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10 More from the Webware 100

10 More from the Webware 100

10 More from the Webware 100

    Last week, I looked at the apps chosen by CNet for the productivity section of the Webware 100. There were, however, 10 other sections – 9 categories of apps voted for as top in their class and an extra categories of apps chosen by the editors at CNet. This week, I want to look at a selection of applications from the rest of the Webware 100, with an eye towards their use to increase or improve personal productivity.

    Some of the categories aren’t very productivity-oriented, like the music and audio section – I love Pandora and Amazon MP3, but I can’t say they help with my productivity in anything but the most indirect way (by giving me music to listen to while I’m working). The browsing category is particularly useless – picking the 10 best apps for web browsing is a bit like picking your ten best fingers. But scattered throughout the list there were some interesting apps, worth taking a look at.

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    1. Digsby/Pidgin

    Both Digsby and Pidgin are multi-protocol IM clients, meaning you can use them to connect simultaneously to a variety of instant-messaging networks: AOL, Yahoo, MSN, Google Chat, and others. I use DIgsby, which is highly customizable with various skins, which allows me to chat in a very clean, clear, and large-fonted format that’s easy on my aging eyes. Digsby offers integration with Facebook’s chat system, which is nice – the built-in client on Facebook tends to crash on me a lot. It can also pick up your Twitter account, but I find that much too annoying and difficult to work with in Digsby, and leave Twitter duties to dedicated clients. (Interesting that there were no Twitter clients in the Webware 100…)

    2. Skype

    I certainly don’t need to sing the praises of Skype – the VoIP service is already beloved by many. I pay about $40 a year for a SkypeIn number, unlimited US SkypeOut calling, and voicemail, and use it as my business phone. A cheap handset attached to my desktop makes it very phone-like to respond to calls; for interviews for articles I’m working on I use a $30 Logitech headset and either CallGraph or Skype Call Recorder to record the calls to MP3 (always ask permission when using call recording software!). I also use PamFax to send faxes for a small fee (which can be taken from my Skype credit).

    3. Gmail

    Like Skype, the glories of Gmail are widely known. What makes Gmail more than just another email service are the various “extras” Google has added to the service, both directly and as options available through labs. Some of my favorites:

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    • Canned responses for saving snippets of text (up to whole emails) to reuse in future messages;
    • Tasks which also integrates with Google’s Calendar, allowing you to place dated tasks directly onto your calendar;
    • IMAP access which means I can check my email from wherever, online or through a client, and not worry about things I’ve read showing up as “unread” when I download my email on a different computer;
    • Google Docs and Google Calendar integration allows me to view my calendar and recent Google Docs from Gmail;
    • Google Chat pop-ups directly in the Gmail interface.

    4. Dropbox

    Dropbox is a file syncing service that has one feature that sets it apart from similar services: shared folders. You can set up a folder on your desktop that is “mirrored” on another desktop – say, a client’s or collaborator’s. Then, whenever you want to share a file to them, you just drag it into the folder, and it’s uploaded to their computer (or held until the next time they’re online). So far, I’ve only used this for work, but I think I’m going to set up two folders on my parent’s computers. The first one will be on their desktops, and I’ll use it to send them family photos and other files (since the whole concept of “email attachment” seems so confusing to them). The second will be deep inside the folder structure, which I’ll use for backing up my own files – since all they do is web browse and read email, they never come even close to using up the 160 or 320 GB of space on their hard drives, making it a perfect site for my off-site backup.

    5. Drop.io

    Drop.io offers an easy way to share large files – with no sign-in or registration necessary. Of course, you can create private, password-protected repositories, but you can also just upload a file and send people the drop.io/whatever URL. You can upload up to 100MB for free, and photos, videos, and audio get converted so they can be viewed or listened to online.

    6. Aviary/Picnik

    Aviary and Picnik are, believe it or not, high-quality online graphics editor. Aviary is the more complex of the two, offering full-featured vector and raster creation and editing, spread over 4 sub-apps. Picnik is more of a touch-up app, allowing you to sharpen, adjust colors, resize, and do other photo editing tasks. Online image editing is a bit of a solution in search of a problem – local apps like Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, or even IrfanView are more powerful and work faster, but folks with netbooks, especially those with small flash-based drives, will appreciate the ability to work on an image now and again without having to install software or wait for their slower processors to apply unsharp mask..

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    7. Evernote

    Evernote keeps getting better and better. The basic idea is you can make notes in various ways – type directly, clip form the web or other documents, take a picture, record a voice note – and the program keeps it organized. Evernote also syncs to an online repository (subject to transfer limits) and to any other computer you install the client on. Apps for mobiles like iPhones and, just released, Blackberry allow you to create and send notes in a variety of formats from your smartphone (unfortunately, neither iPhones nor Blackberries have good enough cameras for up-close shots of text like business cards – try putting a magnifying glass or card over the lens for close-up shots). My favorite recently-discovered feature is the ability to store and index PDF files, of which I have hundreds (academic articles downloaded for various research projects). Since I have a free account, I don’t sync these online – they’d quickly use up my monthly transfer allotment.

    8. Google Voice

    Only available to former Grand Central users, Google Voice offers powerful call forwarding and voicemail services. Basically, you get a single number that you can have forwarded to any or all of your phones – and you can set up rules to decide what gets transferred where. Voicemails can be forwarded as audio files to your email, or you can read – yeah, “read”, since they do so-so voice transcription on your messages – them online in a very Gmail-like interface. Got a troublesome caller, maybe from an autodialer system? Mark it as spam and block it, just like email! You can also make low-cost international calls, but a) I don’t have any to make, and b) the process is a bit complex, so I’ve never tried this.

    9. Windows Live Sync

    You’d be forgiven for mistaking Windows Live Sync with Windows Live Mesh – both synchronize files placed into a designated folder over the Internet, and both are free. Oh, and then there’s Windows Skydrive, which doesn’t sync but, like Mesh, offers online file storage. Apparently, all these services will one day be a single service, probably called Windows Live Skymesh Sync (or, more typically Microsoft, Windows Live File Storage and Online File Synchronization for Windows, Premium Professional Version 2010). Whatever it’s called, the technologies involved are pretty slick – I use Mesh to backup my netbook, storing all my documents in a folder that’s synched to my “regular” computer’s desktop (and from there saved to an external hard drive and, through Mesh, to the Web).

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    10. Twitter Search

    THe only Twitter-related choice in the list, this once gave me heartburn at first – I mean, really? But after a little thought, it seems a more fruitful choice. Twitter Search is what transforms the screaming multitudes on Twitter into a resource – a cross between a social network, news feed, and trend tracker. It’s real-time, which means you get what’s going on right now, and several Twitter clients incorporate it into their interfaces. I keep a couple of Twitter searches in columns in Tweetdeck – one that catches sites, tips, and jobs for writers, another that lets me know when people are talking about Lifehack, and a couple of “topic of the moment” searches for whatever I’m interested in on any given day.

    Well, that’s my take on the Webware 100. A lot of the apps chosen were, to be perfectly honest, a bit… well, boring. Maybe that’s what happens when web applications stop looking like the future and start being the present? In any case, I feel like there’s more interesting stuff going on out there – maybe you’ve got a favorite web application or service that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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