If you’re doing anything at all on the Internet these days, the amount of time you have is your scarcest resource. With that in mind, here are 18 productivity tools I use to help me maximise what I can do each day.
Hardware Productivity Tools
The iPhone is one of the best productivity tools available. Not only can you check your emails, manage your calendar and check your social media accounts, but you can do it in your dead time such as waiting in line or getting a coffee. Additionally, many of the software tools I recommend in this article are beneficial because of their iPhone apps.
When I first got an iPad I didn’t really know how to use it to get the biggest productivity benefits from my day. What I finally understood is that the iPad is not a replacement for your laptop or your phone. But when you use it in conjunction with the apps listed in this article, such as Things and Flipboard, you really start to see its benefits.
As a die hard PC fan it was a hard decision to convert to Mac, which I did in January 2011. The transition was a bit hard at first and re-learning all of the shortcuts took a bit of time, but once the transition was over (which took me a month or two) I gained significant productivity improvements. Not only does my Mac start up and shut down in less than 20 seconds but features such as Spotlight and custom keyboard shortcuts save a considerable amount of mouse clicks (more about that later).
Advanced Tip: Don’t use your mouse to open any programs or documents. Instead use COMMAND + SPACE to open spotlight and then start typing the name of the application or document you want to open. When you see it at the top of the list, just hit ENTER and it’s open.
Anybody who attends a business meeting takes handwritten notes (at least if they want the meeting to be effective). Usually these notes include action items, key points and other pertinent information. The question is, what do you do with those notes after you’ve taken them? If you’re like me, you probably have alot of notebooks full of notes from various meetings. Using a Smartpen is a great way to get your handwritten notes onto your computer. You handwrite your notes using your Smartpen, then sync your smartpen with your computer, and all of the handwritten notes are automatically transferred to your computer available to browse or search. The best part about this software is that it can transcribe your handwritten notes into text (and it’s very good at it) and you can search through your past notes using keywords.
5. Amazon Kindle
At first, the feeling of reading a book on a Kindle was a little jarring, especially because I enjoyed the feeling of holding a book and turning pages. But in less than a week the benefits of reading on a Kindle far outweighed any nostalgia I had towards physical books. The main benefits of reading on a Kindle are that you can set the size of the font you want to read at (ensuring a consistent reading speed), fast turning of pages, instant availability of nearly any book you want to read, the ability to send documents and web pages to it, and carrying all of your books with you wherever you go.
Software Productivity Tools
Things is by far the best piece of software for managing a to-do list that I have ever used (and I have used a lot). Things is a software application that runs on Macs, iPhones and iPads. You can quickly add to-dos using keyboard shortcuts from wherever you are on your Mac, you can create categories and assign to-dos to categories, and you can schedule to-dos for the future. The iPhone and iPad apps synchronise with your Mac so you have the same list on all devices, and you can quickly add new to-dos through your iPhone or iPad when you’re on the go.
Advanced Tip: take your iPad to meetings, create a project name for the meeting and add to-dos for all action points and notes that come out of the meeting.
If you receive more than 100 emails a day then finding a way to manage your emails in a time effective manner is critical. Of all the email applications I have tested, nothing is better than Gmail for productivity. You can create filters, labels and rules for how emails are handled and probably the best productivity feature of Gmail is the ability to Archive the current email and Open the next email with a single key.
Advanced Tip: clear your Gmail inbox daily. Use the Things ‘Show and Autofill’ feature to automatically add to-dos that include links to individual Gmail messages so you can go back to the message when you need to (ie after prioritising all of your to-dos).
If you need to stay abreast of all that is happening in your industry there’s nothing better than Flipboard. Originally an iPad application, it’s now also available on iPhone. With Flipboard you add your Google Reader, Twitter and Facebook accounts (as well as any other that you use) and browse through all of the articles, stories and updates in a magazine style format. You can send articles you like by email or share them on Facebook or Twitter.
Instapaper allows you to save web pages to read later. So wherever you are on the web, you can save an article, web page or blog post to read later. While this may seem like a simple thing to do, it’s the functionality that really makes Instapaper a productivity tool – Instapaper integrates with your Internet browser (eg Firefox), iPad, iPhone and Amazon Kindle.
