With the amount of time we spend tapping away at our keyboards, it’s no wonder there are hundreds of tools dedicated to making that time more efficient. These productivity tools range from online web applications, to small desktop programs, to smartphone software, and everything in between. That broad range of programs, though, is just the problem — it’s tough to weed through all of the junk out there to find tools that are actually worthwhile.
So, to make your life easier, we’ve gone and done some of the work for you. Here are ten incredibly useful productivity tools for those of us who can’t seem to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner away from a computer screen.
No matter what your profession, it’s practically a given that you visit at least a dozen websites on a regular basis. Now, this being a productivity article, we need to make sure you aren’t typing in each of those URLs every time you visit a site. Sure, you could use your Firefox bookmarks toolbar (and you probably are), but imagine how quickly you could browse the web if you had keyboard shortcuts for all of your favorite sites?
Enter Firefox Site Launcher — a simple add-on that places all of your favorite websites within a few simple keystrokes. All you need to do is press Ctrl + Enter to bring up the site launcher overlay, and then simply tap the letter you’ve assigned for each of your sites. All in all, it’s a very impressive, and useful, little add-on.
Yahoo pipes is an incredibly powerful tool that can perform the equivalent of online miracles. Pipes is based on the idea of taking information sources like website APIs or RSS feeds, and then performing a number of different operations and functions on them to create a new output. This sounds complicated, and it sometimes can be, but the results can easily save you hours (once you’re done, of course). What types of things can you do? Combine RSS feeds, filter out search terms, automatically post to services like twitter, and much much more.
It will undoubtedly take some time getting used to the interface before you can make anything useful, but luckily there are a number of pre-made pipes that can accomplish a lot of time-saving functions.
For web designers, developers, or anyone who works with FTP frequently, ExpanDrive is one of the most simple and wonderful programs you can add to your workflow. What it does is create a new drive in Windows Explorer or Finder that links directly to your FTP account, a simple but profound action. This means that you can use any text editing or graphics to open, edit, and save files directly to your live web server.
In my other business I manage dozens of hosting accounts under my main server, and with ExpanDrive I can access any of them within a few clicks. Updating theme files is a cinch, and moving files around is as easy as dragging and dropping them from my network drive to my main computer. The whole process is simple and intuitive, and the company has both Windows and Macintosh versions of the software.
Okay, now I know you’re wondering why two very popular text-editing programs are on a list of productivity tools, and here’s why: Both of these tools offer advanced functionality that can save you hours once you learn how to use it.
Notepad++ is a simple app that provides syntax highlighting and makes coding easier, but did you know that you can use perform advanced find/replace using Regular Expressions? Not only that, you can record and playback macros too — which, as most powerusers will tell you, can be a huge time saver. Finally, Notepad++ has a huge list of extensions that allow you to expand the functionality of the editor and tailor it to your specific needs. Which saves lots of time.
TextWrangler offers Mac users a lot of the same functionality. Spend a few minutes thinking about how the advanced functions could help your workflow and I’ll bet you can become significantly more productive.
Firefox bookmarks are a simple way to store interesting and valuable websites — and XMarks takes that basic function and makes it more useful. XMarks is an extension and web service that works with Firefox to backup and synchronize your bookmarks across all of your computers. Those of you who work on multiple computers know exactly how valuable that feature can be.
For you guys who don’t have multiple computers, Xmarks is till useful in that it serves as a great backup feature for all of your bookmarks. Are you used to manually replacing your bookmarks after every fresh computer format? Use this add-on and you won’t have to worry about that anymore.
Study after study shows that running multiple monitors can increase productivity, sometimes up to 50%. While this application, UltraMon, won’t buy you a second monitor — it will boost your productivity even further if you already have two or more.
UltraMon helps with a few little things that make a big difference — like extending your task bar to your second or third monitors, or automatically sending an open window to the other monitor. Once you’ve got UltraMon installed it only takes a few minutes to set up shortcuts like Ctrl + Right and Ctrl Left that can instantly move applications between displays. I use this feature hundreds of times daily, and it is a huge productivity enhancement.
Sadly, UltraMon only has a Windows version at this point, and I wasn’t able to find any good Mac alternatives. Do any of you have a suggestion for Mac users?
Once you have Greasemonkey installed, check out Userscripts.org for a list of popular scripts to run. There are scripts that add twitter search results to Google, scripts to improve the functionality of Gmail, and much much more. One of my favorites is a script that helps manage multiple Google accounts. Many of these can replace tasks that you’ll repeat on a regular basis, and hopefully save a lot of time in the process.
8. Fences (Win)
Fences is unfortunately another PC only application — but for those of you who are running Windows, I think it’s a must have. Simply stated, Fences is a small application that allows you to better manage and group icons on your desktop. In addition, it allows you to instantly hide all of your icons simply by double clicking.
These are two very small features, but for a simple and free application, I don’t think it’s all that shabby.
Lifehacker, a blog known for productivity applications, actually created their own little app a few years ago that still works in Windows 7 and provides some really cool features. The app is called Texter, and it is basic text replacement throughout windows.
What that means is you can set up keywords that will be instantly replaced with a larger block of text, depending on how you set it up. This can be a lifesaver if you find yourself typing certain phrases over and over again. With Texter installed you can simply type a few letters and they will automatically be replaced with your chosen text. And it works throughout the entire operating system.
For those of you on Macs, there’s a similar and slightly more advanced version called TextExpander that does basically the same thing.
Finally, our last productivity apps are a couple of little programs that notify you of new Gmail messages, and they do it better than Google’s default notifier. For those of you, like me, who have several Google accounts, the default notifier can be less than perfect.
Both of these alternatives handily manage multiple accounts, and both of them are sure to improve your experience with gmail notifications.
What Are Your Top 5 Productivity Tools?
This list is the combined effort of several of us here at FreelanceFolder, but I’m sure you’ve got at least a few productivity apps you know about that we don’t.
Let us know what your favorites are — try to list your top five productivity tools in the comments.