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Why Four To Do Lists Are Better Than One

by Joanna Norman

This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. Thanks.

I use four lists to organize my projects and get things done. This system has lowered my stress levels and increased my productivity tremendously. If you usually have a really long, detailed to do list and you get a satisfying little high from crossing things off your to do list, you might find a system like mine highly effective. If there are things you put on your to do list every day, but they somehow never get done and that causes you stress, then I would also recommend this system. 

Now, I must give credit to the folks I learned this from, April and Eric of My four list system is based on what I learned in a free course they offered. I highly recommend it!   

Let me show you the four to do lists that I have in my Rocketbook notebook:

  1. Future Project List 

This is a brain dump of any and all projects I think of. I may or may not commit to actually doing all of them. This is a place to capture my ideas. I also like it because over time I can see how many projects, large and small, I have accomplished.  When this list gets longer than a page, I capture it digitally (which is easy with the Rocketbook technology) and start over again. I divide my future project list into two columns: personal and business.

  1. Current Project List

This is a curated list of 8-10 projects that I have selected to complete in a two month period. It is divided into four categories: for me, for my family, for my business, and beyond. I select one to four projects from my Future Project List for each category, so that I have eight to ten projects that I’m focusing on for two months at a time. I update my current project every two months. If I finish all of them before two months have passed, I can always add a new one.

3. Current Project Actions

I think that this list is the key to why this system has greatly increased my productivity.  It has the same 8 to 10 projects that I selected when I created list 2, my Current Project List, but here, I have broken each project down into small steps. This list is updated every two months. 

Here is where this gets so powerful. When there is a project that I’m struggling to get started or completed, I have a good think about what is preventing me from making progress and think of the tiniest step I can to get over that hump. I create or update this list every two months.

For example, I planned to make a crocheted blanket, and I had picked out the yarn and  the pattern, but was having trouble getting started. As I thought more about it, I realized that I was unclear on how to prepare and assemble the individual pieces, and what was stopping me from starting was that I needed a tool I didn’t have, a blocking board. So the tiny steps that you see listed here are what I needed to do to build a blocking board (get skewers and assemble it). Since completing those tiny steps, I have made and blocked over 100 hexagons, so far!

4. Context-based To Do List

The last list is probably the closest thing to a traditional to do list, except that it is highly curated and specifically organized, and that is why it works so much better for me. I make this list weekly by selecting actions from list #3, Current Project Actions, and dropping each action into one of 5 categories: home, phone, computer, to discuss, and errands. Sometimes I also add actions that are not on list #3 because things like an extra errand always crop up, right? 

On this list, my action items are sorted into these five categories:

Home – Things that I do at home around the house

Phone – Any action items that are phone calls go here. You can add phone numbers here to make it really easy to make those calls.

Computer – Action items that need to be done on the computer.

Errands – Self-explanatory

To Discuss – Action items that I need to talk over with other family members.

This context-based to do list is another reason productivity is amped up from a traditional to do list. For example, if I’m waiting to pick up my daughter at school and take her to the dentist, I can hop on my phone and make any of the calls related to any of my projects (or I might choose to look out the window at the birds!). If I’m out and about, I can check my errand list to see if there are any errands nearby that I can take care of. If I’m sitting at my computer and want a short break from transcribing, I can check the computer items to see if there are any I can take care of in just a few minutes.

So there you go, my four to do lists that are better than one. If you want help implementing a system like this, check out

Desktop Cheerleader – A Little Gift from Me

by Joanna Norman

Last December I signed up for 31 Days of Gifts from Courtney Carver of Be More with Less.  One of the gifts I received was instructions to make an “emergency kit” by writing several phrases on index cards. I had my cards sitting my desk for over a month until something spilled on them. (I blame Mr. Cat, the fish.). I missed my little cards, so I created a foldable version with additional phrases, and now I think if this little foldable as my desktop cheerleader.

If I am having a rough day, I thumb through my foldable and find a phrase that helps me out. Or maybe it’s a great day, and I want to celebrate. Here are the seven phrases I put on my foldable:

  • Breathe
  • Time out
  • Give thanks
  • Be kind
  • Help me
  • No thank you
  • Forget balance. It’s time for priority. Consider impact over intent.

