As a web worker, you develop a special relationship with your computer. You name it, you talk to it, you spend more time curled up with your screen than you do your spouse. The applications you use on your computer can be either the biggest help or the biggest hinderance to your work.
I’ve been web working full time for two years now and while my installed application list has grown and shrank, this is my distilled recommendations list for a productive day working via the web. Each of these applications has weedled its way into my work day and made itself indispensable in surprising ways. Seasoned workers will find some familiar faces here–is there any list anymore that doesn’t recommend Evernote and Dropbox?–but there’s a few lesser known apps that I can guarantee are worth a look.
Writer, programmer, or blogger. Anyone who spends the majority of their day typing can benefit from a text-assist tool like TextExpander. My colleague, Jeffrey Way, has extolled its virtues for programming on NetTuts. I use it primarily for the large segments of text I find myself typing over and over in e-mails: explanations, briefings, FAQs and follow-ups. If there’s a possibility I’ll need to type it again, I save a copy to TextExpander, turning a three paragraph invoicing brief into a five letter keyword. Despite all the hats I wear, I rarely type my own signature — there’s “grsig” for GraphicRiver and “fswsig” for FreelanceSwitch and “mesig” for everything else. It may not seem like much, but over the course of time, just the signature shortcuts alone save me hours of typing.
Evernote is an easy application to recommend. I don’t even have to care what platform you’re using–Mac, PC, iPad, iPhone, Android…anything short of a stone tablet is bound to have an Evernote version for it. That’s part of the genius. While the actual note-taking interface is nothing special and less polished than some, Evernote’s “everywhere”ness is what makes it a irreplacable application in my workflow.
I have always kept receipts, recipes, and various web clippings in Evernote. This year I upped my game by getting the Fujitsu Scansnap scanner. The scanner comes with built in software that lets me scan, create a PDF and automatically send it to Evernote with one button. Evernote was great for web clippings before, but pared with the scanner, I can spend much more time working, less time fiddling with papers and file cabinets.
Price: Free, upgrade to premium for $5/month
Jing is TechSmith’s free alternative to its premium sister SnagIt (with premium features and premium price tag). While I miss SnagIt’s bells and whistles for image editing, Jing does an admirable job for the quick and painless screencaps or impromptu screencasts. Once you select your screen area, just choose to capture image and video. Once you’re all done, Jing helpfully copies the file to your clipboard so you’re ready to share anywhere, or use Jing’s own service to upload to the web. Jing also keeps track of any images or videos you’ve snipped so it’s easy to refer to them later.
Working on a Mac presents you with a plethora of very pretty application options, especially for chores like productivity and task-tracking. Strangely, the best task-tracking applications still do not offer cloud-sync or back-up. If you own a mobile device (or two) you’re still forced to manually connect using a wifi network.
That’s the opposite of the Evernote “everywhere”ness I talked about earlier, and I don’t quite understand why task trackers can’t get their act together on cloud syncing. Wunderlist is the closest, but it lacks a lot of the polish and features I was looking for. After much deliberation, I settled on FireTask. With a very slick, visual interface and plenty of ways to organize tasks by project, category, or date, it met all my beginner to moderate task management needs. You can easily schedule tasks with natural language (tomorrow or today or Friday are valid inputs), and tasks can even repeat or await additional input. Instead of cluttering up my Google Calendar, I schedule every task, big or small, work or personal, in FireTask and let it go.
It also has the option to politely text me each morning with an overview of how many tasks await me. This serves the dual purpose of keeping me organized and making me feel like a very important bigshot with a cyborg personal assistant. Always a plus.
FireTask gives the big names, Things and OmniFocus, a run for their money. I just hope they get their act together on syncing to the cloud.
Price: $45, free 15 day trial
The reason I love TweetDeck is the same reason why some others won’t–the ability to display massive amounts of information at once. If you just have a private Twitter feed, the ability to create six columns of pure Twitter updates is probably overkill and a little oppressive. However, in addition to my own Twitter account, I contribute to three different accounts for work: @envatopsd, @envatovectors, @freelancesw. That means I have no less than four streams of updates, mentions, and direct messages to keep up on! On most Twitter clients, that requires a lot of tab-clicking. On TweetDeck, however, I can see a spread of activity at once. I usually designate only the most important stuff to alert me through Growl. For the rest, I designate regular interval Twitter checks to peek in on activity, respond to anything interesting, and schedule a post or two.
Yes, it’s overwhelming, complicated, and screenhogging. That’s why I love it.
Reeder for the iPad was the first RSS application that made sense on the device. I fell in love with its muted aesthetics and the sensible interface. When they released a beta version for the Mac, I was thrilled to replace my old standby (NetNewsWire). Keep in mind that it’s still in beta, so it’s a bit bare bones and some much desired features still need to be added (I miss being able to manage Google Reader). Even in beta, Reeder is intuitive and makes catching up on your favorite sites a breeze.
Price: Free (in beta)
So that’s the starting line-up for my productivity. While I’ve worked before I found them, I much prefer the streamlined workflow they create. Let me know if there’s any gems I’ve missed!
Photo credit: smileham on Flickr