It’s that time of year. We just wrapped up the holiday festivities, which were full of buying employee gifts and taking clients out for holiday celebrations. The accounting department wants everyone to submit their expenses before year-end. We can’t procrastinate any longer. Besides, getting our expense reports submitted means some extra money for the holiday season.
But I think we can all agree that expense reports are possibly the last thing any of us want to be doing at this time of year (or any time of year, for that matter).
Luckily, there are plenty of mobile apps that make it easier to track and submit expense reports. Here are seven handy apps specific to the iPhone.
Expensify (free) offers the ability to create photo receipts and iPhone expense reports, and it integrates with Expensify’s website for instant reimbursement. It also can connect with QuickBooks. Great for people who travel and want to record expenses as they are incurred.
Fresh Xpense Capture (free) allows you to record your expenses (including photo receipts) as they occur. Expenses can be submitted using a variety of different formats such as SMS, IM, Twitter and e-mail. They are stored on the Xpenser website (sign up is free), where they can be imported to Excel, Quicken or MS Money.
Out of Pocket ($1.99) allows you to record your out-of-pocket expenses including photo receipts. Then you can export your expenses to FreeAgent or IRIS OpenBooks (optional). Out of Pocket also provides search capabilities, for those times when you’re trying to remember a date or expense description.
After you snap a photo of your receipt, Shoeboxed Receipt Tracker (free) automatically enters the date, total, payment type and category. It generates expense reports that can be sent from your iPhone as well as exported to QuickBooks and Quicken.
Shoeboxed also provides a fee-based service that enables you to mail in receipts (and other documents) to be scanned and uploaded to your online Shoeboxed.com account.
ProOnGo Expense (free) allows you to not only track receipt and mileage expenses, but it also enables you to time expenses. This is very useful for consultants or professionals that operate on a billable hour basis. ProOnGo also integrates with Quickbooks. For an extra cost, a receipt reader service is available.
Another app that offers billable expense recording is JetSet Expenses (currently on sale for $4.99). It allows tracking of billable expenses, reimbursable expenses and non-reimbursable expenses. JetSet focuses on business travelers by offering international settings along with airline, hotel and rental car databases.
Don’t need a bunch of fancy options? iReceipt ($1.99) provides a simple, basic service. Record your expense details or take a photo of your paper receipt. Then e-mail yourself a text-generated expense report.
Google recently launched its Chrome Webstore for dedicated applications and extensions. Although the store is still in its early stages, there is already a wealth of choice for any small business owner.
This post highlights six noteworthy apps and extensions ranging from note-taking to project management. For small businesses with limited budgets, these resources can aid in productivity and time-management and let you concentrate on the more important aspects of your business.
Let us know in the comments below about any additional Chrome apps or extensions you would recommend.
This extension brings all the Google services to your browser in a space-saving pop-up next to your address bar. Reach services like Gmail, Google Reader, Google Maps, Google Calendar and many more in just two clicks from your browser. The extension includes more than 140 Google services and websites. Once installed, just open the settings to customize and personalize the extension.
The level of customization is extensive, including sorting and rearranging the order of the buttons, selecting from six different icon sizes (16, 24, 32, 42, 48, and 64 pixels), adding your own custom URL button, integrating the Goo.gl URL shortener and changing the URL and names of services.
The support for Google Apps is what makes this really stand out from the crowd of Google-related extensions. Just scroll to the last section named Custom Domain for Google Apps and type your Google Apps domain name in the place provided. Now select the services of the domain you wish to add as a shortcut.
Scribble employs an approach that combines the simplicity and flexibility of text files with the order and control of GTD applications. If you have a habit of saving .txt files to your desktop as reminders, notes, thoughts and random ideas, Scribble is for you. You can now manage all those notes in one place, clutter free. It also works offline, which is invaluable, meaning your notes are stored locally. It has an attractive, simple UI, as well.
Perhaps the neatest feature is the letter-by-letter auto-save — there is no save key — because your note gets saved with every keystroke. Other features include the ability to attach reminders to specific notes; drag, drop and arrange the notes however you want; and store to-do lists, grocery items, phone numbers and e-mail templates.