My desktop cheerleader resides next to my crochet cactus garden.  As you can see above, the phrase that spoke to me today is “Give thanks.” 

Here is a link to a free, downloadable Word document so you can have your own desktop cheerleader.

To assemble it, cut ¾ of the way up the middle of the page on the dotted line, fold in half hotdog style (that’s for all the teachers out there), and fold in half two more times.

Flip the folds around as needed when you want to pick a new phrase for your desk. I hope you enjoy this little gift. If you want to share it with someone else, please direct them here so they can download their own copy.

Have a great day!

How To Keep Your Transcription Projects Organized

by Joanna Norman

This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. Thanks.

When I was just starting out as a transcriptionist, I needed a way to keep track of the work I accepted from both my clients and as subcontract. I also wanted a quick, easy way to track my income.  I asked for tips from more experienced transcriptionists and then designed a spreadsheet that I still use to organize, track, and invoice my work. I’m guessing there’s software available for purchase that could be used for this, but for now my system works for me. At the bottom of the post, I’ll put a link to a template so you can use the same system or customize it for yourself.

I use a spreadsheet in Google Sheets which has three “sheets”. 

The first one is called Workflow:
(click on the image to see an enlarged version)

When I accept a job, I put the name of the audio or video file in the first column, the name of the client/company in the next column, the the date I received the file, and the due date. Later when I finish the transcript, I fill in the “Completed” cell. I use the next column “Planned work day” to map out when I will work on each file. This helps me to make sure I get everything done on time or early and also helps me to make sure I don’t over commit. I have a separate column for “Delivery Date” because sometimes clients want me to send individual files as they are completed, and sometimes they want to receive all the files at once. The next four columns are for the length of the file in minutes, the number of minutes billed, the billing rate, and the total billed (all titled in green). I complete these cells when I finish a transcript and later use them to generate an invoice. I fill in the last column “Invoice Date” when I send the invoice to the client/company.

The next sheet I use is called Income/Invoices:

This is where I track each of my invoices when I send them. I record the date I send the invoice, the name of the client,  the invoice number, and the amount of the invoice. Later when I receive payment, I note the date and amount received in this same spreadsheet.

The last sheet I use is called Invoice Generator:

This is what I use to create the invoices I send to clients. I know there is software available to do this, but for me, this works just fine. To generate a table for an invoice, I cut and paste the appropriate columns (the file name column and the four green columns) from the Workflow sheet to this one.  It automatically calculates the total, and then I can cut and past the invoice table into an invoice template I have in Word. Easy peasy!

If you think this system might work for you, use the link below for a free Google Sheets template. When you click the link, it will open in a new window. In the upper left corner, click the button that says “USE TEMPLATE”. Any edits you make will be saved to a new google sheet in your google drive.

Get your free Business Income and Workflow Google Sheets template here!

When & How To Transcribe Like

by Joanna Norman

If you’ve ever struggled with speakers who use the word “like” a lot, here are some tips for accurate and successful transcription.

You are welcome to download a beautiful free infographic of this blogpost. Click on the button above. The infographic will appear in a new window. Right click and save to your computer.


“She was like be sure that you meet with your advisor and get your evaluation notes and I was like should we use the format like last year. I was like disappointed because that format didn’t work for me. I would rather use something else like a spreadsheet.”


She was like, “Be sure that you meet with your advisor and get your evaluation notes.” And I was like, “Should we use the format like last year?” I was disappointed because that format didn’t work for me. I would rather use something else, like a spreadsheet.


Like can be used many different ways in spoken English. How it is used will determine what punctuation is required.


When “was like” is used as synonym for the word “said,” use the same punctuation you would for writing dialogue. Use commas and quotation marks.

  • She was like, “Be sure that you meet with your advisor and get your evaluation notes.” And I was like, “Should we use the format like last year?”

When like is used to mean “similar to” or “as,” no special punctuation is required.

  • Should we use a format like last year?

When like is used to mean “for example,” a comma is used before the word like.

  • I would rather use something else, like a spreadsheet.

Sometimes when speaking, like is a filler word, and it is left out of standard transcription.

