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11 “Change Your Life” Productivity Apps & How to Use The

11 “Change Your Life” Productivity Apps & How to Use The Brad Berens
[Cross-posted with my personal blog.]

Over the last year or two I've been tweaking the suite of applications and services I use to keep my head above water-- here are my 11 "Change Your Life" apps and how I use them. Please tell me about new ones in the comments.

In alphabetical order...

Cozi: A shared family calendar that divvies up activities by family member, so if my wife and son are doing something it's easy to see. This is my least favorite of my daily productivity apps because it's hard to use and the UI is cluttered (the iPhone app is just icky) and it has zero interoperability with other calendars, but it's in the cloud, easy for either me or my wife to update and keeps the different strands of family activity separate and overlapping. The ads are intrusive on the free version, but I'm OK with that as it keeps them in business. Wayne Yamamoto, the CEO of Charity Blossom, recently quipped to me that calendaring technology is the hardest problem in computer science, and I think he's right.

Dropbox: Drop dead simple file sharing across my two computers, iPhone, iPad and the web. I saved the .txt document I used to write this post onto Dropbox automatically. It's also fantastic for sharing big files, so you don't have to cripple your correspondent's email with that 1.3GB video. However, Dropbox faces a tough challenger in the upcoming Google Drive.

Evernote: One of the two "you can take my left leg but spare me THIS" productivity services. Evernote isn't an app, it's a movement. It's my prosthetic memory, storing brainstorms, receipts, flight and car rental reservations, PDFs, articles, account information… all sorted and tagged and searchable. The free version is enough for most people, but I happily pay $45 per year for premium because that lets me keep full copies of all my notes on all my devices-- rather than just one copy on one device and the rest in the cloud. When you're on as many planes as I am, this is just necessary. I haven't begun to scratch the surface of Evernote's capabilities. Guy Kawasaki is a much better apostle for Evernote, so go run "evernote guy kawasaki" through your favorite search engine to see his helpful posts on this.

Follow Up Then: Such a simple and helpful idea. When you need a reminder as you're sending an email, simple BCC this service with when you want the reminder and it will send you a message at that time. So if I ask a colleague to make a decision on something by Tuesday, I'll BCC "[email protected]" and at that same time on Tuesday I'll get a message back. You can also use 11amtuesday, or 1week or 1month, et cetera. The premium service is $14 per year and lets you check all your pending followups, but most folks won't need it. From my friend Adam Boettiger .

Google Docs: Second of the two "you can take my left leg but spare me THIS" productivity services. Google gets collaboration better than anybody. Their simple, easy and clear cloud-based spreadsheet got me back 50% of an employees time five years ago, and the ever-better integration with Gmail and Google+ make this a killer.

Google Voice: I've been using this since it was Grand Central, which Google acquired. Call me and all the phones I'm associated with ring (home, cell, work) and I can pick up the one want. Missed calls get transcribed and emailed to me, domestic calls that I make are free, international calls are cheap, I can TXT from the computer and receive TXTs, and a virtual concierge announces calls when I pick up the phone so I can screen easily. Another benefit is that if I have multiple cell phones I don't have to think about which one to carry because all calls get routed through one number.

Instapaper: A Niagra of information and links come at me every day via email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ (we might think of those as un-productivity apps) and general surfing. Often I don't have time to dive into something right then and there, but Instapaper's handy "Read Later" button on the browser toolbar saves the article, makes it easier to read, and queues it up for later absorption. If you ever see me squinting at the iPad while on the elliptical machine, I'm probably look at Instapaper. Smart phone and Tablet apps are must buys.

Smartr: I'm still not sure why Xobni rebranded (if partially) as Smartr, but it's a plugin for Outlook or Gmail that scrapes your correspondence, tracks when you've last communicated with somebody and cross-matches that against Facebook and LinkedIn. In another post I'll outline how I moved 13GB of email into the cloud and how I check it many times per day in order to remind myself of conversational context. Smartr is a service that sits on top of that process. No Microsoft Exchange server can withstand the amount of email I sift through, so this was my workaround.

Toodle Do: The latest addition to my daily web services was introduced to me separately by Kevin Doohan and Adam Broitman. Don't let the stupid name fool you, this is a robust to do lists service with easy filtering, sorting and prioritization. The free service is probably enough for most users, but don't Scrooge out and neglect to buy the smart phone and tablet apps: that's $5.98 that will accelerate your use and organization. Previously, I tried running my To Do lists via Evernote, but much as I adore and can't live without Evernote, it's too big a tool for this precise and urgent job. Fans of GTD will love this. The iGoogle gadget was distracting, so I removed it. But iGoogle is going away anyway...

Trello: Another from my friend Adam Boettiger introduced me to this one: it's a digital index card bulletin of tasks, who is doing them and how close something is to done. Trello is perfect for a shared set of tasks or when you're closely tracking somebody else's work. I think of it as a light form of project management, since it lacks the necessary history functions (who did that and when?) of a true deliverables matrix. Trello lets my part time assistant and me manage each other in an easy to absorb and prioritize shared space. The iPhone app is handy, if a little squished.

And finally...

Moleskine Volant Mini: Not all productivity apps are digital. I have one of these cute little notebooks in my pocket at all times. It's rude and distracting to whip out a smartphone, tablet or computer to take a note when I'm meeting with somebody (after all, I could be looking at Facebook), and despite my inhumanly fast typing speed on a conventional keyboard my thick fingers make tapping on a virtual keyboard a slow process. Old fashioned paper and a nice pen help me to capture ideas and convey the truth about what I'm doing: engaging with what the person I'm with is saying. The detachable sheets at the back also make it easy to write something down for a person and then hand it over. Available in a lot of bookstores, art supply stores and online.

So what killer productivity apps have I missed? Please leave comments!

A trusted advisor to companies of all sizes and a respected voice within the interactive media industry, Dr. Brad Berens has enjoyed a wide-ranging career that features storytelling as an organizing theme. These days, he divides his time among...

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