In this edition I’m looking at software that will seriously improve your productivity and aid teamwork. These titles are useful for both busy people and business owners. As usual, most of the stuff is free. Enjoy!
Find and Run Robot / search and access
Have you ever found yourself frantically trying to locate a file or a program that you clearly remember having on your computer? Well, worry no more, the help is at hand. FARR – a little, clever donationware program – lodges itself on your hard drive and starts indexing your content, programs and behaviour. It is similar to the Win7 “search programs and files” function but believe you me – it’s much more advanced. It gives you rapid access to programs and files that really matter to you. And it doesn’t end there.
FARR includes an advanced clipboard monitor, a calculator with history, and my personal favourite – a bookmark searcher that will locate links saved on any of your browsers. I’m using 4 different browsers and somehow I’ve ended up saving bookmarks on all of them. FARR makes life so much easier when I want to find that elusive bookmark I saved 3 years ago using hell-knows-which browser.
And what’s best, it’s not messing with your registry and consumes minimal memory. The program is available for Windows-based computers.
Xmind / mind mapping and brainstorming
You hear it everywhere, all the business management blogs are full of it – use mind mapping for brainstorming and managing new ideas. If you haven’t got curious by now, you should seriously check your curiousness levels as you might need a top-up. By visualising the path to the completion of your idea, you achieve the goals faster.
Corporate-level mind mapping software is extremely expensive. Yet it seems that it’s the startups and small teams that would often benefit the most. There is a solution – Xmind is compatible with Win, Mac and Linux or if you don’t fancy installing yet another piece of software, there’s a cloud version too.
The free version comes with the full set of diagrams and fully-functional mind mapping. What it doesn’t include is export to Power Point and PDF. An Xmind Plus version with the export function included costs $79 or half of it if you represent a non-profit organisation. If you decide to go for the Plus version, purchase it in USD currency. There seems to be a weird glitch that converts $79 into 54 pounds. Come on guys, $79 = £49.80. Here, I just saved you £4.20 🙂
ManicTime -/- RescueTime / time management
It’s getting a little manic here, don’t you think. My problem with the majority of time management soft out there is that if I decided to use one, I’d have to subject myself to answering a lot of stupid questions… as a result I’d be wasting even more time than before.
These two programs ManicTime and RescueTime are different – they won’t bug you with questions, they simply sit there and record your behaviour. Depending on how disorganised you are, you may switch between tasks, programs and tabs more than 1000 times per day. That’s a lot of distraction and procrastination. Instead, if you’d just concentrated on one task, you would save a lot of time.
These programs will tell you where you waste the more time. I’d say there’s very little between these two. ManicTime is a Windows application while RescueTime works on all platforms because it’s web based. RescueTime also comes with a productivity comparison tool that lets you monitor your progress as you transform from a procrastinator into a go-getter!
Kingsoft Office Suite / editor
So, you’ve decided you don’t need the Microsoft Office suite? The Apache Open Office springs to mind as possibly the best alternative? Yes and no – there are some issues with this suite one of which is the enormous amount of disk space it consumes – 650Mb to be precise. Do you want something smaller? The miniscule Kingsoft Office Suite is the answer to the heavy corporate programs. It’s installation bundle is only 39Mb.
It is so light that you can even use it on an Android Tablet. It includes Writer, Spreadsheets and Presentation – the three must-have items of office life. If you think it’s too small to be able to replace one of the bigger suites, think again.
Not only it matches the performance of MS Office and Open Office, it also includes features that the bigger brothers don’t have (well at least not without plugins) – the Kingsoft Office comes with a PDF converter, advanced paragraph adjustment and a table layout that you will love. It is fully compatible with the most popular document formats. The basic suite is free with upgrades starting at £21.
Foxit Reader / portable document management
Ok, we all know that Adobe Acrobat Reader 11 doesn’t work. It’s just not working and that’s it. Well, maybe it is if you have a 12GB RAM machine with nothing else running at the moment. What if you don’t? You have two options – either downgrade to an older version of Acrobat or try a 3rd party reader.
Foxit Reader is a great alternative – it’s light-weight, fully compatible with PDF standards (unlike those dodgy PDF readers that students code for their MSc projects) and it comes with a handy text converter built in. If you’re a software developer, Foxit is a must-have – it also provides a platform for developers to build up on. The developer kit is costly but if you want to build a bespoke PDF application with .NET, you’re unlikely to find stuff better than Foxit.
The reader is available for Widows, iPhone, Android, Win CE free of charge and at a small premium for Windows Mobile devices.
