My 15 Tools To Boost Productivity

It is essential to gain good practices to settle down the appropriate foundations for productivity. It is even smarter to develop habits and routines to streamline productivity. It is also of a greater benefit to using appropriate tools to master these core skills.

I continuously screen the market offering and test various products. Creativity in this application domain is rather fertile. I have built up over time a set of key apps and web services I commonly use to organize my activities and boost my daily productivity.

 

Note taking – Writing

 

Evernote « The Swiss knife for life hackers »

Evernote logoFirst in my list, first in use, Evernote is a versatile note-taking tool. It’s even more than that because not only it handles texts but images, photos from the embedded camera of your favorite device, (business) cards and audio captures. Just imagine that all those object types can be mixed in a single note and you get a flavor of the power of Evernote.
I’m not up to the point to store all my life into Evernote as many aficionados do but I largely use it as a notepad, a repository for information, articles, contents I collect from various sources.

I make extensive use of its web clipper features and document captures with the camera to grab portions of texts from magazines, books and so on.
I use the audio capture feature to record ideas or reminders on the fly for further use when I’m back in front of a computer.
I praise its powerful search capabilities inside texts and pictures. Indeed, a native OCR feature allows text search right in an image right after capture.
Hybrid notes are stored into notebooks and can be tagged for better search coverage or a transverse categorization across thematic notebooks. I often share notes and notebooks with my wife granting her privileges to read-only and or create new notes in the shared notebook. This is, for instance, the way we use Evernote to prepare and document our holidays.

It is my primary tool for note taking and writing blog posts, at least the drafts I will then put in the form in WordPress or in other websites I maintain. I would just underline that the word checker would deserve a better efficiency. It’s important to me as I am not a native English speaker. I’m very careful with my writing.

A key capability to me is its multi-platform deployment which makes it a handy tool on the go with all your content synchronized in all your devices over the cloud. You have a client for nearly all systems (Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, Windows Phone) and a web client if you are not on your personal computer. It should be pointed out that as reported in forum, users have their personal preference for a native or the web-based client because both come with a slightly different layout and thus the user experience. It’s up to you to set your preferences.

Evernote is so popular and praised by the community that many tier-editors made use of the open APIs to develop their own applications interfacing to Evernote to propose additional features or services.

If you don’t already know Evernote and have felt the power of Evernote with this article, I invite you to hang around in Google+ Evernote community or have a glance at the Evernote blog to further discover the numerous capabilities of this Swiss knife.

 

 Scrivener

 

scrivener-logoScrivener is The tool for writers, I mean true writers expressing their writing skills in novels or any kind of substantial texts. Testimonies largely relay this idea. Much more than a text editor or a word processor, it’s a complete all-in-one writing environment helping you in your writing organization and book elaboration.
I more modestly use Scrivener for a personal Journal I write for my son, nothing to do with my blogging activity. I don’t mix tools for blog articles and my journal. It is a different approach and purpose. Nevertheless, I have read in blogs and forum that some people also use Scrivener for blog posts. Why not? I think its capabilities and power are based on other usages.

Yet another great app with versions for Windows and Mac OS X. No client however for iOS and Android tablets.

 

 Textilus

 

Textilus logoTextilus is the natural companion to Scrivener to extend the user experience when we are on the go. It’s a simple but features rich text editor able to synchronize with all writing tools saving documents in Dropbox, Google Drive and Box.com.

It handles RTF files as Scrivener does. Only implemented in iOS with an iPad version, Textilus allows you to keep writing and editing files when you are not in front of your main writing station.

 

Evernote companion tools

 

Not mandatory to use Evernote but useful complementary tools. I also use:

 

 SwiftKey Note

 

SwiftKey-logoSwiftKey Note is a standalone text editor essentially on iOS devices with predictive typing capabilities. It is able to watch your writing habits and update its internal dictionary to words and expressions you often use.

In my opinion, SwiftKey Note is useful only if combined with Evernote with which it is well integrated.

I prepare my article drafts when I only have my iPad with me. The predictive typing speeds up the writing process and makes the first correction.

 

 Penultimate

 

Penultimate LogoI have been using handwriting notebooks on iPad for a long time before I really started my power use of Evernote. At that time I was well versed into Noteshelf and Notability on iPad. Since Evernote took over Penultimate, I tend to focus on this tool for iPad. I am fond of this kind of handwriting notebooks for meeting minutes and blog functional or technical specifications.
The output notes are then stored in an Evernote notebook and as already mentioned above, the Evernote OCR  capability allows text search inside a handwritten note if it is able to read your writing, of course.

 

 Skitch 


Skitch-logoSkitch
is another great Evernote tool for annotating any type of images or document captures (web clips, images, PDF). It is also ported on Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android). Integration into Evernote notes is seamless. A great companion if, like me, you think that a good graphical view is worth a thousand words.

 

Cloud-based content repository

 Google Drive

 

Google DriveGoogle Drive is a hybrid cloud-based repository and a comprehensive editing solution. It has a pivotal position in the Google online suite in providing content to online services. The drive is not a niche productivity tool but definitely enable productivity when linked to third-party apps and Google services. It is an essential piece in my toolset due to its multi-platform coverage with web and fat clients for all systems.

 

Calendars

 Google Agenda

 

Logo-Google-AgendaAny productivity insider ought to use a calendar. Although not sufficient, the calendar is an essential means for personal organization and time management.

As an extensive user of the Google online ecosystem, I use Google Agenda for my personal time organization. I combined it with  Microsoft Outlook at work. Both integrate seamlessly thanks to ICS calendar format integration and ability to share calendars.

