Tag Archive for 'Productivity Tools'

Transform The Way Your PC Works For You

We see tons of cool stuff in the productivity space. Because it’s our passion, we find ourselves checking out other products that help you get back the only thing you can’t buy: Time.

One of the coolest products out there in that space is ActiveWords. With a modest investment on your part, it will change forever how you use your Windows computer. Sound like a tall order? Read on…

Back in the day, IBM had teams of people with the title “Systems Analyst”. These folks would look hard at systems, processes, and workflows to see how to improve and streamline them. Today, that title seems to have gone away, yet at the same time there are hugely successful blogs like Lifehacker, where the goal is to literally “hack,” or analyze the processes in your life… to think about what you do, how you live, and how to do it all better.

If you stop for a moment and think about it, no matter what you do there are countless things in your daily routine that you do over and over again. Writing the same stock email, logging into the same sites, opening the same folders, contacting the same people. We live in a digital age, yet still work in a pre-computer mentality. It’s like buying a top of the line iPhone and only using it to make calls.

You already know how much time Copy2Contact can save you by cutting down on the amount of time and keystrokes it takes to copy contact and appointment info. ActiveWords was created with a similar concept in mind. When you add it into your daily work life, you’ll immediately begin to save time as well as reduce the tediousness of repetitive tasks. No additional applications to go through, no “system” for keeping organized, but your PC will be working for you, instead of the other way around.

How It Works:

ActiveWords is based on the 80/20 principle. In this case, the idea is that 80% of what we do is repetitive and predictable. It isn’t just another productivity tool: ActiveWords provides the tools to make your behavior more productive, in a way that you can readily customize to your needs. It allows you to “name” or create shortcuts in a way computers should have been able to do for years but haven’t because, let’s face it, they’re still busy working out the bugs in Internet Explorer.

Here are some of the ways ActiveWords can turn your PC into much more than just a fancy typewriter:

Launch Applications: If you’re always using Microsoft Word or Evernote, you can add a shortcut like “mw” or “en” in ActiveWords. Now, typing “mw” and pressing the spacebar anywhere on your computer will tell ActiveWords to launch Microsoft Word. At that moment, the penny will drop and you’ll realize that you can do this for every application you regularly use and never click through your start menu again. And ActiveWords works great in the Windows 8 desktop, too, where there is no stat menu at all.

Open Folders and Documents: But it gets better… If I want to open my Google Drive folder or a specific document in any of my folders, I can easily create ActiveWord for that as well. As soon as you get ActiveWords, you’ll become obsessed with creating as many shortcuts for your day-to-day life as possible. 

Replace Text and Typos: This feature is similar to what you can do in Microsoft Word but allows you to take that experience to any application on your computer or on the Web. ActiveWords comes with its own spellcheck that works in any text form but you can add your own if you frequently misspell certain words. I always struggle with “tomorrow”.

But the best part of this and likely most-used feature is the “replace text” function. We all have names, addresses, emails, and messages that we type over and over again. How many times have you sent your email address to someone and mistyped it? If I want to type Nicholas Maddix, all I have to do is type “nm” and press the spacebar twice. My personal email address is “ep”, for business, I type “eb.” Small things, but they make a big difference. On a larger scale, if I get an email from someone that wants information on learning to use Copy2Contact, I can type “gs” and a full stock response about how to get started will appear in the reply box.

Launch Sites: You can also launch your internet browser and a specific site all at once. If I want to open Gmail, all I have to do is type in “gm” anywhere and I have instant access to my inbox.

These are just the basic functions that you can use as soon as you purchase ActiveWords. The real draw is the custom shortcuts you can create to do anything you can do with a keyboard. For example, not only can you open Gmail immediately, you can create a shortcut that automatically logs you in and opens a specific message thread. You can create a shortcut that will open up several windows or documents at once. You can create a shortcut that will instantly track a selected package you bought from Amazon. There is nothing you can do with your keyboard that you can’t automate with ActiveWords, unless you do some pretty weird stuff with your keyboard!

ActiveWords was built to answer the basic question of “why don’t computers understand us?”

We all know how well voice commands work on computers, i.e., “not at all”. But if, say, you have to open that same department shared folder about a zillion times a day, typing “df” and hitting the spacebar will make it something you don’t think twice about. That’s the magic of ActiveWords.

Here’s where you can try out or buy ActiveWords.

Author’s note: The guys at ActiveWords aren’t giving us any compensation for this article whatsoever, except maybe some good karma. They’re great guys and I just love the program!

Best Productivity Apps to Track Your Time

Where does the time go? With too much going on, it’s impossible to keep track of where those hours there doesn’t seem to be enough of went. A great way to get on top of your schedule is to log your hours and visualize your time. You’ll be able to see which tasks take the most time to do, which tasks take longer than they need to, which tasks may require more attention, and what your biggest time wasters are.

Toggl is a great free, simple, and intuitive application that allows you to track your time on your desktop or with any mobile device. Its simplicity is key and easily its best feature, but for a free app it offers a ton for your business. The tool integrates with a ton of other tools you might use like BaseCamp, FreshBooks, QuickBooks, or ActiveCollab. You can see clear reports and graphs to see where your day went and forward those reports in Excel or PDF formats. You can also track a team’s hours and even allot hours for specific projects. The app is free for up to 5 users but larger businesses will need to upgrade to the Pro edition at $5 per user.

Harvest is another popular time tracking and invoicing tool that offers a few more features than Toggl but costs more as well. Harvest allows you to track your time on a desktop or mobile device, provides extensive reports and graphs to help you visualize where your time went, manages your team’s hours and budget, sends invoices right from the app, and offers timesheet approval features. There’s also Google Apps integration, and other 3rd party add-ons. If you are a single user, you can get a free version that supports 2 projects and 4 clients but others will have to pay. A solo account for 1-3 users costs $12 per month, a basic account for 5-10 users costs $40 per month, and a business account for 10+ users costs $90 per month.

RescueTime is a different kind of time tracking tool but one that is very effective and helpful. RescueTime lets you see exactly where you spend time on your phone, tablet, and computer. You simply download the app and let it run in the background. The app will record exactly what applications and websites you are using. You can check in as often as you like to see how much time you spent on work and how much time you spent on Facebook. The app is great for spotting trouble times and zones in your day and doesn’t let you get away with spending an hour playing Words With Friends.

You’re Using Tech All Wrong – You Only Need One App

The goal of incorporating new technology into your business should be to streamline your work and increase efficiency, not create additional tasks for yourself or clutter your phone with the latest-and-greatest apps you read about on a blog. Between the time you spend searching for that one “game-changing, cutting-edge application” and the time spent learning how to use it, you would have been better off using the cutting edge technology of the 1800s instead: a pen and paper.

The problem is that we’re always looking outside ourselves to find the missing ingredient that will turn that small business into a productivity machine a Chinese sweatshop couldn’t compete with. We see others integrate cool sleek apps into their operations and immediately assume that we must be behind the curve. This is no different than running home to your mom and asking to get the same new toy your friend just got – it’s a fine way to fit in at school, but running out to buy the latest toy isn’t a great business practice, especially since you’ll get bored of that toy and want a new one a week later.

The key isn’t to find an app for every single thing your business does. Instead, find one app that does as much as possible as simply as possible. Why shop at eight different stores when there’s a perfectly good supermarket down the street?

One place to start could be a project management app like BaseCamp or FreshBooks. These allow you to collaborate with a team on projects, tasks, files, documents, deadlines, etc. The only thing they can’t do is DVR this week’s episode of Honey Boo Boo. These are nice full featured suites that allow you to run and track your entire business in one place and that in itself will simplify your life. Still, these can get a bit cluttered which can turn a simple project into an overwhelming headache. Minimalist designs are less overwhelming and don’t make you feel like you’re in a race against time when you look at all the things you have to finish.

Enter Trello. It’s designed to be a simple organization tool that helps you visualize the progress you’re making on any specific set of tasks. I use it as a virtual bulletin board that can break down, track, and manage just about everything. Other apps like KanbanFlow or AgileZen do the same things but I’ll focus on Trello for now since it’s the one I use.

Boards and Lists: When you create your first board, it will be divided into three lists: To-Do, Doing, and Done. You can name your board whatever you want, and you can change the list titles and add as many lists as you like.

The basic layout (To-Do, Doing, Done) is a great a great way to divide projects up into actionable tasks and track your progress. I use the default layout to track what I’m currently working on, but I use other boards to manage ideas, clients, and appointments. Essentially, there is nothing that you can’t use the board for.

I know people who use Trello to organize presentations, track sales, create every type of list imaginable, schedule employee work shifts, vote on company policies and agendas, organize materials, and a ton more.

Cards: Lists are made up of cards. Let’s start with a basic project. Divide the project up into actionable tasks that can be added as individual cards on your list. Then, you can use the simple drag-and-drop interface to prioritize the most important tasks. For better organization, you can label cards, color code them, add comments, and attach files. In other words, this allows you to use your board like a regular project management tool but in one minimalist view.

If you work with a team, you can also use Trello (or the other apps) to delegate tasks and collaborate with your team members. With the permissions settings you can allow your team to view and edit any boards you like. You can set varying permissions for different members and assign specific tasks to members as well.

Tracking: Once you’re set up, you have a great view of what’s happening in your business, what’s on the agenda, what’s in progress, and what’s done. Of course if you customized your lists you can view whatever the board is set up for. One of my boards helps me see ideas I have for blog posts and I organize it based on how developed and ready the ideas are for publication. I use another board as a makeshift CRM, organized into New Leads, In Talks, Working, and Past Clients. There’s no limit to what you can organize and track on your board.

The app also has task and deadline reminders for you and your team. This is especially handy since dealing with employees and freelancers can be touchy. No one likes to remind people of what they have to do, and no one likes to be reminded. Let the app do it for you with email reminders that are set for specific times. You can also subscribe to specific cards to receive notification every time there is new activity and you can add checklists to cards for larger tasks so you can track every little detail.

Which App is Right For You: I use Trello because it’s free, has a sleek and intuitive interface, it works great on my computer and phone, and is completely unlimited.

KabanFlow is essentially the same app but also helps you track hours and includes a Pomodoro timer that creates 25 minute work segments followed by a break. It’s a better app when it comes to tracking time and estimating the time needed to complete a certain task. Their free version allows you unlimited boards and users but the $5 Premium version allows you to assign different permission levels, provides more detailed activity and revision logs, and let’s you filter and search easier.

AgileZen isn’t quite as sleek as the other two but does offer more features for a cost. Their free version only allows you one project. Plans cost from $9 to $99 depending on your team’s size.

Get the Most from the New Outlook 2013

Outlook has been around for what seems like forever, and Microsoft doesn’t spend too much time creating big new features. Instead, the new Outlook 2013 is essentially the same powerhouse application as before but has been upgraded to help you streamline basic tasks, put your documents in the cloud, and work better on mobile and touchscreen devices. In other words, Microsoft has done a great job in helping you do things more efficiently and skip unnecessary steps, which makes it a fantastic email application platform when it comes to productivity. Here are just a few ways you can save time with Outlook 2013.

Take a Quick Peek: Rather than open up your calendar, contacts, or other Outlook items, you can now hover over the icon with your mouse to take a quick peek at the info you need. It’s a small but very helpful feature that can save you a few minutes every day, and those minutes add up.

Touch Your Emails: Rather than open each email or check off which ones you want to delete, you can take a quick look at the contents of an email and decide whether you want to delete, tag, or move it without having to open it up. The Quick Delete function is very helpful and I like to schedule two or three specific times of day to go through and clean out my email this way. It helps avoid being distracted by incoming email throughout the day and I make sure I decide what to do with each message right then and there.

Skip a Step, Reply Inline: Another welcome new feature is the Inline Reply function. Rather than hit reply, I can just start typing and Outlook automatically creates a new message. If I go do something else and then come back, Outlook saves the inline reply as it would any other draft.

Use Copy2Contact to Capture Contacts: Just like the quick delete and inline reply functions that help you skip a step, Copy2Contact is a must-have for every Outlook user. It captures contact information right out of email signatures, and appointment dates/times from messages. One keypress and BOOM! They’re saved in Outlook. The more steps you skip, the more time you save. Copy2Contact for Outlook 2013 will be ready before the final release date in October.

Use the Availability Function To Save Time: Email is great, but sometimes you need something as soon as humanly possible. The Outlook 2013 contacts view allows you to see who is available and who can’t respond to your email right now, similar to Gmail. If you need something done fast, Outlook will let you know that you’re better off getting in touch a different way.

If you’ve checked out the new Outlook 2013 Preview and want to share some of your own productivity tips, we’d love to hear from you! We may even feature your tips for the entire Copy2Contact community to see. Please leave a comment.