Scribble can become a lifesaver if you have a habit of opening Notepad or TextEdit to jot down notes and reminders; it even gives a desktop pop-up reminder when something is due.
The developer has sync-to-cloud features and keyboard shortcuts planned for future releases.
Vyew is a tool that allows you to meet and share information both in real-time and continuously. Upload images, files, videos and more, and Vyew will store the information in one “Room” that anyone can access and contribute to at any time. You can work independently over periods of time or in groups in real-time. All meeting content is auto-saved in real-time with no worry of losing work, even if a connection is lost.
There are several real-world applications for Vyew, including hosting presentations, reviewing documents, drawing and annotating, tutoring and training, desktop sharing and the ability to publish (read-only) versions of your meetings to a website, blog or through e-mail.
The app also includes a free conference call service, which means you can quickly and easily bring all your collaborators and participants together via telephone for live conferences. You can also use VoIP (up to two users) and webcams (up to five users).
Todo.ly is an intuitive and easy-to-use to-do list and task manager to help you stay organized and get things done. Todo.ly was designed to be as simple to use as possible and fit in with your workflow.
It lets you divide your work into projects, which may have sub-projects. A task can also have sub-tasks. Managing “Tasks” and projects is straightforward; using the intuitive drag-and-drop interface, you can simply move your task from one project to another. Tasks will also pop into your “Today” list as due dates approach.
Due dates and filters (Inbox, Today, Next) are supported. The filters are easy to use and have been designed according to the Getting Things Done method. You can right-click tasks to edit them or add new tasks before or after it. The interface has been kept simple and functional and you’ll be up and running quickly. For example, if you want a simple unordered to-do list, you can simply start entering tasks.
While Todo.ly isn’t team-oriented at the moment, it has enough power under the hood and selection of features to be an excellent aid in personal productivity.
Write Space is a customizable full-screen text editor for Chrome that is designed for distraction-free writing. It works offline, saves data locally and persistently backs up your work as each document is automatically saved with every key-press, so there is no worry of losing work. It allows customization to the font, background, width of the editor window and more. The live document statistics mean there’s no need to dig around menus to find the word count.
The standout feature is the ability to make Chrome go full-screen for a truly distraction-free environment. You can also set it to open in full-screen mode automatically by right-clicking on the application icon and selecting ‘Open full screen.’ You can import plain-text files, though if you already have data saved in Write Space, make sure you back it up before importing.
As Google Chrome does not yet support the HTML5 File Writer API, Write Space does not currently have an automated export function. However, you can export your work manually by copying the text in the browser window to another file or location.
Write Space is open source software, so you are free and encouraged to edit the application as you see fit.
Pivotal Tracker is a simple, story-based project management tool that allows teams to collaborate and react to feedback in real time. It’s based on agile software methods, but can be employed on a wide range of projects. It can be used on anything that you or your team works on that delivers some value, and that is large enough to benefit from being broken down into small, concrete pieces. It’s commonly used for organizing marketing campaigns or for general productivity management.
Everyone shares the same, up-to-the-minute view of what’s going on with the project and what needs to be done next. It lets project owners know exactly where things are without having to ask, and lets the rest of the team spend time on work, rather than on reporting the work.
You can create a Twitter account for your project, and let followers (team members) see project updates as they occur, as well as being kept up-to-date via Campfire, e-mail or web callbacks.
Iterate also provides a way to access Pivotal Tracker from your iPhone, with the same simple, well-designed UI as Pivotal.
Here is a selection of quick links to six apps and extensions that are also worthy of making it into your Chrome setup:
Scratchpad – A simple note-taking app from Google that allows you to take notes offline and optionally sync to the cloud when you’re online.
Ge.tt – A real-time file-sharing service that allows you to share any number of files, no matter how large, within seconds.
280 Slides – Create beautiful presentations, access them from anywhere, and share them with the world.
Hootsuite – Publish updates, track activity, and analyze results across multiple social networks including Twitter and Facebook.
