The Fastest & Easiest Ways To Get To Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero. Two words which are whispered breathlessly by minimalists and lifehackers, as if it is the Holy Grail. As if all the world’s problems would be solved if somehow you got those 15,000 unread emails in your inbox dealt with and gone.

Referred to as the act of clearing your inbox completely, Inbox Zero has become a bit of an obsession amongst some, and I have to admit to being bitten by the bug myself. There’s something intensely gratifying about clearing all the emails away. The psychology of it lifts a weight from your shoulders, as if you are not held prisoner to your inbox. That you are in charge.

But how do you get to that exalted position of Inbox Zero?

“Is:unread” Is Your Friend

For the purposes of simplicity, I am going to assume you use Gmail as your email provider. But these tips more or less will work with any email platform.

Log into your email and in the search bar, type is:unread

This naturally brings up every unread email which is in your account. Now it is a case of systematically going through and thinning out the wheat from the chaff.

  • Delete ones which are obviously spam.
  • Unsubscribe from all newsletters which you don’t read anymore. There will be an unsubscribe link either at the top of the Gmail window or at the bottom of the email.
  • Make filters to redirect certain emails into their own labels. So anything from a certain organization can go into its own label. If you work for the ACME organization, make a filter and put everything from the ACME organization into a work label. Be sure to tick Skip The Inbox and Apply Filter To Matching Conversations.

Keep going for friends, family, colleagues and so on. As emails from these people start getting redirected into those labels, your inbox will start to thin out.

Start Deleting

Putting emails into labels merely moves them to another area. It doesn’t fix the problem itself. More of an “out of sight, out of mind” scenario which should be avoided.

I would suggest deleting everything unread which is more than a month old. For people with thousands of emails, this might be a bit of a radical move, but think about it. If the email was about something truly important, you would have heard back again from the person more recently. If it was more than a month ago, and the person hasn’t mentioned the subject again, it’s probably safe to nuke that 100-thread conversation about the company barbecue.

Now you only have a month’s left of emails to deal with, which is much more manageable. Simply go to the back of All Mail and start skimming through each one. 

Before you start, go to your Labs section and turn on Auto-Advance. Then when you have deleted or otherwise dealt with an email, instead of going back to the inbox, you will instead be taken to the next email. Much faster.

This will take some time, and obviously you will have new emails coming in after that. But having filters set up will mean that those new emails won’t be clogging up your inbox and there will be some semblance of order going forward.

How To Stop Things From Getting Out Of Control In The Future

Once you have got your email down to Inbox Zero or close to it, you need to keep it there. There are some things you can do to ensure that unread count doesn’t start creeping up again.

Switch Your Newsletters To RSS Or Social Media

If you use RSS, then a great alternative to email newsletters is to run them through a RSS reader instead. One free web app you can use for this is “Kill The Newsletter!

It randomly generates an email address for you to subscribe to the newsletter, then sets up a connected RSS address to put into your RSS reader. Then when the newsletter goes out, it will appear in your RSS feed instead of your email inbox. It works like a charm.

An alternative is to follow the person or company via their social media profiles. But if they post a high volume of status updates every day, the chances of missing something is high.

Encourage People To Contact You Via Social Media

Ask people to :

  1. Send you a direct message via Twitter.
  2. Send you a message on Facebook Messenger
  3. Send you a message on Instagram Chat or their new standalone chat app, Threads.
  4. Ask work colleagues and freelance clients to approach you on LinkedIn chat.

Encourage People To Instant Message You

As well as social media chat programs, you can also ask people to contact you via Skype, Signal, and WhatsApp.

Use Pocket For Links You Emailed To Yourself

Many people – and I have been guilty of this myself – use email as a dumping ground for links you want to keep for later. This may include interesting online articles or things you want to buy.

Instead of clogging up your inbox, why not use Pocket or Instapaper to collect them for you? I highly recommend Pocket and is one of the few premium services I have paid for.

Keeping Inbox Zero is an ongoing, never-ending effort. Keep the email filters tweaked, be selective in what you subscribe to, and keep marking unwanted email as spam. The moment you stop making the effort is when you will see that unread count creeping up again.

The Best Places To Find Audiobooks For Free

These days, audiobooks are on the rise, as more and more people look to find ways to spice up an hour-long commute into work or school. It’s also how you can liven up and add some entertainment to mundane boring tasks such as washing the dishes or rearranging your clothes shelves. 

