Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


5 Websites That Will Make Your Life Easier

As I move through life, I like to find easier ways of doing monotonous, frustrating, or time-consuming things. In particular, I like things I can do from my phone, or my iPad when I have a few minutes to spare.

If you think picking up the phone to place a pizza order is too old-school, then you'll be delighted to know there are an abundance of websites that cater to your daily needs. Life is hectic enough, so take a weight off your shoulders by letting technology do the work. Whether you need to pass an upcoming test or are craving Ben & Jerry's at 2am, these websites have you covered:

Ship Items From Home

If you hate standing in line, you probably dread going to the post office. Good news: the United States Postal Service lets you ship items without ever setting foot in a post office. You can get shipping supplies for free online and have them sent directly to your home, then you can package up your items and schedule a free package pickup from the official U.S Postal Service website. You simply fill out an online form, choose the time and date of the pickup and include the weight or amount of your packages. Keep in mind that you can only schedule pickups Monday through Saturday and that same-day pickup is not available after 2 p.m. on the day of the pickup. Still, it's a small price to pay to avoid spending your precious free time at the post office.

Practice Your Driving Skills Online

I've got a couple of teens working on their driving permits / driver's licenses right now. Who can forget that well-loved rite of passage? OK... maybe it's not well-loved, but it doesn't have to be painful either. Online driving tests can help you practice your skills behind the wheel on days when you aren't able to convince your parents to take you for a spin. However, knowing how to drive a car is just one part of the driving exam everyone must endure and the written test is the first step toward getting that shiny new license. Free online permit practice tests are available, and you can choose the one specific to your state to prepare for the real thing come test day. Stop wasting your time memorizing the DMV manual and instead improve your knowledge with interactive practice tests.

Place Late Night Delivery Orders

Ever get the urge for a late night snack but don't feel like going out? Nighttime Nosh may be just what you're looking for. It's a late night delivery service (open until 4 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday) delivers beer and wine (subject to ID verification, of course), ice cream, personal care items, and even party supplies. This is the Internet at its finest, ladies and gents. Unfortunately, this amazing service is currently only available in Tempe, Arizona, but don't lose hope! You can still order food at any hour of the day with GrubHub, a website that finds late night delivery restaurants near you. And if you live in the Hollywood area, Pink Dot can deliver everything from groceries to booze straight to your door.

Skip Waiting on Hold

Everyone hates waiting on hold. Now you don't have to with FastCustomer. This amazingly useful website has a customer service agent call you when you're next in line. The site has over 3,000 companies on its list and, with a simple click of a button, lets you claim your spot. You can also view the approximate wait time of a business, the average minutes on hold per day for a particular company and its customer rating. Additionally, if you own a smartphone you can download the Fast Customer app or text a company's name to (936) CALL-PLS to take advantage of this free service.

Set An Alarm Clock on Your Computer

Lost your phone? Don't want to buy an alarm clock? Have access to a computer? Well then, you're in luck. Online Clock is a free service that simulates an alarm clock, complete with radio functions and a digital display. The website also lets you set a timer, stopwatch and countdown. And unlike traditional digital alarm clocks, you can set a custom background which includes options like rain, fireplace and lava lamp. If you're still not convinced, consider this alarm clock your ideal wake up call. Chances are, your computer is far away from your bed, far enough away that you'll be forced to get up if you want to turn your alarm off.

I hope these ideas are helpful. I'm getting back into the swing of things and plan more frequent posts here including more productivity tips like these, Some info on smartwatches (including the Apple Watch), and some camping gadgets I've been experimenting with. Stay tuned!

Get Work Done Even While Out of the Office


While most of us typically get our work done in the office, sometimes you just can’t be at your desk (or you choose not to be).

From getting your car fixed, to taking care of your sick child to traveling on a business trip, you often have to find ways to be productive in remote locations. Fortunately, modern technology can turn your kitchen table into a work station, and a coffee shop or auto repair shop lobby into a conference room.

Tablets and large-format phones like the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus

To stay current with your work even when out of the office, you need an easy-to-use mobile device. Invest in a tablet or a smartphone so you can email, browse the Internet and call clients and co-workers. For example, the iPhone 6 features a 5.5-inch screen that makes it easier to read documents and type out emails. If you want to get an even larger screen, the iPhone 6 Plus is a great option. I find that with my iPhone 6 Plus I can get almost as much work done as I can with a tablet. If Android is more your speed, consider the Samsung Galaxy Note, which I think is one of the best Android "phablets" available right now.

When buying a mobile device, you also should consider the coverage the carrier provides, along with your expected usage to make sure they are aligned. For instance, if you are a heavy data user and know you'll be out of WiFi range much of the time, take a look at T-Mobile. They have designed their network with cell towers closer together so that places with more people have more coverage. This means that no matter where you are working, chances are good that you will be able to connect to the Internet. The bigger deal is they offer packages with unlimited data, as well as allowing you to stream music for "free" over their data network.

