Each year, I find myself using apps and cloud-based services more and more, but it went to a new level in 2013. The vast majority of what I do on a regular basis was done to some degree with one of about a dozen apps and cloud-based services. Here is a roundup of the apps and services that I found to be most useful to me in 2013.
1. Google Docs
So far, in 2013, I have written over 260,000 words of fiction and nonfiction, and all of it was done in Google Docs. The number includes a 95,000 word novel draft, as well as a handful of stories, nonfiction articles and guest posts. I did the vast majority of that writing on my Google Chromebook, but one of the great benefits of Google Docs is that I can work on virtually any machine without worrying about copy files from one place to another, syncing Dropbox, or worrying about compatibility issues.
In addition, by using Google Docs, I am able to make use of my writing tracker scripts to capture how much I write and have the data automatically recorded without any action on my part, other than writing. For a data hound, this is a big plus.
Mostly, I like Google Docs because of its simplicity. It has exactly the right number of functions, and it is easy to push aside any clutter to focus on the actual writing. The proof, for me, is in the fact that I was able to write 260,000 words using the tool in less than a year, more than I’ve written in the last fifteen years combined using Word, Scrivener or other writing tools.
I have been using a self-installed version of WordPress for years, and this year is no exception. All of my posts (including this one) are written directly in WordPress, for reasons similar to why I write in Google Docs: it is easy to use, has lots of automation, and is entirely in the cloud, so it doesn’t matter where I am working from.
Since late February (when I started keeping track) I have written more than 200,000 words worth of blog posts in WordPress. I am comfortable with it, and it is kept up-to-date, usually with new features that are useful and practical.
If there is one service that had the most significant impact on me in 2013, it is Audible. For years, I went around saying how I could never really listen to an audiobook, that it just wouldn’t work for me. I have never been more wrong in my life. I subscribed to Audible back in February and haven’t looked back. It has allowed me to read more than I could ever have thought possible, and do so while staying healthy and not sacrificing other time, like writing time and family time.
Back in 1996, when I started keeping a list of books that I read, I started with a goal of reading 1 book a week, or 52 books/year. In all the years since, although I’ve come close (I think I hit 47 books one year), I never quite hit 52.
Until this year.
As of this writing, I have already read 52 books and am partway through my 53rd. The vast majority of those books were audiobooks, and I listened to them, for the most part, while taking my daily walks each day, or while doing chores. More than anything else, Audible has allowed me to do more, by making multitasking a real possibility for me.
Evernote should come as no surprise to regular followers of the blog. Earlier this year I passed the 10,000 note-mark. I’m back below that, after getting rid of some duplicate data that I have access to elsewhere, but even factoring that in, my use of Evernote has grown considerably throughout the year. As I’ve written elsewhere, Evernote is the centerpiece to my paperless cloud.
In addition to Evernote, I made heavy use this year of Skitch, Evernote’s image/PDF editor-slash-annotation software. I use Skitch extensively, both here on the blog, as well as in my day job, capturing screenshots for software we are developing. It has become an invaluable tool for speeding up image capture and edits.
5. Boomerang for Gmail
I’ve been using Boomerang for Gmail for just over a year now, and that tool, more than anything else, has helped keep me close to Inbox Zero. With Boomerang, I do three things that turn out to be particularly useful to me:
- I can schedule email to be sent at a later date. This is particularly useful when I will be offline for a while, or want to get an email written and queued up to send, but not send it until a certain date or time.
- I can be reminded about a message I sent if I have not gotten a reply after a certain period of time has passed. I don’t have to worry about remembering if I’ve heard back from so-and-so. If a response is important, I’ll send the message and tell Boomerang to remind me if I haven’t heard back in 2 days, or a week, or whatever time is appropriate.
- I can take messages out of my inbox and be reminded of them later. If I get a message telling me I need to take some action (fill out a survey, for instance) at a certain date or period of time, I can Boomerang the message so that I am reminded closer to the date. The message will disappear from my inbox and reappear at the appropriate time.