LovelyCharts – Online diagram software to create professional-looking flowcharts, sitemaps, organization charts, wireframes and more.
Gpanion – Gpanion is your Google companion and provides a sleek dashboard for working with your Google Apps.
What other noteworthy Google Chrome apps or extensions have you discovered? Be sure to share your picks in the comments below.
43 doesn’t mark a new decade. It’s not one of those birthdays people usually celebrate in a grand way, and mine was no exception. No one threw me a lavish surprise party. I had a few small dinners with close friends and family. I opened two presents.
And yet as I emerge from this birthday, I can’t imagine feeling any more appreciated, respected, and loved. Because on this particular not-a-big-deal birthday, in addition to those two presents, I received some other gifts — gifts that cost nothing, and that I have come to realize are, actually, a very big deal.
As we enter this holiday season, it makes sense to pause for a moment and think about gifts. What’s the point of them?
On a basic level, we give gifts because we’re supposed to. On certain occasions — birthdays, anniversaries, dinner parties, the end of the year — it’s customary.
Underlying that custom is an important purpose: appreciation. We give people gifts to show them that we are grateful for them and value the role they play in our lives.
But here’s a common misconception: the bigger, more valuable the gift, the more it expresses our appreciation. I know people who’ve received huge stock grants who feel severely under-appreciated.
Because gifts don’t express appreciation, people do. And when people don’t express it, neither do their gifts.
The gifts I received that meant so much to me on my forty-third birthday? My wife Eleanor asked a small group of my friends to write me a note of appreciation, “a thought or intention or poem,” she wrote to each friend, “that encourages him to accept himself just as he is.”
Just as he is. There is no more powerful way to acknowledge others than to be thankful for them just as they are.
And yet we almost never do this. Especially in a corporate setting where we often ask people to be change and where we value them for what they can do for us and for the company.
Think of our corporate end of the year rituals: performance reviews, holiday parties, and, sometimes, if we’re lucky, bonuses.
Performance reviews are supposed to identify our strengths, and the best reviewers spend most of their time dwelling on strengths. But it’s not a review unless we also look at weaknesses, areas “to develop,” places where we fall short. In other words, immediately after we tell people how great they are, we tell them how they aren’t good enough.
Holiday parties usually include a speech by the CEO or other leader thanking people for their hard work over the year and encouraging them to continue working hard over the next year. It’s an important ritual but it’s impersonal, given to the entire company or department at once. And it’s typically about what we’ve been able to accomplish, not about who we are. People don’t feel individually recognized.
And bonuses are a business deal, based not on appreciating us for who we are, but on compensating us for what we achieved, often delivered with no ceremony and no clearly expressed appreciation. The huge stock grants that left people under-appreciated? They were, literally, placed on people’s empty chairs overnight. No note. No conversation. Just a piece of paper on a chair.
I’m not suggesting these rituals aren’t important. People work together in organizations in order to accomplish things so it makes sense that our organizational rituals appreciate people for accomplishing things and for increasing their ability to accomplish more things in the future.
But I’d like to suggest an additional way to appreciate the people around us. A way that costs nothing and feels great to everyone involved: in a handwritten note, tell them why you appreciate them.
Not for what they do for you. Not for what they help you accomplish. Not even for what they accomplish themselves. Just for being who they are.
If you’re hesitant — maybe you think it’s too touchy-feely, too sappy — just think about what it would feel like to receive that type of note from the people around you.
Here’s the hard part: don’t be stingy.
You should do this even for people about whom you feel conflicted. Perhaps you don’t like everything about them. Maybe you don’t always appreciate who they are.
That’s OK. This isn’t a performance review. You don’t have to address everything about each person. This is a gift. There’s no reason to hoard your appreciation; it’s unlimited in supply. Just think about what you do appreciate about people and describe that part. Let them know what about them makes you smile. What you admire. What makes them special to you.
Then hand them your notes and thank them, individually, for working with you. Or, if you’re feeling bashful, just leave the notes on their chairs overnight; there’s no risk they’ll open them and feel under-appreciated.
