I’ve been working independently for just over a year now, after more than 12 years of 9 to 6 office hours. There are a lot of things I did differently in the last year, and a big chunk of that was the way I used technology. So here’s a roundup of the tech things that helped me make the best of my work and life this year.
The Amazon Kindle was by far my best acquisition of the year. Although it came way past the half year mark, it has fundamentally changed how I read, and for the better. I haven’t read too many books though. I use it instead to read blogs and articles, which are way too cumbersome to read on a backlit LCD screen. My workflow includes saving interesting articles to Instapaper, and then syncing them with the Kindle using Wordcycler.
One of the biggest challenges when working for yourself, is managing time. It’s way too easy to loose track of what you’re doing and how much time you spent on projects instead of goofing off on the internet. After trying out literally dozens of web and desktop apps, I finally settled on Klok2, an Adobe Air based time tracking application. It is still going strong.
I went from someone who swore by desktop e-mail clients (especially Thunderbird) to an all out webmail user this year. And by web mail I mean the GMail interface. As of this point I have three domain e-mail accounts, all connected to the GMail interface through Google Apps. For the keyboard ninja in me, there doesn’t seem to be a better, more productive way to access e-mail at this point. While at it, extensions like Rapportive and Remember The Milk for GMail only make life more centered around it.
Talking about remember the milk, I went back to it as my primary task management tool after nearly 2 years. There’s a whole slew of alternatives I tried in the interim, but nothing seemed to stick. RTM is not perfect, but it does the job for me better than anything else at this point. Also, the ability to do pretty much everything with the keyboard only adds to its longevity.
If you have not yet tried or heard of dropbox, please go and check it out right away. Dropbox has virtually changed the way we back up, sync and share files between devices, and it only getting better. The premise is simple, anything you put in your ‘Dropbox’ folder is instantly uploaded to the cloud and to every device you connect your account with. I’ve been using it to share project files with colleagues and even with clients.
I started using evernote a few years back, but never really persisted with it till a few months ago when they released a new, lighter and more powerful Windows desktop client. It is now my go to app for noting down pretty much anything. Heck, I’m writing the draft version of this article in Evernote. The ability to OCR text from inside images and make the searchable, and the availability on mobile platforms are bonuses.
Loads of Windows Freeware
Those who know me are already aware of my fascination for tools and productivity enhancements. This year more than ever, I experimented with a ton of small Windows freeware apps and actually stuck with a bunch of them. With a boatload of RAM on the new laptop, there was no reason to worry about memory usage with these always on tools. So my ‘essentials’ toolbox now includes TwoFingerScroll (to supercharge my laptop trackpad with multitouch goodness), Everything search (for lightning fast desktop search with zero overload of the higher profile alternatives), FARR (for keyboard driven application launching and more), Quick Cliq (for quick access to folders, clipboard and text snippets) and Digsby (for all-in-one taskbar access to all my IM and mail accounts).
I’m sure I’m missing stuff here, but these have by far been my top tools this year. How many of them will make it to the next year’s list and how many get beaten by better alternatives, we’ll see.