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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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    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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