Here’s the scene:
It’s the middle of a typical workday in busy technology startup. Everyone is busy working and scouring the web for important resources — everyone except me. Instead of busily writing emails or tending to administrative tasks, I’m completely off the Internet and focused 100% on brainstorming new projects.
It’s freeing and absolutely joyful.
Despite all the time I spend online, (it adds up to more than I want to admit) I’m constantly reminded of all the precious time a few online tools save me every day. They reduce the time I spend on things like convincing myself to work out, searching for important information, and drilling down my to-do list. Not only do I spend less time doing the menial and brain-numbing tasks we all hate, but I reapply that time to more enjoyable pursuits — like coming up with new ways to grow my business or brainstorming new book ideas.
Both web and mobile apps have been incredibly useful in these three areas. Let me share my favorites in the hopes that you can free up some of your time and mind space, too.
1. Freedom — The ultimate tool to disconnect (for Mac). There’s something about willpower that sometimes we just can’t beat. In times like these, apps like Freedom help you completely disconnect from the online, allowing you to double down on work. I use this app when I really need to get offline things done in peace.
2. SelfControl — This app is just like Freedom, except limited to a set list of websites you’d like to block (also for Mac). I use this to block social networking sites (and especially Quora!) when I truly need to get work down. This means I can still use the web to find important information, but I’m blocked from the sites that steal my time.
3. Batch Reply for Gmail — Lots of tools will help you manage email, but this free tool is awesome for dealing with mass amounts of email at once. Just select which emails you want to reply to, and compose your reply to all of them at once. Many emails dealt with all at once — awesome. (This version is for Chrome.)
4. FancyHands — The one tool that makes “virtual assistants” easy to grasp and problem-free. This US-based service makes reminders harder to ignore. For example, have a hard time calling your grandmother? Easy — have an assistant at FancyHands email you every Thursday with a reminder to give her a call, along with a picture of you two on Christmas. Try deleting that email.
5. Gratitude Journal — This iPhone app (and many others that are just like it) focus on reminding you to jot down what you are grateful for. The best part? It will give you a pop-up reminder to jot down your daily list. I love not having to worry about remembering this. When the app asks, I input my list.
6. Google Calendar — Getting to the gym is harder than you think. In my experience, it’s even harder when you have to figure out which day to go. We spend so much mental power bargaining with ourselves over “Today or tomorrow? Today is busy, I’ll just hit it tomorrow instead, right?” Instead of depleting batteries on those decisions and evaluations, skip it by putting exercise on your calendar at the beginning of each week. Try setting up repeating fitness appointments for an even easier set up. (I work out four times a week at 6:30AM. If the calendar says it, I do it. No mental power necessary.)
7. GymPact — If putting exercise in your calendar doesn’t work, try betting on it. This website allows you to bet your exercise habits against a friend’s. You’ll both put cash into an account, and you’ll be reimbursed a portion of the pool every time you work out. Using money to hack willpower has helped lots of gym-goers over the years. I dare you to try it.
Downloading Your Memory
8. Evernote — One of the best tools to store data, Evernote is also a great place to capture creativity on the go. Whether you are on the treadmill, at a meeting, or just in a hurry, use Evernote on your phone to make sure you jot down whatever idea or new thought crossed your mind. Take the stress off trying to remember it later!
9. Dropbox — By now, most everyone reading this article is using or has heard of Dropbox. There are a ton of ways to use Dropbox, but downloading your memory onto it is a great way to start. My favorite way to do this is by using the iPhone app or web app (when I’m on other computers) to find important information from my computer. Why store things in my mind when it’s on every tech device I have?
10. Google Drive — The new Google Docs is useful for collaboration, but also to keep old projects archived away when you don’t want them in your face. Also, super ultra searchable. I recently found a free template for keeping a cash flow calendar — absolute gold and absolutely free.
11. Brewster — This awesome iPhone app is one of the few that replaces a native iOS app for me. What it does is bring together all of your contacts into one place — albeit from your phone, from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more. The best part? It reminds you who you haven’t connected with in a while! Thanks, Brewster, for downloading my networking abilities.
