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Design an Online Workflow

Design an Online Workflow

There are countless wonderful, free, online tools out there that help you with productivity, and give you a pretty good way to manage your projects, your small business, and more. But how do you design your workflow, such that you actually make use of the tools consistently, and to their best effect? Let’s set something up.

First, let’s make this a system you can use to manage your projects, personal or otherwise. Second, let’s make it a system that gives you full network communications and collaboration capability. Finally, let’s make it free from start to finish (at least at the base levels of all these products). Here are a few setups:

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Web-Based Toolbox

  • Build a Protopage- I went to Protopage and built a START PAGE. The logon is lifehack and the password is demo1. Protopage lets you do all kinds of things. You can have sticky notes. There’s a calendar. There’s widgets to put up photos, to display web pages, and to show RSS feeds.
  • Get a Voo2Do Account- Go to Voo2Do and get an account. This will be your todo list. (or use tadalist, or remember the milk, or toodledo, or a gazillion other great products).
  • Use GMail and Google Calendar- Gmail and Google Calendar are just easy. They’re fairly uncluttered as apps, and both have all kinds of functionality. I’m still not over Gmail not letting me have folders, but otherwise, they’re the best. I forward my domain email accounts to a Gmail account for ease-of-use, and one-stop collection. The Calendar has lots of great features, like group calendar and all kinds of easy drag-drop create feelings.
  • Set up AIM– An IM client puts you in touch with people for quick fast discussions. I actually recommend using a multi-service client, like Meebo (web-based) or Gaim, so that you don’t have to do the “do you use AIM, or Yahoo! or MSN Messenger” conversation.
  • Set up a Campfire– It’s probably easiest to send you to 37Signals itself, and you can pick up Campfire, their group chat app, as well as BaseCamp, their project management software.
  • Get SkypeSkype‘s a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) product, which use can use as either internet-only, or you can combine with SkypeOut service and SkypeIN service to connect it to the greater telephone network. You can by handsets that make it act like a regular phone, or you can just use your microphone and speakers on your computer.
  • Check out ZohoZoho makes all kinds of free online office application tools, including a word processor, spreadsheet, a presentation tool, and more.
  • Get a Wiki- A wiki is a web-based data site that allows you to build easily edited webpages where you can store information (see Wikipedia). There are some great free ones. I use PBWiki the most.
  • Use an RSS Reader– No, they’re not just for blogs any more. RSS readers let you track important information, keep abreast of targeted data, and allow for collection and aggregation into a reading platform best suited for your needs. (I use Bloglines– do you have a more favorite web-based client?)
  • Set up a Blog– Internal blogs or external, using a tool to capture information in a journal format with dates is really darned useful, especially when coupled with search tools. If it’s external-facing, then your blog is also your press release engine and your public advertising channel #1. (WordPress for internal or external, WordPress free and hosted, Blogger).

Sample Morning Using our Tools
Once you select all your tools, you’ll need to build a workflow that maps to what you need to get done. Here is a sample flow for a few fictional hours in a workday.

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  • Arrive 8:45AM, drink coffee #2. Set digital timer. Pop open Gmail for 15 minutes. REFUSE to check Gmail for 15 minutes.
  • 9:00AM Open Protopage. Check Voo2do list. Projects are showing some next actions involving calls, and some involving editing a nearly-finished proposal. Handle the proposal first, writing it up in Zoho Writer or Writeboard, and share it using BaseCamp with your client. They’ve subscribed to your RSS feed, so you might not have to call or email until later.
  • 9:20AM You finished your proposal, and you uncovered some great points you want to copy and use again later. Post those into the wiki. Get up for a stretch and a walk to the coffee pot.
  • 9:30AM Double-check Gmail. There’s a note from Surya about traffic overheating your server in Ohio. Get on IM, find Surya, and ask him if he’ll cover it. Mark yourself busy when you’re done and post a blog entry marking down what you and Surya did, deciding on a final course of action.
  • 10:05AM Go over some “Friends-only” pictures in Flickr of your prospective new data center in Vietnam, shot by a friend you met on Craigslist who was going that way anyway, and who you paid no more than a case of beer for his involvement in finding the data center and snapping pictures. Tag a few to remind yourself, and make a note in the wiki, linking back. Post about it on the blog, too.
  • 10:42AM Check off 3 things so far in your Voo2Do. Double check them against your BackPack master list of your project, mission and goals, and consider using Zoho’s spreadsheet software to calculate out the savings between what you spec’d the job to cost in hours versus what you saved by flowing so smoothly.

