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New Tools for the New Year: Technology

New Tools for the New Year: Technology

    There’s nothing like getting ready to start a new year and making sure that all of your ducks are in a row, especially when it comes to the technology tools that you are going to use. We are strong believers here at Lifehack of trying not to follow the “shiny new thing” and stick with tools that we can learn and trust over the long term. Most of the tools that I am recommending for the new year have been around for a while, but it just shows that they are tried and true, and if you haven’t made the switch or started using them in some fashion, then maybe the beginning of the new year is time to do it.

    Productivity apps you need

    There are several productivity apps that you should have ready to go for the coming year. We highly recommend picking a set of tools and sticking to them, but at the bare minimum you will need a way to track projects and create and edit documents (presentations and spreadsheets too), and keep track of notes and information.

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    For project and action managers, we can’t recommend Toodledo, Remember The Milk, OmniFocus, or Asana enough. OmniFocus is the only one that is Mac only (but probably the best on the Mac) while the other are web based and have access via your mobile device (iPhone and Android apps).

    For editing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations you don’t have to go much further than using Google Docs. Google’s awesome set of online tools coupled with about 8GB of free storage is definitely enough to get a lot of your work done, not to mention collaborate with others. If you are in the camp of wanting to create documents locally, then you may want to hunker down and buy a license for Microsoft Office (either for Windows or Mac or both). Yet, if you aren’t willing to pay the hefty fee for Office, then try out OpenOffice.org (for all platforms).

    For taking notes we recommend Evernote. Seriously, if you aren’t using this cross-platform tool for taking notes and storing snippets of information with its suite of apps, then you need to stop reading, get an account now, and start making your life easier by using it. If you are a plain-text-lover (like me and Mike), you can augment Evernote with the use of a ton of plain text apps like:

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    Oh, and start using Markdown.

    Paperless tools

    I told a co-worker who has been working in the insurance field for 20+ years that I was going paperless this year. He reluctantly reminded me that he has heard that one since the 80s. But, I am going to make a concerted effort to get as close as possible to paperless, but not without the proper tools.

    A good paper scanner is important to keep all of your paper out of cabinets and into a digital system. I have to recommend either the ScanSnap S1500 or on the less feature-rich and price side the portable ScanSnap S1300. Both are sheet-fed and duplex scanners that definitely are reliable and get the job done. You could also give a try to the newer Doxie or Doxie Go that offers non-duplex scanning but in a tiny, portable package. The prices for the Doxie is definitely nice starting at $149.99.

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    After you get a good scanner you will need a way to store all of your documents. Our preference is using an Evernote account (possibly updating to Evernote Premium) and using Evernote’s great OCR search, tagging, and sorting capabilities to keep everything organized. Also, if you aren’t comfortable with storing everything in the cloud you could role your own system or use tools such as Microsoft OneNote or DEVONthink for Mac.

    Store and backup

    Dropbox is another app that is so important and useful that if you don’t have it in your arsenal of tools then you need to drop everything and go get an account (kind of like Evernote above). Dropbox has been moved from “just an awesome app that I love to use” to an app that is essential for my work. I keep all my important files in Dropbox, share documents with co-workers, upload/offload pictures and video, share TextExpander snippets, use it for storage for apps like 1Password and others. It’s my portable, digital file system.

    Also, if you aren’t backing up your computer regularly then you are somewhat insane. It’s part of a knowledge worker’s responsibility to keep her data intact and there is no better way I have found this year than doing so with services like Carbonite, Mozy, or even something like SuperDuper! for Mac that makes a clone of your bootable drive so you don’t lose anything important.

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    Conclusion

    Using iron clad technology tools for the new year is the only way to ensure that you are ready to be and stay productive. While there may be new tools and technologies that come and go, we feel that the apps, services, and products recommended above are here for the long term. Learning to utilize a strong set of tools that are reliable will not only help you into 2012, but may last many years down the road.

    (Photo credit: Hand pushing a button via Shutterstock)

    More by this author

    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on February 15, 2019

    7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively

    7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively

    Now that 2011 is well underway and most people have fallen off the bandwagon when it comes to their New Year’s resolutions (myself included), it’s a good time to step back and take an honest look at our habits and the goals that we want to achieve.

