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The Case for Online Word Processors

The Case for Online Word Processors

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    It’s no secret I am a fan of online word processors — computing in the cloud is just the thing for a guy like me who (I’m told) is apt to find his head in the clouds as well. I’m writing this on Google Docs, and have made no secret of my love for Adobe’s Buzzword (which unfortunately seems to have some issues on the computer I’m using right now). Zoho Writer has gotten a little use from me as well.

    I was recently asked what the big deal was — why should anyone go online when there’s a perfectly good copy of Office, Works, WordPerfect, OpenOffice.org, Pages, WordPad, LaTeX, AbiWord, KDocs, or any of a multitude of other powerful, effective, and highly usable word processors available from the desktop? What advantage could a feature-limited online word processor possibly offer.

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    It’s a good question, and one that boils down as much to subjective factors as to any absolute benefits word processing online might offer. And it’s a question with as much relevance for the whole range of powerful Web 2.0 apps that have emerged over the last couple of years and which look set to dominate computing in the near-to-mid-future. Spreadsheets, image editors, presentation software, databases, and more are migrating online, and it’s reasonable to ask why, and to what end?

    What follows is my response to the question — the reasons that matter to me as an end-user of many kinds of online applications, particularly word processors. There may well be other, even better, answers to the questions online apps pose; at the same time, some of my reasons might not apply to everyone, or even to anyone other than me. But in the end, I think that my experiences aren’t all that unique, and while I might represent an extreme in some regards, the reasons that online apps work well for me will apply to at least a significant number of other people, if not most.

    Availability
    The main benefit of online word processors for me is their availability from any computer with an Internet connection. Since my schedule puts me in front of a number of different computers throughout the course of the day, and changes as well from semester to semester, I can’t count on being able to access the same software on one computer that I used on the last — and unfortunately, although most modern file formats can be read by any word processor, there’s always the risk of losing formatting, pagination, or fonts opening a document created in one program (or version) in another.

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    Using an online word processor means I have a standard format and interface from computer to computer — I don’t have to worry about whether the version of Word on this computer matches the one on the computer where I started my document, or whether I won’t be able to open it at all. I just log in to Google Docs or Buzzword and continue where I left off — as I am with this post, which I started writing in my office at the university and which I’m finishing on my netbook at home.

    Off-site storage/backup
    Another advantage of cloud-based word processors is that no matter what kind of trouble I get into, my documents are still safe and sound on servers hundreds of miles away. I can’t tell you how many thumb drives I’ve left in computers — or put through the washing machine. I’ve never done that with the Internet…

    The document storage online word processors offer gives me an excellent off-site backup for important documents, even ones I don’t create or work on online. I feel a lot better knowing that copies of my most important documents exist far away from my home, just in case.

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    Collaboration/Sharing
    When it comes to collaboration, most online word processors beat even the mighty Word, hands down. Documents can be worked on live, rather than emailing copies back and forth and trying to keep track of versions. More important, you don’t have to contend with Microsoft’s awful, awful, awful Track Changes (which isn’t to say other word processors do it much better…).

    Plus, most online word processors allow you to set various levels of permissions, so that you can offer read-only access to one group of viewers, full editing privileges to another, and the ability to add comments to a third. You can often post documents directly to the Web, too, which can be quite handy.

    User interface
    Finally, some online word processors just have good user interfaces. Google Docs is simple, streamlined, perfect for just opening a document and slapping some thoughts together. Adobe’s Buzzword, on the other hand, is simply gorgeous — it inspires me just to look at it. I wrote the first 10,000 or so words of my book, Don’t Be Stupid, on Buzzword just to keep using it!

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    It seems foolish to point to the way an app looks as an advantage, but I’d argue it’s a very real factor. Tools matter — ask any carpenter. Buzzword to me is like I imagine a finely forged chisel is to a woodworker — my fingers just itch to get to work. Google Docs is like a set of sturdy wrenches — nothing too fancy, but I know it gets the job done. While there are desktop-based apps that also feel quite good to use, the stripped-down interfaces of online apps seems especially well-suited to this kind of inspiration.

    So there you have it — four big reasons why I use online word processors, even when I have Office or some other program easily accessible. Like I said, there may be other reasons — and maybe you have reasons I haven’t thought of. Why not share your thoughts in the comments below?

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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