20 Life Hacks and Tools to Boost Productivity on Your Computer
Peter WaltersMay 02, 2013
With the flood of new technologies, websites, apps, news, work files, pictures, articles and the like, staying organized and focused is becoming progressively more difficult.
Luckily, there is a small group of people out there who get excited about making work faster, more efficient and organized. For me, It feels incredible having everything backed up, ordered and easily accessible when I need it. If you’re curious about lifehacking, and making your “computer life” more organized, read on. If you were hoping for news on the Biebs, check out TMZ.
I’m going to share with you the amazing tricks and tools I use to organize everything digital…but first you need to start by using Google Chrome. So let’s get started and begin streamlining your computer/cloud, browser and Gmail.
I love Gmail. It helps me tame my chaotic brain, and organize my daily work. I love having all my emails, calendars, and (many) documents all available through one service. My Gmail experience has been amplified tremendously by integrating the following tools into my regular workflow:
•ToutApp:A friend, and also the CEO of SendHub told me about ToutApp about six months ago. It has dramatically changed by email experience ever since. Do you get frustrated when someone doesn’t respond to your emails? Are you tired of writing the same responses to similar questions? Well, with ToutApp you can see whether (and when) someone has opened your email, downloaded an attachment or clicked on a link. This is best for people in sales and marketing, but can be helpful for anyone. ToutApp also allows you to write and send canned responses really easily. In ToutApp (on Gmail) I have folders with various email templates for sales, marketing, customer service and hiring/recruiting. Think about how much time this will save you! All those “Hi thanks for your interest in our company. I’d be happy to help, blah,blah” can now be answered in seconds with a simple dropdown menu and a couple clicks. This is the most beneficial Gmail tool out there.
•firstname.lastname) by typing it into the TO field of an email, and if their social profiles show up, you’ll know that you got the right person. Try this with some big CEOs or celebrities you’ve been itching to get an email out to.
•Inbox Pause: When you’re deep in a project, and email is becoming a distraction, Inbox Pause is a fantastic tool for staying on task. All it does is “Pause” the flood of incoming emails, and hides them in a little folder until you click “Unpause.” You can even setup an auto-response if you’re working on a project that will take a number of hours. This lets people know that, while you’re at the office and available if necessary, you won’t see/answer emails until a certain time. If focusing is tough for you, give this a try.
•Boomerang: Sometimes I think of ideas and write emails at strange times, but don’t want to necessarily send them to a partner, colleague or boss at 3 a.m. Boomerang lets you schedule messages to be sent at any time in the future. Additionally, if you’re an inbox-zero type like me, this lets you clear out messages that you’re not ready to deal with at the moment, and have them returned back to you at a future date. Often times I’ll get partnership requests, or invites to events from friends that may be a month in advance. Boomerang let’s me shoot them away until a date closer to the event when I want to be reminded.
•Powerbot- Evernote Integration: I recently jumped on the Evernote bandwagon, and finally stopped bookmarking everything. Powerbot nicely links Evernote with my Gmail so I can download and “file” emails/chains, and attachments directly from my Gmail window. It’s a simple tool that pairs well with Evernote Web Clipper for Chrome.
If you’re not using Google Chrome yet…why? Chrome is fast, efficient, and helps you better organize all the websites you frequent into easily accessible folders that live right below the search bar. Because of the heavy integration with Google, you can just type your Google search directly into the search bar (where in other browsers you need to type a URL). Additionally, Chrome enables you to use many of the aforementioned Extensions to power your Gmail/Google Apps, and generally makes browsing the Internet more effective, “savable” and organized in a way that will always suit your needs. Finally, your settings, layout, bookmarks and folders are all preserved and available on any computer (or cellphone/tablet) with the Chrome browser. All you need to do is sign in to your account and everything is back! Here are my favorite Chrome extensions, all of which are searchable in the Chrome Store (some of these are connected to Gmail as well):
•AdBlock/Adblock Plus: If you hate seeing advertisements, enable one or both of these extensions for a little peace of mind.
•Clearly: Clearly makes blog posts, articles and webpages clean and easy to read. You can also save them to Evernote to read anywhere!
•Dashlane: A fantastic tool for saving/generating passwords, credit card information and website logins so you don’t need to remember the various ones you create around the web.