Advanced Tip: Install the Instapaper Kindle App. Then, when you find an article in Flipboard that you want to read, send it directly to your Kindle from Flipboard and then read it later when you have some time.
10. Concept Draw Mindmap
If you have a lot of projects on the go, many areas of responsiblity, or brainstorm a lot, using mindmapping software is one of the best tools for managing it all. Mindmaps are one of the best ways to take complex or difficult subjects or problems and quickly generate new ideas and structure them intuitively. Mindmapping software takes mindmapping to the next level by allowing you to quickly develop mindmaps and adjust their various components.
Advanced Tip: Create a master mindmap that links to other mindmaps on your computer. Put everything you’re working on in the mindmapping software and then take the key actions you want to implement and add them to Things. Review your mindmap weekly.
Evernote is one of the best tools created for sharing text, screenshots, images, audio, photos and literally any other digital file between your various devices and with other people. The desktop application allows you to capture anything from your computer and send it to Evernote. The iPhone app allows you to do the same from your mobile.
Where evernote can store text, screenshots, video and audio, Dropbox is a cloud service that acts like your virtual hard drive. You can upload any type of file you want and access it from anywhere. You can also share specific folders in Dropbox with anybody you want.
13. Google Docs
If you use Microsoft Word or Excel then you’ll love Google Docs. Google Docs doesn’t have all the features of Word and Excel but the features it does have more than makes up for it. The most impressive feature of Google Docs is that you can collaborate on any document or spreadsheet with as many people as you like, which means that multiple people can work on the same document at the same time. The fact that all of your documents are online and backed up in the cloud is another bonus.
If you don’t already use a password manager then you’ll love this. 1Password stores all the passwords for your various logins (and if you use the Internet, there are A LOT). What most people do is use the same password over and over again, which is a major security issue, or record their passwords somewhere on their computer, which is a huge waste of time. With 1Password you can create a different password for every site you visit and store it for easy retrieval when you need to login.
Advanced Tip: Use the password generator feature to create 12 digit passwords that use letters, numbers and symbols and create a new password for every site you need to login to. Then use the keyboard shortcut to automatically fill in forms when you need to.
Trying to refer to a particular section on a web page or within an application is very difficult just using words. With Snagit you can take a screenshot of anything on your screen, annotate it and then send it by email to whomever you need to communicate with.
Advanced Tip: If you need to make instructional documents, take screenshots with Snagit and write instructions that refer to the screenshot.
If screenshots aren’t enough to get the point across, Camtasia allows you to record both the screen and the audio, which means you can walk through a website, an application or anything else and explain what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Anybody who watches the video will know exactly what you’re talking about.
If you don’t know how to TouchType (and I mean using ALL of your fingers without looking at the keyboard) then you need to learn right away. With all the typing we do all day, one of the biggest time wasters is not being able to touch type. TypeQuick is touch typing software that actually teaches you how to type. When I was first learning to touch type I locked myself away for 6 hours a day over a Saturday and Sunday and pushed myself to finish the program. Then, I forced myself to use the new technique (even though it felt uncomfortable) until it became natural.
18. Keyboard Shortcuts
This tool is the most underutilised yet most powerful productivity tool you can use. Moving your hands from your keyboard to your mouse, then finding what you need to click on, then moving it back to your keyboard – and doing this hundreds or thousands of times a day – is a huge waste of time. There are keyboard shortcuts for nearly everything you need to do on your computer, and learning how to use them will give you a massive productivity boost.
Tip: don’t try to learn every single keyboard shortcut in one go (it will be pretty much impossible to do so anyway). Instead, when you find yourself moving between your keyboard and mouse, do a search on Google for “(action) keyboard shortcut” and start using it right away. Over time you’ll learn hundreds of keyboard shortcuts that will save you a ton of time. And if you have a Mac, create your own custom shortcuts for frequent actions you take in any program you use.
Implementing any one of these 18 productivity tools will give you a productivity boost. However the real power lies in implementing all of them at once. That’s when you’ll really start to see significant productivity improvements.