  • Standard transcription: I was disappointed because that format didn’t work for me.
  • Verbatim transcription: I was, like, disappointed because that format didn’t work for me.


For more examples of how “like” is used and how to punctuate it correctly see:

Why You Need a Life Logo

by Joanna Norman

I recently read that a research study showed that the average American child can recognize 1000  corporate logos. That says a lot about how inundated we are with marketing – yikes! Logos help corporations make money. What if you could harness the marketing power of a logo for your own good? What if you had your own personal logo that could serve as a touchstone to help you create a better life?

Last summer in the midst of the global pandemic, I was in the process of overhauling my life, including a career change and embracing minimalism. I knew I needed to make some major changes in order to survive, heal, and thrive. I was inspired to create a logo of sorts that I could use to keep in touch with my why, my goals. My life logo has become a tool I use almost daily. When I am making a decision, especially one I am struggling with, I look at my logo. It helps me to stay anchored to the life I am creating everyday. 

Here’s my life logo. It’s designed to resemble a patchwork quilt. (What can I say? I’m a quilter, and I do some of my best thinking with a needle and thread in my hand.) Each of the 4 squares contains one word which keeps me focused on what I am doing with my life and why.

Be. This square is to remind me to be alcohol free. Was I an alcoholic? No, but what if I was? Did I use alcohol to escape my sadness and grief? Did I drink in order to feel relaxed and free from worries? Yes and yes. So I decided to do an experiment and see how I felt without alcohol – 290 days later, I can tell you the answer is I feel better without it. But sometimes, a glass of wine still sounds so nice, so I look at my logo. It provides a quick reminder that I like my life better without alcohol.

Create. My goal here was to create my own transcription business, and I’ve done it. A few weeks ago, I was offered a full time job in my old line of work. For a few minutes I was tempted to accept the offer – great people to work with, a predictable income, benefits – but I remembered my logo and all the wonderful things I have been able to create in my life because of my business – time to hike, time raise a puppy, time for yoga, less stress, and on and on. I turned the offer down and haven’t looked back.

Simplify. The goal here is to embrace minimalism and all the gifts that choosing simplicity adds to my life. This is a work in progress, and I am already reaping the benefits of choosing simplicity. For example, a few Saturdays ago a neighbor knocked on my door to drop something off. We ended up sitting on the front porch, and chatting for an hour. It turned out we both needed to talk. Before choosing simplicity, I would have been too busy for a spontaneous hour-long chat with a neighbor. Now, I was able to sit, relax, enjoy a beautiful day, and support and be supported by a friend. Thank you, life logo!

Connect. I want to connect with people in authentic, meaningful ways. This is another work in progress and has definitely been challenging during the pandemic. Still, having it as part of my logo helps me to make choices that lead me in the direction I want to go.

There you have it, my life logo. Four simple guiding words that make every decision, if not easier, certainly clearer. For example, if I am considering a new project or a new hobby, I revisit my life logo. Does this new activity help me to remain alcohol free? Will it help me connect to other people? If it doesn’t fit in with all of the squares in my life logo, then the answer is no. Easy peasy. 

Like a quilt, I imagine that this logo will get some wear and tear. In the future, I may need to mend a square by changing the word, and that is ok.

What do you think? Would having your own life logo be a useful tool for you?  If you are inspired to make a life logo, please let me know and share your logo in the comments below if you’d like.

How Online Courses Helped Me Change My Life

by Joanna Norman

This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. Thanks.

Early in 2020, I was working full time as a middle school science teacher, and I was struggling. Even though I loved my students and was good at what I did, there were some other huge changes going on in my life, like the end of my 25 year marriage, a choice not made by me. I was deeply ashamed and embarrassed. With the grieving I was doing and trying to heal my broken self and life, I didn’t feel like I was able to be fully present for my students anymore, so I made the decision to leave teaching at the end of the school year and planned to move to a new state.

In the meantime, I still had one wonderful daughter at home with me, half of the time, anyway, and I needed to support myself. You know how they say the woman always comes out poorer in a divorce? It is true, ladies. In searching for a way to support myself and starting to plan my future after my daughter went off to college, I ran across a story on a blog about a woman who was living the van life and supported herself doing transcription work. I was intrigued. She referenced an online course she took from I took Janet’s free transcription minicourse and decided it was the right fit for me to pursue when I left teaching. All those decisions were made in February 2020.

