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10 Free Tools for Collaboration

10 Free Tools for Collaboration

    With so many people working from home, it’s no surprise that the last few years have seen significant increases in the range of collaboration tools available online. They didn’t just capitalize on a growing trend; they helped to propel it. Here are ten great, free tools for collaboration, including some of those we use here at Lifehack.

    Ta-da List

    Ta-da List is a collaborative list application. If you need to make up any kind of list with your team, this app is free and does a good job, primarily because there’s no feature-creep and it’s not bloated software. This is what we use at Lifehack to keep a list of article topics going among the editorial team, and also a convenient way to receive article assignments in a loose format.

    TimeBridge

    TimeBridge is a scheduling app that integrates with your Google Calendar, Exchange or Outlook availability and enables easy scheduling of meetings across timezones. This is another app we use at Lifehack to schedule meetings across four different time zones, which we then hold in…

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    Campfire

    Campfire, from the makers of Basecamp and Backpack, is a web-based cross between instant messenger and chat room that has been designed for business groups and collaborative teams. The free account only allows four simultaneous chatters, which is enough for our editorial meetings. Campfire has one of the best transcript storage features I’ve seen.

    If you’re looking to have a free discussion with more than four team members, I’ve found Skype to be decent at the job — except for its poor transcript implementation (if you Skype guys are reading, a transcript feature makeover would be great!).

    Google Docs & Spreadsheets

    The giant in any collaborative tools list. Google Docs has one of the best web-based collaborative document editing implementations around. That said, I reckon 50% of a good collaborative word processor is a loud and obnoxious note that tells you someone else is working on the document already! These days Google Docs also has quite an extensive collection of templates that’ll help you shave off a few minutes of basic document setup time.

    Writeboard

    If you want something a little less heavy than Google Docs, Writeboard is lightweight and simple yet provides excellent control over the revision history of your document and allows you collaborate with others on a simple document in a fluid and intuitive way. It’s impossible to ever lose a great idea using Writeboard, which is one of the few free offerings from 37signals (the makers of Campfire, Basecamp and other products).

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    Evernote

    Evernote, the fantastic note taking software, has sharing capabilities so you can bounce documents back and forth with other users. You can flesh out ideas or even write entire collaborative books this way. While you can do this with Google Docs too, it’s a huge hassle to get notes from one app to the other when it’s not necessary (and Docs, while handy, is not optimal for taking notes).

    Mixin

    While TimeBridge is very handy for scheduling meetings across timezones, it relies on everybody selecting a few times they can make a meeting and then the software picks the best matches. Mixin takes some of the guesswork out of the process and instead of forcing you to try and “feel out” where your collaborator’s gaps and availabilities may be, allows you to see it all visually. It doesn’t replace TimeBridge, but it’s very useful especially when nobody in the group can seem to find a time that works for everyone.

    Task2Gather

    There are heaps of task managers that are web-based. I don’t think you could count them all if you tried. But Task2Gather is an option that is better suited to project management and team collaboration than most other options out there. If you want the app that marries project management for teams, with personal task management, try this one.

    MediaWiki

    The wiki software that powers Wikipedia is well-known amongst geeks as one of the ultimate collaborative systems, allowing you to do everything form collaborate on documents to leave messages for each other that are attached to those particular documents. If you’re the type who gets an email about a project but forgets all about it by the time you go to work on the project next, that particular frustration disappears with the help of the Talk page.

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    I’ve also found MediaWiki excellent in setting up training documentation for teams. Use a wiki to tell your team of bloggers how to format their entries correctly and which CSS classes to use in images, and provide a style guide while you’re at it.

    MediaWiki requires a bit of geekery and knowledge to get set up, but it’s worth the effort if you’re willing to put the time and effort into learning it.

    Delicious

    If you work in any kind of environment where links fly back and forth for people to review, Delicious is more useful than you may think. The bookmarking service that once had a bunch of dots peppered throughout its name has multiple collaborative uses.

    Many bloggers, myself included, allow readers to tag their bookmarks as for:username (such as for:joelfalconer) so we can review them in batches. Bloggers constantly get readers and other bloggers suggesting links, most frequently for self-promo, and it’s very helpful to our job but often is hard to manage.

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    Most fields require that teams be up to date on news, new products, industry opinion and so on and Delicious’ for: tagging system allows the people in your team to keep each other up to date without throwing links in their inbox every five minutes.

    WordPress

    If you’re looking for a collaboration-friendly blog, WordPress recently got some great upgrades that make it an excellent choice. I wouldn’t suggest anything else for a multi-author blog. As I mentioned earlier, half of a good collaborative system is a warning that someone else is editing the article in question, and WordPress supplies that. But even better, it now has a revision history system that allows you to peck through and find that obscure quote you accidentally deleted while you were fixing image sizes. Or if a disgruntled blogger on your team vandalizes everything before leaving, it’s pretty easy to fix everything up.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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