A trend has been been making itself apparent to me lately: people seem to love doing things the hard way. Over the last few weeks, talking to clients, co-workers friends and my Mom, I’ve notice that many people spend an inordinate amount of time performing tasks on their computers that should just take a few seconds. Why? They just don’t know that there is a faster, more elegant way to get things done. I was one of these people for most of my life. One day I started hanging out with some geeks who are beyond obsessed with discovering the quickest way to get any task completed. While I haven’t graduated to full-fledged optimization wizard myself, I have picked up a few tricks. I’d like to share some of my favorite apps and hacks to speed up your work day.
These are the basic apps that I use every single day, and have become absolutely indispensable. If there were a way to effectively quantify the time these apps have saved me, I would conservatively estimate it would total in the weeks. Think of this as Optimization 101. It’s my hope that you can read this post, download these apps, set them up and integrate them into your workflow in no time. Setting up apps to save you time, should be easy and…save you time. Let us know how these apps work out for you in the comments, and if you have other apps that improve your workflow we definitely want to hear about them.
If you do any work on the web at all, there are probably a few points in your day where you need to do something with a photo. Snag a photo for a blogpost, resize it, change the format, share it, email it, annotate it or grab a screenshot to make a point. This was a clunky process for me, requiring a series of cobbled together programs, a couple of save states and way too much time. Then I discovered Skitch. Skitch is really the Swiss Army Knife for imaging. If you aren’t a designer who regularly fires up Adobe, then Skitch is what you need. It covers all the imaging basics in one interface. Screenshots, adding notes and arrows, saving in just about every format, sharing and resizing are all done in one window. There is no learning curve. For the last 3 years, Skitch has become my go to tool for anything involving photos. Skitch also has one the best user interfaces I’ve ever used; it’s lovely.
In the real world, there are two schools of password thought. You use the same password for everything, because it’s convenient. We all know this is an incredibly insecure bad practice, just waiting for a nightmare hack to bite you in the ass. The other school is using a different password for everything, but with the amount of accounts we all have it becomes an organizational nightmare remembering which password belongs to which account. I woke up one day and realized I had about 50 different accounts, and spent more time resetting forgotten passwords then I did actually working in those apps. Cue 1Password.
1Password is the perfect password manager. You only need to remember the master password, and the app takes care of the rest. It creates complicated, secure passwords for all your logins, and organizes them in a nice interface. Once unlocked, it will auto fill your username and password for all your sites right in the browser with a single click. It keeps track when you change login information automatically. It works with Dropbox, so you can backup your master password list and retrieve it on the fly. 1Password handles multiple “Identities”, making it simple to organize work, personal and other password lists by how you use them. There’s a great, secure wallet feature for managing different credit cards and purchasing information. It is constantly being updated by the good folks at Agile Web Solutions, so there is never a compatibility issue. Best of all, it’s dead simple and it just works, every time, day after day.
Prior to using Evernote, I would constantly bookmark articles, websites and little bits of the web to return to later. In every browser, my bookmark list would become cluttered and unusable after a week. My bookmarks looked like someone taped an M-80 to a dictionary and then taped it back together. Using Evernote has let me build a customized system for keeping track of everything I find interesting, or worth hanging onto on the web. It is handy for work, personal interests and organizing trains of thought and projects among groups of people where link sharing is a requirement.
The simple organizational style is what separates Evernote from every other similar app or bookmarking method out there. Find something interesting? Just click the Evernote button, select the appropriate tags, add a personal note if you like, and you’re done. The app takes care of the syncing and storage. When you’re looking to retrieve something, you can search your notes by tag, date or content. It’s also possible to just browse through your notes, which can be a great way to create “Aha!” moments. I frequently stumble onto items I’ve saved in the past, but have forgotten about. It’s a bit like an online diary composed of your train of web browsing thought.
Possibly the most brilliant feature of Evernote is its’ ability to work with the camera on your mobile phone or computer. You can take a snapshot of a flier, book, record or some other visual cue and make a note out of that. This is amazing for remembering items that catch your eye on the go that you might otherwise forget. This feature has become indispensable. When someone has a book that looks interesting, I snap the cover and make a note. Through this method I have built a massive “To Read” list. I’ve run into other people who use the photo feature on Evernote to track business receipts and keep track of menus at restaurants they love.
After using Evernote for a while, you’ll discover that you have compiled your own custom reference library, which is a valuable tool for anyone that does creative work. Evernote works across just about every browser, platform and mobile device so you’ll always have access to your notes. It’s a truly simple, bulletproof organizational tool even for people like me who are disorganized by nature.
Clips takes one of the most basic, but useful features of any computer, the clipboard, and hugely expands what it is able to do. Clips can help you make short work of repetitive tasks. Instead of just saving the last item you copy or cut, Clips just keeps on saving them and presents them in a list. This lets you visually choose from a list of clipboard items. If you’re making a list, sending multiple responses or editing a document, this is an enormous time saver. It’s also possible to build a pre-loading clipboard with some phrases or items you find yourself having to type frequently. Clips includes clipboard sharing, and the hot-keys, formatting and arrangements of how the app appears are all totally customizable to fit right into your workflow. I used to find myself typing the same things again and again, but now I just keep a clipboard of my most frequently typed phrases and insert them with a single click. I actually feel like I haven’t event tapped the full potential of Clips. If you were so inclined, it would be possible to really go crazy, and build massive lists of sentences, links, signatures and other items that pop up all the time. Any way that you use it, Clips will become an essential time saver from the second you load it onto your computer.
These apps are a good start for anyone looking to streamline their workflow, and save time doing what is essentially busywork. We all have a lack of time, so if there is a faster way to get things done, why not take advantage of it? Good luck, and be sure to fill us in on how your quest for optimization works out.