You all know what happened next — the COVID-19 pandemic. I finished out my last year of teaching online because schools were closed to in-person learning. While I was still teaching, I started the General Transcription Course from, and the rest is history. I have been working as a transcriptionist for six months now, and I love it. I can support myself, and the flexibility of my new work has allowed me to grieve, and grow and start anew.  

That brings me to the second online course that changed my life – Courtney Carver’s Summer School for Simplicity. I had been interested in minimalism and simplicity for several years and had made several steps towards simplifying my life, including participating in Project 333, a minimalist wardrobe challenge. When Courtney offered an online course in simplicity in summer 2020, I was all in. The timing couldn’t have been better. I was working from home and sheltering in place because of the pandemic, so why not? I also read her book Soulful Simplicity

I have greatly reduced the amount of stuff I own, and guess what? I don’t miss any of it.  Having less stuff gives me more time. With more time I was able to join a hiking club, finish many quilting projects, and learn a new craft, crocheting. Another benefit of owning less stuff is that in a few months when I have to sell the family home, it will be so much easier to show the house and pack everything up to move. I have by no means achieved everything I want to do to be living a life of simplicity, but I am on the way, and I have regained peace and contentment and, on many days, even joy.  

So what’s your story? Has something you’ve learned online changed your life? 

The Tools of the Transcription Trade

by Joanna Norman

This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. Thanks.

Several folks have asked me what I equipment I use in my daily transcription work. I am happy to tell you about the tools that I use and give you some idea of costs if you are just getting started. I’ve divided this into two categories, hardware and software. Another really important consideration is the ergonomics of your work station. You can read about my minimalist, ergonomic work set up in this blog post, Minimalist Transcriptionist.  Everything I need to do my work also fits into easily into a tote bag, making it easy to work anywhere.


  • A reliable computer
    I’m not going to tell you what computer to use. It is a personal preference and whole ‘nother area of expertise. I happen to use a MacBook Air, and it does everything I need too. I like working on a laptop because my work is really portable. Be aware that I have run into a few transcription companies that use proprietary software that only runs on PCs, so if you have a Mac you’re out of luck with those companies.
  • A transcription foot pedal
    This nifty device lets you start, start, stop, fast forward, and rewind the audio you are transcribing using your foot. Think of it like a gas pedal or a sewing machine foot pedal. You can certainly do transcription without a foot pedal, but having one makes me much more efficient. I never have to take my hands off the keyboard to pause the audio. You press down on the center of the pedal to play and let up on the pedal to stop. It also has a feature so that when you stop, it automatically rewinds a fraction of a second, which makes it easier to pick up where you left off. I use an Infinity USB Digital Foot Control with Computer Plug in USB2.  
  • A good pair of headphones
    You want to them to be really comfortable because you’ll have them on for hours everyday, and you need to have the right sound quality to be able to hear voices easily. There are lots to choose from and a huge range of prices. I use the Spectra SP-PC 3.5 mm PC Stereo Transcription Headset. It is quite comfortable and has a really long cord which is convenient. 


  • Transcription software
    Express Scribe and FTW Transcriber are the two that I’m most familiar with and that are commonly used and recommended. I use Express Scribe because FTW is not available for Mac. The software integrates the foot pedal with your computer and allows you to do things like add time stamps, open a wide variety of sound and video files, do some limited enhancing of sounds files, and change the playback speed. (Note: If you take the course that I took, there is also very helpful information and discounted pricing links for your transcription software and equipment.)
  • Word processing software
    The industry standard is MS Word, and that is what I use. You might be able to get away with using Google Docs or something else, but I’d recommend having MS Word.
  • File transfer software
    You will need a way to share large files. Most of the companies I subcontract for have their own system for sending large video or audio files. For my own clients, I use Dropbox.

One other note:  A few  other reference tools that I use regularly are Merriam Webster Dictionary online and The Chicago Manual of Style.

Let me know if I can help you figure out what equipment would work best for you. 