If you’d rather not pay for your audiobooks though, and you don’t mind not having the latest bestsellers, here are some sources where you can get audiobooks for free.

LibriVox

Librivox is an example of crowdsourcing on the internet, where volunteers read chapters of an audiobook with the aim of getting it online. These generous people take the initiative of reading chapters from short stories, fairy tales, and other kinds of books. 

Anyone can download these thousands of audiobooks for free, and anyone can volunteer their time to read another one for the site.

Due to the fact that many people are reading these novels, be aware that quality can vary from one person to the next. But for visually impaired people or disabled people, a service like this can be a lifesaver. You never know who is going to be reading the next chapter.

Google Play Books

No list would be complete without the inclusion of Google Play Books, but saying that, there is no dedicated “free” section on the site. In fact, being a business, Google puts more emphasis on the paid offerings.

There is however an audiobook section, and Google often gives away free books now and then as a special offer. It’s worth keeping the site bookmarked and check it on a regular basis to see if Google are running any special promotions.

DigitalBook

DigitalBook claims to have over 100,000 titles in their collection, but an initial inspection seems to suggest that they are merely indexing Librivox’s collection. 

You can listen to audiobooks without a membership. But a free membership will enable you to save all the audiobooks you want, place them on a bookshelf, and return to read them again in the future.

Libby

Did you know that you can borrow audiobooks for free from your local library? Not many people do, and Libby wants to make it easier to find and check out those audiobooks.

Operated by the library distribution service, Overdrive, Libby serves as your manager of audiobooks and with it, you can borrow audiobooks from all the libraries you are subscribed to.

After downloading its app to your phone, you can then listen to any audiobook available in your local library. This includes classics, bestsellers, and new releases.

Internet Archive

Best known for the Wayback machine, the Internet Archive serves as a repository for everything online. It is also trying to save and preserve our culture. Part of that are audiobooks.

By searching in the archive’s search engine, you can find all kinds of audiobooks (likely millions of them). But be careful because some of them may still be in copyright in your country. Download with extreme caution. For example, I found an Orson Scott Card book which is most likely still in copyright.

The Internet Archive is updated on a regular basis, so this is another one to bookmark and check back on often.

Project Gutenberg

Like LibriVox, this is a volunteer-run repository. Project Gutenberg came to life in 1971 and has been in existence ever since. It aims to digitize cultural works to fuel the distribution of e-books.

If you think Project Gutenberg is all about e-books, you’ve got another thing coming. The repository also features a large collection of human-read audiobooks for free, taken from the public domain (such as Librivox). 

Audible

Since you get a 30-day free trial, you can find plenty of audiobooks without paying a dime on Audible. With a reputation as one of the big guns in supplying new audiobooks on the internet, you’ll be in a good spot.

The monthly fee for an eventual subscription is $14.95. Compared to a free pass, that seems a lot. But if you consider the unlimited power you have to access all the audiobooks you want, you might think otherwise.

Audiobooks.com

More than 100,000 audiobooks for free are yours for the taking at Audiobooks. The catch is that you can take home only some of them for free. 

Like Audible, it charges you $14.95 per month if you sign up for its service. If you want to test the waters first before diving in, then its one-month free trial is perfect for you to get some audiobooks for free.

What sets this apart are the voices of trained actors who narrate the original stories in the items you can find here. When you check out what’s in store for you on the site, it’s as if you’re tuning in to more than just an audiobook. Instead, it’s like you’re in the middle of a radio drama.

Spotify

Do you have Spotify installed on your iPad, iPhone, or Android gadget? If so, you have a ticket to easily check out audiobooks. Just search for a title you like, or an author or genre.

Spotify is mostly around to provide music, so you can’t rely on it having as many titles as the rest of the entries in this list. But if you’re already an existing Spotify user, finding and downloading audiobooks for free is made easy for you.

Otter – An AI-Powered Audio Transcription Service That Actually Works

Just as the last decade was all about mobile, the next decade of the Internet will be all about audio. From voice-powered search to dictation to AI assistants, the keyboard is eventually going to be replaced by our voices. Which is good news for our wrists.