 

To-do lists

 Wunderlist

 

Wunderlist logoWunderlist is an outstanding to-do list manager with appealing features we more or less find with competitors but not in such a lean and seamless interface: lists and tasks, task descriptions, reminders, notifications by email or popups, tagging with hashtags, etc.

I use it for all my GTD-related lists, both professionals and personals, and for specific checklists (backpack checklist for mountaineering, holiday preparation, professional travel preparation, etc.). I underline its handy printer-friendly output to tick checklist items while packing for holidays for instance.

It is my main to-do list tool.  This choice was also driven by its cross-platform deployment: Windows and Mac OS X native clients, web-based client, iOS and Android apps. His Google extension version is handy for access to your to-do lists from everywhere. A unique repository always synchronized on all devices. It is exactly what I need at home, at work, and on the go. Wunderlist for to-do lists and Evernote for notes and information repository are the two apps I use all day long and for which I need a full availability whatever the device.

I would just highlight that although harmonized across platforms, the app look and feel would deserve a more up-to-date flat design. It’s time to evolve for better user experience!

 

 Any.do

 

AnyDo logo

 Any.do is a lean flat-design little to-do list app deployed on almost all existing platforms. As of the date of this article, Any. Do just went web-based. Despite its few remaining bugs, it was a long-lasting expectation.

It is perfect for daily to-dos. I use it essentially on my mobile or as a Google Chrome extension to have all important daily reminders at your fingertips.

I discriminate between daily tasks and more long term, GTD-related or project tasks I maintain with Wunderlist.

 

Project management

Trello

 

Trello logo

Trello is an outstanding tool when you have to deal with project activities rather than single tasks you would usually manage with a to-do list.

Not only you have an overall view on your task lists but you can also keep track of your work in progress. I use Trello for agile projects follow-ups in a kind of Scrum approach with three lists of tasks; To be doneOngoing and Closed. The tasks in the lists are called cards. They are supposed to progress from the list to list until completion.

The application layout is lean and efficient. It relies on a dashboard view and a few graphical artifacts and color conventions fostering the work organization and follow-up. Although I use it alone most of the time, the app has provision for team collaboration.

Yet another great multi-platform app with a web-based client and specific clients for iOS, Android and Windows 8 devices.

 

Workflowy

 

Workflowy-logoI had already adopted Trello for my Hall of Fame apps when I stumbled upon Workflowy. Totally amazed and convinced by its flexibility and usefulness I keep using it despite its redundancies with Trello. I cannot just get rid of it.
Workflowy sublimates your list management with simple shortcuts for task organization through indentation, for creating quick display view per topic, for search purposes with hashtags.
With a minimalist Leo-Babauta-like interface and smart design, rendering only texts, it is a powerful tool to quickly brainstorm and lay down ideas, test any content structure in terms of sections and paragraphs, plan and organize events. It is basically an advanced to-do list manager.
I keep using it on the go from time to time when I need to quickly draft some ideas or activities organizations. It does not bring any new features we don’t have already with Evernote and Trello but the note-taking process is so quick and efficient that I am still sticking to it.
Yet another great multi-platform app with a web-based client and a version for iOS devices.

 

Microsoft Project

 

logo_ms_projectWhen I need to tackle my activities and project timelines I mainly use Microsoft Project. Not very genuine you would tell me. You are right but it comes from my long term professional experience and developed habits. The learning curve may be discouraging if you start from scratch but once you have understood the underlined time scheduling principles and got a fair flavor of its features it happens to be a valuable companion to plan projects and to simulate scheduling scenarios.

 

Sketching – Mind Mapping

Freemind

 

Freemind logoFreemind is my main mind mapping app. Many competitors exist out there but I keep using this light tool because it provides me with all the important features I need and I expect from a mind mapper. It might seem an old-school product for mind mapping experts but do not be misled by its interface. I admit though that its interface could be fancier. I praise its flexibility and simplicity of use.
Because I use mind mapping in many situations where I need to brainstorm, outline ideas or prepare graphical views, I first look for (again) for a multi-platform solution. As often for open source solutions, Freemind has had versions for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and covers several import/export file formats.

 

Paper 53

 

Paper53-logoPaper 53 is a popular and versatile WYSIWYG iOS sketchbook app. It’s a great lean app I love using for my illustrations, website designs, and interface mocking-ups. I acquired the additional tools through in-app purchases for enhanced user experience. As a matter of fact, all the family adopted it as a drawing pad.

 

Alternative apps worth a glance

If you want to investigate further solutions for the above-listed usages, I also recommend considering the subset below. These are all tools I have already used or thoroughly tested:

  • Microsoft OneNote The serious Evernote competitor.
  • Ulysses III: Direct competitor of Scrivener (in my humble opinion) but for Mac OS X only.
  • Asana: Massively collaborative task manager. Great product but not the best to-do list app if you are not involved in team works.
  • Notability and Noteshelf: Outstanding handwriting notepads for iPad with exportation provision for many file repositories and Evernote.
  • Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive: Serious alternatives to Google Drive if you look for a cloud-based content repository.
  • Microsoft Outlook: The direct competitor to Google Agenda.
  • XMind and Mindjet Maps: Long term references in mind mapping.
  • MindMeister: A rich web-based mind mapping tool syncing over the cloud and currently on a dynamic evolution trend.
  • LucidChart: General purpose diagram web-based tool also syncing over the cloud and with good integration with the Google online suite.