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Are you looking for business tool recommendations? Here are nine tried-and-true options that make a big difference to my working life every day of the week….
Each of my grandparents was born in the late 1800s — not just before computers, but before domestic refrigerators, airplanes and televisions. All of this is by way of saying that I am the first generation in my family to embrace technology. (My own parents only tolerated it.) And embrace it I have.
My husband teases me that if he wants me to do something, he needs to computerize it first. I suspect my love-affair with technology was born out of having to write a thesis on a typewriter. If I was lucky enough to own a time machine, I’d surely take myself back to 1975 and rewrite that 30,000-word sucker on my laptop.
Thank goodness for technology! It helps all of us get so much more done. Here are nine business tool recommendations — these are devices that help me accomplish more each day and that might help you do the same. Note that I am not an affiliate of any of them, so I will make no money if you choose to buy.
I am so grateful that my friend Colleen introduced me to this fabulous tool that saves me buckets of time every day. Text Expander takes short abbreviations — ones that I define myself — and expands them into larger snippets of text.
When I want to use my own email address, for example, I never bother to type the 27 characters involved. Instead, I just type eight letters — “#myemail” — and Text Expander makes a pleasant whooshing sound and my entire email address magically appears on my screen. The efficiency becomes even more impressive when the chunk of text is longer than an email address. When people sign up for my Extreme Writing Makeover, for example, I send them a welcome message. It’s 298 words, and I generate them by typing a mere nine letters: “#mycourse”.
Text Expander isn’t free, but it isn’t expensive either. Cost is $3.33/month billed annually or $4.16 billed monthly. There are team rates, too.
I had heard mysterious, astounding reports about the Fujitsu ScanSnap. Not only did it scan documents, but it also cooked dinner and washed the dishes — after having done all the shopping. (Joking!) But the $400+ price tag put me off. Then my bookkeeper announced he was moving to a different city. I wasn’t about to put all my invoices and expense receipts into snail mail, nor was I willing to pay for a courier. But I could swallow the price of the scanner. Then, I tried it. OMG — why hadn’t I bought this machine years ago? It scans in a lightning fast fashion (specs say 2.4 seconds per page, but it feels even faster than that.) It also scans both sides of the page, so there’s no worrying about double-sided documents. And the 50-sheet automatic document feeder is a charm — it hasn’t jammed on me yet. Quality is good for my purposes (600 dpi) and, I may be jinxing myself by saying this, but it hasn’t needed a technician yet, and it’s eight years old now. Works with both Macs and Windows devices.
If you want this scanner, pay attention to the model number. There are a lot of different Fujitsu scanners. This is the only one I know about. (Note that you might be able to get a good deal at a place like Costco or Walmart.)
If you’ve ever torn out your hair while trying to remember a password, I have one piece of advice for you: Don’t waste your precious brain space on passwords. Let the software do it automatically for you. People who don’t use such software usually put themselves at a greater security risk by re-using the same password many times (so they can remember it). Be aware that if a database is hacked, and the thieves gain access to your favourite password, they may try it to get into your bank account. It’s not smart to reuse passwords.
I chose 1password as my password-management system about 10 years ago, based on the recommendation of my webmaster at the time. I find it easy to use and reliable. Yes, there are occasional security lapses with all password protection software but they remove far more risk than they add. Just be sure to keep your software updated.
I signed up for the research-storage service Evernote in 2010 and then failed to use it or learn it. I rectified that mistake earlier in 2017, and, since then, have become an Evernote zealot. This web-based software gives you a way to save notes so that you will never lose or misplace them. The basic service is free although once your monthly upload goes beyond 60 MB, you’ll need to stop uploading for that month or buy a “plus” or “premium” plan. (I’m a premium member.) The best thing I like about Evernote is the way it allows me to capture web pages with a single click. I also find it the best place for storing PDFs. When you save anything in Evernote, you attach it to at least one “tag” (I always try for three to six), which means you are essentially building an index-on-the-go. It’s a very powerful tool. Everyone I know who uses it loves it. The software now has 200 million users worldwide. If you are an academic, however, you should look for a tool that will also prepare citations for you. (Zotero will do that work for you, at no charge.)
Lynda is the best way possible to learn any new piece of software, short of having a good friend sitting beside you at your computer. Easy-to-follow lessons, including audio + video + transcript, teach you every step of the way from beginner to advanced. Want to get better at Photoshop, Drupal or WordPress? LinkedIn Learning has 18,000 courses in just about every piece of software you can name. Back when it was called Lynda, I used the service to learn Evernote, and it taught me in a fast, straightforward fashion, with no mucking about.
The service isn’t cheap, but you get the first 30 days for free. After that, basic cost is $47.61/month with a significant discount if you buy a year at a time ($28.56/month).
I get a lot of things done every day, and people sometimes express admiration for my memory. How is it I never miss a deadline? How do I remember so many birthdays? This sentiment makes my family laugh. Truth be told, I have an appalling memory, and I need all the help I can get. My secret is a terrific little app called ZenkitToDo. The software allows you to enter as many tasks as you like, and attach a date (deadline) to each of them. Best of all, the task then disappears until the date it is due. You can even put the tasks in separate groups, making them easier to “batch.” I put my meetings in one category, my 30-minute tasks in another and my short snappers in a third.
Best of all, I have Zenkit on my cellphone as well so if I’m on the road and need to look up something, it’s right there at my fingertips. Lots of apps manage to-do lists, but this one is my fave.
When I started selling my books years ago, I purchased a shopping cart. “Avoid monthly fees” was part of the sales pitch. Too bad I hated that shopping cart, found it impossible to use and swore off it in less than two months. (Goodbye about $400.) Traumatized by the experience, I limited myself to PayPal for about two years because I couldn’t face the idea of shopping for another shopping cart. Ironic, I know. But some of my clients hated PayPal, and I was losing sales. That’s when I heard about Kickstart cart. It’s not inexpensive – about $129/month — but it’s easy to use, and it’s web-based, so I never had to worry about updating any software. I no longer use it because my web team has built me my own sales platform now, but for many, many years, Kickstart cart was my saviour.
If you’ve known me — or my blog — for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve heard me use the words mindmapping and pomodoro. These are my secret sauces for removing the pain from writing. I mindmap every day — for writing, planning, organizing — and I use the pomodoro in order to time my writing. But to do both of these things, you need a noisy timer — one that will make the tick-tock-tick-tock sound while you’re writing. Of course you can always use a regular old kitchen timer, but I’m a digital person and I need a digital timer that sits on my computer. It’s relatively easy to find a free one for Windows devices and relatively hard for Mac ones. The app Focusbooster works for Macs. It costs $4.99/mo but I’ve always been able to use it for free because I don’t need to keep any record of my pomodoros.
OK, this isn’t going to sound like a business tool but, trust me, it is. I’m a big walker, and I work at a treadmill desk. My fitness tracker — a Fitbit — syncs with my iPhone and tells me how many steps I’ve walked each day. I find these reports highly motivating and try to get at least 20,000 steps each day (the equivalent of more than seven miles). All the walking sometimes makes me tired, but my ability to track my progress keeps me cheerful and buoyed up. And I know all the exercise helps me work smarter and harder.
I wonder what my grandparents would have made of all this technology? They surely wouldn’t have approved of people checking cell phones while driving. But I hope they would have been sensible enough to take advantage of the many ways in which technology helps us work better.
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Which are your favourite, most useful business tools? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by July 31/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.
An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Aug. 8/17.