My Office Buddies

by Joanna Norman

Let me introduce my co-workers. I work from home and love it, and I am also lucky enough to have several office buddies. They are THE BEST co-workers because they are usually totally quiet, unless they are snoring, and they encourage me to take frequent stretch breaks by asking for my attention periodically throughout the day. 

Red Fancy Betta Fish swimming to the right

First up is Mr. Cat. Mr. Cat doesn’t do much other than eat once a day, but he makes me smile quite often and gives my eyes a rest from the computer screen.

White faced yellow lab laying on a green pillow with a black poodle curled up on a second green pillow behind the lab

Next we have Patty Pickle and Arlo. Patty is a seven year old yellow labrador retriever who I raised as a Guide Dog Puppy. She was “career-changed” because of a medical issue and became my pet.  She is a very lazy co-worker who rarely lifts her head off my (!)  pillow while I’m working at my desk.  Behind her is Arlo. He is a 13ish year old rescue mini poodle. He used to bark all the time, but now he is older, more mature, and deaf, so he doesn’t hear much that he feels he needs to bark about. He often serves as a lap warmer on cold days. He has terrible breath, though. I’m not sure what the etiquette is when your office-mate apparently has poor oral hygiene?


Yellow Lab curled in a tight ball in a small round dog bed

Meet Tera, a two year old yellow lab, who usually spends her day curled up in the poodle’s dog bed. She is a Guide Dog Puppy in Training that I am currently co-raising. Because of delays in training due to the pandemic, Tera has been my office buddy for much longer than expected. She is here in my home office every other week. She is extremely well-behaved in our little workplace. She is leaving soon to go back to Guide Dogs for her formal training and will be dearly missed.

Golden Retriever puppy laying down with her tongue out

Lastly, on the weeks that Tera isn’t hanging around the office, Fate, a 11-month old Golden Retriever Lab cross is here. She is also a Guide Dog Puppy in Training. She is the most distracting of my colleagues. There’s one in every workplace, right? Fate would often rather be playing than working or even sleeping. She’s one of the co-workers who interrupts your concentration by making noises, often with a toy in her mouth acting as a megaphone! Give her time, she’s still a puppy. 

If you are working from home, do you have any office buddies, animal or human, or vegetable, for that matter?  If so, tell me about your co-workers in the comments below. Include a photo if you want – I’d love to “meet” them!

How To Become A Transcriptionist

by Joanna Norman

This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, I may earn a commission. Thanks.

I’m sure there are many paths to becoming a general transcriptionist. In fact, I’d love to hear how you became a transcriptionist in the comments below. Here’s how I changed careers from being a middle school science and math teacher to transcription. This is only one person’s story, but maybe it will help you on your path.  So here’s what I did.

Step 1:  Learn the needed skills.  I needed to learn new skills, so I chose to take an outstanding online course from and received my certification as a General Transcriptionist. 

Step 2:  Obtain the tools you need.  I will write a separate, detailed blog post about this in the near future.

Step 3:  Find work. I networked with friends and family to let folks now that I was a newly minted transcriptionist looking for work. I also applied for subcontracting positions.

Step 4: Celebrate achieving your goal.

Easy peasy.  Well, there was actually quite a bit more to each of those steps, so if you want to know more, keep reading.  

The Details

Step 1:  Learn the needed skills. As you may have guessed or already know, there is more to being a successful transcriptionist than just playing an audio recording and typing what you hear. To make sure I was set up for success, I signed up for the General Transcription: Theory and Practice Course from Janet Shaughnessy’s I started working on the course very, very part time while I was still teaching in January through May.  Then, when I was done teaching, I finished the course in the month of June, passed the final assessment, and got my certificate.  

Here are some of the skills that you need and can learn through Janet’s outstanding, professional coursework:

  • Grammar. You may think you already know grammar. You’ll be surprised!
  • How to make and use transcription templates
  • How to transcribe multiple speakers, even the ones that are constantly interrupting each other
  • How to use a foot pedal to make transcription easier and more efficient
  • How to use transcription software
  • What do to about stutters and false starts and people who don’t speak with proper grammar (that would be all of us)
  • The difference between strict verbatim and standard verbatim transcription
  • Time stamping
  • File management
  • File security
  • How to market yourself
  • How to find work
  • How to build your website

Step 2: Obtain the tools you need.  I am going to write a separate blog post about this in the near future, but for starters, you’ll need a reliable computer, internet access, a foot pedal, good earphones, word processing software, and transcription software. If you already have a computer and internet access, you can get all the tools you need for well under $500.

