it takes the brains of 3-6 year old’s to process. More times than not, you’ll find you caught yourself about to answer your own question and by the time 6 seconds is up, the kid will start to engage.

Bonus: If you ever need more than the sound bite advice, check out this favorite in our household: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.

7. How to loosen or tighten something random

Problem: Socket wrench sets are pretty overwhelming:

Not to mention I find myself losing key parts and it’s a pain to lug around. Also, often time you have to unscrew something random or broken that doesn’t fit any tool.

Solution: Universal socket wrench:

I mean, the tool speaks for itself here.

Bonus: It’s just $14. (Purchase on Amazon)

8. How to get spell check to actually help you

Problem: Sometimes you can’t even get close to spelling a word right.  Spell check just isn’t picking up what you are trying to drop down.

Solution: Did you know most spell checks have some amount of phonetic insights built in?  That means you can try to sound out the word instead of guessing how to spell.  Try it:

Bonus: “How to add phonetics to spell check” was actually a question in my 2005 interview to be a dev at Google.

9. How to get dress shirts that fit

Problem: Life is not perfect for things with not normal sized arms:

For me, my arms are too long compared to the norm. I’ve made due, but dress shirts often just don’t fit me well. I need something beyond the even the length/neck options in stores and completely custom tailoring seems a bit too much.

Solution: Proper Cloth is an awesome online retailer that bring custom tailoring to the masses. After buying your first shirt and going through a fitting process, they save your custom measurements down to the quarter inch:

Picking out a new dress shirt is as easy as looking at their entire catalog. You are selecting fabric and style rather than hunting for fit. They will custom make it and ship it to you in about a week.

Bonus: Their cloth face masks are super fancy and good for formal occasions. You can chose the material you want it created with.

10. How to do a healthy & quick breakfast

Problem: In an attempt to de-carb and de-grain breakfast, I often turn to smoothies. I mean, it really doesn’t look that hard.  Jamba Juice folks just throw a bunch of stuff in a blender.  What could go wrong?

I don’t have this level of epic fail very often, but when I try to do it myself – it’s hard to have all the right ingredients in stock, get the proportions right every time, and have some variety.  It’s just not a “quick” breakfast choice.

Solution: Daily Harvest.   Single serve smoothie delivered right to you door.  Healthy ingredients and no additives. Add water/milk to each one, up to the point where it fills up the cup, pour in blender, perfect every time:

Bonus: It comes in dry ice and the kids LOVE delivery days as they get to (supervised) play with it and do science experiments with the dry ice smoke.

In Closing

I’m not special and nor are these tips. We ALL have little life hacks like these. I hope some are useful, but more importantly it’s about the mindset. It gave me cool positive energy to go around for a week and write down little things I’m proud of and do well. Try it yourself and if you do, share it with me (I’d love to hear!) I bet you’ll feel awesome. Heck, maybe that’s all the instruction manual we need.