I know, for me, it made my otherwise insignificant, mid-decade birthday the most significant one yet.
The Cadillac CTS-V Coupe is all kinds of badass. Yes, it’s archaic, but we can’t help but love a big-honkin’ American car with 556 horsepower and enough torque to peel pavement. The guys responsible for that chiseled block of awesome are going racing.
Cadillac announced Monday it’s returning to the Sports Car Club of America World Challenge next year. GM’s luxury marque will field two teams in the GT class, both running cars based on the CTS-V Coupe. The AWC is North America’s top production-based race-car series; Cadillac captured the manufacturer’s championship in the GT class in 2005 and 2007 and took the driver’s championship in 2005.
Left to right: Vinnie Ciaravino, Greg Zeigler and Mike West build one of two Cadillac CTS-V race cars at Pratt & Miller. A rendering of the car and the obligatory video below.
“Returning to racing in the SCCA World Challenge is a great way to demonstrate the performance and capability of the CTS-V Coupe,” Don Butler, vice president for Cadillac marketing, said in a statement. “The race cars in this series are production-based, which allows us to validate our performance against the best of our competitors on the track, and not just the showroom.”
Johnny O’Connell, a three-time GT1 champion in the America Le Mans Series, and Andy Pilgrim, who won the 2005 SCCA World Challenge GT class in a Cadillac, will drive the cars. Cadillac is working with engineering firm Pratt & Miller, which specializes in motor racing, to develop them. Of course the cars will feature mods and equipment required for racing, but Cadillac wants to keep the cars as original as possible.
“The series will become a key test bed for Cadillac,” Jim Campbell, GM vice president for performance vehicles and motor sports, said in a statement. “We anticipate using what we learn on the racetrack to ensure the V-Series stays on the cutting edge of performance.”
The cars’ performance remains to be seen, but we love the Mondrianesque livery.
Image: Here’s what the car will look like when it hits the grid.
Courtesy General Motors
I recently saw the movie The Last Samurai for the second time. Set in Japan in the 1870s, it tells the story of an American civil war veteran who was captured by samurai fighters and, over time, learned to honor their ways.
The first time I saw the movie, when it came out in 2003, I was enthralled by the beautifully choreographed fight scenes.
But this time, I was most moved by a scene I don’t even remember seeing the first time: a samurai drinking tea.
Sitting at a low table, he moved deliberately, singularly focused on his tea. He contemplated it. Then poured it. Then sipped it, tasted it, and, finally, swallowed it.
This, I realized, was the source of the samurai’s strength.
His acrobatics were impressive, but they were merely ademonstration of his strength. The source was this tea ritual and many other rituals like it. His power as a warrior came from his patience, precision, attention to subtlety, concentration, and his reverence for the moment.
The power of ritual is profound and under-appreciated. Mostly, I think, it’s because we live in a time-starved culture, and ritual is time-indulgent. Who can afford the luxury of doing one thing at a time? Who has the patience to pause and honor an activity before and after we do it?
We all should.
Religions understand and leverage the power of ritual. In Judaism, blessings are as plentiful as iPhone apps. Wake up? There’s a blessing for that. Wash your hands? There’s a blessing for that. Experience something new? Eat a meal? Go to the bathroom? There’s a blessing for each one. Every religion I know has similar practices to make our experience of the world sacred.
Which might be why we avoid ritual in the business world. Religion is so loaded, so personal. But ritual doesn’t have to be religious; it’s just a tool religions use. Rituals are about paying attention. They’re about stopping for a moment and noticing what you’re about to do, what you’ve just done, or both. They’re about making the most of a particular moment. And that’s something we could use a lot more of in the business world.
Imagine if we started each meeting with a recognition of the power of bringing a group of people together to collaborate and an intention to dedicate ourselves, without distraction, to achieving the goals of the meeting. Perhaps even an acknowledgement that each person’s views, goals, and priorities are important and need to be heard. Of course, that would require that every meeting have a clear goal, an agenda, and a purpose. But those are just nice side benefits.
