Almost every person who successfully gets a lot done has a set of tools and some of sort of system they use to make it happen. If being more productive is a goal of yours for 2016, you might be looking for some new tools and ideas yourself. I use a lot of different tools, but today I’ll share the ones I use daily to remain productive.
Before I do though, there are a couple of caveats. First, I’m a Mac user, and some of the tools I use are Mac-only. Second, I work in an office environment that relies heavily on Microsoft products. To keep peace with my co-workers, and because I do have to occasionally use a Windows laptop, I have to make compromises in my tool choices. So with that as background, here we go:
My Everyday Tool Box
- Evernote – I keep literally everything in Evernote. It is my digital file cabinet. In fact, I’m not sure how I could do without it any more. Its organizational features, and most importantly, its search features are both easy to use and very powerful. Evernote runs on Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android, and once you’ve set up an account, your data syncs automatically between all of your devices. You can start with a free account, but I pay for Evernote Premium, which among other things, will search within any MS Office docs that I have stored.
- Nozbe – My to-do list manager. If you’re a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, this app will be right up your alley. It also runs on Mac, Windows, iOS and Android, and everything syncs everywhere. It’s free for the first 30 days, and then just $8/month. An amazing bargain.
- Fantastical 2 – My calendar app. It’s for Mac and iOS only, and it interfaces well with our MS Exchange-based calendaring system in the office. My favorite feature is the way it allows me to enter new appointments. For example, I can type “Haircut 12/10 5:30” or “Track meet next Wed at 4” and I’m done; it’ natural language processing does the right thing virtually every time. Fantastical is far better than the built-in calendar apps that come with Mac OS X and iOS.
- Jing & Snagit – I use one or both of them almost every day. Jing is built to quickly snap and share a screenshot or quick video. Snagit also has those capabilities, but has additional image editing features and a better video recording process. Jing is free, Snagit is not. Both are available on Mac or Windows.
- Dropbox/Box. Dropbox is my file-syncing solution for all of my personal data. For work-related files, I use Box because it meets the security requirements of my company, and, I want to keep my business and personal data completely separate. Dropbox has a free option, but I have a paid account because of my storage requirements. Box starts at $5/month. Both have Mac and Windows apps.
- 1Password – Passwords are a pain, and 1Password relieves it.1 It gets a tad expensive to cover all of your devices, but it runs on almost anything, including inside your web browser, and keeps everything perfectly in sync. I use it continually throughout the day, and would pay twice the price for it. Highly Recommended.
- Soulver – Per their web site: “It’s quicker to use than a spreadsheet, and smarter and clearer than a traditional calculator. Use Soulver to play around with numbers, do ”back of the envelope“ quick calculations, and solve day-to-day problems.” Which is exactly what I do with it. I have it open all the time. Soulver is $12 and only for Mac. If you’re a Windows person, Soulver may make you want to switch to Mac. It’s that good.
- TextExpander – TextExpander (TE) saves me a ton of typing each and every day. It’s worth a full blog post just by itself. In short, TE allows you to assign abbreviations to virtually anything you can type on the keyboard, which it calls “snippets”. Then as you’re typing, it watches for you to type those abbreviations and replaces them instantly with the full text of the appropriate snippet. Your snippets can even contain variables that TE will prompt you for prior to inserting the full snippet. For example, let’s say you have assigned the abbreviation “cse” to a standard email response that you use for customer support issues, and you would like to personalize it before sending. When you type ‘cse’, TE will ask you for the person’s name, and then place it at the appropriate place in the text as it inserts the snippet into your email. At $45 dollars, it’s not inexpensive, but it pays for itself every day. Mac only.
- Microsoft Word and Excel for Mac – As much as I’m a Mac fanboy, Pages and Numbers are…well…just plain awful. And, Apple continually manages to make both worse over time. It can’t be a money problem for Apple. I’m convinced they just don’t care. Word and Excel rule the business world, and I have them both open most of each day.2
I use many more tools than these nine, but these are the ones that contribute every day to my productivity. As in most professions, the best tools in the digital world aren’t usually free either. I don’t look at them as money I have to spend – I think of them as investments necessary to my success (and sanity).
Now’s a good time to go through your own tool box (as I am) and check to see where there’s opportunity to better equip yourself for next year. Happy tool hunting!