Our Ultimate Productivity Toolkit

Feb 15, 2011 View Comments by Steve

There are hundreds of websites and applications claiming to make your life easier and more productive. We all want to get more done and as result get away from our computer screens and do something more fun. So we’ve researched and used 100′s of productivity and organisational tools, and below is what we consider the ideal, simple to use, low cost toolkit that you can get started with today.

Task Management: Teux Deux

OK, let’s start with one of our absolute favourites. Here at Tech Towers we use the free TeuxDeux web app to get organised. Its beautifully simple design makes it easy to add tasks to any day of the week or put them in a task bucket for ‘Someday’. Its basic design means it is flexible enough for you to use the way you want. Cross off tasks when they are complete, if you don’t complete them they automatically rollover to the next day, drag and drop, edit and delete tasks and you have it. This is the most simple and effective tool for getting things done I have ever used. To top it off, it’s free and has an inexpensive iPhone application too. The iPhone app is good but not perfect and sometimes syncing gets a bit muddled and slow, but hopefully these issues will be ironed out soon. If there is only one tool you try from this list, it should be this.
Free – Web based – iPhone app

Managing Bigger Tasks: Basecamp by 37Signals

Teux deux is great for day to day planning, but for longer term plans you might find its lack of grouping and space a little restrictive. This is where Basecamp comes in. Basecamp is a fully fledged project management and collaboration tool. It’s web based, has a free version and is dead easy to get started with. Its task management area makes it a breeze to add lists of tasks, assign the tasks to different people and schedule milestones. We find the free version is plenty good enough for personal use but have upgraded in the past when working with small teams for freelance & business projects. Upgrading to a paid plan gives really useful business features like uploading files, time tracking and managing multiple projects. We really like the “Messages” feature in Basecamp too. Rather than plans, ideas and comments getting mislaid in email conversations this feature lets you take the discussion online and keeps everything organised and easy to find in one place. There is also a range of 3rd party mobile apps, our favourite of which is Headquarters Lite ideal for the free Basecamp user.
Free – Paid plans from $24/month – Choice of iPhone apps from free

Scheduling: Google Calendar or MobileMe

Google Calendar is by far the best, free way of organising your schedule. It has a great, easy to use web interface as well as the ability to sync with your smartphone, Outlook and iCal. It does have a downside though. In our experience setting up the syncing and getting web, desktop and mobile to all read and write calendar information is not 100% reliable and you have to jump through a few hoops. It’s improving but has its quirks. If, like me, you have a Mac and want a more reliable solution that’s easier to setup, then you can buy a MobileMe account. I would say this only makes sense if you have multiple Apple devices such as a Mac and iPhone or iPad and are likely to make use of some of the other features, like the iDisk web storage, photo sharing, video sharing and email/contact syncing. If that is the case then it becomes a very easy to setup a one stop shop for most of your cloud based syncing needs as a consumer. However, I would be much happier paying the £60/yr if iDisk was as good as Dropbox for file syncing!

Google Calendar: Free – Web based – Mobile & Desktop Sync
MobileMe: Free 60 day trial – £60/yr – Web based – Mobile & Desktop Sync – Includes much more

Communicating: Skype & Campfire

Skype is probably the world’s most popular application. It’s not surprising when you consider what it gives you. You can do voice calls, video calls, text chat, video conferences and group chat all completely free of charge. That’s pretty amazing and if you are not using Skype then you probably should be. Skype also has great mobile apps making it possible to have voice and video calls between smartphones completely free too. One less used, but very useful feature of Skype, is group text chat. I find this a really useful tool for having group conversations with family, friends and co-workers. Another favourite feature worth a mention is file sharing which I use constantly. Just drag and drop a file onto a contact and it will send that file. Campfire from 37 Signals is another great tool for this. It’s a web based group chat application designed with work teams in mind. It’s designed for “always on”, background chat whilst in the work place to encourage non interruptive communication. You can share files too and all files and manuscripts are stored, so anyone can go back and find the details of previous conversations.

Skype: Free – Voice, video and text chat – File sharing – Windows & Mac apps – Free mobile apps
Campfire: Free version (4 users) – Text only chat – Web based – Free mobile apps

Taking Notes: Evernote

Evernote is the ultimate note taking tool. Capture all of your thoughts, ideas, and inspirations and they all get stored online. Evernote has desktop applications for your computer as well as really useful smart phone apps. You can make text notes or voice notes, save tweets, clip web pages and store photos. Evernote really comes into its own with its search and organisation features. All of these notes you add become searchable even to the extent of Evernote trying to read any text in photos. So you could use it to store and search all your business cards just by taking a photo of the cards on your phone.

Free – Web app – Free Windows & Mac app – Free mobile app

Fast Finding: Alfred & Launchy

Alfred and Launchy are known as quick launch tools. They making it quicker and simpler to find and open files, launch applications, do web searches and whole lot more. Basically, you have a keyboard shortcut that works from anywhere and pops up a box. Just start typing what you want to do and jump straight to it. Once you get used to it you’ll find its much easier and quicker than clicking around your computer or web browser. Alfred is our favourite Mac quick launcher with a fast growing fan base and one of the great success stories of the recently release Mac App Store. Launchy is our favourite quick launcher for Windows. We encourage you to give one of these a try, stick with it, it will change the way you work on your computer.

Launchy: Free – Windows
Alfred: Free – Mac

Get Offline: Freedom

When we are working we often get distract and waste time because of the elephant in the room – The Internet! Our always online lifestyle, real-time social media and constant news addiction means that the internet can very easily waste a lot more time than it saves. If you are one of the many people who are easily distracted by the internet, it might be time to try Freedom. Freedom is a wonderfully simple application that takes your computer offline for scheduled periods of the day. You can of course decide when those times are but it’s a great way to get disciplined and stay focussed.
Free – Windows & Mac


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