What if every performance review began with a short thought about the importance of clear and open communication? If every time we worked on a spreadsheet someone else created for us, we paused to acknowledge the complexity of the work she did and the attention to detail she brought to it? If at the beginning of the day we paused to honor the work we are about to do and the people with whom we are about to do it?
Here’s what makes it easy to get started with this: no one needs to know.
Start with just yourself. Sit at your desk in the morning, pause before booting up your computer, and mark the moment. Do this by taking a deep breath. Or by arranging your pens. Whatever it is, do it with the intention of creating respect for what you’re about to begin. Do the same before you make a phone call. Or receive one. Or before you meet with a colleague or customer.
Each time we pause, notice, and offer respect for an activity, it reminds us to appreciate and focus on what we’re about to do. And by elevating each activity, we’ll take it more seriously. We’ll get more pleasure from it. The people with whom we work will feel more respected. And we’ll feel more self-respect.
Which means we’ll work better with each other. And produce better results.
That focus will help us accomplish our tasks more carefully, more proficiently, and more productively, with fewer distracting under-the-table BlackBerry texts. And all the research shows that that kind of singular focus will make us far more efficient.
In other words, that time-indulgent ritual thing? It might just be the perfect antidote to a time-starved world.
About the Author
Peter Bregman speaks, writes, and consults on leadership. He is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, and the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change.
My wife Eleanor and I came home from dinner the other night, and found our babysitter, Leslie*, in tears.
“Is everything OK with the kids?” I asked.
“Yes. They’ve been sleeping the whole time. It’s not that.”
“Do you want to talk about whatever it is?” I asked her.
“He broke up with me in a text message.” she said, holding her phone. She had been dating Ned for a few weeks and they had grown close quickly. The break-up text was a complete surprise to her.
“A text?” I said. I had never met Ned but I was already angry at him for such a cruel move.
“He broke up with you?” Eleanor said, wanting to learn more.
As soon as I heard Eleanor I realized my mistake; a mistake many of us make when we communicate about anything sensitive. Which includes just about everything.
We confuse the package with the message. We get so distracted by the awkward, sometimes inappropriate way in which someone is communicating that we miss what the person is communicating.
It’s not just the mode of communication. Sometimes it might be a tone of voice. A yell, sarcasm, or particular words that are used. A simple question like; “How did you come to that conclusion?” could be taken as a challenge, an accusation, a support, a query of curiosity, or something else.
With Ned’s break-up text message, I was focused on thepackage — how uncool it is to break up with someone in a text message (By the way, just for the record, I think it isuncool to break up with someone in a text message). But Eleanor looked beyond that. She was focused on the message itself — what Ned was trying to say in his text.
This package-message thing plagues organizational life and decimates productivity. I was talking to a friend of mine, Malcolm, who is a few months into a new job, and he is already afraid to write emails:
“It seems like everything is politics,” Malcolm told me. Then he mimicked some of his colleagues, “Why did you cc that person? Why didn’t you cc me? Why did you bring up that budget issue?” He paused and looked into space as he mused, “I spend half my time trying to craft my communications just right. What a waste! Frankly, it’s easier and smarter to just not communicate.”
Here’s the real issue: we are all clumsy communicators — both in what we say and in what we hear.
Add to that cultural, religious, geographic, gender, age, language, and socio-economic diversity and it’s a miracle we understand each other at all.
Which is why we spend so much of our time confused, upset, disappointed, suspicious, or angry at many of the people around us.
Notice. Anytime you feel a negative emotion about something said or written to you, it’s a warning sign that you might get distracted by the package. Anger, sadness, frustration, disgust, and disbelief are all good prompts to go to step 2.
Pause. Take a deep breath. Then recognize you’re vulnerable to reacting emotionally to howsomething was communicated. And remind yourself that communication is hard and often done poorly. Cut yourself, and everyone else, some slack. Don’t assume malicious intent. Don’t take it personally. Resist the urge to be offended.
Interpret. Now reread what was written, or think about what was said, and unscramble it. Think about what the person was trying to convey. Search for value. Strive for understanding.
