I am often asked about the apps and services I use to get my work done. Last February I listed many of those apps and services in the How I Work interview I did with Lifehacker. With 2014 now in the books, I put together a list of the apps and services that I felt made me more productive throughout the year. They are listed below alphabetically. I’ve included the general functional area of the app or service in parentheses after the app name.
1. Alfred (Automation)
Alfred is a productivity application for Macs (sorry Windows and Linux users) that makes it easy to automate routine tasks and provides shortcuts and tools for all kinds of functions. I use it dozens of times a day in small ways. Sometimes it’s as simple as performing a quick calculation. All I do is active Alfred (Option-Space) and start typing my calculation.
All I have to do is press ENTER to copy the result to the clipboard. No opening another app, no waiting. The windows pops up in whatever app I am working in and disappears when I’m done. I can do a lot of other things with it Alfred, from quickly starting applications, to carrying out complex automations. But for me, it is the small things that Alfred really helps speed up: Looking up contacts, searching iTunes for song, looking up the spelling of a word, etc.
2. Audible (Multitasking)
Audible is the Amazon-owned audiobook service for which I have a platinum membership, which gets me 2 audiobook credits per month. How, you might ask, does Audible find its way onto a list of apps that have made me more productive?
These days, when I am asked (with increasing frequency) for my best time-saving tip, I tell people that for me, it is audiobooks. With Audible, I can multitask in ways that I was never able to do before. For example:
With limited time in the day, I get my chief exercise by walking. During the week, I walk 3 times a day, a short 2 mile walk at 10 am, a 3-4 mile walk during my lunch hour, and another 2 mile walk around 3 pm. I do this regardless of weather. This gets me about 7 miles of walking in each day, which is pretty good.
And while I walk, I listen to audiobooks.
Since I started listening to audiobooks in February 2013, I’ve been able to get through more books than I thought possible with my workload, and domestic responsibilities. I’ve also come to enjoy many of the narrators I’ve encountered, and that had led to me to try books that I might not otherwise have attempted.
I can also listen to books at times when I wouldn’t ordinarily be able to read a book:
- While doing chores around the house
- While driving. During our drive to- and from- Florida last month, I listened to a grand total of about 30 hours of audiobooks. That’s just during the drive.
The multitasking effect of listening to audiobooks has probably been my single biggest time-saver in 2014.
3. Boomerang (Email)
Boomerang is a plug-in service to Gmail that allows you to “boomerang” email messages. That is, get them out of your inbox and have them returned after a specific amount of time or condition.
- If I have an email that I don’t need to take action on until next week, I’ll boomerang the message until next week. It will disappear from my Inbox, and then reappear (with a boomerang tag) next week.
- If I send an email to someone, I can have boomerang remind me of the email if the person has not replied within a set time period. It acts as an automated tickler file.
- I can schedule emails to be sent a later date.
Here’s an example of what Boomerang looks like in action, integrated with Gmail:
There are plenty of options for me to choose from, and I can create custom options as well. I typically use the “Tomorrow morning” and “In 1 week” options.
Boomerang also has a nice feature where it will suggest a time based on a date it finds it the email message. For example, if I received an email inviting me to a podcast and asking me to reply by a certain date, Boomerang will detect that date in the message and automatically provide a suggested time to Boomerang the message:
All of this works seamlessly from within Gmail. It is my key application for keeping my Inbox at or near zero.
4. Buffer (Social Media)
Buffer is a service that allows you to schedule your social media updates and send them out through multiple channels. I’ve been using Buffer for well over a year. It is my primary method for posting to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. It allows me to easily schedule posts throughout the day, so I can multitask. If I find an interesting link reading my news feeds early in the morning, I can Buffer the link so that it gets sent to all of my social media outlets later in the afternoon. I might be in a meeting or heads-down writing code, or something else, but because the posts has been scheduled ahead of time, I don’t need to take any action. Buffer does it all for me.buffer
Here’s an example of what my Buffer queue looks like this morning:
You can see the times the posts are scheduled for in the red boxes.
Buffer makes it easy for me to keep my social media updated, and to schedule things throughout the day so that I can focus on other work.
5. CrashPlan (Backups)
CrashPlan is a cloud-based backup system. It backs up all of our computers to the cloud and does so in real time so that once it is installed, we never have to think about it. There is no limit to the amount you can back up. We currently have over 500 GB of data backed up in the cloud.
The files can be restored from anywhere, and the restores are easy. I’ve used CrashPlan once to do a disaster recovery, where a disk died and I needed to restore everything. And I’ve used it countless times to restore a file here or there.
Mostly, CrashPlan, like insurance, gives a peace of mind that if my hard disk blows up, my data is secure.