By Steve Outing
I’m not the most organized person, but I do try. And thanks to some wonderful digital technologies that I’ve discovered, I’m much better at staying organized than in the past. So I do feel qualified to participate in this month’s Carnival of Journalism, where the challenge is:
What are your life hacks, workflows, tips, tools, apps, websites, skills, and techniques that allow you to work smarter and more effectively?
Here are just a few things that I find most valuable:
While I prefer to do my work and store it in the cloud, Omnifocus is an exception. It’s a client app (Mac only) for organizing projects and your life, and it’s by far the best I’ve found. And I’ve tried LOTS of personal organizers, going all the way back to paper Franklin Planners (failed), to using a Handspring Visor (an old Palm Pilot clone), to Remember the Milk, and loads more that failed me — or more accurately, I failed them. But Omnifocus is great. It takes some time initially to get it set up with your projects and personal behavior patterns reflected, and you need to use it regularly to keep it up to date, but the effort is worth it. Omnifocus also syncs with its iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad apps, but both of those must be purchased separately from the $80 price of the Mac app. (While Omnifocus syncs to the cloud, you’re working on your Mac or iOS device, so I differentiate that from actually working in the cloud, as with something like Remember the Milk.)
This is obvious, but worth mentioning as a cloud-based way to create and store your work and notes. Rather than my old way of taking notes (say, during a phone interview) on TextEdit, I open up a new Google Docs text document and save it to a folder. I also do my writing on Google Docs (unless I’m away from Internet connectivity); I like the security of knowing that if my Macbook’s hard drive dies while I’m writing, my work won’t be lost. (Yes, that has happened to me in the past.)
ActiveInbox for Gmail
I love Gmail, and I’ve loved Gmail for many years. (I cannot believe some people still use Outlook! Yuck!!) What makes Gmail even better is adding on ActiveInbox, which helps you manage e-mail tasks and projects and overall makes managing a massive and active inbox much easier. It works with Gmail’s existing labels, and the learning curve is close to zero. It’s based on GTD (Getting Things Done) principles. I love it.
This is another Gmail add-on, and I can’t recommend this one highly enough. With Rapportive on top of Gmail, when you open up an e-mail, say from someone you don’t know, Rapportive looks up the sender on various social networks and displays that information (along with a photo of the person, usually) in the right column, so it’s simple to learn about the mysterious e-mail correspondent. Hover over any address in an e-mail and Rapportive will instantly reveal details on that person, which is great when an e-mail has multiple recipients and you want to find out more about them.
Scrible is a browser bookmarklet that allows you to highlight any webpage and add comments to it. You can then save the highlighted version of the page to your personal Scrible.com library and tag the articles for grouping, or e-mail the highlighted copy of the article to someone else. This is a very new product, so it’s not perfect; I occasionally try to mark up or save an article and Scrible’s servers are super-slow or don’t respond. I wish that I could share my personal library of highlighted articles, or groups of tagged highlighted articles, with others, but that’s not possible (and probably would violate copyright law if it was). But I really like the interface of this bookmarklet. My wife insists that Diijo is the best of these types of save-stuff-and-mark-it-up solutions, but I prefer Scrible; it just seems faster that using Diijo. I’m hoping that Scrible will evolve to be even better, but it’s off to a great start.
USAA Mobile Deposit
If you don’t bank with USAA, perhaps your bank has a similar phone app. USAA’s iPhone app allows you to take photos of both sides of a check and deposit it instantly. Thankfully, electronic deposit, Paypal, et al are fast making paper checks go the way of printed newspapers. But just like newspapers, checks will be with us for a while, so it’s a great time-saver to be able to use my iPhone to deposit them.
Zite for iPad
I own an iPad (1), and it’s my favored device for keeping up with RSS feeds (i.e., personalized news). I’ve tried most of the slick RSS readers and personalized-news apps for the iPad, like Flipboard, News.me, Trove, Reeder, and others that I’ve now put out of my memory. But Zite stands out and is the one that I continue to use regularly. Highly recommended.