In contrast, if you do have data limits on your mobile phone plan, you'll need to find a way to conserve that data as you work outside of your home or office. For these times, you can download a Free Wi-Fi Finder app so you can locate an area to work without using all your data. The best part about this app is that you can search by geography, or by type of location. This means if you need a cup of coffee while you work, the app can search only for cafés and let you know the closest place to work.

Microsoft Office 365

When it comes to getting work done on the go, nothing beats a program like Microsoft Office 365. A one-year subscription costs $99 for five devices including your smartphone and tablet. The program is cloud-based so it gives you instant access to your work email, video conferencing, file sharing and much more. That doesn't mean you have to be connected to use it - it will let you install Office on your computer and use it offline, as well, and the license includes free usage on mobile devices and tablets.

If your work involves reading and editing a lot of documents, Microsoft Office 365's Word app for iOS, Android or Windows Phone provides a mobile-friendly presentation of your data so it is easier to read on mobile devices. The same is true of the other mobile apps for Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint. Plus, the PowerPoint option includes a presenter view that lets you see your notes while your remote audience looks at each slide. This allows you to easily conduct powerful PowerPoint presentations from your tablet or smartphone while working from home or a hotel room.

One other cool note: an Office 365 subscription also includes access to OneDrive, which is Microsoft's cloud storage service. Even better: Microsoft is in the process of upgrading all personal OneDrive accounts to 10TB of storage - for all practical purposes, it's unlimited. Not a bad deal at all.

Google+ Hangouts

Sometimes you have to check in with your co-workers or your employer while you are away from the office. To do this, download Google + Hangouts for chatting, video conferencing and calling options. This extension lets you group chat and share photos as well as connect on a call with up to 10 of your co-workers. You can even record your meeting if you need to review it later. Hangouts also allows you to share screens with each other, which is ideal if you need to share a project or presentation.

There are a lot of other options that can help with productivity, such as Evernote, Skype, Facetime, etc. Which ones are your favorites? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Increase Productivity by Changing Your Environment

I write a lot about gadgets, tools, tips, and tricks for productivity. Those things are important for productivity, but there is one aspect that I often take for granted that is a huge factor in productivity: your environment. 

I live in the Pacific Northwest of the US, and this time of year we see a lot of short, gray days. I've noticed that the weather here can affect my energy level, concentration, and focus. The good news is I can do something about this by altering the environment where I work to tweak the color, lighting, and layout around me -- and you can, too.


Colors have been used to subtly influence emotion and productivity for centuries, dating back as far as ancient Egypt and China, according to About Education. Having the right colors in the right rooms has been shown to affect both your mood and how detailed or creative you are, explains Return Customer. For instance, colors like blue and green can increase your creativity and imagination while reds can stimulate, excite and increase your attention to detail and reaction times. Yellows and oranges can brighten a room as well as the mood of those within. Blues are great for conference rooms so as to boost friendliness and brainstorming. On the other hand, reds are often used in entryways to instill a feeling of power and excitement.

However, too much of any color can have negative effects. For example, a lot of yellow can be distracting and over-stimulating, and darker reds are often associated with anger and anxiety. Before you start painting, take a look at your workspace to see where you can incorporate new colors without going overboard.


The right lighting can have a dramatic effect on productivity and effectiveness. A study by the California Energy Commission shows that the use of natural lighting can result in a 20 percent increase in productivity and a 25 percent boost for your mental functions and memory.

But again, it’s all about finding the right balance. Too much direct lighting can create glare, leading to headaches and other difficulties. To give you more flexibility, install custom shades that can control the amount of natural sunlight coming in and can impact the room temperature, which can lead to lower heating and cooling costs.


After you work on your colors and lighting, look at the layout and condition of your office furniture. Not only should your furniture be comfortable and in good condition, but it also should fulfill whatever needs your office has. Look for ergonomically-designed chairs, desks and furniture to help you stay safe and comfortable at work.

Additionally, make sure that the layout and flow of your office works for you. Don't just focus on how the office looks but also how effective it is for your overall 


Of course, a lot of these thoughts pertain to the office I work in. There is another way to change your environment: change your location.

I use a lot of mobile devices (laptops, tablets, etc.) to get work done, and I also get an energy and productivity boost from getting up and moving to a different location from time to time. For example, I often work out of a library or coffee shop, and I really like the change of pace. That approach is also a lot faster than remodeling your workspace, so it can really help in a pinch.

What about you? What kinds of changes have you made that have enhanced your productivity?

Pomodoro Technique: How a tomato can make you productive

Flat Tomato summary on iOS

Lately, I've been experimenting with a productivity method called the pomorodo technique. I'm not sure what "pomodoro" has to do with productivity (it's Spanish for "tomato"), but I like the technique, nonetheless.

