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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 September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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