Respond. A good rule of thumb is to use a different medium than elicited your emotional response. If a text upset you, don’t text back. If an email set you off, pick up the phone. And when you do reply, ignore the package and focus on the message.
As a general rule, assume clumsiness. Picture someone who is moving fast, trying to get a lot done, and not skilled at communicating perfectly. Assume they’re not a jerk. Overlook their inelegance.
Then, when it’s your turn to speak, address the real issue not the clumsiness.
As soon as I realized I had gotten distracted by Ned’s use of a text message, I switched gears, took Eleanor’s lead, and asked Leslie to read us Ned’s text.
As we unpacked the text, as we read between the lines, it became clear that Ned was overwhelmed by his feelings. He needed to slow down. But it was also clear that he really liked Leslie.
After the three of us discussed it, Leslie decided to ignore that Ned had used a text message and call him to talk about what he was experiencing. Ned’s text message turned out to be a present. A present Leslie almost discarded because the wrapping was so ugly.
But she took the time to unwrap it. Which led to their conversation. Then a walk. Then dinner. And then…well, that’s a package only time will unwrap.
*Names and some details changed
About the Author
Peter Bregman speaks, writes, and consults on leadership. He is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, and the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change.
In the study, graduate student Maryhope Howland and Professor Jeffry A. Simpson suggest there may be something unique about the emotional support behaviors that result in recipients being less aware of receiving support. Receiving social support, such as advice or encouragement, is typically thought of as positive, a generous act by one person yielding benefits for another in a time of need. Effective support should make someone feel better and more competent, it is generally acknowledged. However, what is supposedly considered “support” may make someone feel vulnerable, anxious or ineffective in the face of a stressor, Howland and Simpson found.
It seems to me that this study is as relevant for managers as it is for romantic partners, who were the actual subjects in the study. It is a truism that employees need support, and that enlightened management does all it can to provide support. But this study suggests that if the support is provided too obviously, too visibly, it can actually make a person feel worse. Support that is too blatant risks making the recipient feel as if he needed support, which is not a feeling most people in the workplace feel comfortable acknowledging. Well-intended though it may be, visible support can backfire, and make the employee feel resentful, insecure, and worried.
So what is a manager to do? Withhold support? We know that causes problems. Give support? We see that that can cause problems, too. So what then? Send anonymous notes of support? Sneak up from behind the employee and whisper in her ear, “We value you!” then disappear before she can turn and see you? Kidding aside, how you offer support can turn the well-intended but clumsy offer into the kind of support that actually boosts performance.
The best support comes naturally, organically; not on cue, not on script. The best support feels as if it is simply a part of the ongoing conversation in the workplace. It enters seamlessly into the discussion. If the manager intended to be supportive, the employee never detected that intention. Spouses yearn to hear the words, “I love you,” but if they are asked for or sound the least bit rehearsed, they mean nothing, or can be counterproductive. Same deal at work. Employees yearn to feel valued, but if the manager doles out statements of valuation he can actually undercut the employee’s feeling of worth.
Making an employee feel valued is one of the most important things a manager can do (my book Shine goes into some of the ways, based on the latest psychological evidence, that managers can bring out the best in people). But as the study by Howland and Simpson shows, it is also one of the most difficult things for a manager to do.
The takeaway: Learn how to value people subtly. How? Subtle actions, like making eye contact; asking a person his or her opinion on something, anything; noticing the person, not complimenting, simply noticing; recalling something the person said yesterday, last week, or last month; giving a high five; or recalling a past success when times are tough. These are subtle expressions of support — and if you start to think about it, you can come up with scores more.
But the best are the ones you don’t even think of. You just do them naturally, invisibly, because you feel what you feel. You’re glad to be working on your team and you show it. That’s the best support.
What works for you? How do you show support? What kinds of support make you feel the most valued?
About the Author
Edward Hallowell, MD, is a psychiatrist, served as an instructor at Harvard Medical School for 20 years, and is the director of the Hallowell Centers in New York City and Sudbury, Massachusetts. He has authored eighteen books, including the national bestseller Driven to Distraction, that have sold millions of copies.