Just over seven years ago I wrote a post offering some advice and links to productivity tools that I found useful in my research and writing. I thought it was time to revisit the topic and reflect on what I’m finding most useful now. I try to share things that help me but am somewhat suspicious of cult followings of all descriptions: so please use what works for you. Everyone is looking for the answer that will solve all their organisational/life/balance/problems. While these tools are interesting and somewhat useful I am always wary of adulation bordering on worship when it comes to the latest and greatest system!
That said, here’s a few more links for your perusal and usefulness. *Only dropbox and Endnote are affiliate links. I include all of these links because I personally use them.
Things (App) – although not strictly designed as a Getting Things Done implementation platform – I use it for my project level and next action lists. I am routinely frustrated by not being able to have this app on my windows laptop – although i usually use it on ipad and iphone.
Dropbox* – online cloud storage. Not HiPAA compliant, but pretty secure nonetheless. Always good to seek specialist advice when you’re looking for cloud secure data storage. Dropbox is very helpful for sharing information – this is the one i use most often with clients, family and friends.
Anylist – This is what I use for our shopping list. I love that I can email or text list contents (formatting is a little ugly) to my husband or assistant. This is simple and brilliant. I have also used it for higher level GTD lists, however, I have moved some of that over to Evernote.
Evernote*: Evernote is a cloud-based note-taking and file-storage application that synchronizes data across multiple devices.
YNAB – You need a budget. We use this for personal budgeting. It is secure, syncs well, and great for staying on the same page with a partner.
Quickbooks – There is the traditional desktop version, but also a cloud based version that is great for startups, social enterprises, and freelancers. Being able to communicate with your accountant always makes life easier. There is a learning curve, but staying ahead of the game on your business or non profit finances is essential!
17 hats– 17hats’ features help entrepreneurs and small business owners manage their business all in one place. It is still developing and although I use it and clients seem to love the consistent branding of contracts, invoices etc, i find not being able to download your templates and the lack of communication from the development team frustrating.
Freedcamp– team collaboration tool. I have not used it as extensively as basecamp, but it is still useful!
Basecamp – I find basecamp helpful for collaboration. Some organizations I work with use it for communication across timezones, teams, and states. It allows you to upload documents, determine personal notification preferences and chat in discussion topics or threads.
Adobe creative cloud – For just over $10 a month being able to access and use a range of adobe creative suite products is a great deal if you are not able to purchase full licenses. This can be a great solution for non profits, startups, social enterprises and small businesses.
Technology and Programs
FreeMind: a free, fully functional mind mapping program! I’ve been using it for quite a while now. I do still love a A2 piece of paper and my favorite color pens, but this is fabulous for creating mindmaps in an embeddable format – especially great for strategic planning. Did I mention it’s FREE?
FocusBooster: This is free timer that I highly recommended. You can also use a paid version which includes timesheets which might be a great option for freelancers, or contract staff. It will also help you if you are applying the Pomodoro technique to your writing. If you’re using an android, try pomodroido.
GIMP: While i love photoshop, GIMP is a free version that has many of the same features. Although you really need to be connected to the net to make full use of the help, manuals, and hacks. Whether you are a graphic designer, photographer, illustrator, or scientist, GIMP provides you with sophisticated tools to get your job done. You can further enhance your productivity with GIMP thanks to many customization options and 3rd party plugins.
Lightroom: I highly recommend Lightroom. I use Gimp in conjunction with Lightroom for a fully functional post-processing suite. You can use Lightroom as part of Adobe Creative Cloud suite.
Smart Phone Applications
TripIt: Get peace of mind while traveling, by having all your plans in one place. No more frantic searching for confirmation emails in your inbox – or worse yet – hunting down that pesky manila folder. TripIt is an easier way to organize and share travel. Free, but if you need an assistant to access it (or even a spouse) you may need to upgrade to a paid account.
Adobe Acrobat: Adobe Reader is the free global standard for reliably viewing and sharing PDF documents across platforms and devices.
Quick Cite: An application for use on Iphone and Android. Must use IEEE format to ensure place of publication is included. Essentially for those of us who use Endnote or Zotero. ice idea to have MLA, Harvard etc, but the MLA reference isn’t the most up-to-date format. The most recent format includes the reference type: for example, print. Also, the current iteration of Quick Cite doesn’t identify Edition of the text scanned which may be important. Never the less as an on-the-run application with great possibilities for use at conferences, in the library or at the bookstore. Whether you’re needing a quick way to populate your endnote library or paper or whether your compiling a reading list from a pile of books on your desk or you’re seeking to do some comparative price checking from online retailers such as book depository, abebooks or Amazon in addition to the in person experience of your local bookstore.
Youversion: Free access to many modern English Bible translations including the NIV, ESV, NLT, NKJV, AMP, NASB, CEV, NET, WEB, NCV, TNIV, HCSB, The Message and more.
Pomodroido: A timer that facilitates application of the pomodoro technique (working in blocks with scheduled breaks).
ConvertPad: Free; Features fast, real time currency and unit conversion in a clean interface.
Audioboo or Voice Recorder: Audioboo is Free; great for interviews or short 3 minute long podcasts. Voice Recorder is Free; great for recorder conference papers, lectures or even notes for writing while on the move.
Springpad: Springpad makes it easy to save notes, products and places you want to remember. It is great for notes and snippets.
Blogs and Websites
It is a general site, not specifically for academics but I find the approach of What’s Best Next interesting and useful! What’s Best Next has great advice on project management including planning, multitasking and controlling your inbox.
I’ve been working on applying GTD to my life and work for a few years now.
Academic Lifehacker: Advice for students with an emphasis on time management and academic efficiency. This post on dividing your workweek has me thinking about changing things up a little. GradHacker has some great material on how to actually be productive rather than just looking like you are. Dave Parry (academicdave) of ProfHacker still produces some of the best material, advice and keeping track of things around.
I am always interested in how to balance long term goals like completions of chapters and articles with the need for short term goals that don’t end up making me feel completely bogged down.
Productive Scholar: a website devoted to being more productive as a scholar, includes work and life balance, technology, research optimization (including ways to keep up to date on the latest research in your field automatically).
Are there any others you’d suggest? What tools/programs/tech do you find most add to your productivity levels?
Speaker. Reader. Thinker. Writer. Traveler. Advocate
Anna Blanch Rabe, founder of Anna Blanch Rabe & Associates, has been working with Social Enterprises, socially-responsible businesses, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations since 2006 to develop and effectively execute strategic, digital, and narrative initiatives to gain exposure, develop community capacity, attract talent, and reach new customers. Anna is an Australian-born speaker, writer and advocate. Connect with Anna on Academia.edu, Linked In, Instagram, facebook page, & Twitter.