Voice recognition for dictation and transcription is still very hit and miss, though. The industry leader is Dragon, and Google and Apple both have a good dictation feature built into Google Docs and MacOS respectively. But on the whole, voice recognition can get a lot more wrong than right, especially if you have an unusual accent.

That’s why Otter is making waves. It’s an audio transcription service that actually works – and wells very well. Even better, not all their best offers are locked behind pro plans.

What Is Otter?

When you have an audio file of one or more people talking, you may want a written version of those conversations. Maybe you want them for YouTube subtitles or perhaps you want to upload them online for SEO purposes? Or perhaps you are a student with an audio recording of a lecture, and you want a written version?

Whatever your circumstances, there are many reasons why you may want to use an audio transcription service. But until now, artificial intelligence options were notoriously bad, and companies who offered to do it for you charged obscene amounts of money.

But now Otter is here to make transcription affordable and available for everyone. It is an online artificial intelligence-powered machine which will take your audio file and spit out a written version in no time at all. The exact length of time will depend on the length of your audio file obviously.

Before You Start…..Things To Bear In Mind About Otter

The Otter audio transcription service is not going to be 100% perfect because :

  1. People stutter and change direction in mid-sentence. This sounds not so bad when you’re listening. But when you see it in writing, it looks chaotic.
  2. Otter sometimes has trouble with punctuation if the person speaks quickly and one sentence runs into another. Then the full stop might get missed out.
  3. If the person has a certain accent, Otter may slightly misunderstand. Hence the benefit of the custom vocabulary list in the Pro plan.
  4. Some words will get misspelt. For example, the company Lyft may be misspelled as ‘Lift’.

Signing Up For the Otter Audio Transcription Service

The free plan gives you 600 minutes of free transcription each month. For casual users, this is more than enough. However, if you choose to upgrade to the Pro plan ($9.99 a month or $99.99 a year), then the benefits are amazing. 

Those 600 minutes shoot up to 6,000 minutes a month, as well as exporting the transcriptions into various file formats (such as PDF and DOCX), custom vocabulary lists (to improve the accuracy of the transcriptions), Dropbox sync, and much more.

But for testing the audio transcription service, 600 minutes is more than you will ever need. Go to the Otter website and sign up. You can either make an account, or sign up using your Google account or Facebook account.

Then in the account settings, you can connect the account to Google or Microsoft to bring in your calendar and contacts. The Zoom integration is a nice touch – once you have made a Zoom call, the audio will be sent immediately to Otter for transcribing.

How To Get Your First Transcription Done With Otter

For this article, I am going to use an MP3 file of a podcast I downloaded. But you can also record someone talking directly into the Otter website and it will get transcribed that way.

  • Go to the main dashboard page and click import audio/video on the right-hand side.
  • An upload window will appear where you can navigate to the file’s location on your computer, or drag and drop it with your mouse or trackpad. Once the file is there, it will begin uploading.
  • When you see the Success status, click Done and you’ll see it ‘processing’.
  • Now it’s a matter of waiting. For this one hour file, the audio transcription took 30 minutes. You always get an email notification when the transcription is ready. So you can upload the audio file, get the process started, then shut everything down and walk away. Otter will let you know when it’s done.

The Finished Transcript

  • When you get told that the transcription is ready, go back to the site and click on it on the dashboard page. You’ll now see it, along with handy keywords and tags. You can also create a sharing link for others to view it.
  • As I said though, it won’t be perfect, so you’ll see errors right away. But these can be easily fixed by clicking the blue EDIT button. 
  • Now go ahead and correct the typos on the Otter website and remember to save everything.
  • Now it’s time to export the file. Click the three vertical dots and choose Export Text.
  • The free version only gives you text file versions or copying to the clipboard, along with various other options, which should not be changed, unless really necessary.

What’s nice about Otter is their speed, as well as the fact that its AI is intelligent enough to separate the different speakers in the audio. It’s the little things that count.

How To Rip YouTube Videos Using VLC Player

If you want to rip a YouTube video to your computer, you have lots of online options. Too many in fact to know which ones are better and more trustworthy than the others.

We have previously shown you a few sites which help you download videos and playlists, but that involves using other peoples servers, checking the page source, hunting for obscure download links, and dealing with endless NSFW pop-ups on other peoples domains. 

Why bother with all that when you can quickly and effortlessly rip a YouTube video using a software app most people already have installed on their computer? I refer of course to VLC Player.