Evernote / notes, planning
Bookmarking elevated to a professional level. This one’s absolutely marvellous if you’re a blogger or an editor. So you’ve had an idea for a great article? Seen a blog post that you want to follow up or read later? What do you do? I know, take a piece of paper and scribble something with a pen, then lose it and scream: Nooo!!!
If that doesn’t seem attractive, download Evernote. In fact, when you’ll start using it you’ll also stop using Bookmarks in your browser. Because you cannot take your browser with you, whereas you can do with Evernote. There isn’t a device in existence that doesn’t support Evernote (well, maybe with the exception of your toaster and kettle). It works on Win, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Win Mobile, Metro, Android, Palm Pilot and even my BlackBerry, yey! Above all, you can access your Evernote data via a cloud service.
Trello / collaboration and project management
Do you like Pinterest? You know all the business with the boards and stuff? Then you’re bound to like Trello. Boards do work. You can try to convince me otherwise but I still believe that boards make life easier. Trello is collaboration software that lays out your tasks and projects on convenient boards.
It gives you a great overview of what’s happening right now and who’s doing what. I especially like their adaptive interface – you can put Trello on a wide variety of screens – starting from a 300-something pixel smartphone screen and ending with a huge presentation panel. The app works on BlackBerry, iPhone, Windows Phone and Android but it is also accessible as a cloud service from any decent web-connected device.
The interface reminds me of the Tweetdeck in its golden days. You can set up boards side by side and name them appropriately. You can also drag and drop tasks from one board to another.
For example, if you had a task on the “To Do” board and you managed to get it done, you’d drag it to the “Done” board so that the team members know you’re finished. And it’s free, and it’s becoming wildly popular both in the corporate world and amongst housewifes. The man behind the app, Joel Spolsky, knows how to make useful things. He’s a co-founder of Stack Overflow.
Asana / collaboration and project management
Can yoga improve your task management? It can if it’s Asana. Yes, another collaboration tool but the philosophy behind Asana is rather different. It divides your life into workspaces and in fact it makes sense for the modern busy person. You’ve got home life (that’s if you have enough time for that), your main job, a side project or two (or three), then some volunteering work maybe. Asana lets you divide your time efficiently between all your workspaces. It’s very fast – once you’ve memorised some keyboard shortcuts you will find it’s really easy to manage tasks.
It’s got a simple, neutral interface with 3 main areas – workspaces/projects on the left, task list in the middle and details/collaboration management on the right. Simple and efficient!
Flunify / team management
This is quite a new app but I’m already excited by it. It is meant for organising your corporate environment. It’s like a hub that lets you manage your team no matter where they’re located – inhouse or outsourced contractors. It provides each team member with access to data and information that is relevant to them. This is basically how you and your team leaders free up time from answering employee questions. Does your IT team gets swamped by requests similar to “Hey, Joe, how do I access this or that spreadsheet?”
The thing I particularly like about Flunify is its social project management philosophy. Basically, people collaborate on the planning effort to achieve better results and complete the project much faster.
Flunify is a messenger, knowledge base, support centre and project management software all rolled into one easy platform. Unlike the majority of the other stuff on this list, Flunify is a paid service but at $69 per month I think it’s an amazing app for corporate environment.
ScreenshotMonitor / outsourcing / time management
Telecommuting (AKA working from home) is a great alternative to employing people in office. It saves both employer and employee a lot of money on overheads and commuting. It is also environmentally-friendly because you don’t have to travel. British Telecom – one of the first companies to start using teleworking – has reported that people working from home save the company approximately £6,000 p.a. plus they are more productive and request fewer sick days mainly because at home they’re safe from morons coming in sick and spreading germs around the whole workplace.
In fact, British Government recommends the companies to consider teleworking as a way to improve efficiency and cut their carbon footprint. According to BBC, there are 1.3 million teleworkers in Britain and the number is only going to increase.
There is, however, the other side of the coin. How do you track a person who works from home? What if he actually spends time watching Family Guy on telly? Well, not a problem! ScreenshotMonitor lets you track your employees and see what they’re actually up to. The software will allow them to track time and it will also take random screenshots so that you can later evaluate their effort. The free version takes 3 screenshots per hour while the more advanced version takes 12. The beauty of this system is that the employee doesn’t know when the software will take the screenshots so cheating is almost impossible.
Ok, that’s it for now. What tools are you using to improve your productivity? Or do you have some old-school productivity tips that you’d like to share? Please add comments below!