Keys to the Scenario

You can change any of the software options I’ve listed, but the premise is this: hook them all together in a meaningful way and consider the SUM TOTAL of those products the platform. Consider it all related to what you’re doing. Remember that the goal is to accomplish things, to move yourself forward on the goals you have for yourself and your business. It’s not to master a foolproof system that you can never change again.

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Check out the demo ProtoPage, if it’s lasted this long. And if it has to come down, build your own. It’s fairly intuitive. Then, try incorporating all those rich, free, easy-to-use online tools, and build a workflow that supports the lifestyle you’ve dreamed up for yourself. Feel free to load the comments up with modules you’d add instead, with defences of why your tool is better than the ones I recommended, and finally, whether using this methodology does something for your productivity.

–Chris Brogan has his own accounts on nearly every one of the web-based software tools out there. He also has accounts for [chrisbrogan.com] , Grasshopper Factory, and Podcamp.org .

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Last Updated on May 14, 2019

8 Replacements for Google Notebook

8 Replacements for Google Notebook

Exploring alternatives to Google Notebook? There are more than a few ‘notebooks’ available online these days, although choosing the right one will likely depend on just what you use Google Notebook for.

  1. Zoho Notebook
    If you want to stick with something as close to Google Notebook as possible, Zoho Notebook may just be your best bet. The user interface has some significant changes, but in general, Zoho Notebook has pretty similar features. There is even a Firefox plugin that allows you to highlight content and drop it into your Notebook. You can go a bit further, though, dropping in any spreadsheets or documents you have in Zoho, as well as some applications and all websites — to the point that you can control a desktop remotely if you pare it with something like Zoho Meeting.
  2. Evernote
    The features that Evernote brings to the table are pretty great. In addition to allowing you to capture parts of a website, Evernote has a desktop search tool mobil versions (iPhone and Windows Mobile). It even has an API, if you’ve got any features in mind not currently available. Evernote offers 40 MB for free accounts — if you’ll need more, the premium version is priced at $5 per month or $45 per year. Encryption, size and whether you’ll see ads seem to be the main differences between the free and premium versions.
  3. Net Notes
    If the major allure for Google Notebooks lays in the Firefox extension, Net Notes might be a good alternative. It’s a Firefox extension that allows you to save notes on websites in your bookmarks. You can toggle the Net Notes sidebar and access your notes as you browse. You can also tag websites. Net Notes works with Mozilla Weave if you need to access your notes from multiple computers.
  4. i-Lighter
    You can highlight and save information from any website while you’re browsing with i-Lighter. You can also add notes to your i-Lighted information, as well as email it or send the information to be posted to your blog or Twitter account. Your notes are saved in a notebook on your computer — but they’re also synchronized to the iLighter website. You can log in to the site from any computer.
  5. Clipmarks
    For those browsers interested in sharing what they find with others, Clipmarks provides a tool to select clips of text, images and video and share them with friends. You can easily syndicate your finds to a whole list of sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Digg. You can also easily review your past clips and use them as references through Clipmarks’ website.
  6. UberNote
    If you can think of a way to send notes to UberNote, it can handle it. You can clip material while browsing, email, IM, text message or even visit the UberNote sites to add notes to the information you have saved. You can organize your notes, tag them and even add checkboxes if you want to turn a note into some sort of task list. You can drag and drop information between notes in order to manage them.
  7. iLeonardo
    iLeonardo treats research as a social concern. You can create a notebook on iLeonardo on a particular topic, collecting information online. You can also access other people’s notebooks. It may not necessarily take the place of Google Notebook — I’m pretty sure my notes on some subjects are cryptic — but it’s a pretty cool tool. You can keep notebooks private if you like the interface but don’t want to share a particular project. iLeonardo does allow you to follow fellow notetakers and receive the information they find on a particular topic.
  8. Zotero
    Another Firefox extension, Zotero started life as a citation management tool targeted towards academic researchers. However, it offers notetaking tools, as well as a way to save files to your notebook. If you do a lot of writing in Microsoft Word or Open Office, Zotero might be the tool for you — it’s integrated with both word processing software to allow you to easily move your notes over, as well as several blogging options. Zotero’s interface is also available in more than 30 languages.

I’ve been relying on Google Notebook as a catch-all for blog post ideas — being able to just highlight information and save it is a great tool for a blogger.

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In replacing it, though, I’m starting to lean towards Evernote. I’ve found it handles pretty much everything I want, especially with the voice recording feature. I’m planning to keep trying things out for a while yet — I’m sticking with Google Notebook until the Firefox extension quits working — and if you have any recommendations that I missed when I put together this list, I’d love to hear them — just leave a comment!

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