The concept of this method is simple:

  • Pick a task you want to get done.
  • Set a timer for 25 minutes (a pomodoro interval).
  • Focus on that task - and only that task - until the timer goes off.
  • When the timer goes off, take a 3-5 minute break, and really quit working on the task when the time is up.
  • After the break, repeat the cycle again (you can continue on the same task, or pick a new one).
  • After 4 pomodoro intervals, take a longer break (usually 15-30 minutes) and do something enjoyable.

This method is great for momentum, particularly on boring or daunting tasks, since you always feel like the next break isn't far away. The feeling of momentum and progress is also hard to describe - it reminds me very much of the 'sprints' used in the Scrum method of software development. In essence, this is very much like time boxing, but I prefer the use of fixed intervals in the pomodoro technique.

Gadgets can help

No surprise, I turned to gadgets to help me with the pomodoro method:

  • Old school: I started this process using a mechanical kitchen timer shaped like a tomato, which I found on Amazon. This was fun, but not really portable (or at least I never remembered to bring mine with me when I left my desk). I eventually graduated to using my smartphone...
  • Flat Tomato for iOS: On my iOS devices, Flat Tomato is my go-to pomodoro app. It is easy to use, and is perfectly-aligned with pomodoro, including timing the intervals, the breaks, and remembering that you've done 4 cycles so you need a longer break. It also tracks user-defined categories so you can review how you've spent your time (in an attractive, graphical chart). It also shows the status of the current interval on the lock screen.
  • Clockwork Tomato for Android: On my Android devices, I use Clockwork Tomato. It has many of the same functions as Flat Tomato, with the addition of weekly and monthly summary graphs to show how you've spent your time.
  • Computer- and web-based apps: I tend to use my smartphone for my timer, so I don't really have a computer-based timer to recommend for pomodoro. If you have one that you like, please share it in the comments below.

Bottom line, I am a fan of the pomodoro technique as a way to keep me productive, help me get through mundane tasks, and to reinforce the need for regular breaks during the day (that last one is huge in terms of energy management).

By the way - this blog post took almost exactly one pomodoro to write.

4 Apps That Will Help You Achieve Your Daily Goals


Many of us are busier than ever and increasingly more stressed. If you’ve got a long list of goals to accomplish, you might need a little help. The good news is there are apps you can download onto your smartphone that can help you accomplish those goals. Here are 4 that are interesting and a bit unusual, with a variety of focuses:


Going to the gym is something you know is important for reducing stress, helping your self-esteem and giving you more energy to do everything else you need to do. But, at the same time, working out tends to be one of the first things you put off.

To eliminate that problem, you can try using money as a motivator by downloading Pact. The concept is pretty interesting: LInk this app to your bank account and if you don’t go to the gym, Pact will take money out of your account. Where does the money go? It is redistributed to those who did make it to the gym. If you do accomplish things like completing your gym workout or taking 10,000 steps in a day, you’ll get a cash reward paid by those who didn’t meet their goals.

You can’t fake it either. GPS, photos and other services are used to keep everyone honest. It can also be used for other challenges, such as eating your veggies or tracking the food you eat.


I've seen some people call CARROT "sadistic" because if you don't finish your tasks, the app gets very upset. However, it's not all bad -- if you complete your tasks, the task master will praise you.

This unique app works by calling you out for being a slacker. If you tend to forget to pick the kids up after school or don't pick up your dry cleaning, this app strives to ensure you don’t do that again. It can also be used like a tyrannical gym instructor if you’re trying to get fit or help you stick to your diet plan. CARROT will force you to accomplish your goals as if you have a nun hovering around with a ruler just waiting to make it sting. This one is a little intense for me, but you might like it.


If you have a difficult time waking up in the morning without several alarms or someone shaking you awake, BetterMe is an app that can do the trick. The twist? It’s based on public humiliation rather than private shaming. If you don’t get up when you’re supposed to, the app will post a message to your Facebook page that tells your friends you were too weak to get out of bed.

In addition to serving as a rude alarm clock, it can help you get to your classes or work on time. All you have to do is input the address and time of your commitment, and the app will use GPS to see if you’ve arrived at your destination on time. If not, it could be a little embarrassing when all your Facebook friends start asking why.


If you’re having trouble saving money, SmartyPig is an app that can help you save for a specific goal such as a vacation or a down payment on a house. It also allows friends, family members and other users to contribute to your savings goal. It can make saving fun by "feeding the pig” and encouraging you to add money you would have spent on a latte into your savings instead. Because it shares your goals via Facebook, Twitter and other social network sites, it makes it a lot more likely that you’ll stick to those financial goals.

If you like edgy, you might like one or more of these apps. Enjoy!