I use all three of these features extensively. The amount of email I get continued to go up, but my inbox stays roughly the same. It is rarely at zero, but there are rarely more than 10 message in it at any one time, thanks to Boomerang.
I also started using Buffer about a year ago, as a way of better managing my social media presence. Buffer allows you to schedule Tweets or Facebook updates at preset intervals throughout the day. It provides all kinds of data about the tweets, like how many clicks and retweets you received. Basically, it helps me preschedule tweets throughout the day (or week) so that I don’t have to stop what I am doing to do it manually.
Google Reader retired earlier this year, and Feedly sprang up as an alternative. I was a little skeptical at first, but I have grown to really like Feedly and I use it (and its iPhone app) as my primary tool for reading RSS feeds today. I liked it so much that I was one of the people who jumped on to their offer of Feedly Pro for life when they offered it in Beta.
The folks who make Feedly have worked hard throughout the year to listen to their users and make useful improvements. The tool just keeps getting better.
IFTTT is a kind of switching-station service for other services. Another way to describe it is a meta-workflow service. It stands for If This Then That and you can set up incredibly useful automations with it that allow you to link services. I have about a dozen of these automations working for me and they do all kinds of things. For instance, IFTTT will automatically:
- Send new blog posts I write to a notebook in Evernote
- Create a blank “Meeting Minutes” template note in Evernote for meetings that appear on my Google Calendar, 15 minutes before the meeting starts.
- Relay Tweets with a certain hashtag to my Facebook Page
- Send my Foursquare checkins to Evernote
IFTTT recently added location-based triggers which opens up a whole new set of possibilities.
And it runs entirely in the cloud. You don’t have to have something running on your computer, phone or tablet to make it work.
Being a data nut, I like to see the numbers behind everything. This includes the numbers for this blog. Earlier in the year, I switched from WordPress’s JetPack statistics to using Google Analytics. There were several reasons for this, but I get a much richer set of data from Google Analytics, and that was the biggest selling point.
After some poking around, I found an iPhone app that gives me access to my Google Analytics data on the iPhone, and I find myself using this quite frequently. The app is called Quicklytics. Here is a sample of what Quicklytics looks like on the iPhone. The screen capture shows page visits on this blog year-to-date:
Quicklytics makes it easy to keep tabs on the numbers when I am away from a computer. And you can still slice and dice them to see interesting segments (like mobile visitors, or visitors by country).
Trello is a relative newcomer for me. I just started using it a month or two ago, but I really like it. It can be best described as a kind of free-form list manager, in which your lists can be lists of lists. It makes it easy to capture projects and break them down into steps, and then collect like projects in larger buckets.
Best of all, it is easy for Kelly to use as well, and we use it for shared lists, like various things we had to do before heading on vacation.
I’ve been doing more image editing lately, and the best app I’ve found for doing all kinds of editing on the iPhone is PixlrExpress+. This little app is an image-editing powerhouse. It does all of the standard image-editing stuff, but allows you to download all kinds of useful extras. And I think it is pretty darn cool that you can do all of this from your phone!
Last, but not least, is my newest edition, Pocket. I’ve seen people using Pocket for a long time, but I’ve had a tough time figuring how to make it fit into my own processes. I believe I have that figured out now. In rough form, I use Feedly to read news, but if I come across an article I want to read later, I’ll add it to Pocket (with the click of a button inside Feedly). When I have more time, I’ll read the post in Pocket. One of my favorite features of Pocket is how it cleans up the article for you, making it easy to read.
When I find there is an article I want to save for the long-term, I can send it Evernote directly from the Pocket mobile app, also with the click of a button.
ETA 1/9/14: There are 4 additional apps and services that I use that I forgot about because they just work so darn well. But they are key in improving my online security, peace of mind, and overall productivity. Be sure to check them out.
Those are the apps and services that have made a big difference to me in 2013. What apps and services are in your list? Let me know in the comments.