•Economist Radio: Love the Economist but don’t have the time to read the entire magazine? This extension is great for listening to stories while you work, and lives at the top right of your browser.
•Facebook Disconnect: Simply stops Facebook from tracking the webpages you visit.
•Grammarly Lite: Prevent spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes when you write emails and post to social media–a great tool for the grammatically challenged.,#.,.
•HelloSign for Gmail: This extension lets you sign, date and add text to attached documents that are sent to you. No longer do you need to print, sign, scan then reattach a document. Now all you need to do is click ‘Sign’ and add any relevant information and send it right back in a flash.
•KeyRocket for Gmail: This is the best way to learn keyboard shortcuts while you work in Gmail. The tips are helpful and noninvasive.
File Organization/Computer Navigation
The goal for organizing your computer should be to have anything you need searchable and accessible in as few clicks as possible. Through my research (i.e reading too many articles on LifeHacker), I have created a system (combined with some powerful tools) to access anything I need on my computer or on the web, without even having to touch the mouse. Here are the tools I use for navigating, organizing and accessing all my digital information:
•Alfred: Mac users: Stop using Spotlight right now. Alfred is a very simple, yet crazy powerful search tool for your computer that also can search the web. I simply hit ALT(Option), SPACE and a search bar comes up. Here I can find documents or folders on my computer, define words, use a calculator, or use shortcuts for accessing web pages or programs on my computer.
•Better Touch Tool: A simple, yet useful application for resizing windows. Just drag any window around your screen to access various sizes (half screen, quarter, square, full, etc). This is great for researching someone on one side of your screen, while writing a document on the other.
•Evernote: I recently started using Evernote again after a few failed attempts over the last few years. The trick that I learned, and what many people miss, is the fact that Evernote becomes most powerful the more you use it. Store pictures, downloads, quotes, articles, business ideas, receipts, recipes–anything and everything! Now instead of just bookmarking an article, I “clip” it into Evernote, tag it with various words so I can search it easily, and add it to a folder where I can access it from my computer or phone anytime, even without an internet connection. Evernote is a total game changer for all you obsessive collectors and organizers.
Organizing Your Cloud
If you haven’t noticed already, cloud computing and storage is taking over. Now more than ever, storing music, pictures and documents on your computer is unnecessary. Google Drive, DropBox, Box.net (among others) are all useful tools for backups, storage, collaborative writing/editing and project management.
A few months ago, I finally got fed up with having to choose between these services, since inevitably, there are pros and cons to each. Now however, I use them all. Using CloudHQ, my Dropbox, Google Drive and Box.net all sync bi-directionally, continuously and in such a way that everything is available everywhere and without duplicates. Redundant? Perhaps. Helpful, sharable and easy to make updates across platforms? You bet!
One last magical tool that was clearly created by Professor Dumbledore (though perhaps with the help of a logician ): IFTTT. It stands for “If This, Then That” and is often used in coding, symbolic logic, law, mathematics and other forms of argument to elucidate logical followings. If P happens, then Q happens. The site lets you create automatic triggers for various things to happen across platforms. For example, IF I upload a picture to Instagram, THEN save/import it to Dropbox. IFTTT works with countless online services so you can automate an almost infinite number of triggers to help you stay organized and up to date. There are a huge number of triggers that others have created, or you can just make your own. A few of my favorites:
•If you ‘like’ an article on Facebook, then save it to Evernote (or Box, Dropbox, your desktop, etc).
•If the forecast calls for rain today, then text me at 7am with a reminder to wear a raincoat.
•If a new apartment pops up on Craigslist with XYZ criteria, then email me.
•If I favorite a Tweet, then save it to a folder called Tweets on Dropbox.
And that’s it! While you may already use a few of these programs and services, I believe that (right now at least) combined, these tools make my digital life more secure, assessable and coordinated. I could lose my computer tomorrow and rest assured that nothing of mine (lest the computer) was lost.
Oh yes, and my absolute favorite web service is Asana…but that’s a topic for an entire article.
Enjoy, and eat Two Degrees bars!
Peter Walters is the Director of Business Development & Partnerships at Two Degrees Food. He is a freelance writer and covers topics such as social enterprise, life hacks and ideas that aim to change the world.