    Something that I have learned over the past few years is that if you track something, be it your eating habits, exercise, writing time, work time, etc. you become aware of the reality of the situation. This is why most diet gurus tell you to track what you eat for a week so you have an awareness of the of how you really eat before you start your diet and exercise regimen.

    Tracking daily habits and progress towards goals is another way to see reality and create a way for you clearly review what you have accomplished over a set period of time. Tracking helps motivate you too; if I can make a change in my life and do it once a day for a period of time it makes me more apt to keep doing it.

    So, if you have some goals and habits in mind that need tracked, all you need is a tracking tool. Today we’ll look at 7 different tools to help you keep track of your habits and goals.

    Joe’s Goals

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      Joe’s Goals is a web-based tool that allows users to track their habits and goals in an easy to use interface. Users can add as many goals/habits as they want and also check multiple times per day for those “extra productive days”. Something that is unique about Joe’s Goals is the way that you can keep track of negative habits such as eating out, smoking, etc. This can help you visualize the good things that you are doing as well as the negative things that you are doing in your life.

      Joe’s Goals is free with a subscription version giving you no ads and the “latest version” for $12 a year.

      Daytum

        Daytum

        is an in depth way of counting things that you do during the day and then presenting them to you in many different reports and groups. With Daytum you can add several different items to different custom categories such as work, school, home, etc. to keep track of your habits in each focus area of your life.

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        Daytum is extremely in depth and there are a ton of settings for users to tweak. There is a free version that is pretty standard, but if you want more features and unlimited items and categories you’ll need Daytum Plus which is $4 a month.

        Excel or Numbers

          If you are the spreadsheet number cruncher type and the thought of using someone else’s idea of how you should track your habits turns you off, then creating your own Excel/Numbers/Google spreadsheet is the way to go. Not only do you have pretty much limitless ways to view, enter, and manipulate your goal and habit data, but you have complete control over your stuff and can make it private.

          What’s nice about spreadsheets is you can create reports and can customize your views in any way you see fit. Also, by using Dropbox, you can keep your tracker sheets anywhere you have a connection.

          Evernote

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            I must admit, I am an Evernote junky, mostly because this tool is so ubiquitous. There are several ways you can implement habit/goal tracking with Evernote. You won’t be able to get nifty reports and graphs and such, but you will be able to access your goal tracking anywhere your are, be it iPhone, Android, Mac, PC, or web. With Evernote you pretty much have no excuse for not entering your daily habit and goal information as it is available anywhere.

            Evernote is free with a premium version available.

            Access or Bento

              If you like the idea of creating your own tracker via Excel or Numbers, you may be compelled to get even more creative with database tools like Access for Windows or Bento for Mac. These tools allow you to set up relational databases and even give you the option of setting up custom interfaces to interact with your data. Access is pretty powerful for personal database applications, and using it with other MS products, you can come up with some pretty awesome, in depth analysis and tracking of your habits and goals.

              Bento is extremely powerful and user friendly. Also with Bento you can get the iPhone and iPad app to keep your data anywhere you go.

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              You can check out Access and the Office Suite here and Bento here.

              Analog Bonus: Pen and Paper

              All these digital tools are pretty nifty and have all sorts of bells and whistles, but there are some people out there that still swear by a notebook and pen. Just like using spreadsheets or personal databases, pen and paper gives you ultimate freedom and control when it comes to your set up. It also doesn’t lock you into anyone else’s idea of just how you should track your habits.

              Conclusion

              I can’t necessarily recommend which tool is the best for tracking your personal habits and goals, as all of them have their quirks. What I can do however (yes, it’s a bit of a cop-out) is tell you that the tool to use is whatever works best for you. I personally keep track of my daily habits and personal goals with a combo Evernote for input and then a Google spreadsheet for long-term tracking.

              What this all comes down to is not how or what tool you use, but finding what you are comfortable with and then getting busy with creating lasting habits and accomplishing short- and long-term goals.

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