There’s nothing like getting ready to start a new year and making sure that all of your ducks are in a row, especially when it comes to the technology tools that you are going to use. We are strong believers here at Lifehack of trying not to follow the “shiny new thing” and stick with tools that we can learn and trust over the long term. Most of the tools that I am recommending for the new year have been around for a while, but it just shows that they are tried and true, and if you haven’t made the switch or started using them in some fashion, then maybe the beginning of the new year is time to do it.
Productivity apps you need
There are several productivity apps that you should have ready to go for the coming year. We highly recommend picking a set of tools and sticking to them, but at the bare minimum you will need a way to track projects and create and edit documents (presentations and spreadsheets too), and keep track of notes and information.
For project and action managers, we can’t recommend Toodledo, Remember The Milk, OmniFocus, or Asana enough. OmniFocus is the only one that is Mac only (but probably the best on the Mac) while the other are web based and have access via your mobile device (iPhone and Android apps).
For editing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations you don’t have to go much further than using Google Docs. Google’s awesome set of online tools coupled with about 8GB of free storage is definitely enough to get a lot of your work done, not to mention collaborate with others. If you are in the camp of wanting to create documents locally, then you may want to hunker down and buy a license for Microsoft Office (either for Windows or Mac or both). Yet, if you aren’t willing to pay the hefty fee for Office, then try out OpenOffice.org (for all platforms).
For taking notes we recommend Evernote. Seriously, if you aren’t using this cross-platform tool for taking notes and storing snippets of information with its suite of apps, then you need to stop reading, get an account now, and start making your life easier by using it. If you are a plain-text-lover (like me and Mike), you can augment Evernote with the use of a ton of plain text apps like:
- ByWord (Mac)
- WriteMonkey (Windows)
- Notepad++ (Windows)
- Notesy (iOS)
- Nebulous Notes (iOS)
- Simplenote (all platforms)
- Epistle (Android)
- Notational Velocity or nvALT (Mac)
Oh, and start using Markdown.
I told a co-worker who has been working in the insurance field for 20+ years that I was going paperless this year. He reluctantly reminded me that he has heard that one since the 80s. But, I am going to make a concerted effort to get as close as possible to paperless, but not without the proper tools.
A good paper scanner is important to keep all of your paper out of cabinets and into a digital system. I have to recommend either the ScanSnap S1500 or on the less feature-rich and price side the portable ScanSnap S1300. Both are sheet-fed and duplex scanners that definitely are reliable and get the job done. You could also give a try to the newer Doxie or Doxie Go that offers non-duplex scanning but in a tiny, portable package. The prices for the Doxie is definitely nice starting at $149.99.
After you get a good scanner you will need a way to store all of your documents. Our preference is using an Evernote account (possibly updating to Evernote Premium) and using Evernote’s great OCR search, tagging, and sorting capabilities to keep everything organized. Also, if you aren’t comfortable with storing everything in the cloud you could role your own system or use tools such as Microsoft OneNote or DEVONthink for Mac.
Store and backup
Dropbox is another app that is so important and useful that if you don’t have it in your arsenal of tools then you need to drop everything and go get an account (kind of like Evernote above). Dropbox has been moved from “just an awesome app that I love to use” to an app that is essential for my work. I keep all my important files in Dropbox, share documents with co-workers, upload/offload pictures and video, share TextExpander snippets, use it for storage for apps like 1Password and others. It’s my portable, digital file system.
Also, if you aren’t backing up your computer regularly then you are somewhat insane. It’s part of a knowledge worker’s responsibility to keep her data intact and there is no better way I have found this year than doing so with services like Carbonite, Mozy, or even something like SuperDuper! for Mac that makes a clone of your bootable drive so you don’t lose anything important.
Using iron clad technology tools for the new year is the only way to ensure that you are ready to be and stay productive. While there may be new tools and technologies that come and go, we feel that the apps, services, and products recommended above are here for the long term. Learning to utilize a strong set of tools that are reliable will not only help you into 2012, but may last many years down the road.
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