Step 3: Find work. When you are just getting started in this field, it may take a while to build your own clientele. You can still be earning money and gaining experience while building your own business because there are many transcription companies out there hiring subcontractors. You can do subcontracting work while building your own business. In fact, you may decide to stick with subcontracting and not pursue your own business. Either is a great option.

I wanted and needed to start earning ASAP, so I as soon as I finished steps 1 and 2, I let my friends and family know that I was making a career change. Some thought I was crazy, but others said things like, “Oh, I know someone who does that type of work. Let me get you two in touch.” This led to my first subcontracting position. I also applied to do subcontracting work with other companies. (Many transcription companies hire independent subcontractors to help with their transcription work.) Within one month of finishing my online course, I had found subcontract work with 6 companies, which was more work than I needed. The nice thing about having a large variety of subcontracting work was that I could then decide which companies provided the type of work that I enjoyed the most. It was and is a great way to get practice and improve my transcription skills.

Step 4: Celebrate achieving your goal. I don’t have details for you here except to say that if you are considering a career change to transcription, my experience has been great. For me, it is a good fit, it was achievable and the rewards have been fantastic.

Minimalist Transcriptionist

by Joanna Norman

This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. Thanks.

One of the things I love about being a transcriptionist is that it fits in so well with the simple lifestyle I am creating. I have been interested in minimalism and downsizing for much of my adult life. For example, I have consistently chosen to live in smaller homes and drive smaller cars than the average American.  Recently, I read Courtney Carver’s book Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More and participated in her Summer School for Simplicity course which inspired me to simplify even further. I think it’s safe to say that I’m becoming a minimalist.  

Transcription is a perfect fit for a minimalist. I work from home, so I don’t need a fancy work wardrobe. I get dressed every day, but I keep it comfortable and simple. Jeans and a plaid shirt would be a typical workday outfit for me. (If you want to know more about my minimalist wardrobe, check out Project 333: The Minimalist Fashion Challenge That Proves Less Really is So Much More.)

Photo of a white metal standing desk with an open laptop, 3 crocheted cactus and a small hexagonal aquarium.

I have a simple workspace which I set up about 8 months ago on a very limited budget.  I use a fairly inexpensive standing desk and an old, but comfortable desk chair with an extra foam pad to help with posture and a bad hip. When I need a little more room to spread out, I pull out a stacking table.  I really like my desk because I can use it as a standing desk when my hip is acting up, or I can quickly adjust it to be a nice, angled, seated desk. (See below for a list of links, if you want details on any of the products I mention in this post.)

Three little crocheted cactus in terra cotta pots

For my actual work tools, I have a laptop, a transcription foot pedal, good quality earphones, a backup drive, my Rocketbook Planner, a Rocketbook Notebook, a bag of FriXion pens (that’s what I use with the Rocketbooks which are reusable notebooks), and a plastic accordion folder. That’s all. I can easily pack all of this up into my favorite “briefcase” made from recycled plastic bag plarn, and I can work from anywhere. In the future, when pandemic conditions allow, I can work from a coffee shop, at my sister’s house across the country, at an AirBnB – anywhere!

I also have few  decorative things on my desk that make me happy – three crocheted mini cacti, pictures of my sisters, and a little one gallon aquarium which houses Mr. Cat, my betta fish.   

I love my minimal, tidy workspace. It gives me peace and joy. Back when I was teaching, my desk was always a paper-filled, piled up disaster area. My former students would not recognize my desk now.

If you are also a transcriptionist, if you work from home, what does your workspace look like?  Do you like a big space with room to spread out?  Do you keep it small and simple? Somewhere in between?  Share a picture in the comments below. I’d love to see where you spend your workday at home.

Where to get the things:

My desk and chair cushion:

Transcription Foot Pedal and headphones:

My Backup Drive:

Rocketbook Products and Accordian File: