Most of us already know that we can become more efficient through the judicious use of tools and, for our modern lives, software tools in particular. And now with the advent of computing “in the cloud,” your tools and data can be accessible to you no matter where you are or what type of device — desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone — you have.
I point out five services/applications that are some of the best in their respective niches. As in the case in the “real world,” the best products tend to rise like cream to the top of the pile, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other excellent products in these categories.
Task List: Toodledo
If there is one thing that I learned from David Allen’s Getting Things Done book and system, it was to put all of my “to dos” in a single place. Being a tech junkie, naturally, it made sense for me to use a software tool, then upgrade it by making it Web-based.
Toodledo is my choice for task list manager. It is powerful and allows me to structure my tasks pretty much however I like — into folders, by tags — and assign meta-data such as due dates, priority and even notes. Additionally, Toodledo is available on practically any device you can think of. The basic version is free and includes the majority of the features in the premium which only costs $15/year.
Other excellent alternatives: Remember the Milk
Time Tracking: Toggl
I’m willing to bet that you spend much less time working than you think you actually do. A great way to figure that out is to simply track it, but you do have to be honest with yourself. In other words, stop the timer when you’ve actually fallen off the wagon and gone off to surf Facebook. Toggl offers both a Web-based and a desktop client (constantly synced) with a large, conspicuous stop/start button to time yourself down to the second. You can group your tasks by project and describe each task however you’d like.
Toggl’s premium plans offer a few additional features such as hourly rates, reports, earnings tracking and data integration with other products such as Basecamp and FreshBooks.
Note Management: Evernote
Evernote has turned out to be one of those products that most people may never have thought they needed, but now can’t live without. Evernote is a note-taking and storing, Web-based application that also has versions for your computer, smartphone and tablet — all kept in sync. You can put practically anything into an Evernote folder including photos, Web pages, scanned documents and raw notes. Evernote indexes them all, and in particular does a nice job of scanning text in images. And of course, you can share notebooks (folders) as well.
Other excellent alternatives: Springpad
File Syncing and Sharing: Dropbox
Many of us now have multiple computing devices, whether it’s laptops, desktops, tablets or even smartphones, but that doesn’t mean we want different content on those different machines. So how do we sync up that data or at least some of it? This is where Dropbox shines. Select a folder on a computer, put some files in it and watch them get synced to your Dropbox account on the Web. Select additional computers and the same data gets synced quietly to them as well.
The other powerful feature is the ability to share folders with friends and family. Dropbox’s free account starts with 2GB of storage space online and you can either pay for additional storage or incrementally grow your space via referrals.
Password Management: 1Password
For those of us that now do a considerable amount online, we have dozens if not hundreds of logins to websites and applications. Keeping track of them can be done in a number of ways including using your Web browser. However, that only keeps track of logins on that browser on that computer. What about other types of logins? Perhaps you want to keep other important information safely stored in the same place.
If so, then you’ll need an application like 1Password. Once only available for Macs, Agile Web Solutions’ 1Password is now available for Windows, iPhone, iPad and Android devices. While this is not a Web-based solution (and you may not want it to be at all), you can sync your keychain (or password wallet) to another computer using Dropbox, for example. 1Password encrypts your passwords securely using the extremely strong AES-128 encryption standard.
With perhaps the exception of note management, there are dozens of competitors and variations for all of these categories of products, but knowing that, try not to get hung up searching for the “right” product. It may not exist for you. Start off with these products or some of the suggested alternatives, and chances it will meet 80 percent of your requirements, and that’s a huge step toward a better, more productive, more efficient you.