Over the last few months I’ve been looking at different tools and applications to make my workflow better, to help me create the things that I wanted. I’ve used a myriad of different applications and programs that have similar feature sets. There was a little to and fro between a one tool for everything approach and find a good tool for a specific purpose. In the end I settled somewhere in the middle finding few applications that serve multiple purposes as wells as added few more that I use for specific tasks. There is a considerable amount of writers that are big fans of Mac platform showing off its capabilities, interesting apps etc. Although I would agree that there are some neat solutions moving to Mac platform comes at a considerable premium that has both advantages and disadvantages both financial and other. In effect what I’m hoping to achieve with this post is to show to any Windows user that may envy those tool that Windows platform also has a good selection of programs. They really can help you be more productive, organised and achieve the things you want.
NOTES REFERENCE AND WRITING
Some will frown upon the number of tools in this category after all if you need to write a Notepad app or something similar should be sufficient. Perhaps this is true and it’s some form of flaw however I find that these tools really help me with the things I want to do.
- Evernote – this is an example of an application that serves multiple purposes. I use it to take notes, keep lists, capture ideas, store web clips, purchase receipts, pdf documents etc. Almost anything that I want to keep for later I store it Evernote. I’ve experimented with plain text as a main tool earlier this year. In the end I decided that having a tool that allows me to keep all my information in a single place is much better choice.
- WriteMonkey – is an excellent, distraction free writing tool. The reason I use it is that I separate process of capturing ideas (Evernote) from actual writing, also since I write in plain text and use markdown WriteMonkey is perfect for that. There are many more features that I haven’t really touched here making it fantastic writing tool for short pieces like blog posts.
- ResophNote – as I mentioned I keep my posts in plain text files using markdown. In order to maintain them and keep them searchable I use ResophNotes. It provides a nice front end to all the files that I store in my notes folder, plus it allows me to quickly find some older content, rename files or start a new blog post and finish it off using WriteMonkey.
- Scrivener – I use this application for more complicated and longer writing projects. In short Scrivener is described as an application for writers, journalist, screen writers etc. It’s a tool that allows you to capture all the ideas, expand on them and organise and publish a finished product. I’ve seen many people swear by it. As I finish my current project you should see the result of it soon
TASK AND TIME MANAGEMENT
Finding a proper task manager i.e. one the I like to use and use it consistently took some time. As many of you I’ve went through a lengthy discovery process. Once I settled on an app I kept at despite few attempts to change it. In the end I realised that the power of task manager came primarily from the information it contained not necessarily the amount of bells and whistles.
- Remember the Milk – is my task manager of choice. It contains all of my lists of actions, projects and waiting fors. Every item that I want to to-do ends up there. This is the best application I’ve found to manage my GTD implementation that work both on my Windows PC and Android phone and tablet. It’s very powerful and flexible app that will cater to many needs. I wrote about some of it’s features here before.
- Google Calendar – my tool of choice for managing so called hard landscape i.e. any appointments, day and time specific events end up there. It’s possibly the most powerful calendar application out there that lets you manage your life plus it works on every platform.
- GMinder – is a neat system tray tool which alerts you of upcoming meetings and events. It connects to Google Calendar and displays all your calendars in one place. It does work when you’re offline unfortunately you won’t be able to add new items in that mode . Great little app that does reminders well.
Mind mapping is regular activity of mine. I use it to organise thoughts, concepts and ideas. Very often when I’m starting a new project I create a new mind map to essentially dump everything that comes to my mind in relation to the project. There are three applications that I use depending on what I’m trying to achieve or what will I do with output.
- Freeplane– is my primary mind-mapping application. It’s open source and platform independent tool based on Java that started as an offshoot of Freemind which is a very popular tool. As result of its heritage, Freeplane is very powerful and feature rich but its interface is little bit clunky. I use it primarily because of the number of available features and the fact that it’s using the .mm format which is bit of a standard making files readable by other mind mapping applications. One more compelling reason to stick with this app is the upcoming support for .mm files in Scrivener which means I will be able to draft ideas in Freeplane and then drop them into Scrivener to write the full piece.
- MindMaple – This app is bit of a sidekick to FreePlane. Two elements that I particularly like and use this app as text import and export. I heavily rely on text files for creating my content so ability to export mind maps into text is very important. MindMaple lets me organise my thoughts and then export them into text for further processing. On top of that mind maps created with it are very nice visually which makes it good presentation tool. What usually happens is that I open up Freemind and start working on the map once I’m happy with it I open MindMaple (as it reads .mm files) and use it to export the content to plain text.
- UV Outliner – this is an fantastic outlining app that lets me create nice looking hierarchical structures for my projects and ideas. Again I mainly use it at the initial stages of planning or organisation of a project or idea. Once I’m clear on the outcome I usually export it to Evernote which serves as primary project support material repository.
This category contains a mix of applications that primarily help me make a more effective use of my Windows laptop, remove unnecessary steps, provide security and piece of mind or allow me to work while away from a computer.
- PhraseExpress – a tool that completely changed the way I write text. Almost anything that gets typed on regular basis is transformed into a template and stored in the app. The next time I need to type my signature, open a website, type my email or respond to someone I simply type relevant key combination and the text I’ve saved appears on the screen. The functionality goes way beyond text expansion, you can use macros, create forms, etc. I’ve personally scratched surface on it and planning to spend this year exploring it in more depth. There are limitless possibilities bar the size of memory allowing me to remember all the combinations.
- LibreOffice – this is a free office productivity suite that I mainly use for creating presentations and spreadsheets like my training log. It’s a solid alternative to Microsoft’s product although it is not as polished. Beyond the two mentioned above it provides writing, database, sketching tools too.
- Dropbox – this is almost a default app for any one using more that one device. For me it works as place to store current projects and items I want to share with other people or make available on phone or tablet. It’s key app where I store drafts of may blog post so that I can work on them using my laptop or smartphone. Also any picture I take as saved to it as well which makes it super easy to pick it up at my laptop and process it. No need to connect using cables and all the hassle. I think this app although fairly widely known definitely deserved a bit more detailed look in a future blog post.
- Crashplan – primary offsite backup solution for all my files. I find it reliable and very flexible. For those conscious of privacy, you can encrypt all your data using your own key before it’s sent to Crashplan servers. On top of the online backup you can use the application to send files to external hard drive of a family or friend if they also use Crashplan.
- Orzeszek Timer – from time to time I need to apply Pomodoro technique to kick things off. For that purpose I use Orzeszek Timer which is very small app that lets me set a timer for any time I want using human language. I simply type 25min and the time counts down 25 minutes. Great aid for helping we keep the focus on task at hand.
- CutePDF – is very little app that lets me print anything into pdf file. So anytime I need to save a copy of an online purchase or bill I simply use CutePDF which is set as my default printer and save pdf file to a folder or Evernote. It definitely helps with maintaining a paperless workflow.
Photo Flickr: Florianric