This example has been done on a MacOS laptop but the Windows method is very similar.

How To Rip a YouTube Video Using VLC Player

  • Go to the YouTube page of the video you want to rip and copy the URL of the video.
  • If you haven’t already installed VLC Player, grab it from the website and install it. It’s free. 
  • When it’s installed, open it up and choose File – Open Network. On Windows, it’s Media – Open Network Stream.
  • In the box that pops up, paste the YouTube URL of the video you want to rip.
  • The YouTube video will now proceed to stream inside VLC.
  • If you are on a Mac, now click Window – Media Information. If on Windows, go to Tools – Codec Information.
  • At the very bottom of the screen is a very long link in the Location field. Highlight the entire link, right-click and select Copy.
  • Go to a browser and in the URL address bar, paste that long link from the Location field in VLC. The YouTube video should now start playing automatically in the browser. Right-click on the video and choose Save Video As.
  • By default, the video will be saved as videoplayback (without a format). So give your file a name and try first with an mp4 format. If that doesn’t work, then try avi.
  • Your file will now be downloaded to your computer in the quality that the original uploader provided it in. So picture and audio quality will vary.

Given how easy ripping a YouTube video was, who needs online converters and hunting through website page sources? I sure don’t.

YouTube Music Review – A Nice Streamlined Way To Listen To Music Videos

When you think of streaming music, you are spoilt for choice. The market leader is arguably Spotify, with Apple Music coming in a close second. Then it’s platforms like Pandora taking up the slack. But what about YouTube?

Illegal music uploads to YouTube are nothing new. But these days, all major artists and business-savvy bands are making their own official YouTube channels with their music free for anyone to hear. Not only does it help them find new fans, but they can monetize their videos with YouTube ads, helping them to bring in some extra revenue.

YouTube has latched onto this and now has a dedicated YouTube music video site and mobile app with both free and paid options (the paid option for $12.99 a month removes all YouTube video ads, but $12.99 to skip ads after 5 seconds is outrageous). You can get YouTube Music here and on iOS & Android.

YouTube Music Videos Pull In All The Music You’ve Already Listened To

If you’re like me, you’ll have listened to music on YouTube quite a lot. Therefore you may have your own specially curated music playlists, as well as music in your ‘liked’ lists.

So YouTube likely already has a good idea of what you like to listen to by studying your track record. When you start YouTube Music for the first time, all of that music history is pulled into the app.

You can further refine your music choices by specifying what artists you like. You can come back to this screen at any time via the link in the settings.

Once you go back to the main Music screen, it will begin to self-populate with your liked music, liked artists and what YouTube Music deems to be ‘similar’ to your likes.

You can listen to automatically generated playlists based on an artist you liked or a genre that you tend to listen to. A lot of my music likes on YouTube are from the 1980’s, so that is partly what I found when I studied YouTube’s playlists.

You also get a mixtape of “endless personalized music” which you’ve either liked in the past or similar ones which YouTube is convinced you will enjoy.

Playlists like this are ideal for when you’re working or travelling, and you want to have some background music. Just click play and it will jump from one song to another without any input from you (except for when you need to skip an ad).

Listening To a Song On YouTube Music

If you tap a playlist or artist, the screen will change to the playlist on the right, and the YouTube music video of the song currently being played on the left.

Here are the features to look out for :

  1. The two horizontal lines to the right of each song title will let you drag songs into a different order in the playlist.
  2. Giving a song the thumbs-up will tell YouTube to give you more songs like that.
  3. Giving a song the thumbs-down will tell YouTube to avoid further music like that, and it will also immediately bounce you to the next song in the playlist. Like Spotify and Apple Music, YouTube’s algorithms only know what you like if you teach it.
  4. Clicking the three vertical dots underneath the video opens up even more options. Bear in mind though that any changes you make with these options will be immediately reflected on your regular YouTube account.

Is It a Spotify Killer?

In a word, no.

As much as YouTube would like to think they are just as good as Spotify or Apple Music, they are just not there yet. Videos depend on the person who uploaded them and that person can easily delete the video. Videos can also be very low quality or even mislabelled as something else. Which is why $12.99 a month for no ads is a bit of a cheek.

But if you use it as a free user and don’t mind skipping the ads, it is a nice way to listen to music on YouTube. The endless playlists are a nice touch if you have your curated music on YouTube like I do.