Technology and our constant connection to digital devices can certainly lead to many distractions and “time suck.” Overcoming the urge to check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and email frequently is one step toward becoming more productive. I love technology, and am as guilty as anyone of being overly connected. However, instead of disdaining this activity and beating myself up over it, I choose to embrace the many ways in which technology helps me be more productive. As a compulsive list maker and Type A person, I rely on a few fabulous apps and websites to help me stay organized and on top of my schedule and tasks.
Here are a few of my favorite digital resources.
I have used Last Pass for several years. I like that I can have the app on my phone, so I can access all my website logins/passwords wherever I am. The password/url list can be organized into folders to keep it manageable and there is an easy search bar at the top. I use the premium version ($12 per year) so everything is synced across all devices.
I couldn’t live without Dropbox! I keep all my files in dropbox, which means if my computer crashes or I am away from my desktop computer, I can still access everything and anything I need. Files can easily be shared from the dropbox app on my phone or tablet as well. (I still use a backup service for my desktop computer, because you should never rely on just one backup system. I use CrashPlan for nightly backups to a cloud.) Dropbox is $9.99 per month for 1TB of storage – which is more than enough for ALL of my files, including photos.
Google Calendar and Meal Planning
If you are like me, you would be lost without your calendar! Managing my schedule, plus that of my two children and my husband, is easy with Google Calendar. I created a calendar for each person (color coded of course!) as well as a calendar for Meals. The calendar syncs with iCal or Outlook, so it works across all platforms, and we can all access and edit activities.
There are many Meal Planning Apps, which help add recipes/menus to a calendar and generate a grocery list from the recipes. After trying several of these, I ended up using Google Calendar. While it is helpful to have a grocery list auto created off of the recipes you schedule, I found it confusing to know which ingredients on the list were for what, and it prevented me from checking to see what I already had in stock. Also, since the meal planning app had its own calendar, I often found that I had planned meals on days when my husband or kids had activities and were not going to be eating at home. With Google, I can look at what else is going on each day, and choose meals accordingly. It is easy to drag and drop recipes from one day to the next, or copy them from a previous day into a future day. In addition, I can put a link to the recipe where it is scheduled, making it easy to check the recipe and ingredients as needed, from my phone or anywhere.
How many times have you gone the the grocery store, only to realize you left your long grocery list at home? I use the Out of Milk App, so my list is always with me, and always updated. I share it with my family, so they can add items when they think of them … even when they are not at home. Items can be categorized, so your list will be sorted, making your grocery trip faster. When I get to the store, I pull up the list on my phone and can check off each item as I put it in the cart. If you prefer a paper list, you can print it easily before you go shopping. It also allows you to create a list for each store.
Pinterest has become my Recipe Box. I admit mine could use some organizing, but it is my favorite place to store my recipes. When I am planning meals, it is easy to look for recipes I have made or tagged as worth trying. I can easily copy the url and past it into my Google Calendar. When I am ready to make a grocery list, I just click the link and review the recipe for items I need from the store.
I review many blogs posts/news articles each day but don’t often have time to read the whole thing at the time. Instead of leaving it unfinished and forgetting about it, Pocket lets me save it so I can easily go back to it later. It is similar to Pinterest, in that you can easily “bookmark” or tag web pages, but it is not a social sharing platform, just a personal system. I can save a url to Pocket, and tag it, so when I want to go back and read the whole thing, it is easy to find. I also use it as a file storage system for technical instructions on website coding so I can easily access snippets by searching my pocket. There is an app and also a Google Chrome extension that puts a quick add icon in the Google Chrome toolbar.
This is my new favorite app! I have tried many “To Do List” apps and have found them to be either too little or too much (Trello is a good one, but since I work alone and don’t really need to collaborate and share tasks with others, it is more than what I need). Wunderlist is simple and straightforward, is accessible via an app on my phone or on my computer, and makes a neat “ding” sound when I check things off the list – very gratifying!
Many people are wary of putting their financial information on their phone or in a cloud. The fact is, much of that information is already there, whether you use it or not. Mint is a safe and reputable platform for tracking spending and managing money. It connects with your bank, so you can have up to the minute information on your finances without having to go to each bank/account. You can view reports of your spending and income and get alerts when spending levels have been reached or activity is out of the ordinary.
This is a new app I am trying out this week. I work by myself, from home, and can sit or stand at my desk for hours without a break, engrossed in what I am doing!
I heard about Pomodoro on a recent WordPress Weekly podcast. The Pomodoro Technique is a method of better organizing time and making work more productive and effective. This is just one of a few Pomodoro Technique-based apps available.
There are five basic steps:
1) Decide on the task to be done
2) Set the pomodoro (timer) to 25 minutes
3) Work on the task until the timer rings
4) Take a short break (3-5 minutes)
5) Take a longer break (15–30 minutes) every four “pomodori”
So far, I have found the breaks to be helpful (although I have also worked through the breaks a few times, too!)
FYI … Writing this blog post took me four Pomodoros!
If you aren’t already using some of these resources, check them out and see if they might be helpful to you in making the most out of technology to make your life easier. What apps do you find to be essential in your daily life?