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Getting Productive with the Webware 100

Getting Productive with the Webware 100

Getting Productive with the Webware 100

    CNet’s Webware 100 singles out 100 web-based applications for excellence in 10 categories. Unlike some other awards which recognize new services, the  Webware 100 are selected as “best-of-breed” from among all the applications currently available.

    The upshot is, there’s some pretty good apps on the list! Here, then, are my thoughts on the 10 selected in the “Productivity” category; in a future post I’ll look through some of the selections from the other 9 categories (Audio and Music, Browsing, Commerce, Communication, Infrastructure and Storage, Location-based Services, Photo and Video, Search and Reference, and Social and Publishing).

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    FreshBooks

    FreshBooks  is my new invoicing and bookkeeping app, as I’ve described recently at FreelanceSwitch. Like several other apps, FreshBooks offers the ability to create and send nicely-formatted invoices (including, for a small fee, by US mail), track payments, monitor expenses, and keep track of cash flow. Aimed at freelancers and small businesses, FreshBooks is affordable and simple to use. What sets it apart from similar web-based and desktop-based apps is its integration with other services, such as Outright (which helps determine your quarterly estimated tax payments).

    Google Calendar

    When I started using more than one computer on a regular basis, I discovered the difficulty in keeping an Outlook calendar accessible across several machines. That is, after all, what Outlook Exchange is for – but of course Exchange is incredible overkill for managing a single calendar. Enter Google Calendar. With it’s fairly good natural language parsing (which allows appointments to be entered by writing “Lunch with Bob Smith tomorrow at Joe’s Diner”) and integration with other services (like to-do lists Toodledo and Remember the Milk) as well as easy importation of iCal calendars from other sources, Google Calendar fits the bill very nicely. And with the new Google Sync software, I can easily and automatically sync my Blackberry’s calendar to Google, so I always have an up-to-date calendar with me. For simple task management, Google recently announced that the Tasks previously available in Gmail would now be accessible in Google Calendar, which is a nice touch if your to-do list needs are fairly basic.

    Google Docs

    Although I’m a big fan of Adobe’s Buzzword for online word processing, I tend to use Google Docs a lot more. Partially that’s because it was recently integrated into Gmail, which means I can save attachments directly from an email into my Google Docs storage, but I also appreciate the ability to use styles in Google Docs that convert into Word styles when I export my files to my own computer. I don’t use the spreadsheets or presentations nearly as much – only because I don’t use any spreadsheets or presentations that often. But I recommend them quite a bit – they’re pretty easy to use, and the spreadsheets allow you to integrate dynamic data from Google searches, which is pretty neat.

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    Intuit QuickBase

    Quickbase is a little out of my league, I admit. An enterprise-ready database, it can be applied to literally hundreds of tasks, from CRM, project management, payroll tracking, and just about anything else you’d build a database to handle. As an enterprise-level application, it’s priced way out of the reach of an academic/blogger like myself.

    LogMeIn

    For a nomad like me, who might find himself sitting in front of a half-dozen different computers over the course of the day, LogMeIn’s free service level is a lifesaver. No matter where I’m at, I can get secure access to my home PC, which means I can check my email, pay bills, and do other online asks without entrusting my passwords or credit card numbers to a machine I don’t have any control over. I can also work on documents and other projects from wherever – I just leave them open on the desktop at home and log in to work throughout the day. Finally, I’ve installed LogMeIn clients on both my parent’s computers, allowing me to work on their computers remotely whenever they run into trouble.

    Microsoft Office Live Small Business

    Imagine you could set up a free website on a free domain with free email and free hosting and free file storage. Believe it or not, that’s exactly what Microsoft Office Live Small Business offers! I used this to set up a website for a local non-profit that had no funding yet – it fit the bill perfectly. While the service includes an online site builder, I was able to upload my own HTML files, too. What’s missing is a blogging and/or content management system, which means that when they say “small business”, they mean small – the service is really intended as a way to set up a brochure-type web presence suitable for local businesses.

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    Microsoft Office Live Workspace

    Office Live Workspace is a strange duck in the world of web apps – the free account allows you to store and share up to 5 GB of documents, but there’s no online editing. Instead, files open in and save from your locally-installed Office software: Word, PowerPoint, Excel. Great for small-scale collaboration where you can be sure everyone has the same software. You have to assume that this is a backend for a future version of Office that will be accessible through a browser, but so far, Microsoft’s been pretty mum.

    Mint

    I haven’t used Mint, but I keep planning to. Mint is a personal finance system that promises to end your personal bookkeeping woes. Enter all your bank, credit card, and other financial account numbers, and let Mint do it’s thing. The service automatically categorizes your expenses and keeps a running tally of how much you’re spending on what so you can see at a glance where your budget is hurting and where it’s strong. When Mint first came out, there was a lot of worry about entrusting your financial information to a website, but so far, there haven’t been any problems, so they seem to be doing the security thing right.

    Remember the Milk

    Remember the Milk is not my task manager, but it’s a close contender. I use Toodledo (and more recently have been using Nozbe), but would use Remember the Milk in a second. It’s fast, easy to use, and integrates with a number of other services including Gmail and Google Calendar. Reminders are sent by email, SMS, or IM, and you can easily share your task list with others if you are so inclined.

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    Zoho

    Zoho’s online office suite is arguable much better than Google Docs. The word processor, spreadsheet, and other office productivity apps are nearly indistinguishable from their desktop counterparts and offer features Google Docs hasn’t even thought of yet. Plus, Zoho offers CRM, project management, and invoicing software, making it an effective set of tools for a freelancer or small business (where its collaboration abilities really come in handy, too). They also offer an incredible database application, which Google Docs has no response to.

    Are you using any of these services? What have your experiences been? Would you replace anything on the list?

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    Last Updated on November 5, 2019

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

    “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

    But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

    Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

    1. Always Have a Book

    It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

    Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

    2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

    We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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    Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

    3. Get More Intellectual Friends

    Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

    Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

    4. Guided Thinking

    Albert Einstein once said,

    “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

    Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

    5. Put it Into Practice

    Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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    If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

    In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

    6. Teach Others

    You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

    Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

    7. Clean Your Input

    Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

    I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

    Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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    8. Learn in Groups

    Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

    Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

    9. Unlearn Assumptions

    You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

    Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

    Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

    10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

    Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

    Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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    11. Start a Project

    Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

    If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

    12. Follow Your Intuition

    Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

    Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

    13. The Morning Fifteen

    Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

    If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

    14. Reap the Rewards

    Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

    15. Make Learning a Priority

    Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

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    Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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