12. Pocket — Time is hard to come by, but awesome content is not. Everywhere I look, there is great content out on the web. Pocket lets me save it for reading or viewing later when I have some more time. One click and I no longer have to worry about remembering that link I saw on that blog that one time…
13. Instapaper — What I love most about Instapaper isn’t just the fact that you can save links for saving later. What I love most is the fact that it lets you strip down each screen to an advertising-free reading experience. Nothing else to focus on but text — talk about a rest.
14. Dropbox again — This time, for phone photos. Dropbox on your computer now allows you to create a folder for photos that automatically updates each time you plug your phone into the computer’s USB drive. No thinking, just saving memories — awesome.
15. TeuxDeux — A no-frills app that will help you keep track of your to-do list. My favorite thing about this app is that, if you don’t get something done today, it’ll automatically just slide over to tomorrow.
16. Things — A super simple but super strong to-do app. With Things, I set up plenty of recurring reminders and tasks — mostly so I never have to worry about keeping track of what to do when. Things reminds me to pay rent, pay staff, prune my client list, check up on Google Analytics, and much more.
17. Manilla — Imagine being notified of when your bills are due. No more taking note of which days to pay electricity and which days to pay cable. Manilla will handle it for you, and let you know if you are about to be late.
18. Meeteor — Networking takes a lot of effort, and I love Meeteor for automating the introduction process every single day. Each day that I log in, Meeteor matches me up with relevant contacts who are willing to connect. Networking without the hassle — awesome.
19. FancyHands again — This time, to outsource important tasks. If you don’t have time to book a hotel or find a restaurant, let FancyHands take care of it for you. This also works for doing research, if that isn’t really your favorite activity.
20. Asana — This awesome tool for managing team tasks will help you spend less time on managing and more time getting things done. Also, it’s free for smaller teams, and the interface is beautiful.
21. Trello — For the more visual people out there, Trello allows you to move task cards around from list to list. It helps me view all of my projects and tasks on one dashboard according to their status. It also helps me visualize my cashflow! Highly recommend this free tool.
20. IfThisThenThat — The best way to automate mundane and detailed tasks that don’t add much value. For example, why spend time saving or keep track of your photos on Facebook, Instagram or Foursquare? Let IFTTT take care of it for you, saving all your photos into a Dropbox folder automatically. How about checking the weather? It’s an annoying search each morning, so get notified if it’s going to rain in your area or if it will cold/hot, etc. Set your recipes and forget the rest.
21. Zapier — This is just like IFTTT but more oriented to business users. There are very powerful recipes like Paypal sale notifications, creating tasks in Trello, moving users around Aweber, and more. Check it out for automating your business life.
22. Buffer — Managing social profiles can be a difficult thing to remember. Buffer is especially powerful if you sync it up with IFTTT, by the way. My favorite “recipe” is sending my Google Reader starred posts to Buffer for my Twitter followers to read. Sharing articles is awesome, and automating the actual sharing part is even better.
23. Dragon Dictate — Sometimes, there’s no time to sit down and write. Speaking is just that much faster. With this app, you can talk into your phone and use it for writing long documents or even email. Imagine how quickly you can get things done if you don’t have to type it out!? Genius.
24. UsingMiles — This awesome website lets you manage your entire database on awards and miles in one dashboard. You can also search for flights using those very miles! I don’t know about you, but, if there’s an app that can help me remember what I’ve earned and where, I’m down to use it — especially if it helps me travel for free!
25. F.lux — Meddling with the computer’s brightness is annoying but necessary. We spend a lot of time staring at the screen, and this app focuses on making sure the brightness is at the best possible brightness for your eyes to feel awesome for longer. Don’t you love it when apps automate making your life better? (I do.)
I hope this list helps you get your willpower, tasks, and memory all in order using the latest technology. These are the tools I use to keep my brainpower free of the mundane and more focused on what really matters to me and my business.
With that taken care of…what will you spend your extra time on?
(Photo credit: Robotic Arms Building “Done” via Shutterstock)